Sunday, October 28, 2007

My House

Now that I have some regular readers (at least I hope so) I thought it would be nice to tell something about how and where I live. My apartment block in the Amsterdam Van Bossestraat was built in 1915 and declared a monument in 2004. The building stretches out to the left and right, but with a slightly lower roof. Hence it has been nicknamed 'The Castle' sometimes. I'm not sure about this, but I think it was designed by the architects bureau of Mr. Pierre Cuyper, who desigend the famous Rijksmuseum and Central Station in Amsterdam. In 1915 Mr Cuyper himself was far over 80 years old, so it's likely his son Joseph deserves the credits. I only know for sure several other buildings in my neighbourhood (De Kempenaerstraat) were designed by his student and coworker De Bazel. But therefore the connection is quite obvious.

The monumental status of the building meant it had to be restored to its original state on the outside. During the seventies and eighties, most of the traditional cross log windows and panel doors were replaced by ugly modern ones and of different types at that. At the same time the landlords planned a thorough modernization of the apartments on the inside. At that time, going crazy on 40 square meters, my BF and I had been looking for a bigger place for ages, but without much success or otherwise we couldn't agree on the few offers that we had. It may be hard to understand for US people how hard it is to find a proper apartment (especially for rent), but it is in this densely populated country and from the big cities the problem is spreading to the area around them. And if you read on you'll see it wasn't any better in the past.

The renovation offered new options though. Not long after we heard about it, our upstairs neighbour moved out and I knew they wouldn't rent the flat out again until after the works were done. So I asked the landlords if they could join the two apartments together. Well, the answer was a disappointing 'no'. But in the end they agreed to letting my BF move upstairs on his own. So now we live contently 'together' as neighbours and I have to say we're happier than ever before.

On the picture you can see each vertical row of flats has two front doors. I have my own front door that leads directly to my ground floor (first for US) and the door on the left side leads to the stairways to the upstairs. I think this was done to save space. Otherwise the hallway to a shared entranced would have been taken from my space. Now that's my private hallway. This means to visit each other we have to pass outside on the street, but luckily the porch is covered and it doesn't bother us at all.

In 1943 an English bomber was shot by the occupiers of our country and crashed on my building after hitting the ornamental tower with its wing. Only one of the New Zealand crew of four survived and seven citizens died. Three of them were inhabitants of my very apartment.

From what I read, the row of flats I live in and the next door's were completely destroyed, but I think it was mainly the add ons on the back side of the building that housed the bedrooms at the time.

This picture is from before the last renovation. The add ons were isolated on the outside and beautifully plastered.

After repairing the damages the replaced ornamental tower was badly taken care of and in the late sixties or early seventies they tore it down. I found this photo from 1966 in the city's archives.

Locals who saw the crash and former inhabitants have been lobbying ever since to have it replaced again. With the monument status and final renovation their request has finally been granted in 2005.

Also a plaque was placed to commemorate the victims of the crash.

While doing research for this entry I stumbled upon a weblog of a nice gentleman, Joop, who is a teacher, and wrote about both the renovation and the crash. It turned out he lived in my apartment as a kid in the fifties and sixties. Being a collector of used items I'm always curious about their history and this equally counts for my house, so I contacted him. Now you have to imagine this: the bare 40 square meters that drove me and my BF crazy, housed complete families at the time, and often with over four kids! The narrow 2 x 7 meters add on at the back of the house, that now are my bathroom, the central heating installation and washer closet and my narrow kitchen, then were two (2!) bedrooms where the kids slept in bunk beds. The parents had a fold out bed in the living room.

In the seventies the first real suburbs were being built around Amsterdam and families like this moved out there, leaving their small apartments for young couples, students and singles. However due to bad maintenance the buildings got in such a bad state it seemed the only solution would be to tear them down and replace them with cheap and ugly modern buildings. Thanks to the squatter movement that was prevented. By occupying the empty apartments in the end they forced the city council to start renovating. This way the authentic character of many old neighbourhoods in Amsterdam has been preserved.

When my BF and I moved in in 1989 the flat had had a first basic renovation and at least a proper bathroom and kitchen were put in, a concrete floor, new ceilings and some double glazing. But we still had that narrow, now one bedroom, 2 x 7 space and we never knew how to put the bed in... Thank god that's all better now. And of course we have twice the space.

I have to thank Joop for the picture of the plaque. It turns out he still often comes back to his old neighbourhood to take photo's. Dutch readers can read his story here.

Now all I have to do is grant his wish to have a look at the inside of his old house, which I will gladly do in the coming weeks or so.


Nathan said...

Wow! What an interesting post! I never knew about the history of your building. My house in West Virginia was built in 1990...and that's about the history of it.

Quite an interesting and well-put-together blog site as well.

Is well-put-together a real world?

Deb said...

What an interesting blog post! I loved getting to see your building and read about its history. And now nice that you have been in touch with a former resident of your own apartment. :)

Le-Chat said...

Hey Nate, that's cool. I just realised your site wasn't in my links list, so I justed added it (The Strong Family) so people can see some more pics of beautiful Amsterdam.

Anonymous said...

How interesting!

When you saw that 3 of the victims were from your apartment, do you mean your building or the exact apartment where you live? How strange that would be, to live in an apartment where three people died like that...

Sorry, morbid. Anyway, I'm loving the blog - I absolutely can't believe that couch you found!

Le-Chat said...

Hi Bad Penny,
Thanks for visiting. Yes they actually lived in my apartment, but it all happened so long ago it doesn't bother me. Besides the house was built in 1915, who knows what other tragedies have passed on those 40 square meters?

Doris Sturm said...

I love reading about old buildings getting rebuild and reconstructed to their original structure. It looks great! Being from Germany myuself, I appreciate old architecture and I really enjoyed reading about your apartment building.
Thanks for sharing.