Jozi's original party starter
Today, I’m raising a glass to Henri Bettelheim just for probably being Joburg’s original party starter. Never heard of Henri? Neither have I until I went on a Doornfontein walk with the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (wrote about it here).
Henri, who was born in Constantinople (now Istanbul), came to Joburg when gold was discovered. He was appointed as the Consul to His Most Exalted Person the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (phew, say that three times fast!) and assisted Turkish people who also found their way here.
Okay, so now for the interesting part...
This guy apparently threw the most spectacular and over-the-top dinners and balls in Doornfontein, the playground of the Randlords. His venue of choice: the Turkish Consulate which wasn’t a consulate in the official sense but the name stuck (it was also known as Bettelheim House, I think). The popularity of Henri's parties can maybe be judged by the jealousy of the uninvited... According to Magnates and Mansions – Johannesburg 1886-1914 (written by Margaret Barry and Nimmo Law), those who didn’t get the nod called the consulate ‘The Harem’. Ha!
Amazingly, bits of ‘The Harem’ still exist.
If you drive through Doornfontein, you may just see the consulate’s red onion dome with its crescent sticking out. In the 1930s, it became a brothel and the 1960s a plumber’s yard, which it still is today. So don’t expect the glitz and glam of Henri’s heyday when the whole place was decorated to give it a distinct Eastern – and bohemian – feel.
Over the years, extra buildings have been added and the rooms are filled with plumbing equipment, but some of the features of Henri’s time are still here. I know they look old, shabby and dusty, but I thought they were awesome. And the fact that bits of ‘The Harem’ is ‘partying on’ amid plumbing supplies is awesome too. Thumbs up to the current owner for keeping the remaining features!
I have included some photos of the place’s details below and some extra info from 1981 write-up in The Star (just scroll to the bottom).
Big shout out to Denise Alexander from Johannesburg Heritage Foundation who helped me with the background info! You can contact the Foundation to learn more about this place.
Here’s a bit more info about Henri from an extract from an article in The Star, 3 March 1981 (sourced by the super helpful Denise):
"He is said to be Major Henri Bettelheim. As there could not have been more than half a dozen Turks in the Transvaal, the major must have had a lot of time on his hands seeing to the interests of these Ottoman subjects. Apart from his official duties, he did quite a bit of entertaining, his wild parties becoming the talk of the town.
"Born in Constantinople in 1860 of German-Jewish parents, Bettelheim first went to Kimberley then moved to Johannesburg where he became connected with some mining houses. He was also involved with the ‘reformers’ of the Jameson Raid. Leaving the Rand after World War I, he settled in Britain, dying in London in 1933."
* More about the Jameson Raid at Wikipedia.