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'Spy House' in Pinetown was rumoured to have hidden treasure, underground passages

A Pinetown property with enough mystery and intrigue to inspire a Hollywood movie is to be sold by Ian Wyles Auctioneers on September 6.

The residence that has fascinated Durban residents for more than eight decades is at 23 Tracy Watts Road on Fields Hill. It was created 85 years ago by a German, Georgia Anna Boediker, better known as “Shanghai Lil” because of her liking for Chinese-styled clothing.

Shanghai Lil was the character in a 1933 movie dance number staged by the king of kitsch choreography, Busby Berkeley.

Boediker, born in Bavaria in 1891, arrived in Durban from Korea in 1929 and owned an Oriental ornaments shop in the CBD. She bought the house in 1933 and rebuilt it as a replica of a wing of Sanssouci, the Berlin summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia.

When Boediker had completed her alterations, she named the building The Glass House, but over the years it acquired new titles, including The Capricorn, Shanghai Lil’s, The Round House, and The Spy House – locals suspected that Shanghai Lil was shielding German spies who watched Durban harbour for World War ll Allied shipping movements. It was said she had a radio transmitter to send reports to Germany but no evidence was ever found.

Rumours about the house include:

* A treasure is hidden in the kitchen.

* The house has underground rooms and passages.

* Silver snakes lived in a surrounding ditch.

* A Chinese man was murdered in the house.

Shanghai Lil, who never married, was also suspected of smuggling opium in the camphor wooden boxes she imported for her CBD store.

The most famous mystery about Shanghai Lil is that she owned a valuable solid gold statue of Buddha. But when she died in 1951, at 60, her estate was auctioned and no such statue was found. Some believe she buried the Buddha on the grounds; others say it hides in a wall panel.

Ian Wyles’ official listing of the “prime office building” opts for facts, free of fables: “The property is on a corner stand, developed into three buildings. The main building – partly double-storey – is being used as offices with ample secure parking. At the front of the property is a small office building and at the rear, an outbuilding now used for storage.”

Also on offer at the same auction will be 27 Tracy Watts Road, an adjoining double-storey being used for commercial purposes. Both properties have been consigned to auction by Absa so a sale on the day is assured – probably to an investor keen to develop both properties.

Viewing of the properties is by appointment. For more details, call 0315794403 or 0826019278, email or see

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