At Keizersgracht 384 you can find Hotel The Dylan and Restaurant Vinkeles. The entrance gate is from 1638 and belonged to the first Amsterdamse Schouwburg (Amsterdam Municipal Theater), constructed in 1617 and designed by Jacob van Campen. The gate and building are a national monument. Their architect, Jacob van Campen, later also designed the Amsterdam City Hall (now Royal Palace) on Dam square, built between 1648 and 1665.
The cartouche above the gate reads, in old Dutch spelling, Schouburg (Theater). The quote below it is by Dutch poet and playwright Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679).
The world is a theater stage,
each play their role and get their share
There is an unmistakeable similarity with Shakespeare’s famous lines from his 1599 play As You Like It:
All the world’s a stage,
and all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
and one man in his time plays many parts
The Old Amsterdam Municipal Theater
In 1617 the three lots for the Schouwburg were secured and the build of the first (wooden) city theater started. In 1638 it was replaced by a brick building, with a new gate. The building was enlarged in 1664 and again in 1765, making it twice as big. After 1665 the theater went almost all the way to the Prinsengracht.
The Amsterdam theater was modeled after the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza (northern Italy) by Dutch architect Philips Vingboons (1607-1678). Vingboons designed many city palaces in Classicist style in Amsterdam during the Golden Age. A neighboring garden, bought by Coster in 1620, was used as a foyer during breaks. After another enlargement in 1765 the theater was called Nieuwe Schouwburg (New Theater) and admission prices were raised.
Fire & Replacement
The old theater was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1772, only the entrance gate and the adjacent house remained. Careless doubling of the stage lighting — all candles and oil lamps — caused the stage and decor to catch fire. The resulting flames, which went to a full blaze in less than 15 minutes, damaged 22 houses around the theater and the fire was so big that it could be seen from The Hague, Utrecht and the island of Texel in the north. Eighteen people were killed, including some wealthy Amsterdam citizens like Mrs. Texeira de Mattos, who was said to have worn jewelry that night worth 20,000 guilders (equivalent to roughly $178,000 now).
In 1774 a new (wooden at first) Municipal Theater at Leidseplein replaced the burned down theater at Keizersgracht 384. That new Leidseplein theater also burned down in February 1890 — the current brick Stadsschouwburg on Leidseplein dates from 1894.
Church & Theater, a Difficult Coexistence
Amsterdam physician and playwright Samuel Coster was dedicated to the theater. Together with writer Gerbrand Adriaenszoon Bredero (1585-1618) he founded an academy in 1617 in Italian style, promoting theater and science for the people. The owners of the property, the Calvinist regents of the Burgerweeshuis and the Oude Manhuis, financed the build. In exchange they would receive one-third of the net profits, which amounted to around ƒ10,000 ($85,000) a year.
The Calvinist church board soon complained to the mayor about the academic lessons given by non-protestants (Mennonites) and about the lack of religious fervor and decency in the plays, which they considered to not be edifying enough. The protection of P.C. Hooft (1581–1647), writer himself and bailiff of Muiden, kept them at bay for a while. But in 1622 the theater management was handed over to the regents of the godhouses, to decide on expenses, costumes and decors. The church board even tried its best to prevent the opening play — Gijsbreght van Aemstel — from being performed at the opening of the new brick theater in 1638, but to no avail.
From Charity to Hotel
After the 1772 fire the Calvinists argued that it was a sign from God to immediately end their involvement in this godless institution. They decided to sell the terrain with the ruins on it. So this terrain, previously owned by the Burgerweeshuis (Citizen’s Orphanage) and the Oude Manhuis (Old Men’s House) from 1622 until 1772, was sold to the RCOAK, the Catholic Oude Armenkantoor (Office for the Old Poor), a charity institution. They built their office inside the courtyard in the restored house of the former theater bartender, with a new wing added in 1773.
Behind the house was a small square with a gate in the back. Across from that was the bakery of the institute since 1787, operational until 1811, where the bread was baked to give to the poor. Thousands of poor Catholic Amsterdammers received support from the RCOAK. They were handed bread, peat, pearl barley, peas and a little money every week. These poor people did not enter through the main gate on the Keizersgracht though, but through a small entrance on the Prinsengracht. In 2001 the RCOAK moved to the courtyard from 1618 “Liefde Is Het Fondament” (Love Is The Foundation) at Keizersgracht 334-346, a bit further up the canal. That courtyard, also known as the Claes Reynierszhofje, is a municipal monument.
The old buildings behind the gate were restored in the 1970s and 1980s, the bakery ovens found preserved during construction in 1975. From 1999-2005 this was Blakes Hotel, since 2005 it houses Hotel The Dylan (with Bar Brasserie Occo) and Restaurant Vinkeles, located in the old bakery. The hotel was named after Welsh writer Dylan Thomas (1914-1953).
Website Hotel The Dylan: https://www.dylanamsterdam.com/
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