The first Amsterdam street you encounter when arriving from Central Station is Damrak, which runs from Prins Hendrikkade to Dam square. On the east side of Damrak, the backs of the warehouses on Warmoesstraat are directly on the water, without a quay. The west side of Damrak is filled with many touristy shops, hotels, (fastfood) restaurants and bars. Narrow alleys connect Damrak and the parallel Nieuwendijk on that side. Despite today’s often overcrowded and tacky appearance, this part of Amsterdam has great historic value and has seen many changes over time.
Short History of Damrak
A rak was a straight stretch of canal, Damrak literally means “Dam’s straight water”. The whole of Damrak up to Dam square was a lively harbor until 1845, being a part of the Amstel river, running along Rokin and the lock near Dam square, right up to the open water of the IJ. Where the Central Station is now, there was once a long row of poles in the water, where the big ships moored. The open connection to the IJ existed until the artificial islands (on which the Central Station is located) were created between 1872 and 1877. Amsterdam’s Central Station opened in 1889.
Before parts of the Damrak were filled in (between Dam and Oudebrugsteeg) in 1845 and 1883, the west side of Damrak was called Op ‘t Water (On the Water). The part of Damrak on the east side which is now Beursplein (filled in in 1883), has Berlage’s Exchange (from 1903), the Stock Exchange (from 1913) and (at the corner of Dam square) De Bijenkorf (The Beehive, from 1915). From 1845 until 1903 Zocher’s Exchange stood where that department store is now. Over time the original estuary of the Amstel river, once 100 m (328 ft) wide, was reduced to a measly 35 m (115 ft).
Filling in Damrak
- In 1845 the first part of the Damrak was filled in to create Zocher’s Exchange, built half on top of the covered Amstel river. It opened in 1845 and was demolished in 1903. Today department store Bijenkorf is located there.
- In 1873-1875 the Damrak quay on the west side was doubled in width to 24 m (79 ft).
- Also in 1875 the part of Damrak from Zocher’s Exchange to Papenbrugsteeg was filled in. Around this time the name was changed from Op ‘t Water to Damrak.
- In 1883 Damrak was filled in from Dam square up to Oudebrugsteeg, for the build of Berlage’s Exchange in 1898. Until that time it was transformed into a small public garden.
- Plans after 1883 to fill in the last watery part of Damrak were never executed.
Bridges across Damrak
When large parts of Damrak were filled in, two former bridges were demolished: the Papenbrug (Papist Bridge) and the Oude Brug (Old Bridge). Only the names of two alleys (Papenbrugsteeg and Oudebrugsteeg) show where they once stood. The current Nieuwe Brug (New Bridge), where the Prins Hendrikkade crosses the Damrak, is hardly recognizable as a bridge these days, but it still has a lock below it. This once wooden bridge (from before 1365), once the entrance to the Damrak harbor, got brick arches on each end around 1529. After 1600 the bridge lost its military function. In 1681 it became a part of Amsterdam’s new water management system, designed by mayor Johannes Hudde, by then all brick and with two locks on either side, which finally ended the tides which had plagued the Damrak before.
Buildings on Damrak
Most of the time it has become quite difficult to take in the remaining historic buildings on Damrak, partly because of the constant overcrowding with tourists and partly because of the many inappropriate shops and signs, all catering to the lowest common denominator. Let’s start on the west side, walking from Prins Hendrikkade to Dam, then make our way back on the east side from Dam square to the north. The early morning hours are the best time if you want to look at the buildings without too much hustle and bustle.
Damrak 1-5 – Victoria Hotel
The Victoria Hotel from 1890, Damrak 1-5 and Prins Hendrikkade 38 and 47A, was built between 1883 and 1890, designed by J.F. Henkenhaf, who was also director of the hotel. Henkenhaf also designed the Kurhaus Hotel in Scheveningen, which opened in 1885. At the side of Prins Hendrikkade the hotel has encapsulated two small houses — the owners held out too long from selling their property, hoping to make more money from selling as time went by.
House from the early 18th century, remodeled in 1939 and restored in 1967, with richly decorated top.
House from around 1730 with richly decorated top gable and Roman bust, restored in 1966. Now a budget hotel with a McDonald’s on the ground floor.
Between Damrak 14 and 15 is the Haringpakkerssteeg (Herring Packers Alley) — the herring packers salted herring and packed it in barrels. They were active here in the 16th and 17th century, mostly along Prins Hendrikkade. Until 1913 this alley was called Kapelsteeg.
These days Damrak 15 is Amusement Palace Macau. It was built in 1905 by architect J.A. van Straaten, who also designed department store De Bijenkorf. This was once soap factory De Vergulde Hand (The Gilded Hand), already here in the 16th century, the last one of three soap manufacturers on Damrak. They were bought by AKZO in 1966, soap production in Amsterdam ended in 1971. The stone above the doorway on the left shows the name and the year 1554-1905, now the only reminder of the soap history of the building.
Shop in Art Nouveau style from 1900 by architect P. van der Vliet. Now it has the Pizza Pasta Bar on the ground floor.
This Art Nouveau shop and warehouse from 1901, designed by architect R. Kuipers, was renovated in 1934 by architect A.U. Ingwersen together with the neighboring house. It originally housed organ and piano store Breebaart, moved to number 19 in 1905. The store then housed Meyjes & Höweler, who sold mostly safes, stoves and cookers and were here until around 1980. Now the ground floor has a souvenir shop called Amsterdam Experience.
The red brick house at Damrak 25 had been a fish and fruit shop here since 1868. In 1906 they had a new shop built by architect Willem Kromhout, with an oyster lunchroom on the first floor. The shop moved to Damrak 46 in 1931. The façade was changed several times, first in 1955. Since 1995 this has been candy store Jamin.
Damrak 26-27 – Utrecht Warehouse
This shop and warehouse from 1905 belongs to the building De Utrecht on the other side of the Karnemelksteeg. The front is covered in Italian granite. Now Tours & Tickets.
Between numbers 26-27 and 28 is the Karnemelkssteeg (Buttermilk Alley) from 1476. It was named after the barges carrying buttermilk which once moored here.
Damrak 28-30 – De Utrecht Insurance Company
Building with shop and offices from 1906, designed by architects J.F. Staal and A.J. Kropholler. The front is covered in green Swedish marble, the roof partly covered in copper. The sculptures were made by sculptor Joseph Mendes da Costa (1863-1939), who was tasked by the life insurance company to adorn both the exterior and the interior of their building at Damrak 28-30. The five large figures on the first floor symbolize Protection, Thrift, Wisdom, Volatility and Vigilance. Above the main entrance a kneeling widow in front of a wheel of fortune, symbolizing the unpredictability of fate.
Higher up the façade you can see mandrills, howler monkeys, owls and chameleons. Mendes da Costa was known for his animal sculptures — he spent many days in Artis Zoo to study their appearance. Insurance company De Utrecht moved in to the building around 1935 (the shop arcade at Raadhuisstraat was also financed by them). The building was restored in 2014.
Damrak 34 – Den Gulden Salm
Centuries ago the houses on the uneven side of Nieuwendijk continued all the way to the water of Damrak. Later they were split and the back side of this block became Damrak 34. This building from around 1564 has a gable from the late 19th century, but behind that is a much older building, with a 17th century rear and a 16th century wooden frame construction. High up on the gable is a stone with a salmon, which gave the building the name Gulden Salm (Golden Salmon), probably from a fishmonger in the 16th century. These days it’s Hotel van Gelder, City Sightseeing on the ground floor.
Two small shop buildings from the first half of the 17th century, with a 19th century roof. A garland with roses adorns the top of number 35. The two former narrow alleys on either side of Damrak 35 have been closed off. Topless bar Teasers was located here before, closed by the city in 2006. The ground floor now houses restaurant and bar Bravi Ragazzi (Good Guys in Italian). Damrak 35-36 all the way to Nieuwendijk 123-125 is now a short stay hotel with 7 apartments.
Art Noveau office from 1904 on the corner of the Oudebrugsteeg, designed by J.W.F. Hartkamp. Originally a securities trader with a beer cellar below it, with a photographer’s workhop in the attic. Yet another cheese shop today.
The Oudebrugsteeg (Old Bridge Alley) between Damrak 39 and 40 was named after the oldest bridge (from the early 14th century) across the Damrak, before this part was filled in (1883). The alley continues on the other side of Damrak.
An existing house at the corner of the Mandenmakerssteeg was remodeled in 1904 and 1905, designed by architect Kröner. The upper floors were rented as offices. Until 1919 this was a fish and deli shop. Now it’s Restaurant At James, Argentinian Grill.
Between Damrak 45 (Restaurant At James) and Damrak 46 (Amsterdam Today) is the Mandenmakerssteeg (Basket Weavers Alley), named after the basket makers who lived here. They sold their wares on the basket market held on Damrak until 1634.
Building from 1899 in Art Nouveau style by architect H.G. Jansen, with a bay window, balcony and loggia. From 1902 to 1905 there was an insurance company here for employers. The upper floors are now Hotel Manofa, together with number 46. Amsterdam Today is on the ground floor of Damrak 46. Steakhouse De Markies is on the ground floor of Damrak 48. Above the third floor window a gable stone with the Four Sons of Duke Aymon on their magical horse Bayard, pointing to a house called De Vier Heemskinderen which stood here before, where cartographer Johannes Jansonius lived in the 17th century. Back then his neighbor at number 46 was the famous cartographer Willem Blaeu (1571-1638), of Atlas Maior fame.
Although not very appealing on the outside, research showed that the wooden interior frame of this house dates from 1530-1540, the outside was remodeled around 1725-1750. The interior construction makes it one of the oldest remaining houses in town, even older than the wooden house ‘t Aepjen (The Monkey) at Zeedijk 1.
Shop and home from 1632 on the right hand corner of the Onze Lieve Vrouwesteeg, remodeled in the second half of the 19th century, restored in 2014. Since 2019 it has clothing retailer Wituka on the ground floor. On the side wall on Onze Lieve Vrouwesteeg is a restored mural advert for Ferwerda & Tieman wine merchants (founded in 1891), who had a depot here.
Onze Lieve Vrouwesteeg
Between numbers 59 and 60 is the Onze Lieve Vrouwesteeg (Our Lady Alley), named after a chapel which stood on Nieuwendijk from around 1500 until 1578, across from the guest house and hospital Onze Lieve Vrouwegasthuis (founded around 1420, moved around 1580 to St. Pietersgasthuis on Grimburgwal).
Damrak 60 – House with Turret
On the left hand corner of Onze Lieve Vrouwesteeg a shop and home from 1889 with a turret, designed by architect W. Langhout, originally created for a café and restaurant. Now there’s a Souvenirs & Gifts on the ground floor.
Damrak 62 – Former Bookstore Allert de Lange
This Neo-Renaissance building from 1886 housed publisher and bookstore Allert de Lange (founded in 1880), until they bankrupted in 1999. It was designed by architect J. van Looy, changed in 1985 to have the entrance in the center. The sculptures on the façade are by Johannes Franse. Left and right of the entrance are the busts of Rembrandt and Rubens. Above the first floor windows it still says “Librairie, Buchhandlung, Bookseller”. At the top the construction year and an owl, symbol of wisdom. Now it’s the Old Amsterdam Cheese Store, one of way too many tourist cheese shops.
Damrak 63-64 – Cineac II
Building from 1938 by architect H. Vreeswijk, originally a cinema called Cineac II, closed in 1983. Now it’s a slotmachine arcade called Casino.
At number 68 is the Beurspassage (Exchange Passage), finished after a big renovation in 2016, containing the artwork Amsterdam Oersoep (Amsterdam Primordial Soup) by artists Arno Coenen, Iris Roskam and Hans van Bentem. The Beurspassage was already discussed in an earlier blog post.
Damrak 70-79 – Former C&A Clothing Store
In 1894 there was a large building complex here, designed by architect Berlage for insurance company De Algemeene, enlarged in 1903. After they bankrupted in 1920, this became clothing store C&A (short for Clemens & August Brenninkmeijer) in 1930, expanded in 1957. It burned down completely because of a short circuit in February 1963, the firefighters hindered by severe cold and ice in the Damrak water.
C&A first got a temporary wooden shop on pontons in the water next to the Beurs van Berlage, then opened a newly built store here on Damrak in 1968. In 2022 C&A relocated to Kalverstraat. In 2015-2016 the complex was renovated and now it houses clothing store Primark.
Bank building from 1904 in sober Art Nouveau style by architect Gerrit van Arkel, originally built as an office for the Buitenlandsche Bankvereeniging (Foreign Bank Association). The façade has Moorish elements and is decorated with flower motives. These days it’s a Starbucks.
House from around 1800 in Louis XVI style, now it’s a Délifrance.
Between the numbers 84 and 85, the Zoutsteeg (Salt Alley), named after the barges transporting salt which moored here in the 15th century.
House from 1725 in Louis XIV style. Now a Tours & Tickets.
Damrak 89 and 90 date from around 1728. Around 1890 this was a Merkelbach Toy Store. Now it’s an AH-to-Go supermarket.
The white building next to De Roode Leeuw was once Bodega Oporto, very popular with journalists and exchange traders, closed in 1963. This is where in 1964 the much despised “hamburgerisation” of Damrak started, when supermarket chain Albert Heijn and the British firm Lyons opened a Wimpy hamburger joint here. Now it’s a McDonald’s.
Damrak 93-94 – De Roode Leeuw
Building from 1911 by architect H. Kuipers, created for hotel and brasserie De Roode Leeuw (The Red Lion), founded around 1454 as a coffee house on Dam square (where the Industria building is now). In 1957 an extra floor was added.
Damraksteeg (Damrak Alley), between numbers 94 and 95, was called Dubbeleworststeeg (Double Sausage Alley) until 1922, after citizen Laurens Dubbelworst and a sign he had here. He had also lived on an alley between Singel and Herengracht which bears the same name. This alley here had still other names in the 16th and 17th century.
Building and office from 1899, designed by H.P. Berlage for the Amsterdamsch Wisselkantoor, a money changer, daughter of the Amsterdamsche Bank. In 1902 association ‘t Koggeschip, predecessor of tourist board VVV and founded in 1902, was on the second floor. They moved to the Munttoren in 1932. On the ground floor of Damrak 95 is money changer Pott Change. The building at number 96 was demolished in 1985. Damrak 96 has been Hotel Swissôtel since 1986, managed by a Swiss hotel chain.
Building from 1908 by architects A.J. Kropholler and J.F. Staal, which replaced a 17th century merchant house. First a securities broker, later a bodega with a printer’s office on the top floors. Today it’s Italian restaurant Royal 98.
The Valkensteeg (Falcon Alley), between Damrak 98 and Dam 2, was named after an inn from the 17th century called De Grauwe Valk (The Gray Falcon).
Damrak 99-100, Dam 2
The bank building at the corner of Rokin and Dam, called De Bisschop (The Bishop, after a gable stone with Amsterdam patron saint St. Nicholas on the Dam side), has a troubled history.
In 1563 there was a building here called ’t Suykerhuis, after 1750 replaced by another building. From 1877 until 1922 this was café De Bisschop under various owners. In 1899 the café got a new ornate building, created on the old foundations by architect A.C. Boersma (in 1884 Boersma had also created the House with the Gnomes at Ceintuurbaan 251-255). Around 1921 it started to sag very badly and needed to be propped up. Despite the top floors being removed to diminish the weight, the café had to close in 1926. Until 1933 the derelict remains of that building continued to be a blemish on the face of Dam square.
Owner H.P. de Goeijen in the meantime had bought two adjacent lots for a future expansion, Damrak 100 (a cigar shop owned by writer Justus van Maurik) and Damrak 99 (Seyffardt’s bookstore). Heineken became the new owner and they then traded the lots in for terrains in the Pijp neighborhood. Distillery Levet & Co then commissioned a new building from architect Jan Gratama in 1933. It was stripped of all ornaments around 1990, although some elements were restored during a 2010 renovation. Various banks have been here since 1933, now it’s ABN AMRO bank with Dior on the ground floor.
Damrak 100 has a gable stone with a hand grabbing a rooster, pointing to the British Hancock family who from 1719 until 1783 owned the building which previously stood here. Originally attached to the late 17th century gable, this stone was placed back on the current building from 1934. On the Dam side is a gable stone with St. Nicholas, Amsterdam’s patron saint. It depicts one of the legends surrounding him, where he revived three children who had been killed by an inn-keeper.
Let’s cross the street to the east side of the Damrak, starting on the corner with Dam square.
De Bijenkorf department store was built here between 1911 and 1915, modeled after a wing of the Louvre in Paris. The store was founded in 1870 at Nieuwendijk 132. After a temporary building in 1912 on the spot where the Zocher Exchange had been, the new store opened here in 1915, designed by architects J. van Straaten and B. Lubbers. On the Damrak side is a shield with the monogram SPG, from Simon Philip Goudsmit, who had started the company on Nieuwendijk. His initials are also above the entrances on Dam square. The building has been a national monument since 2001.
This alley, at the south end of Beursplein alongside De Bijenkorf, leads to the parallel Warmoesstraat. It was named after the Papenbrug (Papist Bridge), built before 1475 and demolished in 1884 when this part of the Damrak was filled in. According to a 16th century story the bridge got its name after some clergymen had set the old derelict predecessor (Inrebrugge from 1365) on fire. North of the Papenbrugsteeg is the Euronext Stock Exchange, to the south of it the Bijenkorf car parking.
This square (Exchange Square), between Bijenkorf and Beurs van Berlage, was created after this part of the Damrak had been filled in (in 1883). Berlage also designed six lanterns and two fountains (originally drinking troughs for horses) for the square. In 2018 an underground bike parking for 1700 bicycles was built here and the square was renovated according to the 1903 design.
Beursplein 5 – Stock Exchange
The Effectenbeurs (Stock Exchange) moved here in 1912. They bought a whole block of houses here, including the fancy Bible Hotel from 1647, demolished in 1911. The current building was created between 1909 and 1911 by architect Jos Cuypers (his father Pierre had designed the Rijksmuseum and the Central Station). In 2000 the stock exchanges of Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam merged to form Euronext, their main headquarters here.
The bronze sculpture De Stier (The Bull) on the square, in front of the Stock Exchange, was created Arturo di Modica in 2012. It is a smaller version of the Charging Bull in New York. Placed here without an initial permit, it weights around 2,500 kg (394 stone). The sculpture, first moved to the side, was allowed to stay when the square was renovated in 2018.
Beurs van Berlage
The building of Berlage’s Exchange started in 1898 and it opened in 1903 on Beursplein. It replaced the old Zocher Exchange from 1848, which stood where now De Bijenkorf is. The building, called Koopmansbeurs (Merchants’ Exchange) from 1903 until 1998, housed four exchanges: commodity, shipping, grain and stock. The stock exchange moved to Beursplein 5 in 1912. Built right in the old river bed of the Amstel, Berlage’s Exchange already started to sag during the build and needed immediate repairs. Since 1985 the Exchange has become a Palazzo Pubblico (Public Hall). It was restored from 1998 to 2004.
This alley, at the north side of the Beurs van Berlage, was named after the Oude Brug (Old Bridge) which crossed the Damrak water here at the start of the 14th century. When this part of Damrak was filled in (1883), the bridge was demolished. All that remains of it now is the quay along the Beurs building leading to Beursstraat and Warmoesstraat.
Wet Part of Damrak
The rest of Damrak up to Nieuwebrug is a quay with tour boats.
In 2010 a tunnel was dug for the subway underneath Damrak. In 2012 the city designated Damrak, Rokin, Vijzelstraat and Vijzelgracht as its so-called Red Carpet (the entrance into town), after the construction of the metro, which lasted from 2003 until 2018. Efforts to lift the quality of this Red Carpet area have been an ongoing battle since then. Trivia: the small village of Durgerdam, in the Amsterdam Noord area on the other side of the IJ, also has a Damrak, beside their church.
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