WORDS Nechama Brodie IMAGES Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes
Once the residence of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, this sensitively restored house of wood and stone preserves facets of Johannesburg’s past.
Polish-born architect Frank Jarrett left a rather eclectic collection of landmarks across the city of Johannesburg, his works ranging from the offices of Chancellor House – the original home of Mandela and Tambo Attorneys – to the slightly less discreet Gold Reef City theme park development. In 1951, Jarrett was commissioned to build a private residence on the Linksfield Ridge for Greek timber merchant Manoussos Broulidakis, who clad the interior of the modern stone, brick and terrazzo home in glowing floor-to-ceiling wood. Thankfully, many of these features remain today. The front door is Burmese teak, the floors are covered in gleaming parquet. But perhaps most breathtaking of all are the richly varnished panels of sandblasted pine that line the eastern wall between the living area and the kitchen, and which enclose a Bond-worthy staircase leading up to the home’s bedrooms.
Picture windows face a generous expanse of Highveld sky, with the Yeoville ridge to the west and Kensington stretching to the south. In 1960, Broulidakis sold the house to American author and founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Together with his wife and four children, Hubbard took up residence there between September 1960 and March 1961, before returning to his London base and eventually selling the Johannesburg property. More than 40 years later, the house came up for sale again and was purchased by the Church of Scientology under the organisation’s Landmark Sites programme, which finds locations where Hubbard lived and restores and preserves them for visitors who want to experience a snapshot of his remarkable life journey. The house had been used as a family residence, and while the exteriors and most of the property’s distinctive metalwork were intact, many original interior features had been altered, covered up or lost over time. The Landmark Sites programme sought to not only restore the site to its original architectural condition but to recreate the home exactly as it had been when Hubbard had lived there.
To do this, they accessed an extensive archive of photographs and even video footage of the residence, taken by Hubbard himself. Hubbard’s former employees were interviewed about their memories of the place, and the organisation contacted the family that had moved into the home immediately after the Hubbards left. The restoration took the better part of two years, using local artisans and builders either to return features to their original condition or to recreate them where this was no longer possible.
The extensive work included gently removing layers of plaster that concealed the interior stonework, including the curved slasto wall in the living room, and getting rid of fitted carpets that covered the parquet floors. The Linksfield Ridge house was opened on 13 March 2005 – what would have been L. Ron Hubbard’s 94th birthday – and later received a blue plaque from the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, marking the property’s unique place and space as both an example of post-war modernism and a fascinating home.