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A love letter to the grandiose of old downtown Jo'burg.

August 2023 is a special month for us here at Ornico as we celebrate the 120th birthday of our amazing offices – Ornico City – in the heart of the Johannesburg CBD. 

Standing proud on the busy streets of downtown Johannesburg, is a monument of historic significance, a now bold and brave black building that has shaken off some of the conservativeness of its past life. Today, the oldest existing bank building in the city is a hub of technology, innovation and curiosity, simply bursting with energy and passion where there was once just the clicking of typewriters, quiet conversations behind closed doors, and the heavy thuds of vault doors.

The bank was first built in 1891 as a single storey building. But there were always plans to expand. Due to the second Anglo-Boer War, the redesign and construction of the (present day) larger, four storeyed building was put on hold until peace was restored, and the building was eventually occupied in 1903 by the Johannesburg branch of the Natal Bank. As one of only two bank buildings in downtown Johannesburg at the time, the Natal Bank building stood out with its pitched roof, marble columns and timber-framed sliding sash windows. Its typical Victorian style dictated understated elegance and symmetry which is quite apparent when one gazes upon its façade. And whilst its exterior is relatively unassuming, once the threshold has been crossed her true beauty is revealed.

First floor offices

Upon entering the banking hall, you are greeted by opulent marble flooring, ornate plasterwork ceilings, decorative columns and arches, as well as an elaborate wood and marble counter. Entering through the secondary entrance into a small double volume lobby, an impressive wooden staircase beckons you to explore her many steps. Tongue and groove flooring is present throughout the building, and all the ceilings are pressed metal sheets which portray an old world elegance, a feature which is also present in many houses in the older suburbs of Johannesburg.

The building has a rich and colourful history that started with its purchase in 1914 by the National Bank. It was then taken over by Barclays Bank in 1926 until it became the Barclays Bank Museum in 1978, and later the FNB Museum in 1988. FNB donated the building to the Mary Moffat Museum in 1989. The building was declared a Provincial Heritage Site in 1990 due to its historical and cultural significance. There is not much information on its fate in the 90s and it was only the next decade of its existence that it was taken over by the Johannesburg Heritage Trust. Although there was some restoration done during the early 2000s, the building was privately acquired in 2011 and fell into a sad state of disrepair.

Main kitchen area

In 2016 Oresti Patricios, a lover of Jo’burg and passionate advocate for inner city revival, took it upon himself to restore the beauty and dignity of this once proud piece of architecture. The building had been completely looted, its elevator gutted, and extensive water damage threatened the integrity of the basement. The restoration took the better part of a year and finally, in February of 2017, Oresti held an opening gala to reveal the transformation. Ornico officially moved in a few months later, in April.

Since moving in, Ornico has opened its doors to numerous tech start-ups when they launched their 3rd Floor Colab space – a multi-use space consisting of hot desks, boardrooms, and private office space for hire. Oresti is dedicated to the growth and development of the Johannesburg CBD and is involved in numerous inner city rejuvenation projects.

One thing is for sure – now that Ornico has well and truly settled in its home, there is no way this beautiful and historic building will suffer the same fate as it did in the past.

Basement auditorium
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