Ewart Scott Grogan, popularly dubbed ‘Kenya’s Winston Churchill’, was a British entrepreneur and explorer and one of Kenya’s eccentric pioneers. He was also the first man to walk ‘the length of Africa’ from Cape Town to Cairo. It took him two and a half years but he arrived in Egypt by 1900. He grew up in Cambridge, England, where most of his schooling was done, but dropped out of Jesus College and went to study art in Bulawayo (of all places, I know!). Subsequently, he helped the British defence during the Matebele Wars then traversed the landscape to the then German East Africa… and after the 1st World War, most of his life was spent in East Africa and particularly in Kenya but he died in South Africa at the age of 92. Stanbic Bank, the bright red brick building at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi Street just opposite the iconic Nation Centre, occupies the first ever brick building to be put up in Nairobi, around 1923. Grogan initially developed it as Torr’s Hotel, designed by the architect H. Henderson, after the City Hall in Stockholm Sweden
Rather interesting to discover was that Kenyatta Avenue, with its ‘concrete island’ smack in the middle of the multi lane, was designed wide enough such that a full team of oxen could turn around in it. By modern standards if you were to compare it however, you will find that times (and space) have indeed changed. Here is where visionary design should come in, much like when the Kenyan PM was commenting about the recent comparisons between Dar National Stadium and our very own Kasarani: The purpose of the stadium was to help Kenya host the 1987 All Africa Games…has our vision stagnated or regressed? I won’t divulge though, (*mental note: tackle that in a later blog). Right up the street, at the very threshold of the Nairobi CBD and opposite the General Post Office, is Kipande House (Now KCB Kenyatta Avenue).It used to be a railway depot, with a somewhat ‘displaced’ tower at the facade of this historic building where Africans working in colonial Nairobi were once required to be registered and issued with identification cards, and thus the name. The architecture is unique and timeless, and thus it still looks modern to this day.
Arguably so, the most iconic building on K. Avenue has to be the Victorian-themed Stanley Hotel, notwithstanding I&M towers and the General Post Office. Well, initially, the Stanley started life as a boarding house on Victoria Street (later to be renamed Tom Mboya street) in 1902, but was shifted and constructed on its present site in 1913 and effectually named after the great African explorer.
The Hotel’s reputation as an important stopover for African travellers was especially cemented in 1961, with the creation of the famous Thorn Three Café. A single acacia tree at the centre of the café became a noticeboard for numerous travellers who would leave notes, letters and messages for fellow travellers pinned to the trunk. That tradition became so popular that the thorn tree became an icon for African travel. Eventually notice boards were erected to protect the tree.
The original tree died a natural death though and has been replaced by a sapling. The Hotel was recently rebranded The New Sarova Stanley, and due to constant and timely renovation and upgrading, remains on of the leading 5 star luxurious hotels in the country.
Jeevanjee Gardens was the location of the first agricultural show in Kenya, way back in 1901.
The National Archives on what is now Moi Avenue was initially built as the National Bank of India, with a rather commanding positioning at the heart of the city. Cameo Cinema was built in 1912 as Theatre Royal and has served as a variety of things though now it doubles up as a congregational hall at the ground level and as a restaurant and bar, the Verandah, at the top.
For all you amazing fact lovers, theres a suburb in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA known as ‘Harambee’. It happens to be just north of downtown Milwaukee and is bounded by I-43 on the west, Capitol Drive to the north, Holton St. on the east, and North Avenue to the south. Harambee includes the highest residential elevation in the city, a tall ridge running along 1st Street, that in the early 20th century was built upon by the city’s wealthy families. It is not surprising though that the area’s west and central areas had become the center of the City’s African American community by the 1950s. The middle class and slightly more affluent however left the area around the 70’s when the US open housing project kicked off and it has been devastated by slum clearance as well.
In my next post in the Architectural History series, I’ll be covering more sites within the CBD. Tell/tweet me what you think…