Then and Now

26 Jan, 2015

Bellevue Street and a bit beyond – A User’s Guide

Penises on the left, vaginas on the right. Much like the church seating at a wedding but in fact these are ceramic creations gracing one of the road-side gardens in Bellevue Street. Over the years, the vagina-inspired sculptures have grown in dominance, both in size and number, and are now surrounded by rose stem and thorn statues. The little phalluses by contrast have dwindled both in stature and numbers and now huddle as if in safety in numbers under a restio bush.

This gynaecological garden is one of the more unusual quirks of a quirky street. Bellevue Street borders and is included in an area of the city that has been dubbed Little Camissa by the Name Your Hood initiative. This characterful sub-naming of areas of the city was originally inspired by the same concept in New York. Little Camissa comes from the Dutch transcript of Xamissa, the Khoi San name for these fertile slopes of Table Mountain. Its meaning “place of sweet waters” is particularly apt considering the networks of rivers, fountains and the giant aquifer that spring from the massive sandstone mountain. For those of us who live in Bellevue Street today, we are left with a living legacy where the sweet waters sweetly provide us with ever rising damp, cracking walls and beaming builders with invoice books in hand.

Soon after their arrival in 1652, the Dutch spotted the agricultural potential of the area, swiftly defeated the Khoisan, and went about creating a busy grid of farms that became ever more prosperous. Now part of an upscale gated housing estate, the original 18th century Cape Dutch farmhouse, “Bellevue”, remains today. I learnt recently that a slave who was orphaned during a mutiny on Bellevue Farm in 1796 opened her own orphanage near Long Street. This was in Orphan Street, now home of the chic cocktail bar, The Orphanage, which provides a different kind of sanctuary to a well-heeled breed of waifs and strays. Between 1918 and 1990, the Bellevue Manor House became St John’s Hostel and provided a haven to boys orphaned by influenza and the First World War. Furthering the tradition today, at no.20 we have The Young Women’s Christian Association. Not an orphanage but definitely a place of safe and affordable accommodation for those who, in the words of the Y, need a new “nest” once they have decided to “spread their wings”. The crusty old Y with its no-men above the first floor rule was opened in 1886 and has kept abreast of the trendy city-bowl times with a hip new logo, the YW.

The contemporary Bellevue is a happy melange of modern and vintage, of the bizarre and banal and the characterful and the characterless. Victorian semi’s sit beside apartheid architectural horrors and millennium statements in a minimalism of glass, steel and wood. Our self-appointed mayor or guardian of Bellevue Street is a retired architect who lives next to the street’s only national monument. Considered alternately the gate-keeper or aesthetic watchdog, he prowls the street with a growling disappointment at the price of progress and prosperity. His petunia-packed garden belies the fact that he is a sucker for colour. Not shy to take his morning coffee on the veranda, in robe and slippers, he will certainly greet you cheerily and most often proffer some financial advice. “Prepare for your retirement, now!”.

On your urban safari of Bellevue, try to tick off these endemic characters on your game-spotters list. Dave in one of his muscle cars with his two kids named for the cars, Ranger and Navara. The ex-concierge in his vintage MG whose plywood roof is tied on with baling twine. The elusive residents of no.17 who may or may not have been engulfed by Cape Honeysuckle and Bougainvillia. The regal grande dame dressed in tweeds and pearls while sporting a jaunty 70’s inspired sun visor, the woman everyone calls lemon lips and the students having a farewell party behind a giant Pam Golding “FOR SALE” sign.

The basement end of Bellevue Street yawns into the happy hybrid that is Kloof Street. Here, The Bombay Bicycle Club looks like an exclamation mark at the start of a sentence. Playful, colourful and crazy, it is a place to party on until the tequila gold rushes no more. The Liquorice & Lime next door is the place to feed your hangover but note; it is stylish, no animal slippers and pj’s allowed. If however you are planning on moving catlike from sofa to slumberland, then it’s perfectly acceptable to wear your animal onesie at the nearby DVD shop. I once queued with a very kind panda.

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