To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.1.0 or greater is installed.
BY Keith Marshall Preservation Postcard Alesund PHOTO BY ROMAN KÖNIGSHOFER BY Keith Marshall IN THE EARLY HOURS of Jan. 23, 1904, the 12,500 residents of the prosperous Norwegian fishing town of Alesund were preparing to be battered by a powerful hurricane. What they hadn’t anticipated was a fire that would break out in a fish-preserving factory as the storm was approaching. The flames, whipped by ceaseless hurricane winds for most of the next day, destroyed almost all of the wood-framed buildings of the town. This nameless assault of fire and water was Alesund’s Ka- trina, leaving more than 10,000 of the Norwegian town’s res- idents devastated and homeless. But like their heroic Norse ancestors, their response was stoic. According to a video presentation in the city’s Jugendstilsenteret, the Art Nouveau Centre of Norway, “Everything was quiet. No one cried; no one complained.” Remarkably, only one person died, and re- building began almost immediately. Europe was stunned by the town’s utter devastation. Germa- ny’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had personal ties to Alesund, sent ships laden with supplies, building materials and workers. In Paris, celebrated dancer Loie Fuller performed to ecstatic audi- ences in Sarah Bernhardt’s theater for a benefit that contributed significantly to the town’s rebuilding costs, which would total approximately $10 million today. In Oslo, the country’s parliament passed a law that all new buildings in the center of Norwegian cities must be made of stone to prevent such a tragedy from reoccuring. “The monotonous sound of the stone masons” would fill the town as they constructed new homes and buildings, the Jugend- stilsenteret video said. The silver lining to the blank slate created by the storm and SEPTEMBER 2019 fire was that architects and designers schooled in the beau- ties of European Art Nouveau flocked to the city, which of- fered abundant opportunities for employment in their craft. In 1907, a prominent pharmacist commissioned a turreted, fortress-like building on the harbor, with elaborately embel- lished living quarters above his shop. The pharmacy would remain open in the building until 2001. Two years later, the building would be transformed into the Jugendstilsenteret. Alesund’s 1855 Lutheran Church, destroyed in the fire, was re- built by 1909 in severe, heavily polychromed Scandinavian-style Art Nouveau. In addition to his contribution of money and workers, Kaiser Wilhelm II commissioned a series of stained- glass windows for the church, with the Scandinavian severity of the nave serving as a foil to the cover-every-inch-with-decora- tion exuberance of the altar walls and arch. Today, Alesund’s “unusually consistent architecture” is a major attraction for visitors and a source of pride for resi- dents, according to VisitNorway.com. The town is a part of the Rèseau Art Nouveau Network, a consortium of cities dedicated to the preservation of Art Nouveau architecture. The network, which includes such far-ranging places as Bar- celona, Brussels, Budapest and Helsinki, was created in 1999 from an idea developed by the Brussels Region Department of Historic Sites and Monuments. “Research, conservation and proper exposure (of Art Nouveau sites) are the key ob- jectives,” according to network’s website, artnouveau-net.eu. Once devastated by a hurricane and fire, the town is now a showplace of historic preservation. It boasts a healthy econ- omy and a booming tourist industry in which hotels, restau- rants and cafes abound. Sound familiar? PRCNO.org • PRESERVATION IN PRINT 31