There is a certain house that stands in Linksfield Ridge, grandly¬†overlooking Johannesburg. Originally constructed in the 1950s, it looks¬†out onto what would be a much changed but still spectacular view of¬†the city. Inside, things are different, in that things seemingly haven‚Äôt¬†changed at all.
When you step into this house, you step back in time. Meticulous¬†restoration began on the interior of the house in 2003: the aim was a¬†return to almost exactly how it looked for its first occupant, a Mr. L. Ron¬†Hubbard.
A prolific writer and the Founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard travelled to¬†South Africa in 1960 to spend a year in the rather surprising location of¬†Johannesburg. Here he continued his writing and his work in¬†Scientology. It was sheer curiosity that drove me to explore this house,¬†to gain insights into why he would have come here and how he lived¬†while he was here.
The first thing that struck me was the architecture of Johannesburg in¬†the early 60s. Walking through the house was like stepping onto the¬†set of Mad Men, with leather wing backs and a glass bar. In fact, the¬†house is like some kind of movie set. Everything in it is pristine and¬†shiny, with a certain surreal energy that leaves you questioning your¬†reality. The house is marked as a heritage site, and though it is lived in¬†by tour guide Puneet Dhamija and his wife, it really is more of a¬†museum of Hubbard himself. Portraits and photographs are¬†showcased throughout the house, along with his writings, and a huge¬†bronze sculpture of his head.
The original wood in the house is also reminiscent of craftsmanship¬†from an older time. All the original woodwork was done by a Greek¬†wood merchant. The door stands strong in Japanese oak, while the¬†walls are Oregon pine restored over a 9 month period with sand¬†blasting and acid. This is complemented by shiny, un-scuffed teak¬†parquet flooring that looks brand spanking new.
The kitchen has the feel of a 50s diner – with its red leather couch and¬†marbled vinyl tiled floors. The kitchen and bathroom floors were¬†replicated in the United States from a single tile found under the bath.¬†Even the big retro fridge is the exact model that was in the house when¬†Hubbard lived there, found only 2 weeks before the re-opening of the¬†house.
The lounge, study and kitchen include replicated furniture and¬†finishings gained from footage from Hubbard‚Äôs Bolex 16mm movie¬†camera. He used this camera to document his visits throughout¬†Gauteng as well as the house he lived in. It now sits on display in the¬†study.
The Johannesburg house is one of six museums to the man‚Äôs life¬†located around the world.
Photography by Mark Lewis