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Magic Maynardville

Ask anyone in Cape Town's central southern suburbs what Maynardville Park means to them and you're bound to get a range of equally enthusiastic but completely different responses.
For some the idea will conjure up images of Ferris wheels, bumper cars, the mighty octopus, candy floss, corn-dogs, tombola, ghost trains and warm beer drunk from plastic cups. For others it may bring to mind the bated breath of the high-wire act, the slap-stick hilarity of a painted clown or the awe-inspiring sight of a real-life elephant, just a trunks reach way. Naturally, I am referring to the Circus and the Community Chest Carnival with its typically South African blend of multicultural festivities and culinary adventures. But there are other interesting events that happen in the park on a regular basis. Did you know, for example, that it's the only place in Cape Town you're ever going to find a leather-clad, bandana-headed, Harley Davidson rider... clutching a teddy bear! Yep, this actually happens - during the annual Toy Run motorcycle rally, when access to the park is flatly denied if you rock up without a toy for charity, Hells Angel or not. 

For others the question may stir up the altogether gentler recollections of a well-told tale by a long-dead poet, under the moonlight on a mid-summers night. Or the dreamy meditation on a ballet's rise and fall, both courtesy of the most unique aspect of Maynardville. For standing in its northern corner, under the dappled shade of a wooded garden, is a 720 seat Shakespearian theatre, the brainchild of two visionary and determined women in the 1950's. The story goes that actresses Cecilia Sonnenberg and Rene Ahrenson rather fancied the old archery lawn as the perfect place to stage the works of their most beloved playwright, William Shakespeare. And so it happened that, after some negotiation with the city council, an amphitheatre was built and the well-known English actor, Leslie French, commandeered to direct and act in the new theatre's first production, The Taming of the Shrew, which opened to full houses in 1956. 

Today the hugely popular theatre is run by the Maynardville Theatre Trust together with Artscape and continues to be an important venue for classical theatre and dance. Every year the Maynardville Open-Air Theatre attracts over 20 000 visitors, including 8 000 school children who come to see their set-works brought magically to life in flesh and blood. And mayhem ….if I am recalling the final act of Hamlet correctly…...

But it's not all magic, mystery, motorbikes and cuddly toys. Most of the time it's just a conventional park and perfect for all those everyday activities associated with good park-life: dog-walking, jogging, playing in the children's new play area with its fantastical turreted castle, chasing a ball, or, if you're like me, just kicking-back on the bench in the shade of the beautiful new phoenix palm, watching other people do all that stuff.
However, Maynardville was not always public open space and like many urban parks was purchased by the municipality specifically to create such a facility. Situated in an area known as Little Chelsea (or Old Wynberg), the land once belonged to the Maynard family. James Mortimer Maynard bought the farm Rosendal from the insolvent widow Gertruida Ellert (nee Baartman) in 1838, some time after her husband, Lieut. Louis Ellert had died in one of the many frontier wars that raged on the eastern borders of the Cape colony at the time.  Maynard subsequently developed the site for his home, which he called Maynard's Villa. When he died on 9 September 1874 his estate went to his nephew, William Mortimer Maynard Farmer.

Farmer, who was a director of the Union Castle Shipping Company and Member of Parliament, greatly enjoyed entertaining the many prominent public figures that visited his new home on the banks of the Krakeelwater stream. And being a man of some means he was able to carry out extensive renovations to both the house and its grounds.  He commissioned the Kew trained horticulturalist, Robert Bain, to design and oversee the creation of a Victorian garden, the ghostly vestiges of which can still be seen today. The house remained in the family for the next 75 years until it was sold to the City of Cape Town in the 1950's. The city then demolished the, by that time, dilapidated building in 1956 to make way for what is now known as Maynardville Park.
Today, the truth is that whatever significance Maynardville holds for us as individuals is almost certainly eclipsed by its importance to the community in general. It is a modern multi-purpose facility in the true spirit of the traditional Village Green. A people's park in the real sense, it contributes meaningfully to the life-tapestry of the Wynberg community and far beyond, providing breathing space, opportunity and more than a touch of magic for the young, the old and everyone in between.

Maynardville Park is managed by the Maynardville Park Action Committee (MPAC), a public-private partnership between the City of Cape Town and the Wynberg community.

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Posted: 1/15/2012 (7:47:01 AM)

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