Norra Latin and Folkets Hus are not only situated in the heart of Stockholm – these two buildings have also played no small role in the city’s history and development. Norra Bantorget has for many years been the heartland of the Social Democrat Party and the labour movement and played an important role in Sweden’s development.
As recently as 1850, the area that is now the elegant square of today consisted of little but impenetrable thickets, mud and brushwood. This marshland was bordered by two penal institutions, which were situated where Folkets Hus stands today. Opposite the prison area, where Norra Latin was later built, was a leafy English-style pleasure park and a kitchen garden that was planted by the Swedish Horticulture Society in 1830.
Everything changed with the construction of the railways which played a key part in the creation of the area as we now know it. The Stockholm-Uppsala section of the Northern Main Line was opened to rail traffic in 1866, bringing with it a demand for a market square. This was completed in 1867, and was named Norra Bantorget.
In the late 19th century, the labour movement took the initiative to build Folkets Hus: a community centre where their political meetings and social events could be held. However, by the time it was completed in 1901, the entire project was in dire financial straits. But then help came from an unexpected source: the Stora Bryggeriet brewery, which was owned by the prestigious Wallenberg financial family and Ernest Thiel.
The brewery donated SEK 100,000 worth of shares on the condition that that the labour movement would give publicity to the brewery’s beer!
By 1917, Folkets Hus had already outgrown its premises. To ease the pressure, the adjoining properties – Wallingatan 21 and Barnhusgatan 12 – were bought, but the possibility of building a brand new Folkets Hus had already been raised. During the 1930s, the famous architect Sven Markelius drew up plans for a new building and decided which additional plots would need to be acquired. The outbreak of the Second World War meant that the project had to be shelved. The modern-day Folkets Hus was built during the 1950s in three stages and inaugurated in 1960. It rapidly became a powerhouse of innovative ideas in both politics and the arts. By the 1980s, the new building had become the largest conference venue in Northern Europe.
Aspiring to increase educational standards, the City of Stockholm decided to build a new school for boys, Norra Latin, which would concentrate on Greek, Latin and Classical studies. For 102 years it was to be one of the finest educational establishments in the country.
In 1918, it was proposed that girls should also be admitted, but despite the proposal receiving approval it was not until 1961 that it finally became co-educational.
No expense was spared on the project. The most distinguished architect of the time, Helgo Zettervall, was engaged and he designed a magnificent building in a palatial New Renaissance style. All told, the cost of the plot, the building and its furnishings was more than SEK 1,135,000. The inauguration ceremony on 3 September 1880, where the dedication speech was given by the Archbishop of Stockholm, was a very grand occasion. It was attended by King Oscar II, the famed artist, Prince Eugen, and many members of high society. This splendid building was meant to make an impression and it still does today. Norra Latin exudes the self-confidence and prosperity of its time.
Despite the emphasis on the classics, Norra Latin became an extremely progressive school, introducing many modern ideas. It boasted Sweden’s first school canteen and in the 1940s, the parents’ association employed the country’s first school welfare officer. It was also one of the first schools to have a student council.
As the residential areas of central Stockholm were replaced by office blocks, the number of pupils grew fewer and fewer. In the 1980s the entire school relocated to suburban Tensta and the building was sold to LO (the Swedish TUC.) In 1989 Norra Latin opened its doors once again in its current form, as a venue for conferences, congresses and concerts.