The Old Town Hall of Lappeenranta
The oldest wooden town hall in Finland Built in 1829, the town hall in Lappeenranta is the oldest existing wooden town hall in Finland.
Building work on the town hall was initiated by Governor A. Ramsay and Governor-General Zakrewsky’s visit to Lappeenranta in 1827. Back then, the town had less than a thousand inhabitants and it was only just starting to slowly spread beyond the Fortress hill.
The high-ranking visitors noted the lack of public buildings in Lappeenranta: the magistrate’s court convened at the fortress, in a log cabin that they found to be in a dilapidated state. The Governor-General ordered a new town hall to be built in Lappeenranta. It was to be built in the new centre (Suuri Esikaupunki), an area people were moving to from the Fortress hill.
Poor Town Builds with Wood
In the 19th century, it was customary to build town halls on the side of a square. In 1828, only a year after the Governor and Governor-General’s visitation, the town administrators decided to
buy a plot offered by shopkeeper C. Fr. Savander to build the town hall on, reserving the front of the plot for a market square. It is believed that the area had already been used as a market square before this. This meant that the town hall and its surroundings would become the centre of the town.
According to regulations, as of 1811, all public buildings were to be built of stone. However, Lappeenranta was not considered to have the necessary funds for a stone building, so the Senate granted the poor town special dispensation to build a wooden, one-storey town hall.
The first designs of the town hall were put together from various materials because it needed to be built quickly and the town could not afford high-quality design.
Known for his drawing skills, People’s Architect, commission land surveyor J.W. Palmroth was contracted to draw the designs. Although the designs have been lost, they are documented in the fire insurance policy.
First Public Building in Lappeenranta
The town hall was completed in August 1829, and together with the church it is among the first public buildings in Lappeenranta. Measuring 11 x 17 metres, it was a clapboarded log building with the exterior painted yellow. The timber-clad, two-layer roof was painted black.
The current small banqueting room used to be the courtroom, which also functioned as the only communal meeting room for the townspeople. There were two other rooms in the building, used by the magistrate’s court and the register office, along with an entrance hall, a kitchen and a room for the caretaker, and a prison room.
The main sections and log walls of the old part of the present town hall date back to the original building.
First Extension in the 1840s: Similar Exterior to Present Building, Including Clock Tower
The new centre of Lappeenranta shifted slowly from the Fortress to the area surrounding the town hall. The town hall premises were beginning to feel small as more room was required for entertainment and socialising. In the 1840s, a decision made to extend the town hall.
The first extension in the 1840s made the exterior of the town hall, with its clock tower, look very much like it does today, although several alterations have been made to the interior of the building since then.
The extension consisted of a banqueting hall, measuring 9 x 14 metres, with a music gallery, two side rooms and the clock tower.
The clock was made by Juhana Ala-Könni, a master craftsman from Ilmajoki. The original clock served the people of Lappeenranta for 126 years until 1973, when an electric clock was installed in the tower. The original clock is kept in the South Karelia Museum.
In conjunction with the extension, new, larger windows were fitted in the old building to match those in the extension, and the window frames were painted white. The entire building was re-panelled and painted yellow.
Light through Mezzanino Windows
Thanks to the period architecture of wooden houses, the large banqueting hall has unusual double windows in the Mezzanino style above the normal windows, enabling light to flood the high-ceilinged hall. The Neo-Gothic windows of the clock tower also indicate that the first extension was designed by a qualified architect.
The designs of the extension have also been lost but it is presumed that it was designed by either Carl Lessig, the city architect of Vyborg, or A.F. Granstedt.
The exterior of the building and the tower represent the fading style of classicism, with the Neo-Gothic windows of the clock tower hinting towards a new style. The building was also by the old tradition of building country houses in Finland.
Town Council Began to Convene at the Town Hall in 1874
Lappeenranta town council began to convene at the town hall in 1874 and the Chamber of Finance in 1875.The building was also home to the town’s first financial institution, Lappeenranta Savings Bank, between 1875 and 1909, and a branch of the Nordic Union Bank of Vyborg between 1888 and 1891.
Renovations for the Visit of Emperor Alexander III
Emperor Alexander III was expected to visit Lappeenranta in 1891.It was decided that the town hall should be made to look its best for the visit.
The renovation work included adding a kitchen and dining room, along with a pillared hall to be used as a music and waiting room, according to the design of Valdemar Backmansson.
The hall was built in the old part of the building by removing partition walls and erecting pillars, two of which can still be seen in the entrance hall today. A second gallery (koruhäkki) was added to the music gallery in the banqueting hall and another room was added to the caretaker’s quarters. At the same time, some “American furniture” was acquired for the town hall.
Second Extension: Lindegren's House Connected to Town Hall in 1898
The town hall was extended again in 1898 by connecting it to the neighbouring building, built in 1826 by alderman Lindegren. This time more room was required by the Chamber of Finance with its various administrative officers.
The town hall was among the first buildings in Lappeenranta to have electricity installed. It is thought that this was in 1902.
Third Extension: Dedicated to Administrative Use in 1924
In 1924, the town hall was made a purely administrative building as the administrative court and magistrate's court required more space.The pillared hall built for the Emperor’s visit was turned into small offices and the entrance hall was extended. In addition, the part of the building housing the Chamber of Finance along Raastuvankatu was extended to its present length. In conjunction with the third extension, water and drainage pipes were also installed.
In 1928, the council room was renovated: the arch of the ceiling was reduced by adding straight pieces along the edges, and the ceiling was panelled. The music gallery was enclosed and the second gallery removed. Moulding was added to divide the wall surfaces: the top part was wallpapered and the bottom painted.
In 1930, Lappeenranta City Board was established at the town hall and the first mayor was appointed. The City Board and city office were housed at the town hall until 1975.
The town hall was damaged by bombing in 1940, but has since been renovated close to its original state.
Extensive Renovations and Repairs, 1990–1991
When the new town hall was completed in 1983, and the magistrate’s court moved out of the old town hall, a committee was set up to plan its future use, led by Mayor Jarmo Kölhi.
In 1990 and 1991, extensive renovation, conservation and repair works were carried out in the building, based on earlier surveys.
The discovery of the plastered arch ceiling underneath the panelling in the banqueting hall – with its decorative, but damaged painting – contributed to the decision to date the interior of the town hall to the 1880s, when the building was at the height of its glory. Colour shades and materials were primarily based on the discovered samples of layers of that time period. The floor in the banqueting hall was also painted according to the floor paintings of that period.
The old town hall now has banqueting, conference and catering facilities, along with cooking and maintenance facilities in the basement. Storage and staff facilities are located in the attic, and there is a day care centre at one end of the building.
The renovation work was designed by Arkkitehtuuritoimisto Riitta ja Kari Ojala Oy. Construction work was carried out by the city’s technical services led by city architect Seppo Aho.
Part Original Interiors
The old town hall is decorated partly with original, renovated pieces of furniture and lighting. Some of them were found in the attic and some were custom made.
Lighting in the building has been restored to the style when electricity was installed, 1902, when the chandeliers were bought for the banqueting hall in St. Petersburg. Some pieces of furniture in the small banqueting hall and the two cabinets next to it represent the Biedermeier style and some were designed by Eliel Saarinen. Chairs in the large banqueting hall and the gentleman’s cabinet were designed by Antti Evävaara of Intarsia Oy.
The old mayor's office has been turned into a modern and practical catering room. The kitchen is situated in the basement. Natural gas is used to heat the old stoves.
Premises for the City’s Social Functions
The City Board has confirmed the rules for the use of the old town hall, which stipulate that the building is mainly to be used for social receptions and functions of the city.
The town hall can be rented out for formal, small-scale functions to celebrate 50 to 100 year-commemorations of local organisations of social significance, or other similar events, such as international concerts and reputable art exhibitions that do not require the use of wall surfaces.
The old town hall is open to the public at least once a year on the city’s Open Day.
Source: Material gathered by Helvi Miettinen, City of Lappeenranta, City Office