History of the Östermalms Saluhall.
Built more than a century ago, Östermalms Saluhall is an exceptional building with its Neo-gothic red brick design which is an extremely advanced and progressive creation in its time. From one side it looks like a medieval castle with its visible little towers. And on the other side an inspiration of Gustave’s Eiffel tower. Even now, the old structure from 1888 maintains a very high, modern standard in both environmental and management terms
Established in the spring of 1888 by three wealthy bankers and named “Östermalms Saluhallar Aktiebolag”. The place was intended to be built and rented out for food stalls and other sales in Stockholm; an indoor market.
With the budget of one million kronor, an architectural competition was held for design proposals of the west side of Östermalmstorg. but none of the ten designs submitted appealed to the fastidious property magnates.
Instead two relatively young, but already successful architects were engaged to draw up plans for Stockholm’s first major food hall in the continental style, Isak Gustaf Clason; and Kasper Salin.
Isak Gustaf Clason, is already assistant city architect by 1880, and eventually become a professor of architecture, he is also the architect of Nordic Museum, while Kasper Salin is also an architect and designer set up their own architectural offices together in 1881.
The two had gone on a scholarship-funded trip from 1883-1886, during which they studied many new examples of brick architecture in northern Germany, Italy and France. In France they took particular interest in the numerous monumental and sophisticated cast iron structures that would later be adopted in the frame for Östermalms Saluhall’s brick cathedral.
The drawing up of the plans and erection of the food hall in Stockholm was to be a much speedier affair than the Eiffel Tower even by today’s standards. The company was established in March 1888, Clason and Salin were given the contract, and the application for a license to build, which was submitted on March13, it was then approved just three days later. The old buildings occupying two sections of the site where the food hall was to be built were demolished in April and May, and work on the foundations began on June.1 The site manager, by the name of Meyer, submitted an application for an inspection of the ground soon after on June 18. While a firm of building contractors, Andersson & Andrée, were laying the foundations in record time in June the master building Erik Lundroth and cast iron supplier Motala Mekaniska Verkstäder worked under great pressure of time.
Salin’s expert knowledge when it came to the advanced and complicated drawings for the hall’s cast iron structure was well rewarded on 19 June when the inspector Lieutenant P. Axel Lindahl expressed his decision: “… surveyed…no faults found”.
Now it was time for a workforce of up to 500 men to go into action, and they certainly did it with a vengeance. Their skill, purpose and zeal came to fruition with a traditional “topping-out party” to celebrate the completion of the roof frame as early as the 29th of September. The frame survey was carried out by city architect Ludvig Hedin, whose verdict reflected that of Lieutenant Lindahl. “…The work was inspected thoroughly and was in all areas carried out with particular precision, and no faults were found.”
Hedin had approved a building technique that was as yet untried in Sweden. The rectangular food hall was divided into three sections, or “naves”, by the rows of cast iron that supported the high, spacious ceiling construction with its enormous windows. This was enclosed by the outer part of the building, constructed in a beautiful bright red brick, that had been shipped up all the way from Börringe in Skåne because the brick available from nearby Mälardalen did not pass Clason’s critical gaze and exacting quality requirements.
There were many other aspects to inner solutions and functionality that were completely new, for example the technical systems for heating, ventilation and lighting. Clason had also complemented the natural brick material with cement on the borders and decorations on the façade. Cement was a relatively new and unknown material in the 1800s, particularly not tested for its durability.
By late autumn the magnificent building had been completed, with its towers and vast glass ceiling, a little like a cross between a castle and a hothouse of impressive dimensions continued to impress people even today.
In 1969 the building was described for its remarkable accuracy by a journalist using the pen-name Bergengren in Aftonbladet: “Clason’s Saluhall is the most amazing balancing act … with one foot in a mediaeval castle and the other up in the dizzy heights of the iron structures of 19th century engineers.”
Inside the soaring mediaeval tower of the main entrance with its impressive portal, Stockholmers were presented with a more colourful and decorative scene than the one we have today. The pillars were painted red and blue and the polished surface of the walls had a red and blue frieze covered with all kinds of fitting proverbs for the well being of the public. Apart from the clock, calendar and barometer, the walls were decorated with a long list of traders to check through before the days’ shopping began.
Inauguration by King Oscar II, on 30 November 1888, only six months after the first day it was built. On December 1, 1888, Östermalms Saluhall opened its doors to the public. It was the beginning of a new era and Stockholm now had its own temple to promote and preserve the culture of good food.
The stalls’ exquisite carvings in dark painted wood were the same as they are today, together with the traders’ signboards and all kinds of personal decoration. Tall, beautiful gaslight candelabra, which also served as hydrants, stood where the aisles met.
The building had its own steam power station, which ran large dynamo machines to provide electricity and energy for the hall. An extensive system of arc lamps and electric lights had been installed by the firm of Luth & Rosén to light up the hall in the evenings.
The innovative ventilation system, which cooled in the summer and kept the temperature above zero in the winter, was the work of the firm of Atlasverkstäderna. In the cellar the hall had its own well and a pump system, which provided fish traders with fresh, running water for live fish in corves. The boutiques on the outside of the building had the biggest shop windows of the day. There was much here for the curious visitor to look at, admire and peruse.
Despite the magnificence of the building and the beauty of its surroundings trading at Östermalm’s Saluhall did not immediately take off. The rents were high and many of the 153 stalls stood empty. For a while these were used by Swedish newspapers Aftonbladet and Svenska Dagbladet, who had their branch offices in part of the hall.
Östermalms Saluhall was eventually bought by the City of Stockholm for 1,225,000 kronor. With bureaucratic finesse the city fathers then imposed a ban on the lively trade out on Östermalmstorg owing to hygiene considerations. There was little left for the traders to do but move into the hall, where business immediately quickened.
Since then the only threat to the life and trade of the hall was during the 1960s. A few politicians, in the futuristic spirit of the Stockholm politician Hjalmar Mehr, had the somewhat appalling idea that it might be better to tear down the hall to make way for more cars and parking. Fortunately the outrageous deed was suffocated in its infancy.
Today the hall has still not been declared a listed building of historical interest. But in practice it already enjoys the same level of protection, according to Stockholm City Museum.
Clason and Salin’s masterpiece remains for coming generations of lovers of good food to see and admire. Good taste has won a well-earned victory and an abode to really be proud of.