UMEÅ. I suppose there´s a street named Storgatan in most Swedish towns. In English you would probably say High Street or Main Street just to point out the (commercial) importance of it.
In the county of Västerbotten´s Capital city Umeå, the length of Storgatan is about four kilometers which makes it one of the longest streets in this ”city of the birches”. Lined with many historical buildings and lush parks, it is one of the main thoroughfares of Umeå.
The street runs along the north bank of the Ume river from the creek of Tvärån in the west to the railway station Umeå Östra in the east – crossing the south side of the city centre along the way.
Storgatan´s history starts in 1622 when a grid system of streets was planned for the small community. A decision in 1780 made way for the street´s stone paved surface and 18 years later the political powers ruled that every house on Storgatan should have be marked with a number above the entrance.
A new town plan for Umeå was laid out in 1864 with influences from Vaasa across the Gulf of Bothnia. Storgatan was made longer and much wider in the process. Now there would also be room for pavements and flowerbeds.
In 1866 the first birches where planted on the west side of Storgatan. After the horrible fire in 1888 when most of the town burned down, the rulers decided that birches were to be planted on the main part of Storgatan, and other streets of the community. All this to create firebreaks in order to prevent future devastating fires.
In the 1950´s and 60´s a huge transformation of the town centre took place, and many old wooden houses were torn down. A big department store (Domus) was built between Storgatan and Kungsgatan.
In the 90´s, as the town grew rapidly, the politicians decided that Umeå was ready for taller buildings. Protesters couldn´t stop the demolition of the old cinema theatre Odeon, which gave way for the construction of ”höghushotellet” (highrise hotel) which has been towering above Storgatan since then.
In 2002 the passage through the centre was narrowed again to get the street more similar to its original shape, with birch trees and more room for the pedestrians.
If you walk the street from west to east, you will find some architecture of by-gone grandeur near Broparken, a refreshed park that separates Storgatan from the river. One of the buildings, now housing the local energy company, is the Old Bank House. Built in 1877, it reeks of new renaissance architecture, and is humourously called ”smörasken” (the butter box) in local lingo.
After crossing the old E4, you are in the heart of the city. After passing the highrise hotel, you will come to Umeå´s latest landmark, the ultra-modern culture house Väven from 2014, with all its extravaganza. The building has divided the local opinion, some claiming that it looks like a big pleasure ferry on its way to Finland. Nevertheless Väven houses the City Library, the Museum of Women´s History, Umeå Art Gallery , a performance stage, a cinema, a hotel, restaurants and what not. It is also attached to the old Stora Hotellet, and the contrast is striking.
The graceful Town Hall, Rådhuset (from 1890), is diagonally opposite Stora Hotellet/Väven and overlooks its own park area leading across the street and down to the waterfront. Rådhusparken has, like Broparken, been made-over in recent years.
Having passed some of the commercial buildings, you will enter a green area with the Umeå City Church (1894 New Gothic style) on the riverside, with Vänortsparken (Sister Community Park) on the opposite side of the road.
Heading east of the town centre, there´s yet another park on your right, where festivals and sing-songs will occur on warm summer evenings. This flourishing green, Döbelns park, is the neighbour of The County Governor´s Residence.
On the other side of Storgatan lies a trio of notable buildings. Moritzska gården, Scharinska villan and Ringstrandska villan. Further east is the old prison, Gamla Fängelset, one of few buildings that survived the great fire in 1888. Completed in 1861, it is among the oldest buildings in Umeå.