Built in 1958 at a time when Atholl was a sparsely populated residential area north of the main suburbs of Johannesburg, the Atholl Church property has a rich history that spans over five decades.
With a foundation stone that indicates the date of dedication on 29 November 1958, the church property was built at least 15 years prior to the Sandton City Shopping Centre, which was built in 1973.
This property, which is situated on a 4 000m2 stand, is currently on the market for R8m and comprises a number of buildings, all of which add up to around 450m2 under roof in total. The buildings include the chapel with its two entrance halls, a reception area, a large boardroom and four other meeting rooms or offices, two classrooms, two storerooms, separate male and female bathrooms, a one-bedroom staff cottage with an additional storeroom, a kitchen area which includes a pantry and serving counter and a large patio overlooking the back garden. The grounds also include an open parking area for between 30 and 40 cars and various sections of landscaped garden.
Originally known as the St Stephens Congregational Church, the church was pastored by Rev Dr Unez Smuts - the first female minister in the Congregational Church of Southern Africa - from its opening in 1958 up until 2000. An acclaimed theologian and well-known minister in the greater Johannesburg area, Rev Smuts was also known for her role as one of the ministers who served as presenters on the SABC religious programme called Epilogue in the late 1970’s, in the early years when television was first introduced into South Africa.
As the grand-niece of General Smuts, Rev Smuts earned her doctoral degree in theology in the United Kingdom. Dedicating 40 years of her life to servicing the church and the surrounding community, she also established and directed the St Stephens Nursery School on the church property, which ran from the 1970s up until the 1990s. After reaching her late 70s in 2000, Rev Smuts decided to retire and, along with her congregation, decided that the church property should be put on the market.
The church was then purchased as an investment by its current owner, Troy Dyer, who had attended services at the church and was set on preserving the church building and its history, rather than allow the property to be demolished to make way for cluster housing. As a lecturer at the Wits Business School at the time, Dyer initially considered establishing a school for entrepreneurship development on the property, however this plan changed and it was decided to continue using the property as it was originally intended – a church. Various church groups have made use of the property over the last 12 years.
According to Dyer, during the last few years additional property rights have also been applied for to enhance the value of the church property. This means that aside from its current use as a church, the property may also be developed into a 15-bedroom guesthouse. He notes that considering the property’s location, it is well positioned to serve the growing business hubs of Sandton and Rosebank, and the increasing number of tourist activity in these areas.
Dyer notes that his favourite feature is the chapel, because it is the heart of the property. Big enough to seat up to 180 people, the chapel has a Rhodesian teak parquet floor and a large stained glass window in the shape of a cross. The floor in the chapel stage area, along with the floors in the two adjacent offices and passages, are all made of Rhodesian pine.
Dyer says that the church was built in a style that reflected the clean, simple and elegant design features of many Congregational Church buildings at the time. In fact, the Athol Church building has an identical counterpart located in in the Johannesburg suburb of Bryanston. Dyer says that while minor renovations were made to the property in 2002 and a patio was built onto the classroom on the east side of the property, this church has, for the most part, kept its original design.
“The property is the ideal opportunity for a religious leader, nursery school owner, guest house operator or entrepreneur looking for a property that is located in a prime location,” says Dyer. “It would also make a one-of-a-kind home to visionary property buyer who wants a unique and interesting home – the possibilities to this property are only limited to what the buyer wants to do with it,” he concludes.