The Helios building at Spui 15-19, designed by architect Gerrit van Arkel in Art Nouveau style, was built for portrait photographer Max Büttinghausen (1847-1906), a German immigrant. Arriving in Amsterdam in 1873, he worked first at Singel 133 and after 1886 at the Spui. He lived there with his family — his name is still on the front of the building.
Max had a photographic studio first at Singel 133, later at Singel 512. After 1886 he relocated to Spui 7, where he rented a single floor in the building of Focke & Meltzer (a company selling glassware and tableware on the ground floor). That building (shop building Mercurius) was created in 1885 by architects H.P. Berlage and Th. Sanders. Focke & Meltzer closed in 1979.
In 1894 Max bought Voetboogstraat 3 and moved his studio to Spui 15–17. In 1899 he bought two more buildings, Spui 19 and Voetboogstraat 1. He now owned 5 adjacent buildings which form the corner of Spui and Voetboogstraat. Büttinghausen ordered the demolition of all five buildings in 1900 and had the Helios building put in their place. In 1903 the inner courtyard was covered. Max died in 1906, but his name is still on the façade.
Zum Barbarossa (1900-1907)
At the Voetboogstraat the building has a mosaic with a fruit tree and two playing card clubs, which states “Zum Barbarossa”. This mosaic sign — meaning “to the Barbarossa”, in German — points to the small door beside it leading to beer cellar Barbarossa which was opened there in 1900. The cellar was not visible from the street, hence the sign.
Hendrik Gerhard Jr., who opened the place, died three weeks after the opening, only 38 years old. The Barbarossa-cellar changed hands a couple of times, became an illegal gambling spot in 1906 and was closed in 1907. The beer cellar is now used by the staff of the Seafood Bar.
Maison Ledeboer (1909-1923)
The Helios building was sold between 1907 and 1909 to Maison Ledeboer, who ordered architect Gerrit van Arkel to convert the interior into a teahouse and lunchroom. The “Max Büttinghausen” photo studio was still located in the building: his son Ernst continued the business until 1929, renting the top floor from the new owner. Maison Ledeboer was a famous delicatessen on Kalverstraat 156. Their tearoom in the Helios building continued until 1923.
In 1923 the place was sold to Albert Heijn (1865-1945), who had it made it into an English style lunchroom, tearoom and restaurant, named Formosa. He put his son Gerrit in charge. On Sundays there were matinees and dinner concerts. The top floors were rented out to various businesses. Formosa closed in 1969.
Owner Albert Heijn was heavily criticised for selling the place, again destroying important cultural heritage. Earlier he had “renovated” the beautiful American Lunchroom at Kalverstraat 16-18, completely destroying the marble, beautiful woodwork and stained glass interior.
Madame Tussaud’s (1969-1991)
In 1969 wax statue museum Madame Tussaud’s Panopticum opened here on the ground floor, with the entrance on the Kalverstraat. After Madame Tussaud’s moved out in 1991 to Dam square, there were several bars and stores located in the building. In 2014 the Seafood Bar opened a restaurant there.
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