With a good supply of water becoming more and more important as the town grew, the Municipality of Cape Town acquired land from the Van Breda family who owned the farm Oranjezigt for the exclusive construction of one or more reservoirs. The early reservoirs, built in 1819 and 1852 were already inadequate for the town’s needs.
In 1881 the Molteno reservoir was constructed and the land below – and above Camp Street which runs above the lower reservoirs – seemed a natural park to D C de Waal, a member of the Cape Legislative Assembly.
David Christiaan de Waal was born on a farm in the Kuilsriver area in 1845. He married Hester Sophia Hofmyer, the eldest daughter of J H Hofmeyr and for a while they lived on the farm Bellevue adjoining Welgemeend, his father-in-law’s home. De Waal was a close friend of Cecil John Rhodes and had travelled with him to Mashonaland on two occasions. He was Mayor of Cape Town from 1889 to 1890 and remained active in politics until …. It is said that he loved trees for their “serene dignity” saying that “with (their) branches always pointed heavenward, (they are) a symbol of prayer.” At his instigation thousands of trees were planted in Cape Town. The park was opened to the public officially in 1895 and named in his honour although an early map shows it as Jubilee Park.
The impressive gates and the wall along Camp Street were built in 1899 and the wall was extended up Upper Orange Street in 1900. When the park was originally planned Molteno Road did not exist and the park was edged on the west with orchards that ran to Hof Street. However these had been removed by the end of the 19th century and the road was built. The wall was never extended up Molteno Road but instead it was proposed that a kei-apple hedge be planted along that side of the park.
The bandstand was erected in Green Point for the Cape Town Industrial Exhibition of 1904/05 and it appears to have been moved to the park shortly after that exhibition ended. Military bands used to perform there for some years but were stopped as it was said that the patients at the old Volk’s Hospital (now Cape Town Medi-Clinic) were disturbed by the noise.
In the 1950’s De Waal Park became the venue for the annual Theatrical Garden Party, which provided the City with much entertainment and raised funds for charity. These events were the forerunner of today’s Community Chest Carnival now based in Maynardville.
The 1957 the City Council proposed to alienate an acre of the park for a private bowling club. This was vigorously opposed by the residents of the city bowl and a petition of 1100 signatures was submitted to the Administrator of the Cape. A public meeting of rate payers was a noisy affair and the Council withdrew its proposal.
However two years later the Starke Committee proposed that an area 120 feet wide, stretching across the top of the park should be made available for tennis and bowling. As a result of this, Dr Luckhoff, a local resident sought protection of the park from the National Monuments Council and it was proclaimed a National Monument for the use of the general public in March 1968.
In 1985 the park was re-landscaped and many of the narrow winding paths were removed. A pond was built around the Victorian fountain and diagonal paths were laid. Lighting was installed again (there is evidence that there was lighting in the early days) but then vandals broke the fountain. The Council removed what was left of the fountain and carefully restored it. Council was reluctant to place it back in the Park and it was only after some bargaining – the fountain was the centrepiece of the council’s display at a Floriade – that the fountain was returned to the park.
In 2008 The Friends of De Waal Park was formed to assist the council in maintaining the park. Since then the Friends have paid for the pond to be cleaned regularly, for the benches to be restored, assisted with the upgrade of the children’s play area, arranged for more benches and some tables to be placed in the park and for a regular service to be provided at the toilet block. Currently they are involved in the repair of the fountain which has again been damaged.
The summer of 2011/2012 saw the introduction by the Friends of a series of concerts on the bandstand. These have been sponsored and so are free to the public. They have been a huge success and he artists ranged from a classical brass quintet to classical guitar, ska and rock.