History up in flames

The Swan Lodge in Kommetjie, engulfed in flames on Saturday November 20.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, November 20, Kommetjie lost one its most historic buildings, Swan Lodge.

The fire gutted the building, destroying a shop, an estate-agency office and flats.

No lives were lost, despite the flats above the superette being occupied. However, many of the residents woken by the flames lost all their possessions.

Firefighters got the call-out at 12.51am, according to City Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse.

Crews from Kommetjie Road, Fish Hoek, Simon’s Town, Lakeside, Constantia, Hout Bay, Roeland Street, Sea Point and Wynberg fire stations responded.

“The entire structure was destroyed in the fire,” Mr Carelse said, adding that the cause of the fire was, as yet, undetermined.

Ocean View police spokesman Sergeant Mfundo Nyengane said the owner of the building, Pierre Oosthuizen, had not opened a case docket, and no foul play was suspected.

Terence Daniels, a spokesman for the Community Police Forum of Ocean View, Masiphumelele and Kommetjie, said they were grateful that there had been no loss of life and that the emergency services had acted swiftly.

“We remind everyone to not take fire safety for granted, at work or at home. Make sure you have smoke alarms and they are working. Check for fire risks and handle gas equipment with care at all times,” he said.

Danni Espitalier, of real-estate firm RE/MAX, said their office in the heritage-protected building had opened only last month.

“We were very fortunate to not have suffered too much damage to furniture etc but had to evacuate on the Saturday morning,” she said.

The company is raising funds to help those who lost their homes in the fire.

“We are wanting to focus on the private residents/families who were living upstairs and lost all their belongings in the devastation. We have managed to raise close to R60 000 in just two days,” Ms Espitalier said.

The Swan Lodge in its earlier years as the Kommetjie Hotel and Provisions Store in 1910.

The building was one of the oldest in Kommetjie and was initially owned by Gustav Lund, she said.

Mr Lund came to Kommetjie in 1905 from the old Orange Free State after the Anglo-Boer War. His shop, post office and bakery stood on the site of the present Swan Lodge, and later became a boarding house.

According to Roger Bain, one of the authors of The Story of Kommetjie, Willem Kirsten took over the boarding house, next to Gustav Lund’s shop in 1911. He and his wife, Annie, ran it until 1921, when Adolf Napparel bought it, demolished it and, with Ernst Seeliger as architect, built a residential hotel, known as Swan Lodge

In the 1950s Swan Lodge was sold by auction to Mr and Mrs Jos Engelbrecht (a retired policeman and his wife, a social worker), and it became an old-age home for destitute people.

Mr Bain said the present owner, Pierre Oosthuizen, had bought the complex in 1970 and converted it into a mix of residential and commercial units, of which the Kommetjie Superette was one.

Kommetjie residents helped move the last remnants of salvageable goods from the building to prevent further damage.

Kevin Jacobs, of RE/MAX, confirmed that the building had been for sale at the time of the fire. He said he had a good relationship with Mr Oosthuizen and that the fire had devastated the family.

“They had a few people interested in the building too, but their first priority is now to take care of the needs of the building’s current tenants, get electricity up and running again etc,” Mr Jacobs said. “Everything they had and hoped for is now lost. Obviously, they are keen for the results of the investigation into the fire.”

Mr Oosthuizen, did not respond to messages requesting comment.

Delmaine Johnson, of Ocean View, said her sister had lived in the flats and had lost most of her possessions. She said she was grateful her sister and her family had not been home at the time. Her sister declined to comment.

Heritage Western Cape’s CEO Michael Janse van Rensburg said any building destroyed by fire was a loss to the community. “At this stage, HWC has not been approached by the owners for any plans for restoration or demolition. HWC will facilitate any necessary processes as required,” he said.

The remnants of the Swan Lodge after the fire.