Saturday, December 2, 2023

Kropholler’s 1913 “Kerkdorp”

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By Catherine  A. Dailey.

When traversing the Nieuwe Parklaan, scarcely a soul is able to arrive in Scheveningen,  without noticing the imposing  brick complex located next to the Circus Theater in the very heart of Scheveningen Bad- a prominent landmark known to some as the “Kropholler Kerpdorp” and to others as the Kropholler Complex.  For the faithful, who have regularly visited the Roman Catholic community on the Berkenbosch Blokstraat over the course of the last century, it has simply come to be known as the Lourdes Chapel or Lourdes grotto (Lourdesgrot).

As the international community observes centennial celebrations for the International Court of Justice this year, it is perhaps fitting to reflect upon the humble beginnings and grand design for another Scheveningen project under construction in the parish territory bordering the site where work was already well underway on the CarnegiePeacePalace in 1910.   Few today are aware of anything relating to the history of this important registered landmark (rijksmomunument),  and even fewer have reason to think about Alexander Jacobus Kropholler (1881-1973) , or “Co” to his contemporaries, the young architect responsible for the project’s ambitious design.

The ever creative architect and writer, with an impressive oevre assembled over the span of a most enviable long life, has rightfully taken his place in Dutch architectural history as the most important “traditionalist” of his time.  He first distinguished himself when he joined forces with Jan Frederik Staal (1879-1940).  The two young men opened an architectural firm in 1902 at the ages of 19 and 20 respectively ; following Staal’s return from an extended study trip in the United States.  Their collaboration, while productive, was to last just eight years, during which time Staal became increasingly fascinated with high rise office and hotel buildings in the urban landscapes of America’s great cities; enchanted with theosophical theories and practices and drifted, politically, towards socialism.

In  sharp contrast to the clearly esoteric direction that his partner chose to embark upon; Kropholler remained  firmly grounded by the traditions of “DelftSchool” and was, specifically, inspired by the works of Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856-1934).  His faithful adherence to traditionalism led him to discover Eugene  Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879), French Gothic Revival architect, architectural theorist and restorer of French medieval buildings and, with the last, Kropholler’s  interest in Romanesque influences, monastic traditions and Catholic philosophers had been permanently awakened.  Known to “retreat” to cloisters for regular stays in order to “work through” his ideas; these experiences are likely to have contributed to his 1908 decision to be baptized in the Catholic Church and just two years later, in 1910, Kropholler severed his ties with Staal and refrained from ever speaking with or seeing him again.

Continuing to accept projects on his own, Kropholler submitted “Scheveningse kerkbouw” as he called it, an ambitious urban development project (Stedenbouwkundig plan) to the city of The Hague for review and approval in 1911–the following year.  It is worth noting, that as early as 1910, a Roman Catholic stichting (foundation)  was created by the Bisschop of Haarlem. The diocese of Rotterdam would not be created for more than a half century later, thus it was the Bishop of Haarlem who was to grant the decree to develop the building parcel, bordered by the Berkenbosch Blokstraat, Neptunustraat, De Messtraat and Circustraat.  To oversee the project, the bishop appointed the highly regarded poet priest, A.M.J.I. Binnewiertz (1870-1915) as his construction priest (bouwpastoor) for the new R.C. Our Lady of Lourdes community, a territorial parish.

Kropholler’s project consisted of 13 houses, a chapel, parsonage, tower base, school, and church.  It remains unclear as to why he designed  a total of thirteen homes, but a copy of one of the preliminary renderings prepared for Binniwiertz may be found on the a simple “1913” inscription drawn on the parsonage’s façade which was later to be changed to the Latin verse “Funda Nos in Pace” found in  ”Ave Maris Stella”, an ancient plainsong Vespers hymn to Mary, meaning “establish us in peace”, which can be traced to the sixth century. When one takes into consideration the fact that by 1911, when Kropholler’s plan was submitted; two major international peace conferences, in 1899 and 1907,  had already been hosted by the city and many more associated “justice and peace” related programs had been held at the nearby Kurhaus Hotel;  it becomes clear that the parish was erected to care for the souls who were expected to be moving into or visiting the area in keeping with the city’s projected plans for expansion.

Yet another clue substantiating this theory can be found in the pelican relief by Joseph Mendes de Costa, found on the chapel’s façade on the Berkenbosch Blokstraat.  The pelican image, in rondo form, evokes the Eucharist,  one of the earliest Christian symbols. An early example is to be seen in the Roman “Basilica of Saint Sabina at the Aventine” (432 A.D.).

Finally,  a quite literally, concrete, indication of the community’s  determination to reflect upon the always universal and ever timely themes of “justice and peace” during the unsettling and bellicose years in which the parish was founded , which directly preceded the build up and outbreak of hostilities in the Great War, are to be quietly found in one of the glazed hand formed tiles which form the one of the sanctuary’s sidewalls (left of the altar).  The words “Regina Pacis, Ora pro nobis”, a Latin invocation to the Blessed virgin Mary, meaning “Queen of Peace, pray for us”,  already informally in use, was not officially added to the Litany of Loreto by Pope Benedict XV, dubbed “the peace pope”, until 1917.

The aforementioned themes are but a few found in Kropholler’s “Lady Chapel” on the Berkenbosch Blokstraat. The remaining examples await your discovery. The sanctuary is open daily for silent prayer and meditation.  All are welcome.



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