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De Bijenkorf

Our second AFS foreign exchange high school student was Tjipke, a very Frisian name from the north of the Netherlands. At some point during his eleven months in Fargo, I asked what was in hindsight an embarrassingly silly question.

During each of my visits to Amsterdam, I’ve visited it fine department store, De Bijenkorf, on the Dam in the heart of the city. De Bijenkorf is much like Selfridge’s in London or Nordstrom’s in the U.S. It turns out that the Dutch chain of stores is owned by the same holding company that operates Selfridge and similar chains in Ireland and Canada. What was my silly question, you ask? I asked Tjipke was de Bijenkorf meant, assuming that it wasn’t a family name and might be something akin to Seattle’s Bon Marche (which translates “cheap” or “economical”). Tjipke’s expression was just short of patronizing: “It means ‘the beehive'”, he said.

Agincourt’s department store bears that name (simply because I like it) because it was founded by a Dutch family of merchants, the van der Rijns, I felt comfortable with that origin, there being so many Nederlanders in Iowa: Pella is a Dutch community and I also knew from former NDSU student Steve Varenhorst that there was a department store in Storm Lake of similar origin — if memory serves, which it doesn’t always. The van der Rijn family were contributed to the mix by Mark Roelofs, another SU student in the first Agincourt seminar.

De Bijenkorf

Not much has been set other than its original owners and a site on South Broad street just opposite the Square. Mark and I sketched out a likely scenario which involved an initial twenty-five foot wide building that would grow through time the include three mismatched Victorian buildings that would eventually have to be unified inside (to rectify differing floor levels) and outside (to blend what were presumably buildings in three different styles).

Presumably the van der Rijns were familiar with the namesake chain of stores in the Netherlands, regardless of their year of emigration. Not only was De Bijenkorf a high quality retailer, it also relied on the best that contemporary architecture could provide. Dutch Modernists like Michel De Klerk and Piet Kramer contributed to that corporate image:

De Bijenkorf Department Store, The Hague / Piet Kramer, architect (1926)

It’s interesting that there was a near contemporary architect in St Louis, Isadore Shank, who used remarkably similar materials to achieve effects that are almost “Amsterdam School” in appearance. There is a modest commercial complex at the corner of Delmar and DeBaliviere clad in terra cotta panels that knocked my socks off when I stumbled on the building several years ago and wanted as much background as possible:

Imagine a veneer of these unifying three dissimilar store fronts at the corner of Broad Street and Agincourt Avenue.

[#1000, a landmark]


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