History of The Fugard Theatre Building
The Fugard Theatre is part of five historic warehouse buildings, situated on half a city block bounded by Buitenkant, Caledon and Harrington Streets in District Six, Cape Town which are now owned by the District Six Museum. The building has a long history as a textile and soft goods supplier Sacks Futeran & Co which was frequented by many generations of seamstresses and tailors from District Six.
The five interconnected buildings are a combination of nineteenth and early twentieth century warehouses with a portion of an old gothic style church at its centre. Designed by Rennie Scurr Adendorff Architects, The Fugard Theatre received a Bronze Loerie Award for Three Dimensional & Environmental Design – Architecture in 2011.
The Fugard Theatre is well known for its striking street view with its stone walls and large stained-glass windows. This part of the building was built as an extension behind the Congregational Church on Buitenkant Street the early 1890’s as a church hall and Sunday school. The church and hall survived together only for a very short time (roughly 15 years) before the church was demolished to make way for the corner warehouse, now The District Six Homecoming Centre.
The new warehouse floors and steel structure were introduced into the church hall space at this time, carving it up into 3 levels. The hall space therefore for most of its life existed as part of the warehouse and not as part of the church. That tale of these two entwined histories is etched onto the walls of the structure and considerable effort was expended to ensure that it was not lost. The remnant church hall, now Fugard foyer and the Studio Theatre above it, displays textural overlays illustrating its dual history as church space and warehouse. Glass panels in the floor and the walls display the stone below the floor and the materials that make up the walls. The glass floor around the coffee bar is over the apse of the old church.
Sadly, the floors are not original. The original floor succumbed to beetle and had to be destroyed. However, before it was destroyed it was used as shuttering for the concrete spine wall that supports the stairs. You can see the “memory” of this floor in the wood grain texture in the concrete wall. The current floor was salvaged from the old mezzanine floor that existed where the Studio Theatre is now.
The entrance steel glass wind lobby was made up out of the old steel windows that were removed from the warehouse, which is now Main Theatre.
The building which houses the Fugard Theatre’s Main Auditorium dates back to the 1930s. Largely concrete and solid, the theatre maintains that look and feel of the original space. You can still see the “scaring” of the openings from where the windows were removed for the steel glass lobby at the entrance in the walls of the theatre so the memory of the old floors and windows remained.
The large metal door one walks through before entering the theatre from the foyer is one of the original fire doors. There are several others throughout the building.
The bar timber is made out of the old beams that were salvaged from the mezzanine floor of the old the Studio Theatre.