Ponte City Tower is the tallest residential building in Johannesburg, and is one of the city's most striking urban landmarks. The 54-story cylindrical skyscraper - the first of its kind in Africa - has an unusual hollow inner core, and is crowned by the largest advertisement sign in the southern hemisphere. Completed in 1975, during the era of Apartheid, it was Johannesburg's most luxurious residential building built for the whites. The only black people that were legally allowed to live at Ponte City were the servants, who lived on the very top floors with tiny windows out of which it was impossible to see. There were six penthouses fitted with wine cellars, saunas, patio braai areas and roof decks. The ground floor housed shops, hairdressers, a bowling alley, and a concert venue. For a while, it was a popular place to live.
But in the early 1980s investment in the suburb dried up and the building fell into disrepair. The residents moved out and by 1990s, the entire neighbor turned into a slum. After the end of apartheid laws, the suburb became a home for desperate black refugees, criminals, drug dealers and prostitutes. Ponte City became a breeding ground for crime. Its signature hollow core was the perfect trash dump and suicide point. After four decades of decay, the core was filled with debris five stories high.
Since 2001, the building has been undergoing steady renovation. The building’s 1,500 residents were driven out and all most all the floors were redone with new electrical wiring and sanitary piping. These days, the building is occupied not by criminal gangs and brothels but by ordinary people, South Africans and immigrants, thanks to the affordable rates. The building, which was once built for the whites is now inhabited by more than 3 000 black people and just about 12 whites.
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