history of the iconic Sylvia’s pass

Sylvia Pass in located in Mountain View. It is the main road up the hillside taking one from Fairwood and Orange Grove to Observatory, Linksfield Ridge and Cyrildene. It is the shortest official pass in South Africa and is only about one third of a km in length and in that distance you rise about 290 metres on an “S” curve. This is the natural barrier of the ridge between the northern suburbs – Orange Grove, Norwood, Highlands North, Sydenham and beyond and the suburbs to the South such as Cyrildene, Bruma and Kensington. It is a good point to gain a sense of Johannesburg topography as the ridge runs in a westerly direction up towards Louis Botha Avenue and into Yeoville and Bellevue. The suburbs straddling the

Sylvia Pass (A city publicity brochure from 1929)

ridge are Linksfield Ridge, Mountain View, Observatory Extension and Upper Houghton. The average gradient of Sylvia pass is 1 in 9 but the max gradient is 1 in 6. When you reach the summit the elevation is 1757 metres. There are houses and walls on either side of the pass – to the left the main gracious 1920s and 1930s  homes and to the right the  park like grounds of vast Grace House  (located at the top of the pass on Grace Road). It is a tricky road and the efforts over the years to widen the road has meant the installation of heavy steel crash barriers and pavements (which for walking are fairly narrow). It is a missed opportunity that the island at the top of Sylvia pass has not been turned into a spectacular city garden show piece.

Sylvia Pass is a life giving arterial. It is the only route over the hill unless you opt for Acorn Lane two kilometres away up the Louis Botha Avenue Hill. There is traffic congestion descending down the pass in the morning after seven and then up the pass at about five in the afternoon. Locals know that this is a treacherous few hundred meters of road and know they must slow down, be patient and give themselves time to admire the engineering achievements of the road makers and the scenic setting. On the other hand, the crazy midnight inebriated idiot, coming away from the local drinking hole forgets the risk of a drive on a pass and there have been many horrendous accidents on the pass and too many lives lost.

It was Messrs Kallenbach and Kennedy who purchased vast swathes of undeveloped land in Linksfield and across the ridge to the west and gave some of it to the City Council for the construction of Sylvia Pass, according to Council minutes. However, the wording in Anna Smith’s book confuses the issue. She writes, “Hermann Kallenbach built the road to his house himself because of his belief in manual labour”. However my re-examination of various sources points to Kallenbach being the rock breaker and road maker for his Kallenbach Drive but not of Sylvia Pass, as the start of Kallenbach Drive runs from the base of what is now Sylvia pass to the west and up the hill at an oblique angle.

Driving up Sylvia Pass (A city publicity brochure from 1936)

Who was Sylvia? Anna Smith quotes The Star of 25 June 1936 which records that in 1925 the Sylvia so honoured was Sylvia Witkin and in 1960 Mrs Sylvia Einstein (nee Witkin) wrote to Anna Smith personally confirming this newspaper report. However, on 1st July 1936, The Star carried another report from the formidable and well known City Engineer, E H Waugh, who rejected Sylvia Witkin as the inspiration and said he had named the pass after Sylvia Easton, the wife of the Council’s Government Surveyor, Percy Easton in 1928. The second claim was supported in 1961 by Mrs E H Waugh and in 1963 Sylvia Easton herself confirmed that she was the Sylvia. However, in 1963 when Anna Smith was conducting her research there was a third even more romantic version, with a claim from a Mrs Sylvie Kaufmann. Sylvie lived near the start of the pass and said a Councillor had admired her from afar and had named the pass for her thinking her name was Sylvia. So there are three possible Sylvias – take your pick! I would put my money on the Waugh version.

Courtsey of : http://theheritageportal.co.za/article/three-historic-johannesburg-passes