Riding a wave of change: Muizenberg, from fashionable Victorian resort town to practical modern suburb
Muizenberg, on the coast of False Bay, was once a thriving holiday resort. Like any trend, it eventually fell out of fashion. Decay set in during the 1960s, and by the late twentieth century Muizenberg had become a crime-ridden suburb – the ugly duckling of Cape Town’s South Peninsula. Behind all the crime and grime, however, lurked wonderful Art Deco and Victorian buildings, and efforts were made by residents to remove the slumlords and revive the Village area and beachfront.
Today Muizenberg is somewhat “cool” again – especially among creative twenty-somethings. Long-time residents are enjoying an improved environment and increased property value as a result. The once derelict Palmer Road is home to trendy shops and cafés, including an organic produce store and a second hand clothing emporium. The beachfront is undoubtedly the biggest winner. Love or hate the new apartment block where the Empire once stood (its iconic façade was thankfully preserved), it has attracted much needed business to the beachfront area. Muizenberg is famous for its eponymous battle. Two hundred years later residents faced a new battle – a battle to save Muizenberg from its wretched decline. What seemed like an uphill battle in the late nineties now seems like winnable one, with the town’s residents having gone to great lengths in attempting to restore its former glory.
Surfer’s Corner is as popular as ever with beginner surfers, and nearer the pavilion, by the colourful Victorian beach huts, is where swimmers from all over the peninsula come to play. The Atlantic Seaboard is undoubtedly prettier, but for any beachgoer who actually ventures into the water, the warmer currents of False Bay are a much more inviting option. Muizenberg, along with Gordon’s Bay, can lay claim to the best swimming beaches in the Cape Metropole. The newly improved facilities in the area mean it’s now a genuinely fun place to be.
With its lovely architecture and interesting narrow streets, Muizenberg Village has always been a fascinating place to stroll. It’s little sister Kalk Bay may be a nicer place to browse these days but Muizenberg maintains an unaffected charm. This is largely due to the Village area. It’s hard to believe now that ten years ago many locals avoided these streets and the Church Road subway was closed, ostensibly due to it being dangerous to walk through. Today Muizenberg is up and coming – no more the ugly duckling, and considerably safer than it has been.
Gentrification and the desire to make things better were inevitable. Muizenberg has a great deal of potential. With its scenic location, two railway stations, numerous educational institutions, and open spaces, it’s a great place to live. Its proximity to Wynberg, Claremont and the Blue Route Mall make it ideal for young professionals. Many of the ingredients for a great suburb were always here. Some are more recent additions. Muizenberg was once a town full of hotels. Many were demolished over the years to make way for new developments or converted into flats. The old Marine Hotel, for example, was on the site currently occupied by Checkers. Built in the early nineties, this shopping precinct was a welcome addition to the primarily residential suburb. The Bay View Hotel in Gill Road was first converted into an old age home and later into a block of flats. These developments occurred during bleak times and in hindsight perhaps provided impetus to the regeneration of the area.
Muizenberg circa the Victorian era was the most popular holiday destination in South Africa. People used to come and play, now they come and stay. Perhaps Muizenberg needed to reach the level of desperation it did in the nineties before real change could take place. Sometime in the mid 2000s slow gentrification began, with the old and the new combining to create a vibrant environment. There’s still some way to go, but over one hundred years after its initial popularity, Muizenberg is on the crest of a wave once more. The question is, will Muizenberg maintain its current popularity as a residential area, or is the wave destined to break again?