There are plenty of stories, both from the Match Palace and Klara Strand. Here are two we love to tell over and over. Enjoy!
Kreuger decided early in life. He wanted to make a permanent mark in history and he needed a base in Stockholm so as to not lose his Swedish identity completely. He achieved what he set out to do. As usual. At the same time, The Match Palace, became a monument to a man who was left to his own fate.
Kreuger’s room was designed to make impressions. Over the entrance was a wood mosaic of Sweden’s oldest match factory and a crest with two torches and three stars. Inside, the walls were covered with rosewood and mahogany panelling. Near the door, the panelling hid a safe in the wall (one of many in the palace) so that Ivar could
playfully show guests where any secret documents might have gone. The safe was typically open and unlocked. On one side of the room was a comfortable sofa with two
armchairs and a small round table. The setup was every bit as formal and sophisticated as Ivar’s apartment. It conveyed precisely the message he wanted, of a wealthy man with a clean, clear mind and impeccable taste. According to the grapevine, the armchairs was never used.
Ivar’s desk stood near the first window on the left side of the room. This desk, too, was mostly for display. Ivar did much of his real work elsewhere in Palace, but he liked to greet guests from behind a desk. Next to it was a table with three telephones. The phone on the right connected to Kreuger’s secretary, Karin Bökman. The one on the left was one of the world’s first speakerphones. The middle phone was a dummy, a non-working phone that Kreuger could cause to ring by stepping on a button under the desk.
That button was a way to speed up the exit of talkative visitors who were staying too long. Ivar also used the middle phone to impress his financial backers. When Rockefeller visited Ivar pretended to receive calls from both Mussolini and Stalin. That same evening, Kreuger hosted a lavish party and introduced Rockefeller to numerous “ambassadors” from various countries who were actually movie extras he had hired for the night. Rockefeller returned from Stockholm with a glowing report, telling his fellowdirectors:
That man is the salt of the earth. He is on most intimate terms with the heads of European governments. Gentlemen, we are fortunate indeed to be associated with Ivar Kreuger.”
When things caught up with Kreuger in the spring of 1932, the palace itself started to reveal a different story, one of a man who had built a fortress on Västra Trädgårdsgatan with protective walls to defend him against an increasingly hostile world. It was the story of a physical and mental retreat that does not end until it comes to the spartanly furnished Silence Room in the palace centre to which only Ivar and his secretary had access. What the fuck Ivar, what really happened.
It all begins when the Old Town starts swelling over the quays and into the surrounding islets to make room for everyone. To the north emerges a borough that flourishes, is modern then old, is torn down, disappears and is replaced by something that will never belong to any one. Until now.
It’s the Fifties, when mail was still delivered on Sundays. The demolition of the area known as Klarakvarteret starts to make room for a tunnel from Sveavägen to Tegelbacken. The borough is a neglected slum. Pumps and outhouses are in the courtyards and old tenants who are easy to evict live in the apartments. Hardly idyllic, the neighbourhood is home to a mix of noisy printing presses, shady hotels and lots of bars frequented by journalists who drown what they can’t handle in liquor.
Nonetheless, it’s probably still wrong to wipe out the entire old Klara without a trace and replace it with something so impersonal and drab that no one wants to go there or even cares. Today, many people feel that the Old Town is a perfect example of how Klara could have been redeveloped – had there been a political ambition to do so. Uninspired protests in the face of the inevitable failed to spark the interest of any party. An era of streetcars, elegant men in hats and Parisian café culture is passé. It is time for something new.
For a few decades, Stockholm is made up of semi-demolished blocks. The holes in Brunkeberg ridge reveal its innermost sanctuary and giant cranes flail over the city like the arms of dictators. An urban centre is planned and Sergels torg is an impressive attempt. To tear down everything around it, mainly south of Kulturhuset, is however to grossly overestimate the era’s ability to build buildings of lasting value. Unfortunately for Klara, its destruction takes place in a time when the economy is good but the architecture seldom matches Modernism’s most revered accomplishments. Stockholm becomes a stopover where everyone is headed elsewhere. Change is modern. Buildings need last only 70 years, says one city commissioner. A building is like a suit that gets worn and old. The city itself is a structure, a machine, not an atmosphere with a story. It should be predictable and distinct, not a way of life.
Continuity is forfeited as glass and concrete consume the lowrise buildings of middle-class Klara.
Present-day life stops pulsating through the narrow streets and visitors spilling out of Central Station en route to the unpredictable, forbidden or dangerous must go in a new direction. Stockholmers are suddenly homeless during an important period of their past and by the time the campaign to preserve the elms in Kungsträdgården marks a turning point in 1971, it is too late. Much of Klara could perhaps have been saved had expansion targeted parts of Södermalm and the far end of Kungsholmen instead. Stockholm’s growth rings have been cut in half.
The new Klara fails constantly to fulfil the promises of politicians and the dreams of architects. Forty worthless years roll sluggishly by until one day something happens: the borough is to be saved.
The siege is over. The wheels start spinning in the opposite direction. Klara acts like a once unwanted stepchild and with the support of unexpected compassion, happily reveals previously hidden attributes. With these new prospects, growth flourishes and it is evident that Klara has much of what a neighbourhood should have – location, proximity to water and a past.
Many feel that the change starts to the north with the conversion of Norra Bantorget and the expansion around the Central Station, gradually progressing southeast. Life moves in, people change how they get around and find new routes. Forecasts say the transformation will take ten years. While the visions are all slightly different, even the most modest ones make big promises and suddenly, it’s all so obvious.
The hotel and the people have revived the neighbourhood. It’s more fashionable and has a tangible urban feel. The addresses sound better than they did just a few years ago, and in some cases, as good as they did in the Fifties. The names may be the same, but the associations are new. At long last, Klara Strand mirrors past promises. Everything is pointing in the same direction; there’s no turning back.
Klara is back, for good. Again.