Amsterdam Buildings

This is a short historic overview of the different locations ABC has used to provide the Amsterdam community with wonderful books. We will not only look at the past but also give you a glimpse of the future.

During the 15th century, the building that nowadays houses the Maison de Bonneterie and the Nike store, was a shelter for lepers. As you can imagine, they did not have any neighbors. The building stood all by itself in a deserted meadow. At that time, Kalverstraat 185 was not quite yet the place where droves of people would come shopping on a busy Saturday afternoon, although, the history does lend new meaning to the phrase, ‘That’ll cost you an arm and a leg.’

This sketch, from the archives of the Amsterdam municipal records office, shows what the leper shelter looked like.

Two centuries later (17th), the Kalverstraat became a bit busier but there still weren’t many shoppers. Except during the so-called Silent Procession (a Catholic procession that originated in 1345 when the holy virgin appeared to a sick man in one of the buildings on this street) the only people wandering about were woodworkers and carpenters who worked in the remodeled building next door to Kalverstraat 185.

This drawing shows Kalverstraat 185 from the Heiligeweg:

The original chapel that belonged to the Sint Jorishof (the leper house) was remodeled in 1624 and then rented to the Saint Josef woodworkers and carpenters guild.

Kalverstraat 185 was first used as a retail space in 1886, when Metz & Co briefly occupied the building. This company was founded by Moses Samuels, a silk fabric merchant. He named his business after his home town in Germany. In 1908, Metz & Co moved to the impressive ‘New York’ building at the corner of Leidsestraat and Keizersgracht. It soon became one of the best-known department stores in Amsterdam.

It was not until 1913 that larger groups of eager spenders began visiting the Kalverstraat when Maison de Bonneterie opened its fancy (and huge) department store at Kalverstraat 183-191 and Rokin numbers 190, 142 and 150. They still sell high quality fashion from this building today.

In 1972 the peace and solitude of the posh Maison de Bonneterie was roughly disturbed when Mothercare moved into Kalverstraat 185 with nothing but pregnant women, worried moms and screaming babies as its customers.

And the place would never again be quiet or boring. Because in 1986 The American Book Center moved from:

Kalverstraat 158


Kalverstraat 185

Since then, the building has been bustling with activity on four floors of books and ideas open to the public plus three more floors bustling with support activities.

Spui 12, The Harmony Building

The building at Spui 12 also did not start out as a retail space.

During the 14th century the building belonged to the famous Amsterdam beguinage, Het Begijnhof, when it was used as a laundry. Later the building was split off from the Begijnhof to be rented to a craftsman.

Antoni Obisji was the first one to sell things out of this building. He was a Venetian glassblower who opened his workshop here in 1577.

In the pictures below you will see Spui 12 on the left side of both drawings. The sketch on the left is from before the filling in of the Spui canal. The one on the right side dates from 1650.

The Amsterdam city council assigned the building at Spui 12 in 1635 to the city’s orphanage.

In 1676 the building changed owners. It is not clear who bought it. However, it is known that from this year on many cultural activities were organized at Spui 12.
The famous Dutch author Multatuli remembered how when he was a boy book auctions were held in this building (source: De digitale bibliotheek de Nederlandse Letteren One can say that this foreshadowed the arrival of The American Book Center, many years later.

In 1851 the Harmony Society (Vereeniging de Eensgezindheid) occupied it. And in 1881 a literary society called ‘Vereeniging Flanor’ was founded here. Until 1883 the building was called ‘Wapen van Bern’ (Bern’s Coat of Arms).

During this time the building was also used by an architectural society, as you can read in this entry from the yearbook 1919 of the ‘Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde’ (Dutch Literature Association):

‘In Amsterdam, on the 23rd of August 1855, the ‘Architectura Amicitia’ society was founded. This association, where young architects meet, still exists today. In wintertime, the society held its evening meetings every fortnight in the small anteroom of the Harmony building, located on the corner of the Nieuwe Zijds Voorburgwal and Spui, that were both still canals during that time.’

In 1882 they filled in the Spui canal.
As provided in the statutes of the literary society, when no members were left, the building would be turned over to the Diacese of the Dutch Reformed Congregation.

In 1907, the deacon of the Dutch Reformed Congregation (Nederduitse Hervormde Gemeente) began to use Spui 12 for meetings about how to decorate the buildings they owned, how to operate the orphanages and old folks’ homes and how to put the offerings to good use. The space was also rented to other societies for meetings and concerts.

Spui 10 – 12, in the year 1900. You can clearly see the Harmony Building on the corner.

In 1924, a machine shop used the ground floor of the Harmony Building, while a jewelry store occupied the top floor.

In 1932 harmonious tunes begin to float through the building when music store Bender moved in, after giving the shop a thorough make over.
From 1997 until April 2006 Ypma sell their world famous pianos out of the Harmony Building. During this time famous and not-so-famous musicians perform at their store.

The American Book Center bought one of the Ypma pianos which we will place in the new bookstore.
That way, ABC will keep the music going and Spui 12 will keep on swinging!

In October 2006, The American Book Center opened this incredible new store in this landmark building which oozes history and tradition, after a surprising renovation.

The young architects who met there in 1855 could only have dreamt that the building would be so transformed!

We hope to supply you with books and inspiration for many years to come, with all of our heart and in close Harmony.

By: Klaartje ten Berge
Translation: Hans Vierdag Jansen