Huize Frankendael in Watergraafsmeer is Amsterdam’s last remaining country retreat. Country retreats became popular in the sixteenth century. Whereas the aristocracy had castles and country estates, the well-to-do citizens of Amsterdam invested in large residences with opulent gardens around the outskirts of the city, along the river Amstel, for example.
Diemermeer was drained in 1629, creating a polder in the area that connected the Amstel and the Nieuwe Diep, called Watergraftsmeer. Later this was corrupted to Watergraafsmeer (‘graaf’ refers not to graves but rather to ‘graft’, an old word for canal). With a depth of five metres below NAP (normal Amsterdam level), it is one of the lowest parts of Amsterdam. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was a popular location for country retreats. Huize Frankendael is the only one to have survived.
In the early eighteenth century, the house was inhabited by Izaak Balde. The property comprised ‘houses, plants, plantings and further structures.’ Around 1733 Frankendael acquired the appearance it has today: a tall country house with lower coach houses and stables on either side. The house was decorated in Dutch Louis XV style. The interior comprised various decorated salons and a kitchen. An extension added on to the rear of the building provided a good view of the ornamental garden, which was lavishly planted with topiary bushes, coloured shells and multifarious flowers.
Frankendael was restored in the early 1950s under the direction of the city architect Ben Merkelbach. Merkelbach lived there himself from 1956 to 1961. The restaurant in the coach house is named after him.
Izaak Balde named the property Frankendael after his grandfather’s Protestant refuge Frankenthal in the Palts near Worms in Germany. There were many parties and buffets at Frankendael during the period in which Pieter Proot (1849-1866) lived there. The adults amused themselves in the tea house, while the children played in the grounds; the first ‘playground’. From 1927 to 1956, the gardens served as an open-air theatre, which attracted a great many theatre-lovers in the summer months. Today Frankendael houses, among other things, a restaurant, a studio and various cultural events, so that it continues to be a place of enjoyment.