Most people know the Leidseplein and the adjacent area only as a spot for pubs, restaurants, theaters and nightlife, but it has an interesting history as well. The square and the Kleine-Gartman plantsoen have been remodeled many times over the years, in fact in the second quarter of 2021 the city is at last finishing the construction of an underground bicycle parking under the small area in front of the cinema.
In the 1950s and 1960s the Leidseplein was a favorite gathering spot for young artistics, who were called “Pleiners” (squarers). Their watering holes were mostly café Eijlders and café Reynders. They had regular fights with the “Dijkers” (dikers) who gathered around the Nieuwendijk area. Pleiners had a preference for stylish clothes and French existentialism, Dijkers for jeans, leather and rock ‘n roll.
The Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen, connecting the Leidseplein and the Weteringschans, is a small square with a (very small) public garden, which was formed when in 1914 the Lijnbaansgracht was covered (the canal ran beneath the road) to make room for trams. Contrary to what most people think, it is not a part of the Leidseplein.
The Leidseplein itself dates from 1660, around the time of Amsterdam’s Vierde Uitleg (Fourth Expansion), comprising the Eastern Canal Belt and Eastern Islands (from 1655-1663). The area around the square is called Leidsebuurt (Leiden neighbourhood).
The square was named after the road to the city of Leiden which started here, from the Leidsepoort (Leiden Gate). It was meant to be a cart square (like the Haarlemmerpoort or Haarlem Gate was), where people arriving from outside could park their carts, carriages and horses before they proceded into the city. There were many businesses situated around the square, like carpenters, blacksmiths and inns.
Built in 1664, the Leidsepoort was one of eight gates into the city. It was situated on the south side of the Leidseplein, more or less where now the Marnixstraat starts. The Leidsepoort was demolished in 1862.
The Leidsepoort replaced the Heiligewegspoort (Sacred Road Gate), which stood where the Koningsplein is now, at the other end of the Leidsestraat, by then well inside the city walls. The Heiligewegspoort and road had been built to cope with the increase in religious tourism c.q. pilgrimage regarding the so-called Miracle of Amsterdam in the Middle Ages.
Stadsschouwburg (Municipal Theatre)
On the Leidseplein the first Stadsschouwburg (Municipal Theater) was constructed in 1774. That wooden building got a brick façade and adornments in 1874. Since the bells of the gate were rung every 15 minutes, the space between the wooden inner and brick outer wall had to be filled with sawdust to dampen the sound at least a bit.
That first Stadsschouwburg went up in flames in 1890 and was completely destroyed. The current (brick) Stadsschouwburg opened in 1894 and has been a national monument since 1982.
In 1875 the Leidseplein got the first horse-drawn tram line, from the Leidseplein to the Plantage district, followed in 1900 by the first electric tramway from here to the Haarlemmerplein. Since 1971 cars have been banned from the Leidsestraat and the northern part of the square and in 2017 this was extended to the rest of the Leidseplein.
The building on the corner of the Leidseplein and Leidsestraat was built for fashion house Maison De Vries in 1921, which closed in 1936. In 1939 KLM opened a passage office on the ground floor.
On and around the Leidseplein
- Hard Rock Hotel (American Hotel) from 1902
- Hirsch building from 1912
- Leidseplein Theater from 1933 at Leidseplein 12
- Stadsschouwburg (Municipal Theater) from 1894
- Former police station from 1900 at Leidseplein 17, since 1985 coffeeshop The Bulldog
- Leidse Brug from 1925
- Leidsebosje, remnants of a small strip of green along the city wall from 1737
- Kleine-Gartman plantsoen from 1909 over the covered Lijnbaansgracht
- Theater De Balie at Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen 10 (former courthouse from 1891)
- Entrance to the Max Euweplein (former city prison from 1852)
- Cinema City Theater from 1935
On the right the Heineken Hoek café, soon to be remodeled to become a “modernized” bar with hotel, higher and with a glass façade, approved after various court cases since 2008 against it failed (February 2021). The iconic neon Heineken beer glassed have already been removed in March 2021. For the new Heineken Hoek hotel two adjacent buildings will be demolished.
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