Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My grandfather - Mello G Damstra

Mello G Damstra was born in Leeuwaarden, Friesland in the Netherlands in 1873. Mello was the son of a Dutch architect, who was in turn the son of a builder and designer in Friesland. Mello studied at the french college Oudenbosch and was an accomplished ice skater.
By 1895 Mello was working in Cradock in the Cape, where he saw the construction of several houses, employed as an inspector of public works. On the outbreak of the Anglo boer war my granddad left for Holland via Durban. A delightful little story my dad tells as his dad was buying his boat ticket. The boat was full and not taking on additional passengers, Mello used the now famous damstra family line of. "Well one more dam straw wont break the camels back". and with much laughter he was ushered onto the crowded boat. I am waiting to use that line but have not yet found occasion.
He went to New York shortly afterwards and having travelled through the United States and Canada, worked as a journeyman draughtsman in Sacramento, California where he won a prize for his design for a log cabin. I would love to see that design and might travel their to piece his American journey together. He was employed as a draughtsman by a San Franciscan architect, Newton J. Tharp. A chance meeting with some South African friends drew him back to South Africa. Where he settled in Stellenbosch where he designed many of the residences of the professors of the time, at the university. His taste and skill became known far and wide and in 1909 he went to live in Cape Town. Oranjezicht contains many a magnificent specimen as a testimony of his matchless taste. I know my grandfather designed the three homes at the top of Orange street on the right hand side as your facing table mountain. He designed a few other structures further down Orange street also on the right. Other Cape Town suburbs where Mello designed homes are Muizenberg and Seapoint. He was termed a maverick architect as he never followed one single style and in many respects created his own unique architectural language. My grandfather passed away in 1945. My dad who's design skills i truly admire had other responsibilities and having six kids of his own never followed his design ability. However his sketches of buildings and people inspired me to follow the course i have and to learn the language of draughting and design.
I was born almost exactly 100 years after my grandfather to the day. I have also started my career as a journeyman draughtsman. Although the shoes i have to fill will always elude me for size. I would like to follow a tradition started generations ago.

some of the facts above come from a book published in 1929 called Sport and Sportsmen of SA and Rhodesia.