There are two categories of buildings I’ve written about previously: those still standing, and those which aren’t. Hotel Phoenix belongs to the second, sadly. Today I’ll tell you about its very interesting story.
The first major hotel in Turku
In the second half of the nineteenth century, Finland was still part of the Russian empire. It’s around the 1870s that the construction of a new railway connecting Finland with Russia prompted investors in Turku to fund the construction of a new major hotel. The idea was that the new traffic would create a demand for quality accommodation in Turku.
As a result, the construction of Hotel Phoenix was completed in 1878. Designed by Axel and Hjalmar Kumlien, the new hotel quickly became a prestigious institution. Shortly after its inauguration, the former US president Ulysses S. Grant stayed at the hotel (possibly the most prestigious guest it hosted until its destruction). A famous Finnish crook also worked there as a child.
However, the increase in traffic failed to materialize and the hotel quickly faced financial trouble.
While the hotel operated until 1922, it then became the official seat of the newly-create University of Turku. Originally intended as a temporary arrangement, the University remained the custodian of the building until the 1950s. The University had initiated the transfer of its campus to University Hill, where it is currently, and it sold the building to an insurance company. The building was also offered to the city of Turku, but it refused to invest the money necessary.
During its time as a University building the Hotel Phoenix fell into disrepair, suffering from a lack of investment. In the 1950s, it was said, jokingly, that a pen dropped in the highest floor could make it’s way to the ground floor.
Due to the bad condition of the building, the once prestigious Hotel Phoenix was destroyed in 1959. In its place a residential building was constructed, in addition to a small office building. They are still there today.
The Hotel Phoenix has a special place in the heart of people of Turku. It is also one of those buildings demolished to make place for newer, more profitable structures at the expense of historical significance.
Nevertheless, the Hotel Phoenix has left at least two tangible legacies in Turku. The first is Yliopistonkatu, or Universitetsgatan in Swedish (”University Street”), which was renamed as such in 1924, following the foundation of the University of Turku.
The second legacy is closely related to the first, and it the Feeniks library at the University of Turku. As you might have realized, the name of the building was chosen to hint at the past of the University. Allegedly, some of the library’s reading chair come from the original Hotel Phoenix.
One could say that a small part of the Hotel Phoenix was reborn from its ashes.