From an automobile showroom to a museum and media centre
The Tennis Palace is closely linked to certain important trends in Helsinki’s architectural history. It is one among many buildings constructed in the city centre to serve the needs of expanding business life; it can also be considered a part of the massive construction of sports venue in the 1930s, motivated by hopes of having the 1940 summer Olympics in Helsinki. Its recent renovation is part of an ongoing trend where disused buildings are converted into cultural institutions.
Originally, the Tennis Palace was built for a car and car part dealer and a service station in 1937. The vaulted halls with their tennis courts were added a year later. The Tennis Palace was not intended as a permanent structure. Its architect Helge Lundström (1900-1953) was still a student when he designed the building. Lundström’s original design was more streamlined and modern than the realised one, with lower arches and more pronounced strip windows. Although today, the Tennis Palace can be considered a functionalistic pearl, attitudes used to be much more reserved: Hilding Ekelund, a famous architect and former professor of architecture, ignored the building completely in his 1962 article on architecture in Helsinki in the ‘20s and ‘30s, published in a book on Helsinki’s history.
For many years, the Tennis Palace was Finland’s main tennis venue. It had four courts, placed in the arched halls in a way that prevented light coming in from the enormous windows at both ends of the building from blinding players. In the 1952 Olympics held in Helsinki, the building was used as a basketball venue.
In the 1950s car dealers began to move out of the city centre. The city of Helsinki bought the building in a compulsory auction in 1957. It wanted to tear the building down. Considered condemned, the Tennis Palace was left to deteriorate, although some repairs were made by tenants. That the building was left without upkeep has been a blessing, however, since this more or less preserved its original state.
One of the Tennis Palace’s long-term tenants was a large retail chain. After this a second-hand market operated in the building in recent years. The building’s suitability as a cultural centre was originally suggested in 1993 and extensive premises were planned for cultural purposes. The three main tenants at the moment are the Helsinki City Art Museum and the Museum of Cultures and cinema company Finnkino Ltd.