Norra Latin and Folkets Hus are not only situated in the heart of Stockholm – these two buildings have also played no small role in the city’s history and development. Norra Bantorget has for many years been the heartland of the Social Democrat Party and the labour movement and played an important role in Sweden’s development.
As recently as 1850, the area that is now the elegant square of today consisted of little but impenetrable thickets, mud and brushwood. This marshland was bordered by two penal institutions, which were situated where Folkets Hus stands today. Opposite the prison area, where Norra Latin was later built, was a leafy English-style pleasure park and a kitchen garden that was planted by the Swedish Horticulture Society in 1830.
Everything changed with the construction of the railways which played a key part in the creation of the area as we now know it. The Stockholm-Uppsala section of the Northern Main Line was opened to rail traffic in 1866, bringing with it a demand for a market square. This was completed in 1867, and was named Norra Bantorget.
In the late 19th century, the labour movement took the initiative to build Folkets Hus: a community centre where their political meetings and social events could be held. However, by the time it was completed in 1901, the entire project was in dire financial straits. But then help came from an unexpected source: the Stora Bryggeriet brewery, which was owned by the prestigious Wallenberg financial family and Ernest Thiel.
The brewery donated SEK 100,000 worth of shares on the condition that that the labour movement would give publicity to the brewery’s beer!
By 1917, Folkets Hus had already outgrown its premises. To ease the pressure, the adjoining properties – Wallingatan 21 and Barnhusgatan 12 – were bought, but the possibility of building a brand new Folkets Hus had already been raised. During the 1930s, the famous architect Sven Markelius drew up plans for a new building and decided which additional plots would need to be acquired. The outbreak of the Second World War meant that the project had to be shelved.
The modern-day Folkets Hus was built during the 1950s in three stages and inaugurated in 1960. It rapidly became a powerhouse of innovative ideas in both politics and the arts. By the 1980s, the new building had become the largest conference venue in Northern Europe.
LONG TRADITION OF EDUCATION, DECISIONS AND MEETINGS
The original Folkets Hus – a community centre for the labour movement’s political meetings and social events – was opened in 1901. It was a finan- cially shaky project that experienced difficulties from day one. Its salvation came from an unexpected source: the Stora Bryggeriet brewery, which was owned by theWallenberg family and ErnestThiel.The brewery saved Folkets Hus by donating SEK 100,000 in shares to the labour movement – on condition that it actively promoted the brewery’s beer!
THE DOCKWORKER – A STATUE AND SYMBOL
Besides the Wallenberg family, the backers of Folkets Hus included banker andartcollectorErnstThiel,andbusinessmanOlofAschberg.ErnestThiel is one of the reasons that Folkets Hus ended up owning C. Meunier’s famous statue “The Dock Labourer” – the symbol of the Swedish labour movement.
Thiel had seen Richard Bergh’s painting “The Knight and the Virgin” at an exhibition and was eager to buy it, but unfor tunately the ar tist had already donated it to Folkets Hus.Thiel managed to persuade Richard Berg to propose a trade-off with Folkets Hus. Berg suggested that Thiel be given thepaintinginexchangeforabronzecastofC.Meunier’swell-knownstat- ue “The Dock Labourer”.This swap got the green light and on 9 October 1907 “The Dock Labourer” arrived at Folkets Hus.
FOLKETS HUS OUTGROWS ITS BUILDING
It only took until 1917 for Folkets Hus to outgrow these premises.There were so many activities that the building was overcrowded and they start- ed to discuss building a completely new Folkets Hus. In the 1930s, the fa-
PLAYS FOR THE PEOPLE
The A Hall in Folkets Hus was equipped with a stage, to provide ‘bread and circuses’ for the proletariat. Oscar Wennersten was the theatre’s leg- endary manager for years. His merits include the support he gave August Strindberg, who had flopped at Stockholm’s Intima Theatre and needed a new stage.Wennersten took pity on Strindberg for many years, despite his string of loss-making plays.
Later on, during the 1930s and 40s, the theatre mainly staged popular farces. Karl-Gerhard, Nils Poppe and Sigge Fürst are three big names that have starred in cabarets on the Folkets Hus stage.
ART AT FOLKETS HUS
The buildings art collection includes contemporary murals, statues, por- traits and artworks from the original Folkets Hus.A concrete canopy runs along the building’s granite facade, with forged copper symbols for its the- atre, its international work and its restaurant.
At the centre of the building there is a 500 m2 Chamotte relief by Sig- ne Persson-Melin and Anders Liljefors. On the opposite wall hangs “The Three Wheels”, Sven Ljungberg’s wall mosaic that tells the story of the Swedishlabourmovement.TheartcollectionalsocontainsworksbyAlbin Amelin, Sven X:et Erixson and Bror Hjort.The building is also decorated with sculptures, busts and reliefs.
STOCKHOLM CITY THEATRE AND DANSENS HUS
In 1960, the Stockholm City Theatre moved into Folkets Hus and stayed for 30 years. Most of Sweden’s well-known actors have performed on this stage; Monica Zetterlund, Gösta Ekman and Philip Zandén. In 1990, the City Theatre moved to the House of Culture on Sergel’s Square, making way for Dansens Hus, the largest stage for guest performances of contem- porary dance, which moved in the following year.
Aspiring to increase educational standards, the City of Stockholm decided to build a new school for boys, Norra Latin, which would concentrate on Greek, Latin and Classical studies. For 102 years it was to be one of the finest educational establishments in the country.
In 1918, it was proposed that girls should also be admitted, but despite the proposal receiving approval it was not until 1961 that it finally became co-educational.
No expense was spared on the project. The most distinguished architect of the time, Helgo Zettervall, was engaged and he designed a magnificent building in a palatial New Renaissance style. All told, the cost of the plot, the building and its furnishings was more than SEK 1,135,000. The inauguration ceremony on 3 September 1880, where the dedication speech was given by the Archbishop of Stockholm, was a very grand occasion. It was attended by King Oscar II, the famed artist, Prince Eugen, and many members of high society. This splendid building was meant to make an impression and it still does today.
Norra Latin exudes the self-confidence and prosperity of its time. Despite the emphasis on the classics, Norra Latin became an extremely progressive school, introducing many modern ideas. It boasted Sweden’s first school canteen and in the 1940s, the parents’ association employed the country’s first school welfare officer. It was also one of the first schools to have a student council. As the residential areas of central Stockholm were replaced by office blocks, the number of pupils grew fewer and fewer.
In the 1980s the entire school relocated to suburban Tensta and the building was sold to LO (the Swedish TUC.) In 1989 Norra Latin opened its doors once again in its current form, as a venue for conferences, congresses and concerts.
The Queen Christina School on Riddarholmen had grown too small by the 1800s and Stockholm was without a grammar school.The plot on Norra Bantorget was purchased in 1872 by Barnhusdirektionen for SEK 300,000 and the leading architect of the age, Helgo Zettervall, was hired. He designed and built the school in a palatial Neo-Renaissance style. The cost for the plot, building and furnishings eventually exceeded SEK 1,135,000.
OPENED BY KING OSCAR II
At the official opening on 3 September 1880, the inauguration speech was given by the Archbishop of Stockholm in the presence of His Majesty King Oscar II. For a long time afterwards, the King took a great interest in the school. Many of the teachers might have preferred him to take less of an interest.The king had a tendency not just to make frequent unannounced visits, but to barge into the classrooms and share his views on teaching methods.
SCHOOL FOR BOYS
Although not the original intention, for a long time Norra Latin was a posh school.This was mainly due to its location. Most of the inhabitants of cen- tral Stockholm were wealthy burghers and dignitaries. But eventually the school began to accept boys from other districts. Being a pupil at Norra Latin was long regarded as a great advantage.
NO GIRLS UNTIL 1961
In 1918, a resolution that Norra Latin should become co-educational was passed, but in fact it would take until 1961 for girls to be admitted.
FIRST FOR PUPIL LUNCHES, SCHOOL COUNSELORS, STUDENT COUNCILS AND TENNIS COURTS
Norra Latin evolved into a very modern secondary school, with elements of social engineering.The school had Sweden’s first school canteen and in the 1940s the PTA also employed Sweden’s first school counselor, Sigge Bruce. It was also one of the first schools to start student councils.
Physical education was an important subject at Norra Latin.The school playground was turned into an ice rink in the winters and the spacious sports hall also became Stockholm’s first tennis court.The Auditorium is still home to the original 13-stop organ, which was restored and re-inau- gurated in 1997.v
NORRA LATIN ART
The ground floor of the South Atrium is dominated by Prince Eugen’s huge painting “The Light Night” from 1899. His painting “Summer” from 1904 hangs in the Auditorium. On the second floor of the South Atrium is Carl Larsson’s fresco “The Schoolboys’ Prayers” from 1901. Bruno Liljefor’s “Swans in Flight” from 1900 is displayed on the floor above.
At the opposite end of the building, in the North Atrium, is Axel Tör- neman’s mural “Engelbrekt at Arboga Parliament” which is a full-scale sketch of one of the murals in Sweden’s Parliament House. Norra Latin is also home to works by Eugéne Jansson, Otto Hesselbom, Hildur Hult and many others. Many of the paintings are portraits of Sweden’s best- known working-class poets, including Ivar Lo Johansson, Harry Martinsson and Eyvind Johnsson.There are also works by contemporary artists on display at Norra Latin.When the interior of the building was renovated in 2004-2005, the updated dining rooms were adorned with more recent works from the collections. One of them features paintings by Peter Dahl and another has burlesque portraits of generals by Italian artist Enrico Baj.
FROM SCHOOL TO CONFERENCE VENUE
As Stockholm City was converted into offices, the supply of pupils dwin- dled. In its final years as a school, the pupils at Norra Latin all came from the suburb of Tensta and in 1984 all teaching activities moved there in- stead. On 13 January 1989, Norra Latin reopened its doors – now as a conference, congress and concert venue.
Norra Latin consists of 30 meeting spaces in different sizes.The Audito- rium has fixed theatre seating with space for 400 people.The Pillar Hall is almost as large, but has greater flexibility in terms of seating. 9 of the former classrooms are slightly larger and 16 of them are smaller, there are also two board rooms. All rooms have large windows and access to the required technology.The atriums are used for coffee breaks, dinners, evening mingles and exhibitions.