The Transport Precinct

The Transport Precinct became the centre of the administration, maintenance and storage of trams and buses during the rapid growth of the City’s transport sector in the first half of the 20th century. Today, like the rest of Newtown, this precinct has been transformed into a dynamic cultural district which is home to some of the most important cultural institutions in Johannesburg. 

The area began to burgeon between 1906 and 1907, when sheds for the housing and servicing of the first electric trams were built. Many of the other buildings in the area were primarily built as workshops or spaces that serviced the needs of the Jeppe Street Power Station. This station was primarily built to meet the electricity needs of a modern transport system. The M1 freeway constructed between the 1960s and 1980s,¬ can be seen above the bustle of Newtown. This precinct thus covers numerous elements within the history of transportation in Johannesburg, from early 20th century trams to the mini-bus taxis that still transport thousands of people today.

In 1990, Newtown was officially promoted as a cultural precinct as part of the initiative to revive the inner city. This area is now a hub of various cultural institutions including the City of Johannesburg’s Directorate of Arts, Culture and Heritage, the Joburg Art Bank and the Market Photo Workshop. They are all situated in the old traffic and licensing department building. Pioneering dance companies, Moving into Dance Mophatong and the Dance Factory, and jazz club, Bassline, are located here within what were once the old servicing workshops. The Johannesburg Development Agency – along with a range of non-governmental organisations such as the Artist Proof Studio and Market Theatre Laboratory, has its headquarters in the Bus Factory. The South African Reserve Bank stands on the site of the original Tram Sheds.

"Johannesburg’s engagement with modernity had begun with the percussion sounds of the stamp batteries, the hum of electric dynamos, street lighting and illumination, lifts and double-decker electric trams radiating out to the distant suburbs in a system centred on the City Hall, with turning circles on Market Square immediately to the West.

All the tram routes terminated in town, setting a radial urban consciousness that persisted for decades. Even contemporary mini-bus taxi routes obey this mind-set." Clive Chipkin, architect, 1993

Did You Know?

Did you know that if you were a successful businessman operating in Newtown’s early days you would be awarded the fictional “University of Newtown Certificate” by fellow residents?