Connecting the Prinsengracht and Singelgracht in the Jordaan neighborhood is the Elandsgracht (Elk Canal), a former canal filled-in in 1891. It is a part of the western canal belt. The first eight canals in the Jordaan were all named after flowers, plants and trees — but this one was named after the many tanneries which were situated here at one time and which also worked on elk hides.
The Jordaan neighborhood — created in around 50 years from 1613 on, during the so-called Third Extension — originally had eleven canals: Palmgracht (Palm Canal), Goudsbloemgracht (Marigold Canal), Lindengracht (Lime Tree Canal), Anjeliersgracht (Carnation Canal), Egelantiersgracht (Sweetbriar Canal), Bloemgracht (Flower Canal), Rozengracht (Rose Canal), Lauriergracht (Laurel Canal), Elandsgracht (Elk Canal), Looiersgracht (Tanner Canal) and Passeerdersgracht (Spanish Leather Tanner Canal).
The Jordaan canals were once infamous for their stench and exceptionally bad water quality, due to the waste and sewage in this overpopulated area combined with the insufficient water flow, as the Jordaan district had been kept at the old polder water level. The Goudsbloemgracht was filled in after 1857, the Anjeliersgracht in 1861, the Rozengracht in 1889, Elandsgracht in 1891, Lindengracht and Palmgracht in 1895. The filled in canals became roads, mostly to deal with the increased traffic.
History of the Elandsgracht
In 1891 the former canal was filled in to create a road which served to supply the nearby vegetable market. The new street was 331 m (0.2 mi) long, 28 m (92 ft) wide, and had 3 m (10 ft) wide curbs. The middle part was raised and planted with a double row of trees. It was overhauled and modernized again in 2016.
The current former canal now holds apartments, shops, bars and restaurants. It has a center area with plants, flowers, benches and a small playground for children (where before it only held parked cars). Across from the wide bridge which connects the Marnixstraat to the Elandsgracht you find the Amsterdam Police Head Office. At the start of the Elandsgracht near the corner with the Lijnbaansgracht is antique center De Looier (The Tanner).
Around 1915 there were more than 13 folk theaters in the Jordaan neighborhood. The Edison Theater (from 1912) was located at Elandsgracht 92-94. Renovated in 1939, this was a popular theater where movies were shown and many famous local talents from the Jordaan performed. After the theater closed in 1961 it became a car repair shop, followed by a carpet shop in 1980. In 2013 the building was demolished, replaced by a hotel.
Johnny Jordaan square
At the other end — near the Prinsengracht (Princes’ Canal) — is a small square called Johnny Jordaanplein. It’s named after Johnny Jordaan (1924-1989) and features statues of four well-known Jordaan popular musicians: singers Johnny Jordaan and Tante Leen, double bass player and singer Manke Nelis, the gifted accordion player Johnny Meyer and the singing couple Jan & Mien Froger. Another famous Jordaan singer, Willy Alberti, does not have a statue here, because he already has a plaque remembering him attached to the façade of the Westertoren (Western Church Tower).
The first Jordaan Festival was held in 1950 and from 1975 on the three-day September festival has been celebrated yearly (except for the COVID years), with authentic folk music performances by typical Jordaan singers and mass sing-alongs. It takes place near the Elandsgracht on the former Appeltjesmarkt (Apple Market), where the bus station is now.
At Elandsgracht 71-77 there used to be a block of 4 houses, named “Sjaco’s Fortress” after thief Jacob Frederik Muller (1690-1718), who supposedly lived there. He was nicknamed “the Robin Hood of the Elandsgracht”. According to the myth (created mostly by late 19th century writer Justus van Maurik Jr.) he was Amsterdam’s most notorious criminal ever, very hard to catch because of all the secret passageways he had created inside those four houses. The block of houses was demolished in 1886, but a plaque shows where this so-called fortress once stood.
The myth was an invented story. Jordaan inhabitants used the nickname “fortress” for any group of semi-derelict houses with illegal constructions in the back, where poor people lived crammed together in very small apartments. And the four houses were owned by the Protestant Diaconate (Gereformeerde Diaconie) before being demolished — they would never have allowed a tenant like that. Although burglar and criminal Sjaco really existed and was decapitated in 1718 on Dam square, he never actually lived on the Elandsgracht. Legal documents from the time show that he was betrayed by his woman, fellow criminal and prostitute Griet Lommers. It would also seem he never got an honest trial. Some of his burglar tools are preserved in the Amsterdam Museum.
In a former school building from 1892 is the Claverhuis (named after Spanish Jesuit Pedro Clavèr). A former Catholic foundation for youthwork in the Jordaan was located here from 1959. Led by priest father Reuser, they organised lots of activities for the poorer Jordaan children, including holiday camps. The building is a municipal monument. It has been a lively district center since 2011, providing information, entertainment, activities, courses and assistance for residents.
Kapsalon In De Jordaan
This hairdresser, Kapsalon In De Jordaan, at Elandsgracht 51, corner Eerste Looiersdwarsstraat, has a typical Jordaan atmosphere with lots of lace, porcelain, flowers in the window and marble, the shop window decorated like a Jordaan home (but with Versace wallpaper inside for a modern touch). From 1987 until 2018 this was frame-maker shop Bel Ami. This shop building dates from 1672.
Don’t Bump Your Head
A small Dutch fast food joint (snackbar) in the basement at Elandsgracht 63 is called “Stoot Je Hoofd Niet” (Don’t Bump Your Head). To enter you have to go down a small set of stairs. Those who enter too hastily without paying attention soon find out why that name was chosen.
Where the Elandsgracht meets the Prinsengracht there’s a unique museum on a former river freight barge from 1914, called “Hendrika Maria”. It was later converted to be a house boat and is now a museum. Here you can see what living is like in this historically preserved houseboat, looking like the tenants have just gone out for an errand. Official address is Prinsengracht 296K.
Website of the Houseboat Museum: https://houseboatmuseum.nl/
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