P.W. Janssenhofje, Amsterdam

P.W. Janssenhofje

This court­yard in the Da Costa neighbour­hood opened in 1895. Created to house poor families and single persons of all creeds, it was originally called Nederlandsch–Duitsche Stichting (Dutch-German Foundation). Wealthy founder P.W. Janssen supplied the initial capital. There were 10 houses with 56 apartments, to give free shelter to 91 residents — the courtyard had 8 two-room apartments and 48 one-room apartments, with a resident care­keeper who was responsible for maintenance and for making sure everyone adhered to the rules of the court­yard.

P.W. Janssenhofje (courtyard) on Da Costastraat, Amsterdam

The P.W. Janssenhofje (court­yard) on Da Costa­straat 38-58 (May 2021).

Changes in Ownership & Renovations

Four houses next to the court­yard were meant to cover some of the cost through rent. When that did not prove sufficient, another row of houses was built nearby for the same reason. In 1977 a renovation then changed the houses into 48 two-room apartments. By then the apartments were rented out and even though subsidized, the foundation went into debt and was dissolved in 1979.

In 1991 the court­yard and the debt were taken over by the Algemene Woning­bouw Vereniging (General House Building Association). They rented the apartments out to single men and women over 55 years of age who had a very low income. That was also when the court­yard was renamed after its founder, who at its conception did not want his name advertised so blatantly. The 1977 renovation had removed the original windows, doors and reliefs, but these were restored again in 2009.

Peter Wilhelm Janssen

P.W. Janssen (1821-1903) was born on the German island Wangerooge (north of Bremer­haven). In 1842 he moved to Amsterdam. After working for a tobacco company for five years, he associated with a grain merchant trading with Odessa, which already made him a rich man because grain prices suddenly went up.

Dutch trader Jacobus Nienhuys had founded the Deli Company and oversaw coffee, tea, cocoa and nutmeg plantations in the Sultanate of Deli (Medan), on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in the former Dutch East Indies. With capital from Janssen he created large tobacco plantations there as well. In 1868 Nienhuys was indicted of killing seven Chinese coolies and was expulsed from Deli by the sultan.

Narrow-gauge railroad station of the Deli Maatschappij in Stabat, Sumatra, between 1890 and 1900

Narrow-gauge railroad station of the Deli Maatschappij in Stabat, Sumatra, between 1890 and 1900.

Peter Wilhelm Janssen never went to Sumatra himself, he only arranged the storage in warehouses and the sales in Amsterdam. The Neder­landse Handel­maat­schap­pij (NHM, Dutch Trade Company, whose former head­quarters are now the City Archives) bought half their stock. The Deli Company made huge profits very fast, allowing Janssen to retire in 1898 as a very rich man. He married in 1856 and in 1865 he changed his nationality to Dutch.

Former warehouses of the Deli Company on Houtmankade 20-24, Amsterdam

Medan, Bindjeij and Laboean warehouses of the Deli Company on the Houtman­kade 20-24. P.W. Janssen laid the foundation stone in 1895. The names of the warehouses refer to locations in the sultanate of Deli (Sumatra, former Dutch East Indies). In 1986 the ware­houses became apartments and business units, with the main entrance on the Nova Zembla­straat.

Wealth & Charity

Janssen, a devout Lutheran, was well aware that he had become rich very easily (and also at the expense of the exploited and underpaid contract labourers at the plantations which he never visited himself). He spent a good chunk of his enormous fortune on hundreds of different charities in Friesland and Amsterdam, as well as in Germany and America. He also donated a large sum of money to the funding of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which opened in 1895.

Janssen himself lived a relatively sober live — he lived on Keizers­gracht 688 and had a country home in Baarn. His Amsterdam born wife Folmina Margaretha Peters was, together with their humanitarian son Christian Wilhelm, co-founder of the Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen (KIT, Royal Institute for the Tropics), to which the Tropen­museum (Museum of the Tropics) belonged until 2014. In’ 1910 the KIT was still called Koloniaal Instituut (Colonial Institute).

Statue of P.W. Janssen at Bellamyplein, Amsterdam

Statue of P.W. Jansen at Bellamy­plein, by sculptor Bart van Hove. It was revealed in May 1908 by Janssen’s widow (September 2021).

Janssen was buried at Zorgvlied cemetery, where he and his wife have an ornate tombstone with the credo in German “Thue Recht und Scheue Niemand” (Do Right and Fear No One). On the nearby Bellamy­plein you can find his bust, placed there after his death. His son Christian Wilhelm Janssen continued and expanded the charity work in the province of Friesland.

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