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From a gymnasium into a night club

In the late 19th century, the Russian population in Helsinki, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland, longed for a grammar school for their children. Urged by Emperor Alexander II of Russia, the first Russian school in Finland was established in 1870, and it was named the Gymnasium of Alexander. It was a creation of architect Frans Anatolius Sjöström, and it can be admired at the address Mannerheimintie 6 even today..

In the census of 1870, the population of Helsinki was 28,519. Of them, 18,302 spoke Swedish as their first language, approximately 8,300 Finnish, 3,878 Russian and 562 German. This meant that a school for the offspring of families of Russian officials and traders was truly needed.

Esteemed architect Frans Anatolius Sjöström, who had studied architecture in Stockholm among other places, took the task of designing the Gymnasium of Alexander. The building representing the Neo-Renaissance style was completed in 1884 along Heikinkatu, at the modern-day address of Mannerheimintie 6. In the late 19th century, Helsinki city centre was at a fast pace developing from a low and spacious city of wooden houses into a continental milieu of stone houses and park boulevards. When it was completed, the imposing gymnasium building stood out higher than the surrounding buildings.

Photo: unknown, Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

After about 20 years, the spaces were already too cramped for the school. In 1908, Headmaster Victor V. Belevitš applied for a new plot from the city. He was successful: the school was appointed a new plot along Arkadiankatu in the neighbourhood of Etu-Töölö. The opening ceremony of the new school building dedicated to Emperor Alexander II of Russia was organised in December 1913. Nowadays, that building houses the Natural History Museum of Finland.

Stenman’s Art Palace

Left empty, the old gymnasium became the property of art dealer Gösta Stenman in autumn 1919. Right after the ownership had been transferred, the main entrance located in the middle of the ground floor was replaced with two entrances, one on each side of the facade. The gymnasium’s banqueting hall and classrooms were renovated to meet the needs of the art salon. Now, the building was dubbed as Stenman’s Art Palace.

Gösta Stenman’s interest in art had awoken already as a school boy in Oulu. After moving to Helsinki, he started as a journalist but soon started planning to open his own art salon. The first salon on Erottaja was the starting point of a success story that turned Stenman into the most famous art dealer in Finland. He helped talented artists find fame and organised an exhibition of the works of Helene Schjerfbeck in the salon. It became a huge hit with the public. He also supported artist Tyko Sallinen who was not accepted as a member of the Artists’ Association of Finland.

The imposing stairway of Stenman’s art salon. Photo: Eric Sundström, Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

The inauguration of Stenman’s Art Palace was celebrated in early December 1919. The guests featured K.J. Ståhlberg, the first President of the independent republic of Finland, and the crème de la crème of the culture circles. The orchestra and choir performed a cantata composed by Jean Sibelius for the event and conducted by the master himself.

“Wondering, one steps from the stairway to the second floor where the exhibition rooms start. The grand entrance hall is astonishing with its spacious dimensions and exquisite decor. Fabulous old-time rugs on the floor. Stylish curtains that are hundreds of years old and ancient Dutch, Italian and French paintings on the walls. Everything organised with skill and sense, aiming at and giving out an air of vagueness. In the airy and light-filled rooms with high ceilings of the second floor, different sections feature collections by our Finnish artists, and represented are such names as Alb. Edelfelt, Fanny Churberg and M. Enckell,” wrote the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper on 2 December 1919.

Exoticism and night clubs

After Stenman sold the building in 1927, the banqueting hall was transformed into the Cafe Pagod restaurant. The temple café was mostly advertised to female customers. Living up to its name, the restaurant had an exotic image, and as contemporary writings prove, Pagod’s “mocha coffee leads one’s unexplored thoughts to the happy Arabia.”

Restaurant Pagod and Arabia’s retail spaces in the building in 1930.

David Frölander-Ulf designed the oriental style of Pagod’s decor. An interpretation of a Chinese interior was created with golden, oriental patterns and dragons, wooden carvings, Chinese figures and Buddha statues. The atmosphere was completed by furniture with a glossy lacquer finish and seats with geometric backs.

In autumn 1931, the Finnish magazine of hotels, restaurants and cafés wrote of the upcoming winter season as follows: “Cafe Pagod enchants its visitors with a Hungarian orchestra. Director Lundblom wants to keep music lovers in the summertime in restaurant Kappeli and in the wintertime in Pagod, and he has succeeded in his endeavours at least during last summer.”

However, Pagod was short-lived, as already in 1932 the restaurant Mikado was operating in the same premises. Mikado only closed its doors at the end of 2005. After that, the address was taken over by the Den Kungliga Klubben nightclub that has since been replaced by nightclub DTM that celebrates all the colours of the rainbow.

Restaurant Mikado’s decor in 1971. Mikado operated at Mannerheimintie 6 since 1932. (Photo: Kari Hakli, Helsingin kaupunginmuseo)

The Uusi Suomi building

Architect Juhani Peltonen drew up the blueprints with which another floor was added to the building in 1936.  After the change, from the 1930s onwards, the building was known as the Uusi Suomi building where the Uusi Suomi newspaper’s editorial office and headquarters resided.

Fire has damaged the building twice, lastly in 1977, after which the Uusi Suomi headquarters and editorial office relocated to the neighbourhood of Ruoholahti.

The building’s ground floor got its current look with the large windows and pillars in the 1920s. After the fire in the 1970s, the building was elevated with light attic floors. The three lowest floors were renovated and the painted decorations in the stairway were restored. This means that even after all these decades, the stairway is still in its original splendour with the steps that the boys of the gymnasium ran up and down more than a hundred years ago.

After the renovation, cinema Studio moved in on the fourth floor. It closed down in 1999.

Currently the building is an office and retail property.

Basic information:

  • Address: Mannerheimintie 6
  • Architect: Frans Anatolius Sjöström
  • Style: Neo-Renaissance
  • City block: Riikinkukko

Published 11.8.2017