Hotel history

Johan A. Holmdahl - From poor farmer's son to successful hotel entrepreneur

This year it is exactly 140 years since a very interesting man took over the management of the Hotel Royal – Johan A. Holmdahl. He is one of the owners who pushed through the biggest changes to the hotel, and the legacy of his time can still be seen in our entrance in the form of the hand-painted glass ceiling, the Art Nouveau staircase and the patterned stone floor. The story of Holmdahl is therefore not just a story about the farmer’s son from Småland who came to Gothenburg and succeeded in becoming one of the city’s leading businessmen – it is also the story of how Hotel Royal became Hotel Royal.

Johan A. Holmdahl

Gothenburg during 19th century

It is the beginning of the 1860s and Gothenburg has just begun to go from a commercial to an industrial city. So far, only about 30,000 people live here, but the population is growing rapidly and in four decades the number of inhabitants will have quintupled. Among the new city dwellers are many young men who have moved here from the countryside in search of happiness and work.

Karta över Göteborg år 1888. Källa: Wikipedia.
Gammal karta över Göteborg

Joh. A Holmdahls Hyrverksinrättning. Källa: okänd. 

Johan A. Holmdahl Hyrverksinrättning

From Småland with eleven pennys in the pocket

One of them is Johan A. Holmdahl, farmer’s son from Hestra By in Småland and still a teenager when he arrives in Gothenburg with only eleven pennys in his pocket. Here he finds a place in a cheese warehouse near Stora Nygatan and excels so much that the owner later bequeaths the entire company to him. Holmdahl can take over the company and continue to run the business. The industrious Småland can also boast of being lucky; during his early years in Gothenburg, he is said to have won money in the lottery, and he is given the opportunity to make a fast career in the city.

Hotell Kung Karl från 1901

Hotell Kung Karl till vänster, fotografi taget 1901. Källa: Göteborgs stadsmuseum. Fotograf: Axel Hartman

Illustration av Hotel Royal

Illustration på Hotel Royal. Källa: Göteborgs Stadsmuseum.

Hotel director Holmdahl

The first step is the purchase of the Hotel Royal on May 3, 1876. Unfortunately, the previous owner C G Granberg dies before the purchase can be completed and the deal is therefore postponed until September 21 of the same year. The purchase price was then 155,000 Riksdaler, and Holmdahl became hotel director. The following year he moves in and he is registered at the hotel for the following six years.

Business at Hotel Royal is going well and Holmdahl soon decides to build a new hotel, now at Nils Ericsonsgatan 23. In 1896, the hotel is completed and named Kung Karl.

Hauler owner Holmdahl

In 1898, Holmdahl decided to take on the next challenge: to enter the haulage business. He is now taking over the Leontinedal farm with associated haulage in Vasa from the former haulage owner Janne Jonson.

Where the Vasakyrkan is located today, at the end of the 19th century there was a substantial farm building called Leontinedal. The Mangårdsbygden looked out onto Engelbrektsgatan with its stately avenue, and facing Molinsgatan there was a large glazed veranda with colorful lanterns. In 1898, Johan A Holmdahl takes over the property and associated haulage business from former haulage owner Janne Jonson.

Molinsgatan – Vasa kyrkogata, troligtvis någon av byggnaderna till Leontinedal. Källa: Göteborgs Stadsmuseum. Tecknare: Anders Hedenberg.
Illustration av Molinsgatan.

Joh. A Holmdahls Hyrverksinrättning. Källa: okänd. 

Johan A. Holmdahl Hyrverksinrättning

Holmdahl spends the coming year expanding the haulage business. Next to Molinsgatan, not far from the place where Vasakyrkan now stands, he has several red stables and carriage sheds erected. The company is named “Joh A Holmdahls rental facility” and is doing really well. Holmdahl’s horse-drawn carriages are seen rolling through Gothenburg’s streets most every day, for both weddings and funerals.

The successes last until a cold winter night in 1901 when a pyromaniac sets fire to the properties. The manor survives, but the entire rental facility with carriage sheds and stables catches fire and all the horses burn inside. The fire attracts a lot of attention and the public follows the police’s search for the culprit. In the end, the pyromaniac can be arrested and sentenced to deportation to America – a not entirely unusual punishment for this time.

Sleipner's rental works

Despite the setbacks, Holmdahl manages to restore the business. A few years later, the company is sold on and then transformed into Sleipners Hyrverk AB, a concept that is still recognized by many Gothenburgers.

Sleipner’s horse-drawn carriages will become a well-known feature of Gothenburg traffic during large parts of the 20th century.

Leontinedal och Sleipners Hyrverk. Källa: Göteborgs Stadsmuseum.
Sleipners hyrverk

Vasakyrkan, ”Nordens förnämsta tempel”, samt hörnhus Engelbrektsgatan – Molinsgatan 1912. Källa: Göteborgs Stadsmuseum.

Vasakyrkan år 1912

Holmdahl himself gets to watch when his old manor house Leontinedal is demolished and replaced by the newly built Vasakyrkan, “Nord’s foremost temple” as it was called at the inauguration in 1909. In 1917 Holmdahl was struck by illness and in March 1918, after 42 years as a hotel owner, he was forced he sell his beloved Hotel Royal.

Johan A. Holmdahl

Holmdahl som affärsman och hotellentreprenör.

Hotel Royals entré

Entrén till Hotel Royal idag.

The legacy from Holmdahl is still visible today

On February 15, 1920, Holmdahl died, then 76 years old. During his lifetime, he managed to climb all the way from poor Småland farm boy to rich Gothenburger and businessman.

Although a lot of time has passed since then, we are constantly reminded of his legacy – every time a guest steps into the hotel entrance and “aas” and “oahs” over the decorations on the ceiling and floor, every time one of our guests post beautiful pictures of our old staircase on social media, every time we ourselves welcome guests into the reception.

One thing is certain – without the enterprising Holmdahl’s efforts over 100 years ago, Hotel Royal would not have been what it is today.

Emma Nilsson Editor
031-700 11 70

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