Monday, April 11, 2016

AMSTERDAM | Herengracht + Keizersgracht (Updated Aug 7, 2017)

Heading west from the huge Amsterdam train station, upper right,
the Herengracht is the second gracht (canal).
April 18, 2016 – Yesterday morning I was nominally the tour leader of a walk on the Herengracht (Men's Canal) and, in the afternoon, the Keizersgracht (King's Canal).

I say nominally because so many of those of the tour were experts of their own. This was part of a reunion of the Boissevain family, which became prominent because of its reputation for being well-informed in banking circles. My mother's grandfather Charles Boissevain was the publisher-editor of the Algemeen Handelsblad, which in his day was the New York Times of the Netherlands.

The two central canals that we walked are the most important of the four canals of the Grachtengordel (Canal Belt or Ring), which encircles central Amsterdam, including the Royal Palace and Dam Square. The canals are connected by major roads such as the Leidsestraat, the Haarlemmerweg and the Utrechtsestraat, which cross the canals on bridges. The canal boats have to fit under the bridges, so they have their uniquely low roofs.

The Canal Ring grew during the glory days of Amsterdam. Its conception and execution are marvels of organization, planning and community spirit. The whole city rests on wooden piles that resist rot because they stay under water. The Royal Palace, built in 1655 as the Amsterdam City Hall, rests on nearly 13,700 piles driven into the marshy ground. The Ring is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its exemplary large-scale urban planning.

Morning: Herengracht

The following walking tour is focused on buildings of interest to members of the Boissevain family. It began at 9:30 am on Sunday, April 17, 2016. It covered buildings from Herengracht 40 to 386.

The word Herengracht is hard to pronounce for non-Dutch speakers because it has three consonants in a row in two places. (The Japanese language does not permit any consonant without a vowel suffix, except for a terminal "n". So Herengracht would be spelled something like Herengurakuto, with three extra vowels in the last syllable.) It also includes the awesome Dutch guttural "ch", which even their German cousins have trouble with – that's how Dutch people could always identify a German during World War II.

If you come from the central train station, take a right turn and walk along the Prins Hendrikkade. To your left look for a landmark in the area between the train station and the Herengracht–the Ronde Kerk (Round Church) on the Singel, near the bridge to the Haarlemmerstraat. The copper-domed Ronde Kerk is the only Protestant round church in Holland. It is also called the Koepelkerk (for the cupola). It is owned by the Lutheran Church but isn't used as a church any more. (Instead, Lutherans use the Oude Lutherskerk, the Old Lutheran Church, farther south on the Singel.)
Landmark–The Ronde Kerk on
the Singel, near the top of the

9:15 a.m. 
Envision the Ronde Kerk Fire, 1822If you find yourself at the Ronde Kerk, think back to the first half of the 19th century. It is 1822, and the Church is on fire! It's a huge conflagration. Horses careen past, pulling fire department water tanks and ladders. Some warehouses are beginning to be engulfed in flames.

Imagine how worried Caroline Boissevain would have been, living near the Ronde Kerk at that time.

She is home alone.  She is just 23 and she is frightened of the fire, as well she should be. A few years before, she married Willem de Clercq, who will later become famous as a writer and businessman. She flees, first putting on a beautiful hat with a large feather. There she goes, through a shower of sparks, to her father Daniel. We're going to follow her as she runs for help.

The walking tour covers 12 blocks, from Herengracht 
40, at the north end of the canal, above #41, to the 
Amsterdam Historical Museum. We actually
overshot the turn and walked to #27.
She may have made it over the bridge to the Haarlemmer-straat and run to the left over the Brouwersgracht. We pass the Little Bruges Milkmaid, then we take the next bridge to the left and we are on the top (the north end) of the Herengracht, the Men's Canal.

Stop and take a look at this area, which is one of the most beautiful places in Amsterdam.

The Herengracht is the most important canal in Amsterdam. The walking tour started here, at Herengracht 40

In the 17th century, the Herengracht was the neighborhood where the richest merchants and the most influential officials of the city lived. 

The chicness of the address has persisted to the end of the 20th century. 

9:15 a.m. Herenmarkt. In the instructions for walkers, anyone who arrived early was directed to pause at the Herenmarkt, a small square above the Herengracht marked on the map with #42. It was  once a market and is now a small children's playground. 
West India House.

Behind the square stands the West India House, built in 1617. From 1624, the modest-sized building was the head office of the Dutch West India Company, a multinational that administered all of the Dutch colonies in the Americas.  

Here in 1625 the Company decided to found New Amsterdam, which was renamed New York when the British took over the city.

9:30 a.m. 
First stop: 40 Herengracht. The
Dutch Trading Company.
40 Herengracht. It is five windows wide with a hipped roof and cornice. It has three entrances in front, the middle one clearly being for VIPs and the other two doors for–what?–servants and family? This is the Dutch Trading Company, where Caroline's husband de Clercq worked as director. The building did not catch fire and Caroline might find him here. We are on the even-numbered side of the canal, on the side farther away from the central station, in the morning sun. Most of the odd-numbered buildings we will view from across the canal.

(48 Herengracht. The “Three Hills” merchant's house, with three wide windows on four levels, was built in 1612. The beautifully decorated gable was added in a restoration in 1768. This is not Boissevain-related but should be noted as a national historical monument.)

9:35 a.m. 
60 Herengracht.This is the house that Caroline's father Daniel Boissevain Jr. retired to at the end of his life. His firm Boissevain & Co. opened its offices there. During the French occupation, it was an international business trading in grain, German linen, French wines and then colonial goods and matching fabrics. From 1820, Boissevain & Co. shifted its emphasis into shipping, growing into a company with seven ships, sailing mostly to and from the Dutch East Indies. Above the door here you can see a bas-relief with a picture of Louis XIII, King of France. That was done before Daniel moved in (he was a tenant). The house is much bigger than you would expect, because on the garden side, a room five windows wide was built behind the adjacent building, some time after Daniel's death, during the time of his son and successor in the company, Gédéon Jérémie Boissevain. Gédéon built the company into a great enterprise, despite difficult political circumstances. In this house he received prominent Amsterdam families and captains of his ships.

9:40 a.m. 
81 Herengracht–Amsterdam's Oldest House. This house was built in 1590 as a traditional merchant's house with a beautiful step gable and a handsome door. Note the loft doors and stoop. Although the city was founded in 1275, most of the older surviving houses were built after 1600 because of three big city fires in which almost all houses in the city were destroyed. The last big fire took place in 1597 and after that, the city council banned construction of wooden houses, permitting only brick and stone houses. Wood was still used in the houses, for the piles that are driven into the river bed underneath them, for forming the cement, and–it seems from the Canal Museum tour to be discussed below–as a separator  between cement blocks and brick sections. For this house we crossed the canal, then came back into the sun.

Herengracht 102. Note how renovations filled in
the top of the building (L) compared with before (R).
9:45 a.m. 
102 Herengracht. We pass the comfortable house 102 where Edouard Boissevain was born in 1841 and lived for a time. This building dates back to about 1614 and looked like the drawing when Edouard was born. In 1907 and 1910, architects Pieter Jacobsz Block and E. M. Rood filled out the top half of the building so that the house had a maximum amount of space. A pity, perhaps, to see the gables go, but the result is still pleasing.

9:50 a.m. 
112 Herengracht.  A little farther along is the beautifully restored house 112 where Guillaume Boissevain, the youngest brother of Caroline, lived. The brothers in this story are: Gédéon Jérémie, Daniel Jr. (because his father is called Daniel Sr.), Charles Faber, Eduard Constantin, Jean Henri Arnod and Guillaume Boissevain. Ernst Boissevain recommends we hasten our pace to scurry quickly past the hideous building at Herengracht 124, which has replaced the beautiful canal house where Gédéon Jérémie lived out his final years; members of our tour group agreed with Ernst.

10:00 a.m. 
132 Herengracht. The house is not Boissevain-related but is again worthy of special note. It was burned up on New Year's eve of 2008 because of fireworks that were set off to celebrate the new year. It was a bad start to a bad year. The house is a national historic monument and seems to have been repaired. In the 17th century this house was the site of a dramatic love between the rich merchant's daughter Elisabeth de Flines and the servant of her father. Elisabeth eloped with her lover and the couple had a baby. Her father, Louis de Flines, had her tracked down and brought her back, and then he forced her to marry a gunsmith. We don't know what happened to the lover, but a gunsmith would have his ideas... Now we go across the Leliegracht and arrive at…

10:10 a.m. 
168 Herengracht. This building is now the Theatre Museum. At the end of the 19th century banker Mijnhart Boissevain lived there, son of Daniel Jr. and retired starting in his 40th year. Like several other Boissevains of that time, he lives through the winter in Amsterdam; in the summertime he moves out of the city. The neck-gable house was built by the famous 17th century architect Philip Vingboons. Look how gorgeously it is located in the bend of the Herengracht. The front door is open. Look at the inside of the door: a work of white and copper. What stood on the other side were not the ugly offices we see now, but canal houses. In one of those houses was the firm Boissevain & Kooy, a shipping company and business that Charles Faber started. The younger brother of Gédéon Jérémie was married to a girl named Kooy. Her father had consented to the marriage on condition that Charles would bring a ship to the company, just prior to the founding of the firm Boissevain & Co. He succeeded, but not without great heartache!

10:20 a.m. 
172 Herengracht. This is one of the most beautiful merchant's houses in Amsterdam, designed by municipal architect Hendrick de Keyser and built in 1617 for merchant Willem van den Heuvel, with money he inherited from his uncle Giovanni Bartolotti. After building the house, van den Heuvel changed his name to Guillermo Bartolotti. He made his fortune as a silk merchant and banker.

We cross Raadhuisstraat–the major street separating the western and central canal rings, and the last street across the canal before the one that takes us to our final destination, the Amsterdam Historical Museum.

10:25 a.m. 
237 Herengracht. The large two-building property (237 and 239), eight windows wide, was home starting in 1886 to the Adolphe Boissevain firm. It has been classified as a monument. Adolphe (also a son of Daniel Jr.) was a great banker, who gave his name to the towns of Boissevain, Manitoba, Canada and Boissevain, West Virginia, USA.  The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) wanted to expand farther from east to west. Adolphe secured the finances along with two other people. Out of gratitude, the next three station stops were called Boissevain, Pierson and Tegelberg. Adolphe's company became the banking house Pierson and the firm was (Ernst thinks) until recently located in the building. Adolphe later lived on Prince Henry Refuge in Lage Vuursche. Of him the story goes that, when the car made its entrance in the Netherlands, his twelve coaches and carriages made way for twelve cars. A man must keep up with the times...

(255 Herengracht. The Rembrandt Classic Hotel used to be here, a budget 3-star hotel in a 5-star location.)

316 Herengracht. Here at 316, 320 and 324 have lived Boissevains for shorter periods. It was quite common to move around, but in the last century, Boissevains preferred to remain loyal to the same location.

370 Herengracht. In the distance we see Caroline standing on the doorstep of the house of her father. She looks a bit disheveled, the feather is half burned on her hat! The house is just past the Huidenstraat. It is part of the "Cromhouthuizen"–numbers 364-370– again built by the architect Philip Vingboons. It's a big house. The garden extends to the Keizersgracht which was once Daniel Boissevain's warehouse, but maybe no longer at the time of the fire because he moved to Herengracht 184. When he moved for the summer it required two barges, one for his merchants'  goods and one with her personal possessions, because the company was based in his home.The four Cromhout houses were designed in classic style by famed architect Philip Vingboons, and built in 1660 for wealthy merchant Jacob Cromhout. He and his wife Margaretha Wuytiers moved into the biggest of the four houses at 366; the other three houses were rented. Today, two of the houses are occupied by the Biblical museum. Behind the houses is a garden with biblical themes.

386 Herengracht–Canal Museum. We now come to the showpiece of the Boissevain dwellings, 386, at a bend of the Herengracht–a wide, monumental home. Here lived Jan Boissevain, son of Gédéon Jérémie and co-partner in the company and the trading firm Boissevain & Co. But the company had only sailing boats and especially when the Suez Canal was dug and only steamships able to get through it. When Jan recognized this, he sold the sailing ships and discontinued the businesses based on them. He played a leading role in the establishment of the steamship in the Netherlands, where with enormous perseverance he managed to overcome the serious initial difficulties. He also recognized that the time of small companies was over. It is now dedicated to telling the story of Amsterdam canals and their building. The tour is extraordinary.

END OF OUR TOUR. We ended at 386, the Canal Museum, where Alice and I the day before saw a well-put-together tour with clever visuals showing the history of the Amsterdam canals. From here, we walked to the Amsterdams Historisch Museum for an 11 a.m. lecture and lunch. On your own you might want to keep going. Or do the tour at the Canal Museum, 

413 Herengracht. This is a well-known restaurant with a French cuisine and an intimate design, Zuid Zeeland.  Its guest book was signed by famous people like Al Gore and Matt Damon. No special connection with the Boissevain family.

Leidsegracht. Behind the bridge on the right hand side is the Leidsegracht, the widest and most important of the four connecting canals between the three main canals. Until 1650, this canal was the border of the city. The city wall was on the right side and the houses on the photo date from a later period. From here on, this part of the canal is called the Gouden Bocht or Golden Bend, the fanciest part of the Herengracht, between Leidsestraat and Vijzelstraat (where the Amsterdam Archief or Archive is located). In 1663 this part of the Herengrach was named the "Golden Bend".  The Golden Bend is now mainly made up of banks and life insurance companies, and some cultural institutions, like the Goethe Institute.

466 Herengracht. On the corner of the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, this building was designed by Philip Vingboons and was in 1858-1926 the office of the Dutch Trade Society. 

475 Herengracht. The house of the family De Neufville (1731), 475 and the one next it are known for their pretty façades.
497 Herengracht, Cat's Cabinet.  This was built on a double lot for Willem van Loon in 1664 and originally, the house had a double stairway that led to a front door on the first floor. The stairway was removed in 1837. Today the building houses the Kattenkabinet, or Cat's Cabinet, a private museum with art dedicated solely to cats. In 2006, the house was the main location for the Amsterdam sequence of the movie Ocean's Twelve with George Clooney.
502 Herengracht–Mayor’s Residence.  “The house with the pillars” is the official residence of the mayor of Amsterdam. This double residence with 45 rooms was built in 1665 for Paulus Godin, slave trader and director of the Dutch West India Company. In 1926, the house was put into use as the official mayor's residence. It was a gift from the Nederlandse Handelmaatchappij Bank. The mayor's residential quarters are on the third and fourth floors. The ground floor and the first floor are assigned to official city functions.

506 Herengracht, Willet Holthuysen MuseumBuilt in 1687, the museum was named after the building's last occupant, Louisa Willet-Holthuysen. In 1895, she bequeathed her house and her art collection to the City of Amsterdam. Since that year the house is a museum, which is especially interesting because the 17th century interior is still intact. It is one of only three such historical residences in Amsterdam where the original interiors are still visible. A beautiful 17th century garden is part of the museum.

540 Herengracht. Ernst Boissevain says: "I choose to walk past here because I lived here for years and have many pleasant memories of it."

581 Herengracht–Italian Consulate.The consulate of Italy is located in a double merchant’s house dating from 1670. The gable is decorated with a large sculpture said to be St. Michael attacking a dragon (if it is St. Michael, the dragon would be Lucifer/Satan), while standing on an elephant's head.

Afternoon: Keizersgracht

Afternoon tour started 2:30 p.m. at Keizersgracht 123,
near #38. The tour had two early surprise
treats and ended at Keizersgracht 484.

The Afternoon Tour, 2:30-4:15 p.m, Sunday, April 17, 2016, started after 30 members of the family had lunch at the Amsterdam Historisch Museum.

The Keizersgracht is one of the two middle canals in the half-moon of Amsterdam canals–a close second in importance to the Herengracht. It includes many Boissevain family highlights.

2:30 p.m. TOUR STARTED. We started late because of the many farewells after lunch at the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, the last event of the two-day reunion other than this walking tour.

123 Keizersgracht, House of the Heads. This house is located halfway down the block, between the Herenstraat and the Leliegracht (an inter-canal link). The odd number means it  is on the eastern side of the Keizersgracht. It is called the House of the Heads because of the heads on the facade. This was not a Boissevain home, but Ernst Boissevain believed it was at one time the site of the fine Public Trade School through the 19th century where young Boissevains studied for a business career. Annemie Boissevain, President of the Boissevain Stichting (Foundation), said on the tour she thinks the school was a different building lower down the Keizersgracht. Possibly the school moved from one place to the other.

2:35 p.m.
294A Keizersgracht. L to R: Neil Walker
and Ies; John and Alice Tepper Marlin,
Photo by Kim Buck; posted by permission.
133 Keizersgracht. This was the base of the Boissevain Brothers. Edouard Constantin lived above and below the securities office, and staff members were housed in the basement. In the summer he lived in Hilversum with his son William. They moved twice a year by train. The staff carried the luggage, including dinnerware and silverware, via the barge. If you consider that William had twelve children and that he always had a nurse and a nanny on the premises, it was a significant migration.

321 Keizersgracht. L to R: Romelia 
Ann Boissevain, Pamela Ernestine 
Boissevain Wilkinson, Kimberley 
Boissevain Buck. Photo by Noah
Sisk, posted by permission.
2:40 p.m.
143 Keizersgracht. This property was owned first by the firm created by Henri Jean Boissevain. Later it was owned by his son Prof. Ursul Boissevain, professor of ancient history and Roman Antiquities in Groningen, the grandfather of Annemie Boissevain, President of the Boissevain Foundation. His son, Annemie's father, didn't survive WWII. Last time she had seen him she was only 4 years old. The house remained in the family until 1930. A beautiful gobelinbehang out of this house now hangs in the Gemeentemuseum.

2:45 p.m.
221 Keizersgracht. Here was housed the Boissevain Brothers firm, which dealt in securities. It was established by two younger brothers of Caroline Boissevain de Clerq–Gédéon Jérémie Daniel (Jr.) and Edouard Constantin. This second Daniel felt eventually attracted to the insurance industry. In this area his younger brother Henri Jean Arnaud Boissevain operated as the firm H. J. A. Boissevain & Son, insurance agents.

3:00 p.m.
294A Keizersgracht. Neil Walker and Ies Boissevain serendipitously emerged from their home and stopped to have their picture taken. Neil has written about the Boissevain homes on the grachts and I plan to consult and refer to his work.

3:00 p.m. 
Building at left looks like 324 Keizersgracht. This is the
Hilda van Stockum painting that was created as the
cover for The Borrowed House, about the Nazi
Occupation of Holland. Posted by permission of the
Estate of Hilda van Stockum.
Keizersgracht. Walrave Boissevain lived here, an Amsterdam alderman in the 20th century. We stopped for a photo of the three daughters of Tice Boissevain–Rommy, Pam and Kim (see photo).

324 Keizersgracht.  This "Felix Meritis" building appears to be the one featured on the back cover of Hilda van Stockum's young-adult novel, The Borrowed House (originally published by Farrar Straus, 1975; reissued by the Purple House Press, July 2016).

3:05 p.m. 
482 Keizersgracht. Here lived Gideon, also a son of Daniel Jr., at that time a well-known economist and founder of the Greenhouse Association, the bank of which, Kasassociatie, was hot. He was also involved in the Banque de Paris et des Pays Bas. Ernst Boissevain is impressed with the nice Molenpad. He says that across the canal lived the Boissevain Gildemeesters; she was a sister of Caroline.

3:15 p.m.
484 Keizersgracht. This was the home of Jan Canada Boissevain and his family until 1939.

We stopped here but if the tour had been a longer we could have gone on to the following. Perhaps a third tour is needed for the higher numbers in the "Golden Bend" of the canals.

529 Keizersgracht. John Adams lived here in 1780-1782 when he was U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands. 

View–Bridges Reguliersgracht. On the right side under the bridge we see one of the most photographed views in Amsterdam: the famous seven bridges of the Reguliersgracht, which are lit up at night.

672 Keizersgracht-Museum van Loon. Thérèse Schwartze (1852–1918) created the famous painting of the De Zes Dochters Boissevain, the "Six Boissevain Daughters", daughters of Charles E. H. Boissevain.  In a previous reunion the family had a look at it through the van Loon Museum. This time the painting was shown at the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, which owns it. It was made for the Silver Wedding (1916) of the parents of these six daughters (out of ten children): Charles Ernest Henri ("E.H.") Boissevain (1868–1940) and Maria Barbera Pijnappel (1870–1950).

20th Century Boissevains

For a walking tour of 20th century Boissevain Amsterdam, go here, where you will find information on institutions involved in the Dutch Resistance. It includes the site of the Algemeen Handelsblad, the Amsterdam newspaper dominated by Charles (Handelsblad) Boissevain in the fourth quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th.

Five Things I Learned about Walking Tours

(1) They are fun and essential for putting today's physical world into the context of the people who have come before us. 
(2) Ideally there should be a place to assemble with chairs, so that people do not have to stand while they are waiting–the breakast/coffee site. On a Sunday morning in Amsterdam one has to plan carefully to find a place that is open at 9:00 am. An afternoon tour should beign at the lunch site. 
(3) It would have been a good idea to have email addresses of every member of the tour so that they could be informed if the tour was running late. 
(4) The people most interested in these tours seem to be the elderly and younger people who are fascinated by their stories. Elderly people like the opportunity to walk rather than just sit around, but their limits come earlier than when they were younger. Fortunately, Amsterdam coffee houses are plentiful. 
(5) Having support on the tour was valuable. My wife Alice stopped me to point out things she saw that were of interest and she looked out for people who needed some kind of assistance. (Thank you, Alice!).  

(6) The best things about a tour can be the welcomes you get that were not planned. 


The above tour is based in part on an article written in Dutch by Ernst G. Boissevain for the 1993 Boissevain Bulletin.It was machine-translated by Google Translate and then edited significantly by me to: (1) make the English more idiomatic, (2) add information, (3) add photos and (4) check against maps and avoid confusion for someone unfamiliar with Amsterdam!  Thanks to Charles Leidschendam Boissevain and his daughter Aviva Boissevain for pointing me to this and other sources of information. The Canal (Gracht) Museum at 386 Herengracht has valuable sources of information on each house on the canal. I found out too late (after the tour) about Neil Walker's description of Boissevain buildings in the 19th century; I will be looking at this and referencing it.

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