The Zomerhof District, now often referred to as ZoHo, is roughly the area bordered by Schiekade to the south-west, Teilingerstraat to the north-west, Noordsingel to the north-east and Hofplein and Pompenburg to the south-east. Most the area was destroyed by the bombardment and fire of May 1940. However, it was not an area of focus in the post-war reconstruction of the city, largely because of its isolated position relative to the city centre and its predominantly office and commercial character. Indeed, publications about the reconstruction of Rotterdam ignore the Zomerhof district entirely.
Since 1900 the area had suffered greatly from large-scale infrastructural interventions. Two railway lines cut through the area: the Luchtspoor and Hofplein Line Viaduct. After the World War II, Heer Bokelweg, the proposed access route from the so-called Rotte Tracé, also cut a swathe through the area. Moreover, the use of the Stroveer as a heliport did little to boost the coherence of the area.
Even so, some sense of community must have existed here, because in 1935 its very own football club was founded: De Zomerhof Boys (SZB). Club nights were held in a café on Teilingerstraat. DZB relocated to Zevenkamp in 1989 and merged with Xerxes in 2000. The more generally defined area around Zomerhofstraat, which extends as far as Bergweg, has been known as the Agniese District since the wave of urban renewal in the 1970s.
An important intervention in the district was the construction, started in 1900, of a viaduct as part of the railway line between Hofplein and Scheveningen, operated by the Zuid-Hollandsche Electrische Spoorweg-Maatschappij (ZHESM). With the opening of the RandstadRail rapid transit network in 2006, the Hofplein Viaduct lost its function. Over the years, various warehouses, shops and business started to occupy the spaces of the concrete viaduct. Almost two kilometres long, the structure is now a designated national heritage monument and has experienced a rebirth under the name Hofbogen. After a brief period of decay, this once noisy and polluting viaduct that sliced through the district is on its way to becoming Rotterdam’s answer to the High Line. The terminus at Hofplein was intersected by another viaduct on the railway line between Rotterdam and Antwerp. A stretch of this elevated railway line has since been replaced by a tunnel, but it still forms a barrier between ZoHo and the city centre. The railway bridge over Schiekade form a visual obstacle, as does the Shell complex at Hofplein. The wide traffic arteries and the Hofplein traffic circle also form physical barriers.
The land between Zomerhofstraat and Noordsingel has been earmarked for the construction of emergency buildings for a temporary period of ten years, thanks to the efforts of Dr J.A. Ringers, Government Commissioner for Reconstruction, who in this way has sought to meet the needs of businessmen who had lost their property and could initially find no site where they could continue their business operations. (…) The site between Zomerhofstraat and Noordsingel will be mainly designated for small industrial businesses, but it will also include an entertainment building and – we are reliably informed – a temporary house of prayer for the Dutch Reformed Church, for which architect H. Sutterland from Overschie has drawn up a proposal.
Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, 20 March 1941
Not long after the bombardment, the area was earmarked as an industrial and business zone, and emergency buildings were erected. The ‘1940 Foundation’ financed this temporary development as compensation for commercial space that had been destroyed in the city centre. Since the emergency structures were built on top of existing foundations, the pre-war street pattern was largely maintained. The Palace entertainment complex (1941) looked like a fish out of water, but for many years it did meet a demand. According to a newspaper item in 1947, it must have been a remarkably un-Dutch sight on Schoterboschstraat.
With a little imagination, this could be a street in any of the countless small towns of the American Midwest. Low sheds of corrugated iron, the rough-around-the-edges mentality of people in those structures; the penetratingly invigorating smell of petrol and the joyfully scintillating sound of metal on metal; a provisional and uneven road surface. But it’s precisely this lack of order that makes it as pleasant as the plain and asymmetrical treks of people through landscapes behind the Rocky Mountains. Even so, the street is not located in that carefree land of eternal sunshine and dollars, but in the land of “changeable skies". A Rotterdam street, tackled in American fashion.
Het Vrĳe Volk, 17 May 1947
Like many other emergency facilities, this small industrial district survived for longer than a decade. Instead of the ‘commercial and special development’ functions indicated on the Basis Plan for post-war reconstruction, the area to the north-east of the viaduct was earmarked as a business zone. Starting in the early 1960s, the area bordered by Teilingerstraat, Zomerhofstraat and Almondestraat was developed site by site for larger and smaller businesses, with a remarkable variety of buildings in all shapes and sizes. The Coöperatie de Vooruitgang (‘Progress Cooperative’) built a huge bread factory (1963-1967) as big as a whole city block on Zomerhofstraat. Constructed opposite it was an L-shaped block with a partly uniform facade for smaller companies. On Teilingerstraat were two larger commercial structures: Kramer en Röder (1962-1965) and De Lange en Reek (1962-1965), which continued the substantial volumes built for the Nationale Levensverzekeringsbank (1941-1949). Various quintessentially Rotterdam architects were involved, among them Arie Krijgsman, K. Landers, Kees Elffers, L. Kolpa, Johannes Lelieveldt, Wim Fiolet, Dirk Dürrer and Herman Haan. Sculpture and mosaic by Johannes van Reede, Loekie Metz and André Volten adorned the interiors and exteriors of the buildings.
Even larger structures were built along Heer Bokelweg, among them the Katshoek multi-tenant industrial complex (1959-1969) by Aannemingsmaatschappij Voormolen and the RAC garage (1958-1963). Both buildings were designed by Maaskant Van Dommelen Kroos and Senf. The RAC garage was converted into the City Archives in 1998.
Churches and schools
Apart from commercial development, the district was home to a number of churches: the modest Reformed Church (1949-1953) by M.C.A. Meischke beside the Nationale, the Rehobothkerk church on Noordsingel (1951) by Hendrik Sutterland, and the big Catholic Bosjes Church (1954) on Hofdijk by Hendriks Van der Sluys & Van den Bosch (demolished in 1991). The district was also home to some school buildings. The Keuchenius School designed by architect Kammer on Heer Bokelweg was built between 1957 and 1960. From 1955 on, plans for a concentration of vocational schools started to take shape. The large Technikon Complex by Maaskant, complete with sports tower and theatre, eventually opened in 1970. The Hotel & Restaurant School on Noordsingel, designed by Hendriks Van der Sluys & Van den Bosch, opened in 1965.
Since nobody can predict the future, Sabena and Rotterdam are presently working on a trial basis, but both parties are very confident that the new service will prove popular. After all, Sabena saves Rotterdam businessmen more than 90 minutes. For passengers this saving is ‘free’, because a helicopter trip from Rotterdam to Brussel costs slightly less than the roughly 25 guilders they pay for the bus journey from Rotterdam to Schiphol and the flight from Schiphol to Melsbroek (Brussels).
De Volkskrant, 25 April 1953
In 1953 the Heliport opened on a 110-x-110-metre site on Hofdijk, from where Belgian airline Sabena operated a direct connection to Brussels. Helicopter flights were actually not very profitable, but Rotterdam had not yet received permission for an airport of its own, and so it came up with this creative solution to compete with Schiphol. Helicopters taking off and landing in the heart of the city were a strange sight.
Heliport closed in 1965, after which the helicopter flights operated from Zestienhoven. The site was then occupied by the Ahoy Halls, which provided a venue for exhibitions and other events such as Femina, an annual fair for women, and the Hippy Happy Fair for teenagers in 1967, featuring performances by Pink Floyd, the Bee Gees and Jimi Hendrix. The halls disappeared after the opening of the Ahoy sports complex in 1970.
Plans for a skyscraper on the site first emerged in 1969. The scheme was part of the proposed large-scale redevelopment of the Oude Noorden and Rubroek districts, which was to facilitate construction of the Rotte Tracé, an elevated road above the River Rotte to carry traffic into and out of the city centre from the ring road.
“In urban design terms, this site is eminently suitable for a very tall building that provides a focal point in the city centre. With the World Trade Centre, the Overbeek building at Marconiplein and the tall structure on the Heliport site, Rotterdam can achieve the necessary scale-up on three ‘fronts’ in a totally harmonious manner.”
De Tijd De Maasbode, 11 April 1969
After the plans for the Rotte Tracé were ditched in the early 1970s because of vehement opposition from residents in the Oude Noorden and Crooswijk districts, it was decided to redevelop the heliport site with a small-scale residential scheme. The complex of 584 homes designed by architect Jan Verhoeven, known popularly as ‘Little Volendam’ or the ‘Goblin Village’, was completed in 1983. Small-scale urban renewal projects had been springing up along the River Rotte since 1978. Two houses at the tip of the Rechter Rottekade that had survived both the bombardment and the wave of urban renewal were the only pre-war structures that remained.
Slowly but surely, the original businesses started to move away from the Zomerhof District. Just one company that has been located here since the very start still occupies its own building: the Hartman & Sons firm of contractors. Those that have left have been replaced by a wide variety of small businesses, ranging from garages to a fitness club and religious communities. Creative entrepreneurs, who rebranded the Zomerhof District as ‘ZOHO’, began moving into the larger buildings. The bread factory became the ‘Gebouw’ and was adorned with a gaudy blue dazzle painting. The former Waalveem building (1967) has been partly painted yellow and is now called the ‘Yellow Building’. The Palace entertainment complex burned to the ground in 2013 and the vacant site is now home to a remarkable newcomer: the Gare du Nord vegan restaurant, housed in an East German railway carriage. Although an alternative market hall called ‘Marché 010’ proved unsuccessful, the area is now home to a number of restaurants and cafés that, together with the eateries housed in the Hofbogen, have given the area a new lease of life, with food festivals and other cultural activities. In late 2017 the Havensteder housing association, owner of most of the properties, issued a tender for the renewal of the district.