Helios building, Spui, Amsterdam

Helios Building

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.

Helios building from 1900 in Art Nouveau style at Spui 15-19

Helios building from 1900 in Art Nouveau style at Spui 15-19, designed by Gerrit van Arkel. On the left, corner with Kalver­straat, shop building Mercurius where Focke & Meltzer used to be and where Max initially rented a floor (February 2021).

Max Büttinghausen

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.

Entrance to former beer cellar Barbarossa in the Voetboogstraat, Amsterdam

Mosaic and entrance to the former beer cellar Barba­rossa in the Voet­boog­straat (February 2021). The gable stone above the door on the right shows a rural village. It was orginally attached to one of the buildings on the corner which was demolished for the Helios building.

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.

Advertisement for Formosa, 19 December 1923 in Algemeen Handelsblad

Advertisement for Formosa (previously Maison Ledeboer), 19 December 1923 in Algemeen Handels­blad.

Formosa (1923-1969)

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.

Copper and silver pocket mirror, Formosa promotional gadget (Amsterdam Museum)

Copper and silver pocket mirror, Formosa promotional gadget from between 1923 and 1935 (Amsterdam Museum).

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.

Helios building with Seafood Bar, Amsterdam (February 2021)

Helios building with Seafood Bar (February 2021).

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