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A problem by any name
The Victoria Hotel in Main Road in the 20th Centua

The topic of “Main Road” appears more than 50 times in the local newspaper during the 1950s and 1960s.

Almost always, it is discussed as a “problem” that the Town Council has to deal with. Articles report sharp exchanges between councillors and, on one occasion, there is a report of a councillor walking out of the meeting in protest against a statement made by another councillor.

The “Main Road Problem” arises because the strip of flattened gravel, later asphalt, is seen in quite different ways by different interest groups. There is the Provincial Administration (which had – and still has – ultimate jurisdiction), the Town Council (which sees it as an asset to be managed), the business community (which sees it as access to the best sites for trade and prefers to call it “Main Street”), and the Ratepayers’ Association (which considers the road to be a force destroying the village atmosphere of Hermanus). Together, the interested parties have often contradictory views of the way forward.

Main Road starts at the old “entrance” to the town, in today’s terms at the traffic light at the intersection of the R43 and Mountain Drive. It then passes through the CBD of the “Old Town”, crosses Lord Roberts Road (now the Marine Circle). This was the original Hermanus boundary. From there it runs through Eastcliff (formerly Poole’s Bay) and on to the Mossel River. Here it links with 7th Street, Voëlklip, (formerly Mossel River Township). Main Road ends at 17th Avenue, Voëlklip.

We are concerned with the road between the present circle at the Old Synagogue to the junction of Main and Harbour Road, and then eastwards to the circle at the Marine Hotel. The story begins with an article in Hermanus News dated 30 September 1949:

Hermanus has obtained a loan of £25.000 from the Provincial Road Fund with the aim of establishing a new road route within and outside the town. This loan will be exempt from interest and must be refunded over a period of 20 years.

This road will be properly tarred, and it is hoped that sidewalks will be provided for convenience.

The present main road of Hermanus is already too narrow, and it has in the past during the holiday seasons given much trouble in getting the traffic smoothly over the Mossel River. Until recently, the Town Council has mitigated this problem by introducing a one-way traffic system and removing certain parking places. The one-way system made Main Road a single way, west to east, and Mitchell and Luyt streets one-way east to west. There was a certain logic in the choice of one-way streets, but the scheme as a whole was unpopular. On 27 October 1951, the newspaper reported:The Hermanus Town Council is being petitioned by businessmen to remove the one-way restrictions from the section of Main Street between the corner of Harbour Road and the Marine Hotel. Alternatively, the Council will be requested to reverse the direction.

Businessmen feel they are losing heavily in trade on account of these traffic regulations, particularly from clients in the Mossel River area. These shoppers, it is said, now by-pass this section and patronise shops in a different part of the town, for the simple reason that they find it much more convenient to drive up to there in their cars.A councillor added: One trader on the Main Road north of the Astoria said his takings had gone up after one-way traffic was introduced; another at the East end of the Main Road who has been penalised had a substantial lossSuch was the pressure on the council that in June 1952, only a month into the trial period of the one-way system, it decided to go back to the two-way system. This was implemented from 1 July 1951 for nine months. The reaction was predictable. Under the heading “Two-way Traffic Muddle” the newspaper reported:A serious accident might have resulted in this week’s confusion over the Municipality’s failure to notify the public that the one-way section of the Main Road would not after all revert to two-way traffic streams on Tuesday, July 1st, as decided by the Council at its last meeting.

The motoring public, having heard nothing to the contrary, naturally assumed that the one-way section was now open to two-way traffic (as announced in the news columns of the Hermanus News last week) and it was only the intervention of the traffic officer on Tuesday morning that prevented a stream of cars using the road in both directions.

By Tuesday afternoon, many motorists knew that the road was still a one-way street, but a considerable number did not, and it was during this confusing period that accidents might easily have occurred, with consequent damage to vehicles and injury to persons.It would have been amusing to stand near Wimpy’s that morning and watched irate motorists trying to negotiate the mess. I can find no record of re-instating one way streets, and the council turned its attention to the widening of the road, including the expropriation of land from homeowners and businesses. They were still busy with this task in 1955 when they received a windfall: At the monthly meeting of the Hermanus Town Council, held on Thursday, October 20th, the mayor (Cr. T. C. Harvey) reported that he had had an interview with Messrs. W. H. Boucher, Jnr., and Mr N. I. Nilsson, in connection with the burnt-out ruins on their properties in the Main Street.

They were, he said, prepared to surrender to the Council, without compensation, a strip of their land, 15 feet wide, alongside the proclaimed Main Street, for the purpose of ultimately widening the road.The later acquisition of land for road widening is detailed in this report:

Old business buildings to be demolished

One of the oldest buildings in Hermanus will be demolished within the next few days, to make room for a new motor garage and service station. Situated at the corner of the Main Road and Park Lane, the structure was erected in 1922 where a general dealer’s business was conducted by H. Melnick for some years. Later, the corner shop was occupied by Mr J. Silke as a drapery and grocery shop. Mr Silke vacated the premises last January. The butcher’s shop, leased to Vermeulen Bros. must be vacated at the end of this month when the lease expires.

The next-door building was occupied as a dwelling house for many years by the late Mr T. D. Ravenscroft, who had a photographer’s business.

“Hermanus News” office

Around the corner in Park Lane, an office has been occupied by the “Hermanus News” for reporting and business purposes since 1952. Our news representative will remove this weekend to 16 Paterson Street. The dwelling house in Park Lane was vacated last month by Mr and Mrs Wheeler. The whole block was recently purchased from the Estate of the late E. Melnick by the Shell Co., of S.A. Ltd, who will shortly establish a modern service station after surrendering a wide strip of land for street- widening purposes with petrol pumps erected well back, according to regulations.

Road widening continued piecemeal during the 1950s and 1960s, with several compromises along the way. For instance, the parking spaces in front of particular businesses (now designated as loading zones, were allocated to the shops as an inducement to giving up the strip of 15 Cape feet along the length of their property. Another option lurked in the background, under different names: mountain road, scenic route, or bypass road. The newspaper often refers to the fact that this was seen as the ultimate answer to traffic congestion, but there was never sufficient funds available to consider it. As we all know, the bypass has become the focus of heated controversy in the 21st century.

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