State is to sell "Marble Palace" in Helsinki's Kaivopuisto
The 2,000-square metre granite edifice overlooking Kaivopuisto Park was designed by architect Eliel Saarinen and decorated by sculptors Gunnar Finne and Emil Wikström
By Marja Salmela
The Marble Palace (Marmoripalatsi) in the capital's Kaivopuisto Park, perhaps the most expensive private villa in Finland, will soon be put on the market.
The value of the property can be hinted at by the fact that as recently as last spring, the 2,000-square metre building was planned to be used as temporary back-up for the Presidential Palace in Helsinki during renovation work on the head of state's official abode.
Now Senate Properties, a state-owned enterprise that manages a major part of the real estate assets owned by the Republic of Finland, intends to arrange a tender round in order to sell the unique edifice, which was designed by architect Eliel Saarinen and completed in 1918, and which counts several embassies as its next-door neighbours.
”The price is high, between EUR 15 and 25 million”, estimates Director Heikki Laitakari from Senate Properties.
Ouch! But this is only to be expected: it is after all an extremely des. res. in what is probably the most expensive and exclusive square kilometre in the entire city.
The building, clad in Finnish marble, has been empty for around six months. The most recent tenant was the Labour Court, which moved away to the district of Itä-Pasila in March.
Prior to the Labour Court, the Helsinki Appeals Court used to hold its sessions in the halls of the Marble Palace for several decades.
”It is difficult for the State to find a new use for the protected precious building”, Laitakari notes.
The building could perhaps be used as an embassy or as a private art gallery, the kind that was kept by the first owner of the building, ironworks magnate August Keirkner.
Keirkner's art collection included for example 28 paintings by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931), probably Finland's best known artist and the illustrator of the national epic Kalevala.
Lynx figures carved by sculptor Gunnar Finne greet visitors already at the outer gate on Itäinen Puistokatu.
The entrance hall is full of details designed by various artists. Wooden reliefs carved by Finne describe work at the ironworks, hunting, farming, and recreational activities.
The reliefs in the colonnade of the upper foyer depict Adam, Eve, and angels.
In the oak columns which have been stained to a dark shade, one can see a rabbit and a fox running.
Robust chandeliers designed by Eliel Saarinen light the reception area below.
The doorposts are also decorated with his elaborate wood-inlay ornaments. There is a massive fireplace in the libary, with a metal relief moulded by Emil Wikström.
The three-storey building has a south-facing terrace, from where a vista opens over the Kaivopuisto Park.
Once upon a time, the Marble Palace was a modern home.
”As far as is known, this was the first elevator installed in a private home”, Laitakari says, opening the door of an oak elevator. Still today, this elevator can take one to the room in the tower.
Light floods in, and a handsome seascape with islands in the distance glitters behind the trees.
The price-tag is the only impediment.
BACKGROUND: Sentences in the so-called "weapons cache" case were handed down in the Marble Palace
August Keirkner, who had the Marble Palace built, had a hard lot. He died before the magnificent building was completed in 1918.
His widow Lydia Keirkner lived in the house until 1937, taking care of the art collection of 128 works that she and her husband had collected.
In her will she bequeathed the collection to the Ateneum Art Museum. The bequest included works by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Pekka Halonen, Albert Edelfelt, Helen Schjerfbeck, Marc Chagall, Ville Vallgren, and Hugo Simberg.
The next residents to move to the Marble Palace were Infantry General Rudolf Walden and his family in 1937. During the Finnish-Soviet Continuation War of 1941-44, Walden served as Minister of Defence.
Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim used to visit the Waldens frequently, as he also lived in Kaivopuisto, only a few hundred metres away from them.
After Walden died in 1946, the State of Finland leased the building from the heirs.
All sessions of the Military High Court - where senior officers were sentenced in the so-called "weapons cache" case (see link below) between 1947 and 1949 - were held in the Marble Palace.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 9.8.2012
Marmoripalatsi (Wikipedia, in Finnish)
Weapons Cache Case (Wikipedia)
MARJA SALMELA / Helsingin Sanomat