- Strandvägen is Stockholm’s world-famous boulevard lined with luxurious apartment houses
- Most buildings were constructed between the 1880s and 1910s
- Many of Sweden’s wealthiest individuals resided on Strandvägen
- The promenade offers many extraordinary venues where you can grab a bite or a drink
Strandvägen literally translates to ’The Beach Road’. Just like there are many beaches in Sweden, there are many beach roads and many streets carrying the name Strandvägen. One of them is unlike all the others, though. The world-famous Strandvägen boulevard in Central Stockholm was meant to be unmatched by any other street in Europe. Did it succeed?
For a long time, Östermalm was not a particularly popular or attractive part of Stockholm. This started changing around the middle of the 19th century with a few influential individuals leading the movement.
The idea of turning the existing Ladugårdslands Strandgata, as the street was known back then, into something completely different was first discussed in the late 1850s. It was Emil Edvard von Rothstein, the head of the organisation tasked with everything related to water construction in Stockholm, who gave the idea a more concrete shape.
His grand vision was to not only connect Nybroplan and Djurgårdsbron by a promenade, it was to build a street so impressive that you could not find its match in all of Europe. Obviously, a big vision is often what stands between us and exceptional results.
The timing could not have been better as a new city plan, the so-called Lindhagenplanen (‘Lindhagen plan’) was about to be unveiled a few years later. While the works started already in the early 1860s, Lindhagen’s insights inspired by the staggering Parisian boulevards were those that shaped the appearance of Stockholm’s first boulevard with now-traditional tree alleys lining the road.
This trend was later followed by other major streets in Stockholm including Karlavägen, Valhallavägen, and Odengatan.
Ladugårdslands Strandgata changed its name to Strandvägen in 1885 and the largest part of the street was completed in time for the 1897 Stockholm Exhibition (Stockholmsutställningen). Djurgårdsbron bridge, which is one of the prettiest bridges in Stockholm and is located near the eastern end of the promenade, was also completed around the same time.
As it turned out, Von Rothstein was not the only person who believed in a brighter future for Strandvägen. The renowned wholesaler, businessman, and later a philanthropist Isaak Hirsch was, in fact, so confident of the future of Östermalm that he personally acquired many parcels along Strandvägen and Karlavägen long before other developers followed suit.
Who was Isaak Hirsch
Isaak Hirsch was one of the most well-known Stockholmers around the turn of the 20th century. It is said that he was so popular that he was one of the very few to whom people generally referred to by their first name as everyone knew who ‘Isaak’ was.
As a real estate developer, he acquired his first property at the age of 21 and is commonly known for building many buildings on Strandvägen and Karlavägen. However, he was also responsible for the construction of the Oscar’s Theatre (Oscarsteatern) and was involved in building the first skyscraper in Stockholm.
He himself lived at Strandvägen 49.
When it comes to the monumental apartment houses that are likely most responsible for Strandvägen’s fame, they were almost all constructed within two decades following the completion of the first building located at Strandvägen 23 – 27 in 1880.
Nevertheless, it is possible to observe notable differences in the styles of these houses with the architects behind them flirting with multiple popular styles such as Jugendstil and National Romanticism, but Italian Renaissance, Baroque and other styles inspired by continental nations found their place on Strandvägen, too.
What is generally characteristic of the buildings here is the use of natural, high-quality materials, or as they are commonly known, ‘honest materials.’ The materials together with the carefully designed facades and an obsessive attention to detail form the base of the aesthetics on Strandvägen.
Exclusive construction materials were not always enough to show one’s prestige and an architect’s skills, so rich stone and iron décor are also common. Typical are moreover wooden main entrance doors behind which you would find a spacious, opulent entrance hall covered in white, green, or red marble.
When designing these splendid facades, nothing was left to chance. More often than not, the exterior was designed with the interior in mind. It was meant to highlight the most prominent parts of each apartment and draw attention to its most luxurious features.
Hence, you can notice that balconies and bay windows are concentrated around the lounge of each apartment which was considered the most representative room. While some of the facades are symmetrical and others are not, this is generally the case for all of them.
Going into further detail about the houses on Strandvägen, even in this exclusive environment, we can find places that truly stand out.
The four houses with a joined façade at Strandvägen 1 – 5B form an impressive 127-metre-long gateway to the boulevard. This complex had been built later than most structures on the street but was also soon converted into office space and boutiques. In fact, the oldest boutique you can find in this location belongs to the now-well-known Swedish design and home décor brand Svenskt Tenn and it has been located at the same place since 1924.
Even another boutique, Malmstenbutiken, residing at Strandvägen 5B opened its doors for the first time already in 1940.
The house next door, at Strandvägen 7, is one of the newest buildings on the boulevard completed in 1912. During the Great Depression, when many tenants decided to leave this lavish residence for cheaper alternatives, several embassies moved in to the building. All of them, including the embassy of the United States, had to move out before the property was turned into a hotel in 1966.
As essentially all other buildings in the location, this one once used to be called ‘home’ by various successful and influential individuals. For instance, the Kreuger brothers Ivar and Torsten used to live here. In the 1920s, Kreugerkoncernen led by Torsten Kreuger controlled most of the world’s production of matches, as well as several Swedish industries, while consisting of around 200 individual companies.
At the top of their game, they provided 387 million dollars in loans which is more than 50 billion dollars in today’s money. The empire, however, quickly spiralled downwards after the 1929 stock exchange crash and parts of the conglomerate ended up in bankruptcy.
Thanks to thorough historical records we can tell how the residents of Strandvägen compared in terms of their financial well-being in the year 1900. Residing in one of several houses designed by architect J. Laurentz at Strandvägen 17, the wholesaler of iron and steel, Jesper Svedberg, was the richest person living on the street with an annual taxable income of SEK 150,000 which corresponds to over SEK 8 million today.
An unusual house can be found standing at Strandvägen 19 – 21. Also known as Thavenius House (Thaveniuska huset), this building was erected between 1884 and 1885 among the first on the street. What makes it stand out is its simpler style adhering to the principles of Italian Renaissance. Interestingly, some important practical differences between life in the ancient Rome and snowy Stockholm were considered when designed the house. As a consequence, while the roof may appear flat, it is, in fact, slightly tilted to make the house more resistant to Swedish weather.
Perhaps the most impressive of them all is the Bünsow House (Bünsowska huset) stretching from Strandvägen 29 to 33. This monumental house was built for the businessman Fredrik Bünsow and designed by architect Isak Gustaf Clason who is also responsible for the unique von Rosen Palace (von Rosenska palatset) standing a few hundred metres further down the street.
While originally the owner did not intend to build a particularly expensive building, he ended up erecting a massive house that takes up an entire quarter. The façade of Bünsow House is so lavish it is hard to describe and considering there were originally only five apartments on each floor of this huge building, you can only imagine what it looks like on the inside.
Taking matters even further, this structure completed in 1888 was one of the first in Stockholm featuring such modern equipment as electricity and elevators.
As I hinted before, down the street at number 55, you would find von Rosen Palace with its distinct façade inspired by the 18th-century French architecture. The palace was the first in Stockholm to feature the Ekenberg marble (Ekenbergsmarmor) from Närke on its façade. This material was later used in the construction of the Royal Dramatic Theatre (Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern) standing at Nybroplan on the western end of Strandvägen.
Perhaps even more interesting is the contrast between the palace’s marble façade facing Strandvägen and the other one oriented toward Storgatan where the original owner’s stable used to stand. It might be hard to guess that the bright-yellow baroque façade belongs to the same residence as the elegant light exterior on the other side.
Next to the palace, on the corner of Strandvägen and Storgatan, there sits another one of my favourites. A beautiful example of National Romanticism with a massive yet elegant façade made of red bricks, this building stands out in the quarter where all other buildings feature light facades.
I have said that the first of the buildings standing on Strandvägen was completed in 1880. This is not quite true, though. On the eastern side of the street, on the edge of Nobelparken, you can find the building of the Old Forest Institute (Gamla Skogsinstitutet). The first house stood in the location as early as 1647, although the current one is dating from the 1730s and received its present-day appearance during a mid-19th-century reconstruction.
Today, the historical site houses the embassy of Israel.
The remaining part of Strandvägen that we have yet to explore, the one north of Nobelparken, was not part of the street until 1914. Therefore, it is only logical that you would find the most modern structures in this part.
As these were built during the era following World War I, there is an obvious change in their aesthetics compared to the buildings we have seen. At this point, function has surpassed form as the top priority when designing accommodation and the result was much more moderate apartments with scarce decorations and an overall simpler feel.
All being well, you agree by now that there are many reasons to explore Strandvägen. From the very idea from which it was born through the world-class execution to the exceptionally pleasant venues which can elevate your experience from the visit to a whole new level. Strandvägen is one of the absolute best places to visit in Stockholm by day when you meet locals strolling around and by night when they enjoy the views with a glass of champagne, just like you can too.
Now it is your turn to explore every bit of this outstanding place. You might want to sign up for our newsletter first, though, so that you learn about more beautiful places in Stockholm in the future.
Hela Stockholms Isaak Hirsch, 2017. [albertbonniersforlag.se].
Slumgata blev grandiosa Strandvägen, 2017. [stockholmsmagasinen.se].