Abbe Freerks Gabbema, Almshouse, Architecture, Art Nouveau, Ceramic Tile Panel, Coenraad Lerk, Facing Brick, Jugendstil, Symbolism, Willem Cornelis de Groot
Do you remember I went to Leeuwarden last year? Today, it’s exactly one year ago that I wrote about the ‘exotic’ Centraal Apotheek. And guess what…. Leeuwarden has more!
In 1634, Abbe Freerks Gabbema commissioned the construction of an almshouse for 12 elderly women. The accommodation was built in the kitchen garden of the Jacobin monastery, behind the Jacobin Church in Leeuwarden. Due to his financial predicament though, Gabbema didn’t leave the elderly women with any funds. His daughter Walkje corrected this in her last will; and she arranged for the custodians of the ‘Old Burger Weeshuis’ (the local orphanage) to manage those funds.
By 1905, the little houses had become dilapidated beyond repair, and the custodians decided to build a new accommodation for the needy old ladies. They obtained a plot of land along the Wybrand de Geeststraat, asked Willem Cornelis de Groot (1853-1939), who designed many characteristic houses in Leeuwarden, to design the new premises and commissioned Coenraad Lerk to take care of its construction.
In April 1906 the drawings were ready. And by the end of December, that very same year, the elderly women moved to their new accommodation. Building costs were around fl. 30.000 (including plot and other costs fl. 45.000), the price of a new Volkswagen Polo today.
The most eye-catching characteristic of this property is the playful use of colourful building materials. The Gabbema Gasthuis was composed of red-orange and yellow facing brick, green glazed brick and red and green glazed roof tiles. Just look at it! Even on a grey day the Gabbema Gasthuis looks sunny!
And the decorating doesn’t stop there. Above the entrance we encounter a rather symbolic Art Nouveau tile panel. An eagle (representing the almshouse) offers a rabbit as food to the owls and crows (the residents) and spreads its wings over them protectively. The tile panel was painted by Klaas Wits, and produced by Koninklijke Fabriek van Muurtegels (Royal Tile Factory) Jan van Hulst, in Harlingen.
The timepiece in the belfry (which is covered with red glazed ceramic slates) is not original as De Groot drew a bell in the tower. Yet a Ø 32 cm bell was discovered in the attic of the building. Made by P. Seest in 1762, it probably originates from the first Gabbema Gasthuis.
The almshouse was designed according to a typical U-shaped ground-plan, with a small garden in the middle; around the garden an elegant wrought iron art nouveau fence completes the fairytale.
Can you believe in the 1970s demolition of this charming building was actually considered? Fortunately, demonstrations prevented the destruction. The property was renovated and divided into rental apartments. And in 1983 the Gabbema Gasthuis rightfully became a listed monument (RM24482).
Wijbrand de Geeststraat 42, 8921 AM Leeuwarden
Audioguide about the Gabbema Gasthuis in Dutch
Gabbema Gasthuis on wikipedia
Listed Monuments – Register
Map of Leeuwarden (in English, in Dutch)
360 Degree Panorama of the Gabbema Gasthuis
Website about W.C. de Groot, the Architect
Another excellently documented building. Well written and photographed!
Thank you for your compliments Francis! It’s always nice to hear from you. 🙂
Aren’t they lovely!
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Indeed Poshbirdy! Like gingerbread houses in a fairytale book! Thanks for reading my post.
Fred Westen said:
Thank you for sharing your discovery Gabbema Gasthuis. Everyone who is interested in Art Nouveau in Friesland (Netherlands) must buy the book: SIERLIJK BOUWEN, JUGENDSTIL EN AMSTERDAMSE SCHOOL IN FRIESLAND 1900 – 1940 by Peter Karstkarel. Published in 2011 by Friese Pers/Noordboek. 224 pages with dutch text and full color pictures of architecture on every page. Half the book is about Art Nouveau and the other half about dutch Art Deco (Amsterdam School). I discovered this book is presently offered at the bargain price of € 5,- (originally € 22,50) bij mailorder house BOL.COM in the Netherlands. On the cover a print of the Gabbema Gasthuis.
Fred Westen, The Hague.
I couldn’t agree with you more! Of course I have the book in my collection; it is a beautiful book! Nice to use when planning a trip up north as well. And indeed a bargain price €5,-. Thank you for always reading, and for your useful information to other readers!
Arnaud de la Losa said:
I’m disappointed I missed these nice buildings while I was visiting Leeuwarden. But, I have to thank you for correcting my mistakes with your very interesting blog!
Arnaud de la Losa
Sorry to hear that you missed this gem. But on the other hand, that gives you a good reason to come back!
Thank you for reading. And for your kind words!
sippy van akker said:
I went to uni in a kind of makeshift building more or less across the street from there.. Know it very well, walked passed there many many times.. Should take a closer look if and when I find myself in Leeuwarden again!
What a wonderful place to stay as a student! And how nice, if you can walk past this little gem day after day, with all wheather circumstances!
Winter, spring, summer and fall!
Thanks for reading!
Glenys Sykes said:
Thank you so much for showing this lovely building, how fortunate that demolition was averted. I am interested to observe that almshouses seem often to be built of relatively humble or locally used materials but in designs pleasing to the eye. No doubt the generous benefactors wished to be associated with attractive buildings. We have three still functioning sets of almshouses in the small English town where I live, all very beautiful and loved by their residents. None are Art Nouveau though! So it is great for me to be able to follow your explorations.
It’s indeed very fortunate that demolition was averted! This place must be spectacular when the trees are green, the sky is blue and the flowers are in full bloom! Thank you for your nice comments and thank you for reading my blog!