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Nakuru city's old buildings make way for skyscrapers

Highway Towers is one of the modern buildings in Nakuru CBD. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

The elevation of Nakuru into a city has birthed big development plans that have seen the emergence of modern buildings in the central business district (CBD) and its environs.

New skyscrapers are gradually eclipsing the old landmark buildings that had been the hallmark of Nakuru’s history from the 60s to the 80s.

Coming at a time when it was regarded as the cleanest town in East and Central Africa, Nakuru has several landmark buildings that have defined its territorial destiny, heritage and its centrality along the Trans African Highway as a place worth visiting.

These buildings brought fame to the city when it was still a municipality. Locals and those in the diaspora were proud to be associated with its rich history since independence.

Unfortunately, some of the old buildings are being phased out as a result of the changing national and global construction trends in new cities.

The trends have forced the city’s administration to come up with regulations for property owners to conform with the latest architectural standards, and if unable to do so, such buildings are sold out to new buyers to construct modern ones that conform with the city’s infrastructural requirements.

Some of such buildings are GateHouse and Kanu House along Mburu Gichua Road, Kenya Commercial Bank and Oyster Shell buildings on Kenyatta Avenue and the famous Coffee House building, now occupied by a bank. All of them are in good shape and have not been demolished.

Midlands Hotel, a pre-independence hotel that used to host World Rally Championships Safari Rally, has also undergone reconstruction to catch up with the fast-rising demands of the tourism industry.

The hotel, which was constructed by Lord Delamere in 1906 as a leisure joint for his overseas visitors while simultaneously acting as Nakuru Railway Station Hotel where passengers could purchase their tickets on their way to Western Kenya or Nairobi, is one of the structures still memorable.

It still looks strong in the city’s CBD. “This (Midlands Hotel) is a big heritage of the city and we are determined to make it stronger as one of the pre-independence hotels in Kenya whose trademark is unbeatable in the hospitality industry,” said Chief Executive Kiptoo Chesire.

“We put professionalism first and the face of Kenya at work.”

Recently, the hotel underwent a refurbishment to catch up with the stylish architectural designs.

Architectural fashion

Stags Head Hotel, one of the prestigious facilities in the town, was brought down in the mid-eighties and the five-star Merica Hotel was built to replace it.

Its architectural fashion has shaped the outlook of the city’s CBD.

Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) house is another old building built in 1957 that had defined the outlook of the CBD for the past six decades and its architectural designs still stand tall today.

And as Nakuru city’s development boundaries tend to expand in all directions, new high-rise modern commercial buildings are coming up in equal measure, going by the city’s standards.

Interestingly, professionals such as lawyers, engineers and architects prefer moving into modern buildings, leaving new entrants to inherit old offices whose rents are affordable.

Lawyer Beldine Obiero said when they started out, they had to go space in the old buildings, which are more affordable and accommodative.

With experience, he said, lawyers move into bigger offices with serene and quiet environments owing to the nature of their work. This is only achievable when their business equally expands.

“Bigger offices are conducive to bigger clients. An office in the CBD guarantees you lots of work from walk-in clients and big customers. They (clients) take your work seriously because of ambience and business environment,” said Mr Obiero, who had a practice in Nakuru town but has since shifted to Kisumu.

“Charges from such lawyers also differ from one person to the other.” 

Outlived usefulness

Some of the old buildings in the CBD that used to house cinema halls have been turned into churches as they have outlived their usefulness after the emergence of videos and YouTube channels.

De-Negotiators Enterprises Managing Director Elly Ogutu said such buildings need either to be demolished or sold to those who can develop them to the current standards.

He said the emergence of videotapes in the nineties coupled with liberalisation of the electronics sector had resulted in the production of advanced television programmes that took the public away from cinemas.

“The emergence of the videotapes and advanced television programming gave the public a chance to shift their focus to watching movies at home and rendered the cinemas obsolete,” he said.

There were three prominent cinema halls in Nakuru City, all of which have been turned into churches.