Should you, one fine day, find yourself in the mood for a stroll and refreshment in the suburbs of Johannesburg, then look no further than the neighbourhood of Linden. The area has shaped up as a wholesome, family-oriented area, yet, also welcoming the hip and young, as a place to hang.
A walk on its broad, tree-lined streets can easily become a habit you’d care to repeat.
Start your stroll on the main thoroughfare of Linden: Third Avenue. On the top of this rather steep road, under the shade of a giant bluegum tree, at the crossing with Seventh Street, suss out the City of Johannesburg skyline… romantic, even mesmerising, from this distance, and on a clear day you will see all the major buildings: Ponte Tower, Jo’burg Gen, Hillbrow Tower.
Linden was essentially a community of smallholdings at the start of the twentieth century. It seemed to not have been overly affected by the gold rush, as Linden was only incorporated into the Johannesburg municipality in 1939.
Back to our walk. You may well want to imagine what Third Avenue looked like in the 1950s after a typical Highveld thunderstorm. The road was not yet tarred, and would turn into a ‘rushing river’.
Leave the shade of the Bluegum, and walk towards Second Avenue, take a left up to the corner with 2nd Street. Here you’ll find an unassuming house, with a ‘normalcy’ that belies the significance of its former inhabitants. The Sisulu’s, Walter and Albertina, made Linden their home sometime after Walter’s release from prison. Lindenites remember the passing of Albertina in 2011 when many came to pay their last respects to the family at their home here in Linden.
Back to Third Avenue and we walk downhill on the newly paved sidewalks. The sidewalk renewal project has made walking a pleasure – to work and for leisure walkers alike. It’s almost impossible not to greet your fellow pedestrians in passing.
Continue down, while passing St Thomas Anglican church with its simple, classic church tower. The church bell rings out over Linden every Sunday; back in the day, there would have been a bell-ringer. These days it’s electronic, by the press of a button – volunteers at the church will laughingly demonstrate how to ring the bell.
Also, spot the top of the “Lemon Squeezer” church, an odd, yet much loved zig-zag roof of the St Charles Catholic church with its stained glass of the stations of the cross. Third Avenue becomes Linden Avenue, and at the T-junction with Barry Hertzog, is Masjid-ur-Rahmah Mosque; though both church and mosque are not strictly in Linden but in Victory Park and Greenside respectively, both serve the Linden community.
If sporty pursuits are more your focus, then take a right onto Eleventh Street, and walk towards Fourth Avenue. On the left-hand corner, find the Linden swimming pool. Dated 1964, the pool has kept its simple set-up for swimmers of all ages. It’s heated, and though keeping the machinery running has not been without its challenges, the benefit of having a roofed pool at 25 degrees, in winter, at half the price of a cup of coffee, should not be scoffed at.
A water aerobics group, several swim squads, life-saving and special needs groups all train there. The bathroom stalls probably have the original wooden doors and there are other signs from yesteryear as well. Good maintenance!
On Fourth Avenue, between Eleventh and Tenth Streets, were the grounds of the Salvation Army school and orphanage, in later years known as Firlands. Residents will remember the annual fundraiser, usually held in August. Gates would open promptly at eight in the morning and crowds who waited at the gate, would literally make a run for it. On the sports fields, and in various tents, thousands upon thousands of second-hand items, donated through the year, were up for sale at give-away prices. The plot was sold in 2018, and a new school will be opening up in 2020.
Heading up to Fourth Avenue, between Ninth and Sixth Streets the quaint commercial offering range from vintage furniture, art, clocks, goose down products, fabric, records, clothes, videos, printing, gym, gifts, plumbing and hardware, books and several hair and beauty studios.
Rian Malan’s autobiographical book, ‘My Traitor’s Heart’ makes mention of Linden’s former hotel and bar, now the location of The Whippet. The reputation of the bar was not great, and workers stopped by for a tipple after work.
Former resident and vintage car enthusiast, Peter Fischer, serviced and overhauled cash registers in the bar, as far back as 1969. He also recalls the humour in seeing the bar ‘from the other side’ – that is – not from the drinker’s perspective. The Linden Hotel upped its reputation in the eighties as a Sunday lunch venue.
Various series’ of Big Brother Africa, was shot in an ordinary-looking house further up on Fourth.
On a more bookish note, structural improvements to the foundation of the Linden library has reinvigorated this little library. It was built in 1965 and has retained their original staff (just kidding).
Mrs Ilse Morgan, daughter of the dairy farmer, Dan Giesken, recalls that her father gave Ilse and her sister a horse-drawn car to go to Parktown Girls High school. He forbade them to ride the car down Third Avenue, owing to its steepness. They had to take Fourth Avenue, the less steep of the avenues instead.
Her grandfather, Antonie Bernardus Gieksen set up their dairy on Fourth Street after a very humble start in 1902 in Breë Street near what is now the Oriental Plaza. The dairy grew, and Giesken supplied milk to Linden from the early 1920s to 1968. When sold, it was the biggest privately owned dairy in the country. They were proud of supplying milk with the longest and deepest cream line. In 2018, a young boy picked up a wholly intact Giesken-branded milk bottle in Delta Park. The boy presented the glass bottle to Mrs Morgan, now in her 80s. She was thrilled!
Continue on Fourth Avenue, and take a left onto Third Street. Here you’ll find the entrance to the Linden Bowling club. The club keeps up their pristine bowling fields and has an active league. The newly formed Linden Running club also starts most of its runs from the bowling club and supports developing runners with its ‘everyone welcome’ time-trial on Wednesday evenings. For a rustic experience, pop over to the Irish club and pub, for a “one-for-the-price-of-two” special.
If trendy is more your thing, stroll back to Seventh Street and be sure to stop for refreshment at one of the eateries opposite the primary school Louw Geldenhuys. Two farmers: Louw Geldenhuys and Johannes Rabie Van der Linde, co-owned the Klipfontein farm that Linden was built on. The school is named after Geldenhuys who saw a need for a school after the Anglo Boer war and started the Braamfontein government school in a barn behind his house in 1902. The school moved to its current location on his portion of the Klipfontein farm in 1916.
The suburb of Linden is thought to have been formed by the amalgamation of Van der Linde and Geldenhuys’ surnames, although others think that it may be named after the stately Linden tree.