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’t 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’s 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’s life located around the world.
Photography by Mark Lewis