Another nod to Muizenberg’s rich heritage

The Snakepit circa 1950.

The Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society has commemorated the contributions made by both the town’s Jewish community and the architect, Sir Herbert Baker, with blue plaques unveiled by DA federal chairperson Helen Zille.

The society’s chairman, Chris Taylor, said the influence of the Jewish community helped establish Muizenberg as a top holiday destination and developed it into the quaint seaside village it is today.

The ceremony took place on Thursday September 2, with the first of two plaques unveiled at the synagogue in Camp Road.

Construction of the synagogue with its four-column entrance and wide steps was completed at the end of 1925, and the official opening took place on January 17, 1926, said Mr Taylor.

Muizenberg was a premier holiday destination for the Jewish community, but the synagogue’s once-vibrant congregation has declined in recent years as the existing membership aged. The community was without a permanent rabbi for more than 20 years but continued to function with regular Friday night and Shabbat services, run by various local rabbis and spiritual leaders, according to the Cape Jewish Chronicle.

However, in March last year, the Muizenberg Shul appointed Ryan Newfield as the new rabbi.

Rabbi Newfield commended the society for keeping the history of the Jewish community alive.

He said that since his move to Muizenberg in March last year, he had learned a lot about the history of the Jews in Muizenberg.

He ran a five-part YouTube series, Remembering Muizenberg, last year and said it was incredible how many people across the world had fond memories of time spent in Muizenberg.

“The influence of the Jewish community in Muizenberg was remarkable, and in 1925, 17 of the 25 hotels in Muizenberg were Jewish owned. I want to thank our predecessors who built Muizenberg to what it is today,” he said.

Ms Zille said she was honoured to do the unveiling as the atrocities of the Holocaust had brought her family to South Africa.

She referred to a speech by Dr Mervyn Rosenberg, a third-generation Muizenberger, at the 2010 Memories of Muizenberg exhibition, at the South African Jewish Museum, to illustrate the “splendour” of Muizenberg at the time.

Muizenberg was a choice holiday destination for Cecil John Rhodes, Sammy Marks, Sir Abe Bailey, the Oppenheimers, and Sir Herbert Baker who all had holiday cottages there.

It was a place of peace where the men would stroll and discuss business and the women would sit on the beach dressed in the high fashions of the time. Children played at the water’s edge, fishing and sailing toy boats on the vlei, Ms Zille said.

The poet Rudyard Kipling also visited regularly and wrote a poem, The Flowers, about it. The mystery writer, Agatha Christie, visited the beach in 1922, surfing in her green wool bathing suit while Irish playwright and author George Bernard Shaw was photographed surfing at Muizenberg in 1932, at the age of 75.

Mr Taylor said the pavilion as it stood today was the third pavilion to be built. The initial wooden pavilion was built in 1911 and was demolished in 1929 and the new pavilion with a reception hall, seating for 900 people, restaurants, and a milk bar, was built.

The promenade had been designed in such a way that, together with the pavilion and the bathing boxes, it created a wind-free beach called the Snakepit, which was a sunbathing area and the hotspot for holiday romances.

The second plaque was unveiled at Rokeby, one of four Sir Herbert Baker-designed houses in Atlantic Road.

Mr Taylor said there were at least seven prominent houses in Muizenberg designed by Sir Herbert, including Sandhills, which he built for himself in 1899. He also designed Vergenoeg, on the dunes near Sunrise Beach, as well as Blue Mountains on Beach Road, the former Tudor-Style house of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer.

The Muizenberg Synagogue as it stands today. It was designed by Herbert Black and William Fagg and completed in 1926.
DA federal chairperson Helen Zille at the unveiling of a blue plaque at the Muizenberg Synagogue. With her are deputy chairman of the Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society Glenn Babb, chairman Chris Taylor and Rabbi Ryan Newfield of the Muizenberg Shul.
Helen Zille at the unveiling of a blue plaque at Rokeby, one of four Sir Herbert Baker-designed houses in Atlantic Road.
The Muizenberg pavilion in the 1950s.