Rotterdam’s reconstruction has started.
The first structure to rise in the destroyed part of Rotterdam is a stout, five-floor office building with shops at ground level. The building is planned on the corner of Weste Wagenstraat and Meent, where it connects with the Minerva House. So much relief in seeing that Rotterdam is no longer a city of rubble, so much satisfaction from knowing that a new phase in the life of Rotterdam has dawned: the period of reconstruction along carefully planned lines. That the rebuilding of Rotterdam is grounded in a well-considered plan is clear from the carefully chosen site of the new building.
Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad 5 November 1940
The Minerva House on Meent is part of a block largely completed during the period of reconstruction. Four buildings now bear the name Minerva House, which refers to the oldest building, completed shortly before the war. This Minerva House I was built between 1937 and 1938 on the new, widened Meent. Minerva House II is the stretch of Meent built between 1940 and 1942, one of the few buildings completed during the war. Minerva House III is a commercial property from 1949-1950 on the corner of Rodezand and Leeuwenstraat, originally called Rosalia House. Minerva House IV, at Leeuwenstraat 15, was also designed after the war by architect A.J.M. Buijs. The three oldest buildings were all designed by the Rotterdam architect J.P.L. Hendriks (1895-1975) for the same client, Sint Willebrordus insurance company, for which Hendriks also designed the ‘Artists Apartment Block’ (1939) on the corner of Rochussenstraat and ’s-Gravendijkwal, and the Pax residential building on Groenendaal. From 1943 on, Jan Hendriks worked with Lex van den Bosch (1908-2002) and Willem van der Sluys (1897-1972). The office Hendriks Van den Bosch Van der Sluys was very active during the post-war reconstruction period, with the elegant Thalia cinema on Kruiskade as their best-known work. In 1924 Hendriks had won the Prix de Rome for Architecture, the most important prize for young architects. In Rotterdam before the war he built the Roman Catholic Technical School on Walenburgerweg (1934), the entrance building to the Roman Catholic Cemetery in Crooswijk (1936) and the Artists Apartment Block.
The development along Meent formed part of a new breakthrough to link Coolsingel and Jonker Fransstraat, a consequence of the traffic connection drawn up by city architect A.C. Burgdorffer in 1918. The narrow streets were widened to 20 metres to ease the flow of traffic. As a result, many houses were demolished and replaced by taller structures with shops on the ground floor and apartments and offices above. The breakthrough was followed the construction of the city hall and main post office, and the planned stock exchange, which necessitated the demolition of a whole neighbourhood. Even without the bombardment, therefore, the centre was being rigorously renewed.
By the end of the 1930s a large stretch of the new Meent had been developed, but the renewal was not appreciated by everybody: No doubt the Rotterdammer, who has an eye and a feeling for such matters, walks somewhat awkwardly through this shopping street under construction, which for the moment is becoming such a strange part of the old city centre. Of particular concern for the writer from the Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad was the ‘pronounced horizontalism’. When the architecture was still vertical, and thus spiritually oriented in character, it seems to have acquired that divine direction of its own accord, which leads to ever richer adornment. But the long horizontals, placed so close together, leave no space for the spirit. They are utilitarian in character and change the whole essence of our old cities.
The bombardment destroyed a number of recently completed blocks containing shops and apartments by the architects Ten Bosch, Buurman and Sutterland, but also strengthened the further development of Meent as a street lined with offices and shops. Pre-war street names like Hofstraat, Korte Wagenstraat and Heerenstraat disappeared in the process, and the whole street was now called Meent.
The first Minerva House, completed in 1938, was damaged in the bombardment, but could be rebuilt. Just before Christmas 1940, Bodega Sandeman, previously located on Coolsingel, opened a grand café in the restored Minerva House. The architecture of the Minerva House and of the other buildings on Meent blends with the functionalist building blocks that rose up in the 1930s on Rochussenstraat, in Blijdorp and, south of the river, on Dordtselaan and Mijnsheerenlaan. Minerva House has a concrete structure faced in brickwork, enabling the use of horizontal bands of fenestration. One very distinctive element of the 1930s is the streamlined curve on the corner of Meent and Rodezand.
Minerva House II
The second portion of Minerva House is again a structure by architect Hendriks for the Sint Willebrordus insurance company. The building merges inconspicuously into the street pattern. On Meent its four floors connect with Minerva House I, while on Westewagenstraat the building has three floors. A recessed façade plane with a row of balconies accentuates the corner. With its austere brick architecture, it looks like a sound investment property for the insurance firm.
Here, too, a combination of a concrete structure and brickwork façade were applied, although the possibilities of a free façade composition were not exploited. Some decorative elements include the metal fencing to the balconies and the recessed corner. Apart from that, the austere façade is enlivened rather inconspicuously by seven figurines of well-known Rotterdam street figures by sculptor Johan van Berkel (1913-1956), who died at a young age. Besides the female dove, they include the rascal, the fishwife, the balloon lady, the miller, the fisherman and the harmonica player.
Tijdens de wederopbouw werden verdere uitbreidingen gerealiseerd aan de achterzijde van het bouwblok, op de plek waar voor de oorlog de Rosaliakerk stond. Deze voormalige katholieke schuilkerk stond op de nominatie te worden gesloopt bij de doorbraak, maar na protesten werd hiervan afgezien. Na het bombardement is de verwoeste kerk toch gesloopt. Het hele bouwblok van de verschillende ‘Minervahuizen’ heeft zoals te doen gebruikelijk een expeditiehof.
Minervahuis III heette oorspronkelijk Rosaliahuis. Het gebouw, dat verschillende bedrijven huisvestte, werd op 22 januari 1951 geopend. Het gebouw is in een vergelijkbare sobere architectuur als de twee Minervahuizen gerealiseerd. Door de bekleding van het betonskelet met licht grijs geglazuurde baksteen kreeg het pand een fris en modern aanzien. Aan de voorzijde werd het betonframe zichtbaar gelaten en gevuld met kunststenen platen. Ook hier is een verticale reeks balkonhekjes de enige versiering. In het gesloten bakstenen gevelvlak op de hoek van het Rodezand is ook nog enige versiering aangebracht met decoratief metselwerk. Oorspronkelijk stond de benaming Rosaliahuis op de dakrand van het lage gedeelte en waren er een soort guirlandes van opnieuw Johan van Berkel aangebracht in de onderrand van de kantoorgevel.
Minerva House IV
Minerva House IV has little in common with the other buildings. It is a commercial property designed by architect A.J.M. Buijs (1897-1986) for the firm Van Zwol, which traded in fireplaces and stoves. Design had started even before the war, with the first pile rammed into the ground on 22 June 1949. Eight months later the building was finished. The adjoining commercial building is also by Buijs, a rather unknown Rotterdam architect who also designed the residential block at Hoogstraat 47-73. The two other structures in the block are by Kees Hoogeveen, the architect of De Heuvel.
Revival van de Meent
In 2001 businessman Robin von Weiler purchased Minerva House on Meent. The office building was restored, and from here he gradually expanded his property portfolio. He also became actively involved in the character and appearance of the street. Slowly but surely, employment agencies and travel agencies started to disappear. Von Weiler: "They are deadly for retail trade. Offices housed in shop units draw fewer pedestrians along a street." Moreover, big retail chains are not welcome here either. Von Weiler, or Mister Meent as he is known, prefers independent entrepreneurs from Rotterdam. It took a while, but Meent is now one of Rotterdam’s most popular streets, a status that has been further enhanced with the completion of the Timmerhuis. Scarcely anything of the rather anonymous post-war architecture has changed. The only adjustments have occurred at street level: new shops and cafés with new interiors and an improved street profile. Von Weiler has diligently worked to achieve a varied and attractive range of shops in the slightly more hip category in combination with fashionable cafés. Or, as his website puts it: Rotterdam’s trendiest shopping street. Beauty, fashion, lifestyle shops and restaurants. Lonely Planet calls Meent one of the most glamorous streets in Rotterdam.