A brief history of Utrecht Centraal station

By Bethany Bertrand

When we first moved here in 2010, the enormous station-area renovation “CU2030” was just underway. I had mistaken the slogan* to mean that the renewal would take 20 years and finish in 2030. When I understood the complexity of this undertaking that involved restructuring the largest indoor shopping mall and train station in the Netherlands, and re-digging the canal that had been repurposed for motorized traffic, I asked myself as many of you probably have: why would any city choose to completely destroy and rebuild a significant part of the city center? To disrupt commerce and traffic with construction for 20 years, they must have a damn good reason.

*As it turns out, most people misunderstood the city’s intentions on that information campaign. 030 is supposed to refer to Utrecht’s area code, as in: “see you too, 030”.

As I was learning the Dutch language and our new home, I would read the local newspapers on this subject with particular interest, noting all the various updates and changes planned. I was trying to piece together what it would look like, and how that would affect all the buildings around it. One of the newspapers I would pick up regularly is called De Oud Utrechter, and I read about the massive swaths of former quaint neighborhoods that were razed for the building of the Hoog Catharijne in the 60s. With this image, I realized, Utrecht has always been under construction, and it made me curious: “what did the old station look like anyway?”

Soon after, I started researching the matter online at Het Utrechts Archief for old pictures of the city’s past, and these pictures moved me to set my hand to creating my own illustrated booklet, telling the story of how Utrecht Central Station came to be what it is today.

UtrechtCentral.com - A brief history of Utrecht Central - Credit Bethany Bertran

(“Utrechts burger BETON” tr. Utrecht’s resident CONCRETE, credit Dennis Vollenga)

If you can read Dutch, you’ll understand the average Utrechter’s raw anger at the destruction of their neighborhoods for the building of the HC. The cartoon illustration even implies they should go ahead and knock down the Dom while they’re at it.

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(The Muurkrant protested against the building of the Hoog-Catherijne, 31 August 1973, credit Judith Lize)

I researched what it looked like before then, and then took another step back, and yet another step back to see how it has evolved over the years – all the way to the very first station in 1843 when the railways were new. The booklet is called “Utrecht Centraal: Illustrated Stories of Continuous Reconstruction through the Years” and will be published here as part of a short series documenting the evolution of Utrecht CS through the years.

Citations:

Vollenga , D. (2013, April 22). Geschiedenis Stationsgebied. Centraal Utrecht hva [Web log]. Retrieved from: http://centraalutrechthva.blogspot.nl/2013/04/geschiedenis-stationsgebied.html
Lize, J. (2013). Klassenstrijd in Utrecht. Zeist: IsGeschiedenis.nl. Retrieved from:

https://isgeschiedenis.nl/longreads/klassenstrijd-in-utrecht


Utrecht Centraal: Illustrated Stories of Continuous Reconstruction through the Years” by Bethany Bartran, 2015

As part of a short series documenting the evolution of Utrecht CS through the years, local artist Bethany Bartran researched all the way to the very first station in 1843 when the railways were new – and created a mini-booklet called “Utrecht Centraal: Illustrated Stories of Continuous Reconstruction through the Years”.

A limited edition print is available for 5 euros per copy (A5 booklet). Available in Dutch or English. If interested, please send an email to bethanybartran@gmail.com

Illustrations with captions follow:

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Part 1: Utrecht Central Station in 1843

The first train station in Utrecht was opened in 1843. Constructed in the popular neo-classical style for the second steam rail line in The Netherlands. Originally called the “Dutch Rhine Railway – Station” or NRS-Station for short.

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Part 2: Utrecht Central Station in 1859

In 1859 the NRS-Station acquired wings but outgrew the expansion by 1863 and an annex was built a few meters north of the Leidsche Rijn. The NCS Neighborhood Station was accessible via a pedestrian bridge. Additionally, for local lines a second annex was added in 1868 called the SS (City Rail) Station was built between two existing rail lines and was only reachable via tunnel.

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Part 3: Utrecht Central Station in 1916

After another expansion in 1909, it was renamed to “Utrecht Central Station”. The first electric trams were added in 1906 that originally served a “ring line” along the canals, which encircled the inner city. At its’ peak, 6 tramlines were in use when they were eventually removed in favor a city bus system in 1939. 

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Part 4: Utrecht Central Station Birdseye view

This birdseye view shows the current station with the original location indicated with a star. Currently the building site of the future Noordgebouw.

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Part 5: Utrecht Central Station in 1939

In 1936, Sybold van Ravesteyn redesigned the station, this time in the then-modern Art Nouveau style. After a fire in 1939, a sculpture of a phoenix was placed symbolically on the roof above the main entrance. One of these sculptures was subsequently moved to the Vredenburgplein where it perches above the Tivoli today.

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Part 6: Utrecht Central Station in 1973

The Art Nouveau station’s hall remained in use until 1975, pictured here on the far right of the illustration. The entire station’s area was demolished, including a few noteworthy monuments such as De Utrechter, to make space for the new concept office and shopping center, Hoog Catharijne. Despite huge protests, the new shopping mall enclosed Central Station’s main hall altogether and was no longer directly accessible from the street. A principal canal, the Catharijnesingel was drained and made into a car route through the city center. The massive Hoog Catharijne, designed in Brutalist style architecture, spanned the entire area from the Jaarbeurs Convention Center to the Vredenburgplein.

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Part 7: Utrecht Central Station in 2015

All too soon, Hoog Catharijne began showing its’ age and stated falling into disrepair. There were also plenty of complaints about it being a notoriously popular hangout for junkies and homeless. Now the area is once again, “under construction” and is being reconceived and rebuilt from the ground up to a modern transit hub. This includes a separate and clear entrance to the Central Station hall and the newly reimagined and updated Hoog Catharijne as separate entities, redigging the Catharijnesingel and Leidsche Rijn canals for recreational boat traffic, and the world’s largest bicycle parking housing some 12,500 bikes.