Some people wonder why the building is not demolished. It is deemed too ugly. From my kitchen window I look out at what is a relatively big building for Hoogstraat from 1957, with new white synthetic panels, a carelessly widened plinth and bright red stickers on the second-floor windows. One of the occupants of the building recently said: “A big advantage of being inside this building is that we don’t have to look at it”.
That’s from a blog post by Merel Pit on www.dearchitect.nl. Was the Galeries Modernes building always so ugly?
Van den Broek and Bakema
On 8 November 1956 the new building of Galeries Modernes was officially opened. It was designed by Van den Broek en Bakema, who were also the architects of the nearby Huf, Lijnbaan and Ter Meulen buildings. The two ultra-modern shops on both sides of Vlasmarkt contrasted starkly with the rather traditional shop structures on Hoogstraat such as Martens, Lampe and Peek & Cloppenburg. The almost square building measuring thirty by thirty-five metres had three levels with a total of 2,350 square metres of retail space and a floor for offices and storage. The walls, wholly in line with department store thinking at the time, were totally blank. A hallmark of the architecture of Van den Broek and Bakema is the strip of fenestration along the top, which nevertheless did draw daylight into the interior.
It will be a distinctive building in which you will discover many of the elements of the Lijnbaan and Binnenweg buildings, designed by the same architects. For instance, along its front the new Galeries has an array of display windows covered by an extended canopy, which is highly reminiscent of the Lijnbaan. It forms part of the commercially refined entrance to the retail building. The display windows extend back some way into the actual building, which is significantly recessed from the building line along Hoogstraat. So while part of the display windows belongs to the street, in the other part you are already inside the shop.
Het Vrije Volk 25-1-1955
Galeries Modernes was still a familiar name in 1956, with branches not only in Rotterdam but also in other cities. The roots of the group reach back to 11 March 1871, when a former street vendor called Zéphyrin Couvreur from France opened the Grand Bazar Français on Hoogstraat in Rotterdam. In 1921 the shop was renamed Galeries Modernes, though Rotterdammers continued to refer to it as ‘the French Bazar’ for quite some time. The change of name was prompted by a change in direction from bazaar to department store, but Galeries Modernes remained a discount store with unit prizes. Over the years various adjoining shops were bought up, and in 1934 this hotchpotch was amalgamated to form one modern premises.
In 1921 the shop was renamed Galeries Modernes, though Rotterdammers continued to refer to it as ‘the French Bazar’ for quite some time.
The Second World War had major repercussions for the company, and the French owners and employees returned to their native country. Reconstruction of the Rotterdam shop proceeded with difficulty: the company was deemed ineligible for compensation because the Dutch government considered it a French economic interest. It was not until the early 1950s that an agreement was reached with France and Galeries Modernes could rebuild. By then the big competitors Vroom & Dreesmann, Hema and Ter Meulen already occupied new buildings. As a result, Galeries Modernes ended up at an unfavourable location on Hoogstraat. In the late 1960s Galeries Modernes was taken over by the Bijenkorf, and in 1970 the Rotterdam branch closed.
Army surplus stores
Since the closure of Galeries Modernes in 1970 the building has undergone a sorry metamorphosis. Initially, some shoe and fashion shops occupied the premises, but in later years it was mostly home to army surplus stores. The display windows were boarded up and only the ground floor is still in use as retail. To use the upper levels as office space, the closed façade of glazed brickwork was replaced by a standard aluminium office façade. Club Heidegger occupied the basement for a period, and a fitness club has been on Grotekerkplein for some time now. Some people call for its demolition, others for reconstruction of the original building. Either way, such an important spot in the city deserves a better fate.
Since the closure of Galeries Modernes in 1970 the building has undergone a sorry metamorphosis.