Hidden on a side street in Doornfontein is a house built and occupied by one of the most flamboyant pioneers of the Rand – Major Henri Bettelheim ( 1852 – 1935 ). Known to his friends as “ Beetles “ he was described as one of the best known and most popular men in Johannesburg. Among the first to arrive on the Witwatersrand in 1886, Bettelheim’s name is linked to nearly every aspect of development in the town at the time , from the stock exchange , mining to social clubs and buildings. His home was not only famous for its Ottoman architecture but also parties that took place.

Henri was the Turkish consul and described by Louis Cohen as “ an immense card player, and immense lady killer “ . This splendid turreted Byzantine mansion had 2 minarets on it, fretted screens and beautiful stained glass windows and was soon given the nickname , The Harem.

Born of German – Jewish descent in Constantinople, Henri completed his education in Prague and Vienna, where he spent 5 years. Returning to his city of birth he went into military school and transferred to the Imperial Ottoman School. Once this was complete he took up engineering and architecture.

At the age of 23 he went to England to learn about the diamond trade that brought him to Kimberley in 1881 . Five years later he was one of the first to join the 1886 gold rush in Johannesburg and was soon dealing in the finical of the city.

Turkey had established a long and happy relationship with its Jewish citizens since granting sanctuary to those Jews who had fled Spain at the time of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. So its not surprising that Henri , a Jew of Austrian parentage , was appointed by His Imperial Majesty the Sultan of Turkey as The Imperial Ottoman Consul in the South African Republic in 1889.

Henri Bettelheim was the director of Village Main ( 1889 -90 ) , the Princess Estate and Gold Mining Company , Roodepoort United Main Gold Mining Company Ltd, and of Consolidated Gold Mining Company . He was the Chairman of the Anglo – Tharsis and Angle – Tharsis Gold Mining Companies and Princess Mine.

On the 8 November 1887 Henri proposed at a board meeting on the corner of Commissioner and Simmonds Street “ that the Johannesburg Stock Exchange be and hereby is established “ and so with Benjamin Woollan’s company and already existing members, Henri proposed the election of three broking members onto the committee to form the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Today most of this beautiful mansion has faded away as the need for a plumbing business has taken over. But if you look around you will notice all the original wooden door frames with carvings of various intricate patterns are still there, one of the rooms still has the vaulted ceiling with the stars and crescent trim, hidden behind work tables are fireplaces, and dotted around are remnants of the beautiful stain glass windows. The most eye catching survivor must be the towering brass minaret ( the other one was destroyed ) still with its rising crescent and moon.

With some love and TLC this beautiful building could once again throw lavish parties or serve up some delicious Turkish food.