Upper Sea Point – the jewel in the historic crown

Sea Point is one of Cape Town’s most eclectic and dynamic suburbs, offering myriad property options from accessible starter apartments and quaint cottages which range in price from R1.3 million to R7m, to modern penthouses and designer mansions which often fetch more than R10m. 

HISTORICAL ELEGANCE: This spacious four bedroom family home offers sea views from all rooms with effortless flow towards the outdoors with pool and gazebo. The upstairs bedrooms all lead onto balconies and a vast, historical cellar adds a special charm. The house is on sale for R13.95 million.

Dissected into two distinct areas, each with its own character, demographic and property landscape, Lower Sea Point is the bustling hub with a thriving commercial component and the widest variety of property choices while Upper Sea Point above High Level Road is characterised by larger private homes, most of which are still freestanding. 

But Upper Sea Point also has a secret history that not many people who live there nowadays know about; some houses are built on significant historical sites which are not always discovered until new owners begin to renovate or developers demolish original houses.

According to Vivienne Gottlieb, Area Specialist for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, although around 90% of properties in the area are still single title properties, there has been a noticeable increase in development over the past few years with several new developments currently underway in the Upper Sea Point area.

“Apartment development in the area has been slower to take off in Upper Sea Point as there are comparatively few properties with existing GR4 zoning and developers therefore need to apply for rezoning of proposed sites, and may also come up against heritage factors.”

Peter Simmons, Gottlieb’s partner Area Specialist, says that while densification of the area may have been a little slow on the uptake, there has been considerable renovation and modernisation of older houses over the past decade, with original properties now being a rare find.

“Prices in Upper Sea Point range between R6m and R14m, but properties for under R7m are now very scarce and are snapped up when they do come onto the market.”

UNIQUE SLICE OF HISTORY: A spacious, four bedroom Moorish-design house is built directly above the original Sea Point Gun Battery, which remains intact in almost pristine condition after the current owner excavated tons of rubble from the tunnel.

Gottlieb says that another marked difference between Lower and Upper Sea Point is the rental market.

“In Lower Sea Point there is a high percentage of investment buying and a very active rental market, whilst in Upper Sea Point, buyers tend to live in their homes.

“Families are attracted to the area for multiple reasons, including the choice of excellent schools, as well as Upper Sea Point’s conveniently central location with easy access to the CBD as well as many world-class amenities.”

Lew Geffen, Chairman of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, says that another significant drawcard that is increasingly attracting buyers from all around the country is the wide-held belief that the Atlantic Seaboard market is more likely than most areas to remain buoyant in the face of economic downturn, and is, therefore, a more stable investment.

“Although Gauteng buyers still make up the majority of out-of-town buyers, our Atlantic Seaboard office is fielding a rapidly growing number of queries from all around the country, including the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu Natal.

“We are also seeing more and more locals looking to move to the Atlantic Seaboard.”

With its excellent return on investment, convenient location, spectacular views and spacious family homes set against a backdrop of Signal Hill, the property market in Upper Sea Point will continue to attract increasing investor interest.

However, there is much more to modern Sea Point than meets the eye, as one home buyer in Battery Crescent discovered in 2003 when his neighbour on the west side demolished his house and came upon the large bolts of the gun mounting.

The now forgotten Sea Point Gun Battery was built on the slopes of Signal Hill in 1889 and, consisting of two quick-firing 6 inch breech loading guns and a single "disappearing" 9.2 loading gun, was in operation until around 1911.

In 1922, the whole 40-hectare site was sold as Battery Estate, a new residential area where houses were soon erected and, for almost a century, residents were unaware of the secret history on which their homes were built.

One house, in particular, was built squarely on top of a historical treasure trove which was only rediscovered after its umpteenth sale in 2003 when the new owner was prompted to investigate his own property after the neighbour’s demolition.

Further investigation led him to the discovery of old plans, which revealed that his own house was built directly above the old magazine that had been used as a rubble dump when the houses were built.

Entry was gained through a side wall,  it took several years of slow work to remove up to 40 tonnes of rubble through an old "Cartridge lift" before he was rewarded by a remarkably preserved underground cavern. The brickwork was in excellent condition with virtually no dampness after more than a century.

The magazine comprises two parallel vaulted chambers with a central lift for incoming shells and cartridges, and the whole structure is almost 50m long.

To make it accessible from the house, he drilled out a hole through the floor slab about a metre wide and fitted a narrow spiral staircase of period design, thereby allowing easy access to a beautiful space and creating a perfect wine cellar.

This unique slice of history now lies beneath a spacious family home of Moorish design; making it a special property investment for anyone with an extensive wine collection or a particular interest in militaria.

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