De Gamlas Hem = “Home for the Elderly” in Swedish.
1896 – The De Gamlas Hem i Uleåborg association
The association was founded to offer private care for the elderly in Oulu. Finland had become a part of the Russian Empire in 1809, and at the end of the century, Russia’s strict new policies were the topic of much discussion. The foundations of the Finnish welfare state were created at the end of the 19th century, when the state began to undertake some of the social work that the church had been doing. Concern over the wellbeing of lonely elderly people grew, and private citizens and associations began organizing help for them. The original rules, from 1897, of the Association of the De Gamlas Hem i Uleåborg state that: “the association is meant to provide honourable, educated, elderly ladies living in the city of Oulu and in need of help with housing, care and everyday meals for a small fee”. The De Gamlas Hem retirement home was originally intended for women belonging in the Swedish-speaking intelligentsia. Typically, one of the daughters in a family stayed home and cared for the elderly parents, and then later ran the household for her brothers. Retirement homes like De Gamlas Hem offered some security for elderly women who were alone after their family members died. They often had no way of earning money, and sometimes they did not even have a home. From 1903, De Gamlas Hem was open to “people of all classes”, so one no longer had to be a member of the elite to live in the retirement home, although it remained Swedish-speaking for a long time. In any case, the rules only applied to women, as at the beginning of the 20th century retirement homes were deemed unnecessary for men. During the last few years of the retirement home’s operations, men were also allowed to apply to live in De Gamlas Hem, but none ever did move into the house.
The association was founded by members of several well-known families from Oulu, wealthy citizens, philanthropists, and citizens of high standing. De Gamlas Hem was mostly funded through donations and the association’s membership fees. Among others, the Snellman, Weckman, Pentzin and Ravander families donated considerable sums to the association over the years.
1906 – Moving to Kirkkokatu
In the beginning of the 20th century, the leadership of De Gamlas Hem i Uleåborg bought a property at the corner of two streets – Kirkkokatu and Puistokatu – and began to construct a new building for the retirement home, which had operated in rented facilities until that time. Victor J. Sucksdorff, who was the deputy county architect, designed the building. The building project was completed on schedule, on the 1st of May 1906 (the same year that women gained the right to vote in Finland). The building’s style is influenced by the flowing shapes of Art Nouveau, an architectural style popular at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Art Nouveau was created in Europe at the end of the 19th century with the goal of creating a new art style. In Finland the style is known as Jugend. Traditional building practices and handiwork were used as inspiration. De Gamlas Hem was located in a peaceful spot, “away from the noise and bustle of the city”. Even decades later the location was still at the outer edge of the town. For a long time, the surroundings were quite rural, with hay fields and livestock. The inhabitants seemed very happy with their new home, and their only complaint was that the church could have been closer.
1917 – Wartime
Finland became independent. According to the association’s annual report, the World Wars did not seem to have influenced life in De Gamlas Hem too much: “Over the past year, the association’s operation has continued quietly and peacefully despite the restless times.” After the Winter War during World War II broke out, however, the inhabitants were moved to a safer location in Haukiputaa on a cold January night in 1940. While the elderly were away, De Gamlas Hem was used to house sergeant Bertil Östby’s Swedish fighter pilots, who were stationed in Oulu. The volunteers of the F19 Regiment were responsible for most of Northern Finland’s air defence during the Winter War. The citizens gave the Swedish pilots a warm welcome. In exchange, the guests gave the citizens of Oulu chocolate and other treats that were rare during the war. Their planes, stationed in Oritkari, were also well cared for, but the winter was so harsh that once a plane had to be sent on a mission even though the pilot would not have been able to fire a single shot at the enemy.
1982 – The threat of demolition looms
The De Gamlas Hem i Uleåborg Association used the building as a retirement home from 1906 until 1982. The house has been modernized over the years: electric lighting was installed in 1912, and two years later the house was connected to the town’s water and sewage mains. A phone was added in 1927, and in the 50s, a refrigerator and a radio as were donated to the retirement home. At the beginning of the 1960s, the impractical and time-consuming process of heating several fireplaces was no longer necessary after a central heating system was installed. The elderly liked the building and its interior decoration, since it was still very home-like. Some ladies did wish there were some gentlemen in the home as well, though. According to stories there were debates and discussions at the home, but hardly any arguments. However, the retirement home’s financial problems grew over the years and peaked in the 1970s. The old building required continuous repairs and the cost of living was increasing. In the beginning of the 1980s, Säätiö Oulun Vanhainkoti planned to build a modern block of service flats on the property. They felt the house was too old and outdated, and it did not meet the new fire safety and hygiene requirements. The elderly people who had lived in De Gamlas Hem were relocated to various facilities around Oulu, and the furniture, apart from the most valuable Art Nouveau pieces, was sold. The news about the fate of De Gamlas Hem spread, and the citizens of Oulu began to voice their opinions, for and against. Many of them felt that the building had too much cultural and historical value for it to be demolished. In 1985, De Gamlas Hem was finally added to the list of protected buildings.
1984 – The City of Oulu takes over
The City of Oulu owned the building from 1984–2017 and renovated it. The building was used by e.g. the city engineer’s office, Oulu’s waste management office, Oulun Ateria and Pohjois-Pohjanmaan korjausrakentamiskeskus / Renovation Centre.
2007 – Multiculturalism
In January 2007, the building renovations were complete, and Villa Victor began its operations. It offered multicultural integration services and social and health services for immigrants. Villa Victor acted as an international information point and meeting place where people from different cultures could meet each other.
2017 – New owners
The city of Oulu sold the protected building located at Kirkkokatu 54, De Gamlas Hem, to Arto Keränen, Timo Paakki and Veli-Pekka Pohjola. These three entrepreneurs from Oulu were friends, and they began to renovate the valuable building so it could offer accommodation and conference services. De Gamlas Hem became a 17-room hotel. Their interest was kindled when they visited the building and began envisioning what it could become.
“This unique building could be turned into a place that offers unforgettable experiences. We have looked for examples and inspiration for new uses of such buildings in other similar places. We believe that protected buildings are well suited for use as hotels, conference venues and event facilities. It is an excellent way of making use of the existing room layout and beautiful ceramic tiled stoves.” (Kaleva 18.10.2017)
2018 – De Gamlas Hem Hotel & Restaurant
The new De Gamlas Hem Hotel & Restaurant was opened in 2018.
(Source: De Gamlas Hemistä Villa Victoriin, Johanna Seppänen, 2012)