'Als de phoenix uit de assche herrezen'. De prijsvraag en de herbouwplannen voor het raadhuis van Leiden, 1929-1933
In the icily cold night of February 12, 1929 the greater part of the Town Hall in Leiden was reduced to ashes by a blazing fire. Only part of the characteristic facade in Renaissance style survived, though badly damaged.
Almost immediately after this ill-fated occurrence, a heated discussion about the rebuilding of the Town Hall started in the Netherlands. In nearly all the sections of the population and in associations of a varying nature opinions and points of view were formulated about the new construction and the architect who was to design this new construction.
In general, people agreed that the historical facade would have to be preserved and restored, an opinion supported by the Government Committee for Conservation and the Dutch Architects' Association. On December 9, 1929 the town council of Leiden proposed a candidate and commissioned W.M. Dudok to make two designs for a Town Hall on Breestraat, one with and one without preservation of the old facade.
The new construction by Dudok met with a great deal of criticism. Many considered Dudok's building behind the historical facade too modern for the historical environment and notably the size of the campanile, which was to be about 65 metres tall, encountered a lot of resistance. Checked by criticism, the town council of Leiden organized a multiple 'contest' to which five architects were invited. The town council intended Dudok to play a part in the contest as well, but due to the state of affairs he no longer wanted to continue his cooperation with the municipality of Leiden.
By a decree of the council on July 11, 1932 the following architects were invited to hand in designs: C.J. Blaauw, A.J. Kropholler, H.F. Mertens, B. Buurman and J.A. van der Laan. A few architects handed in designs for the contest without having been asked, but these did not play any further part in the decision-taking of the town council.
The contest chiefly concentrated on the designs of Blaauw and Kropholler. In a large part of art-loving Holland a preference existed for Kropholler's design, whereas the Dutch Architects' Association, of which Kropholler was not a member, preferred Blaauw's plan. No means were shunned to express one's preference for either of the plans.
On December 20, 1933 the town council appointed architect Blaauw as the winner of the Town Hall contest and a start was made with the plans for new construction and reconstruction of the historical facade. It was not until 1940 that the town council moved into the new construction. By that time all criticism had subsided. Only Kropholler continued to be spiteful about the contest lost by him until well into the fifties.