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Villa Arcadia: A building of unique beauty and artistry since 1910

Villa Arcadia
The main entrance to Villa Arcadia
View of the famous arches
Villa Arcadia from the lawn
View from behind Villa Arcadia, from here one can see the Magaliesberg mountains
The new Hollard Academy
Villa Arcadia: A building of unique beauty and artistry
since 1910
Hollard preserves heritage and art for the future.

Not only does Hollard's Villa Arcadia remain one of Johannesburg's enduring
architectural jewels, it is also of special significance by virtue of its commemoration
of Johannesburg's pioneering history.

The century-old Villa Arcadia mansion, home to Randlord Sir Lionel Phillips and his
wife Lady Florence Phillips, was designed and built by master-architect Sir Herbert
Baker in 1910. When the Phillips family eventually sold the Villa to the South African
Jewish Orphanage in 1922, it became home to 400 children but these numbers
dwindled steadily over the years until the orphanage was no longer sustainable.

Hollard bought the Villa and surrounding 16-acre estate from the orphanage in 2003
and, in keeping with an entrenched business principle of balance and partnership,
opted to develop the Hollard Campus as a carefully considered office environment
that would foregrounding both heritage and modern use. Villa Arcadia was
extensively restored to its former glory and now takes pride of position within the
Hollard Campus.

Baker's design concept for Villa Arcadia deftly incorporated both European and Cape
Dutch architectural styles, while retaining his signature H-shape. The Villa's enduring
beauty and uniqueness can be attributed to Baker's meticulous attention to detail: he
trained local craftsmen, used local materials and encouraged the local production of
materials usually not available in South Africa. In fact, the clay roof tiles that give
Villa Arcadia its distinctive Spanish elegance were specially designed and
commissioned from Vereeniging Brick & Clay. The Villa still boasts its original Italian
palazzo-style marble flooring, with Delft tiles adorning Lady Phillips' original
bathroom. Elsewhere, the restored craftsmanship of masters George Ness and
Anton van Wouw share the interior space with works from Hollard's contemporary
South African art collection.

One could argue that the incorporation of indigenous materials into the Villa's
construction set it apart as a building ecologically ahead of its time - and this point
extends to the Villa's garden. Originally developed under Florence's direction, it
combined a formal Italian garden and English rose and herb garden with a 26-acre
site planted with trees and indigenous aloes, chosen specifically for their ability to
attract the local birdlife. Although now much reduced in size, the Villa's garden still
retains a sense of the grace and tranquility of its origins.

Hollard's restoration of Villa Arcadia presents it, once again, as a dynamic gathering
place of exceptional beauty for Hollard and its network of partners.
The impact of Villa Arcadia

In the time that the London-born Lionel and South African-born Florence Phillips
lived at Villa Arcadia, it became the hub from which radiated many initiatives for the
cultural and social upliftment of Johannesburg society. In its restoration of the Villa
and its incorporation of this Heritage Building into the Holland Campus, Hollard has
continued the Phillips' legacy: memories of Johannesburg's tumultuous history are
preserved while current day initiatives such as the compilation of Holland's important
art collection and their partnership with Jeanetta Blignaut Art Consultancy's Creative
Block project sees local South African artists receiving much-needed financial and
mentoring support, while also being offered a forum to showcase their work.

The Phillips’ were central to Johannesburg's social scene and Villa Arcadia regularly
played host to the who's who of Johannesburg society. Prominent guests included
political figures such as Jan Smuts, Louis Botha and General de la Rey, while
business entrepreneurs and artists, such as Anton von Wouw, were also familiar
within the Villa's walls. Business, social change and politics would have been heartily
discussed and there is no question that the people who shaped early Johannesburg
would all have been wined, dined and entertained at the Villa at some point.

An influential partnership

It is not surprising that it was during their years at Villa Arcadia that this influential
duo became known as the 'King and Queen of Johannesburg'. Although at times
tempestuous, the Phillips’ relationship was a balanced partnership, where each was
individually powerful and passionate. They were also, as history has confirmed
trend-setters in many meaningful ways.

The Phillips’ were leading figures on the cultural front. Florence was instrumental in
the founding of the Johannesburg Art Gallery, for which Lionel raised the initial
funding amongst his Randlord contemporaries. Lionel contributed further by
becoming a founding trustee of the Gallery and a donor of seven significant paintings
and a Rodin sculpture to the foundation collection. Generally speaking however,
Lionel preferred to concentrate his cultural energies on the preservation and
accumulation of knowledge about South Africa's indigenous plant life. He revived the
Witwatersrand Agricultural Society, serving as its president from 1906 to 1924, and
was later to play an important role in the development of Kirstenbosch Gardens in
Cape Town. Even the introduction of the SPCA into South Africa is attributed to the
Phillips’.

In addition, Lionel invested much time and energy in the early educational structures
of South Africa. He served as the first president of the Council of Education in the
Transvaal, formed in 1895 and played a prominent role in the establishment of the
University of Cape Town. Lionel fostered a spirit of public-mindedness in the
companies he controlled and his personal causes and contributions were numerous.
He was a dynamic leader in the gold mining industry and later served as president of
the Chamber of Mines and chairman of the Central Mining and Investment
Corporation. He was also politically active and was elected a member of parliament
in both South Africa and the UK at different times.

For her part, Florence, born Dorothy Sarah Florence Alexander Ortlepp, and known
fondly as Florrie, concentrated on local arts and crafts initiatives and had a hand in
the establishment of many institutions and collections that serve to define our history.
In addition to her role in founding the Johannesburg Art Gallery, Florence negotiated
the donation of the Michaelis Collection of Dutch masters to the nation and was a
prominent member of a small committee tasked with selecting the Koopmans De
Wet Collection for Cape Town.
She was also an ardent supporter of the pioneering bronze sculptor Anton van
Wouw, who was responsible for carving the intricate fanlights over Villa Arcadia's
double doorways. Florence supported and promoted South African craftsmen, as is
evidenced in the exceptional handmade brass work of George Ness that adorns Villa
Arcadia.

General Jan Smuts summed up Florence's contribution to South Africa at her funeral
in 1940 when he dubbed her "No Ordinary Woman" and went on to add: "... she and
her husband were among the most prominent and outstanding personalities who
built up the Rand and the new South Africa, and she left behind her a great
impression..."

Villa Arcadia's 30-year influence

Florence Phillips was fascinated by Herbert Bakers' use of local materials and
craftsmen and became a passionate advocate herself. Indigenous construction
materials used to build Villa Arcadia in 1909-10 were to have a far-reaching impact
on local building practices for the next 30 years and were to influence other houses
and public buildings built in South Africa until the beginning of the Second World War
in 1939.

During the Villa's 18-month construction period, observers often noticed the
diminutive Florence in earnest conversation with the towering, 6-foot tall Sir Herbert
Baker. She discussed every detail of the building with him and insisted on her ideas
being included. She was a very 'hands-on' client, which some say frustrated Baker,
who was not used to such opinionated involvement from his clients!

During the construction of the Villa, the Phillips’ lived at nearby Hohenheim. This
building too has historical significance: not only was it at one time the home of Sir
Percy Fitzpatrick-author of Jock of the Bushveld but it was also to become the 30-
acre site on which the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, formally the Johannesburg
General Hospital, was built.

Villa Arcadia's real origins date back to 1897

The name Arcadia has its origins in 1897, when a large and charming Swiss-style
timber chalet stood where Villa Arcadia stands today. German-born Carl Rolfes, a
successful importer in the earliest tent-town days of Johannesburg, ordered a totally
prefabricated timber chalet from Switzerland, erected it and named it Arcadia. In
1898 Rolfes moved into his Arcadia and had the expansive grounds, with their
spectacular views, landscaped and terraced by a Russian landscape architect.

The picturesque home was purchased by The Corner House for the use of Lionel
Phillips in 1906 and the couple moved in for a short time. They soon felt cramped
however, no doubt a consequence of Florence's ambitious visions for a dwelling that
could amply entertain guests and become the seat for their many social and political
initiatives. The original Swiss Chalet was demolished and Sir Herbert Baker was
commissioned to build the Phillips' dream house. It was completed in 1910 at a final
cost of £30 000 and it became the social centre for Johannesburg's decision makers.

Love at first sight

Arcadia had been standing empty for about two years when Hollard began searching
for a new home in 2003. The Hollard brief was to find a site that offered a large,
central, expandable property to unite 'Hollardites' from seven divisions, operating
from four different locations in the Johannesburg CBD and Randburg.
It was love at first site for the team tasked to find Hollard a new home and restoration
work began as soon as they became the proud new owners. The company loved the
fact that there was so much meaningful and important history imbedded in every
rock and brick and pledged that original carvings, brass, doors, stair case, windows
and floor tiles would all be carefully preserved.

Conscious of the Heritage Site's history, Hollard acquired the services of leading
restoration experts so that the magic of the original Villa Arcadia building could be
rediscovered and revealed. Step by careful step the magnificent Villa was brought
back to health, vitality and its former glory.

Specialist architects were assigned to design the new office buildings that would
harmonize with the elegant Sir Herbert Baker mansion. No less than 32 sub-
committees were formed to see that every detail of Hollard's vision would be
accurately translated into reality.

In June 2005 Hollard moved onto the campus, which in addition to Villa Arcadia,
includes a state of the art Wellness Centre (originally the hospital in its orphanage
days) surrounded by grounds suited to relaxing, walking and recharging.

The Hollard Art Collection

In Lady Phillips' time, as now, art played an integral role in the growth and
development of society and it is through Hollard's founders, the Enthoven family, that
this legacy continues. The Enthovens started Hollard's Art Collection with the aim of
merging the historical with the contemporary - as well as fostering unique and long-
term partnerships. By way of example, a number of contemporary artists were
commissioned to collaborate with skilled Xhosa bead-workers, the Qubeka Bead
Studio, to create unique artworks. These are the first works of art the visitor sees
when entering the Villa through the spacious foyer.

Another unique collection, born from an innovative partnership sponsored by Hollard,


is the collaborative initiative where artists were paired with local ceramicists to create
impressive works in clay. These creations were originally exhibited at the AVA
Gallery in Cape Town and a number of pieces were acquired for display in the Villa.
In addition, the works of up-and-coming artists are shown in an upstairs Gallery at
the Villa, providing these artists with much-needed exposure. Often these artists are
chosen through The Creative Block project, where 180mm x 180mm blocks are
bought from a select group of artists. The Creative Block exchanges artworks for
immediate cash but goes further than this, providing the artists with professional
feedback on their work to assist them in building their careers in the arts. Creative
Block works are displayed and for sale in the foyers of Hollard and Etana House.

Recently, the Villa had the honour of hosting the historic “National Treasures”
exhibition (September 2010). All works on this exhibition form part of the Permanent
Collection of the Johannesburg Art Gallery and “National Treasures” represented the
unique opportunity to showcase this important collection in the very home of its
originator and founding patron, Florence Phillips. The rationale behind the exhibition
was not only to draw attention to our valuable artistic heritage but also to offer
visitors to the exhibition the opportunity to contribute towards the maintenance and
restoration of JAG's Collection by purchasing a Creative Block artwork from the
1000-artwork installation in the Music Room at Villa Arcadia.
Positive and Enduring Change

In its restoration of Villa Arcadia, Hollard strives to be a catalyst for positive and
enduring change in the community. But their support is not only in the arena of the
arts, the Hollard Campus is also home to the Hollard Foundation which provides
orphans and vulnerable children, primarily affected by HIV/AIDS, with opportunities
to achieve their full potential in life. The Foundation's work helps thousands of South
Africans at grass-roots level.

Hollard considers it a privilege to reclaim and preserve the history and beauty of Villa
Arcadia and the company will be adding to that magic and influence in the years to
come as the proud residents of this South African Heritage Site.