In one form or another, a large spotted dog has sat patiently watching the world go by on Main Road, in Retreat, for more than 80 years.
The tale of the Spotty Dog has its origins in the late 1930s when Manchester musician Ralph Barnes and his Canadian wife, Enid, came to South Africa, according to Vivienne Hart who has known Ralph’s son, Joe, since high school days at Bergvliet.
Ralph joined the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra as a violinist, and he hoped to make records, but when the recording venture fell through, he turned to another project.
He went into partnership with a friend, Ben van Niekerk, of Clovelly, who had studied architecture in America, and in 1937 they embarked on a mysterious building operation, concealed by a hessian screen, at the junction of Pollsmoor, Main and Honeywell roads, in Retreat.
Ralph ferried most of the bricks, cement and timber that he needed from Cape Concrete Works, also in Retreat. In 1938, the screen was removed to reveal a two-storey-high white dog with black spots: the Spotted Dog roadhouse was born.
Miranda and Davy Smeda, of Kirstenhof, recall that in those days the surrounding area was bush. There was no Blue Route Mall, but the Seabreeze drive-in was where Clé du Cap is today in Pollsmoor Road.
The Spotted Dog was the only place where people could stop for a bite to eat between Wynberg and Muizenberg. “We stopped there many times before we were married. The ice cream and hot dogs were the best in the peninsula,” says Miranda.
Later, additional catering facilities were built, in the shape of a kennel, just behind the Spotted Dog.
For youngsters of the time, a Saturday night out or a Sunday drive wasn’t complete unless you had stopped for an ice cream served from a door between the hound’s legs.
Vivienne Hart lived in Lakeside, before Marina da Gama was developed and when everything was still wild and bushy. “I now live in a retirement village in Muizenberg and was one of the local kids who loved Spotty,” she says. “When we drove past, we knew we were almost home.”
Milton Kirsten, whose family owned Pollsmoor Farm that covered most of Kirstenhof and Tokai and produced vegetables, recalls his parents stopping there after tennis. His father would order a bacon-and-egg sandwich and his mother a cheese and tomato. He remembers the waiter, Willie Phillips, who worked there for 28 years.
Spotty also served hamburgers and hot dogs. Later, while at varsity, Milton would stop there after dancing at the Blue Moon Hotel in Lakeside. The roadhouse was also popular with the British sailors stationed in Simon’s Town during World War II, he recalls.
According to Joe Barnes, Spotty’s head was hollow, composed of chicken wire and plastered over with cement, and then whitewashed. Joe says his dad maintained Spotty regularly: each crack had to be repainted otherwise winter rains would wreak havoc and cause the wire to rust.
In 1947, nine years after the duo built the iconic landmark, Ralph died, but Enid, carried on the business, now with two children, Joe, 2, and Jane, about 7. The family moved to Canada around 1950 where they stayed for a couple of years before returning to South Africa.
Enid still owned Spotty throughout that time, with Di van Ryneveldt as the manager, but she sold the roadhouse in 1963.
One stormy night, Spotty’s jaw fell off. When repaired, he lost his cheeky expression, and the public gave him another name: the Dog with the Hot Head after they discovered that a hot-water cylinder was housed in his head.
In 1972, Spotty underwent maintenance and was at the point of being reopened when fate dealt a cruel blow – a runaway lorry crashed into Spotty and almost demolished him. Despite a petition by Capetonians to have him restored, it was decided he was past repair.
Joy Human, of Kirstenhof, recalls how young children went to collect pieces of Spotty. Randy Williams, the present manager of Buco hardware store in Honeywell Road, recalls stopping there on his way to surf at Muizenberg.
In 1988, Andrew Louw, of Cape Concrete, bought the land which has been home to a number of businesses, including an auto shop and Penny Pinchers, now Buco. He built the present-day 2.5m high Spotty to honour the original roadhouse restaurant and for the present generation to know about it.
The new Spotty was built about 50m closer to the road. At one time, a smaller puppy stood at Spotty’s side, but the Louw family could not stand to see it vandalised and moved it to Dreyersdal Road.
Andrew’s son, Darty Louw, says his father grew up on the original Dreyersdal Farm and built the dog using ferro-cement, a system of construction using reinforced mortar or plaster applied over woven metal mesh that is also used to make yachts.
Andrew’s daughter, Daryl Ann Gowar, is now responsible for maintaining Spotty.