WORDS: KIT HEATHCOCK IMAGES: NATASHA LASSEN & GOOGLE MAPS
Home to many a student and ﬁrst-time homebuyers, Observatory’s cottages and small properties are more affordable than those of the Southern Suburbs and close enough to the CBD for easy commuting. Lower Main Road at its heart is a rich lode of quirky cafes, vintage shops, backpacker lodges, bars, nightlife and artisan businesses. But it’s the strong community feel that residents come to appreciate and which often keeps them here for life.
“Observatory values its heritage as a place where many people from all walks of life mix and recognise one another,” says resident Carine Zaayman. “Undoubtedly gentriﬁcation occurs here, but Obs residents are more vocal in advocating for the rights of everyone who dwells within it, rather than just for those of homeowners.” Active community organisations such as Observatory Civic Association work with the city for the best interests of the local community and its heritage, and organisations such as the Deaf Community of Cape Town, Rape Crisis and Cape Mental Health are based in Obs.
Terraced Victorian cottages, small houses with pocket handkerchief gardens, and low-rise apartment buildings are the characteristic properties in the narrow streets behind Lower Main Road. Close enough to UCT with the Jammie Shuttle running along Main Road, Obs has always been popular for student accommodation and its youthful vibe attracts international backpackers to its hostels. As urban densiﬁcation spreads out from the CBD, through Woodstock and Salt River, the proﬁle is gradually starting to change.
“Observatory has become more sought after, and as such more young families and young professionals have moved in,” says Carine. “The most marked difference, however, has occurred in the last two years or so with the increasing building of high-rise blocks.” Several new developments along Main Road are in the works, catering to the increasing demand for secure apartments for young professionals and parents buying for student accommodation.
Neighbour to Salt River where more and more creative businesses are being established, Observatory is also attracting small businesses to commercial properties in Observatory. Andrew Lundin opened Get Cork on Lower Main Road ﬁve years ago and enjoys that Obs is less crowded than the CBD and East City, ﬂat and easily walkable for supplies, as well as the sense of history and community.
As far as education goes, Observatory’s claim to fame is being the home of the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences, and Cape Town’s best-known teaching hospital at Groote Schuur. Then AFDA, the ﬁlm and media school, has its Cape Town campus in the suburb. Observatory Junior School and the handful of public primary schools in Salt River serve the local community, and the renowned public and private schools of Rondebosch, Newlands and Claremont are close enough to give families plenty of choice. The Observatory Community Centre is another much-loved resource, hosting classes in art, drama, martial arts, ﬁre performances and more.
Lower Main Road with all its quirky shops and cafes is well worth exploring, and explodes into even more colourful life at the end of November for the annual Streetopia event. “Streetopia’s purpose is to bring the spirit of creativity alive for one glorious day in Obs – and leaves a legacy of creative projects that uplift the area and build social cohesion,” explains Travis Lyle of AfrikaBurn. “It’s a love project driven by AfrikaBurn that’s a collaboration with Obs residents and civic and social organisations.”
When in need of green spaces and nature, Obs residents head to the Two Rivers Urban Park alongside the Liesbeek and Black Rivers where – as well as the River Club, The SA Astronomical Observatory and the Valkenberg Estate where the Wild Fig restaurant has an almost country feel – the Raapenberg bird sanctuary provides a protected wetland space for bird-watching and picnics.
“The community is diverse, tolerant, creative and empathetic. The vibe is relaxed, largely unpretentious, though with a strong streak of street fashion.” CARINE ZAAYMAN, RESIDENT
- Bird-watching and green space at the Raapenberg Bird Sanctuary
- Golf driving range and mashie course at the River Club
- Arnold Street Dog Park is a dog-walking social hotspot
- Streetopia street festival annually at the end of November • Heart of Cape Town museum gives insight into the first heart transplant
- Magnet Theatre for performance art and cutting-edge South African productions
- Stones – pool hall with DJ and bar
- Bars, live music, comedy and vibrant night life at various stops along Lower Main Road
- Reverie Social Table: five-course wine pairing dinners and casual lunches
- The Wild Fig: special occasions with outdoor seating
- Mango Ginger: fresh cafe food with vegan and gluten-free treats
- Ferdinando’s: wood-fired pizza and great local vibe
- Rust Café: coffee, craft beer, breakfast and burgers
- 1890: sushi and Chinese cuisine
- Obz Café: bistro-style food
- Hello Sailor: cafe fare
- Komati: health food
- Get Cork: cork boards and custom installations
- Duke and the Dolls, Voom Voom Vintage, Nevernew, Munro’s and more: vintage clothing, vinyl and second-hand gems spread along Lower Main Road
- St Peters Square: Pick n Pay, pharmacy and services