Commissioned by a Goldsmith – The Early History of the Building
Mauno Forselius, a self-educated building contractor and a mason’s son from Jyväskylä, was given a responsible task. Goldsmith Jaakko Emil Vehmas wanted to have a new stately stone building constructed on a site that is now the corner of Yliopistonkatu and Kansakoulunkatu.
Known to be a great drawer, Forselius gladly took on the offer, and in 1928 the citizens finally got to admire the fruits of his vision. Nowadays the building is better known as hotel Yöpuu and restaurant Pöllöwaari.
The constructor of the building, Jaakko Emil Vehmas (1900-1980), was the son of Kalle Vehmas, a carpenter from the small town of Korpilahti. Kalle Vehmas (1867-?) had taken on an apprenticeship in Väinölä workshop and founded the first machine-driven carpenter’s workshop in the Taulumäki district Jyväskylä.
He had travelled to America in 1906 with a dream of prospering. Later on he did return to his family as a wealthier man. With the capital earned in America, Kalle Vehmas constructed a building designed by architect Wivi Lönn to Puistokatu 1.
His son, Jaakko Emil, was a clock- and goldsmith, who had had his own shop on the corner of Asemakatu since 1924. The father and son acquired the lot in the corner of Yliopistonkatu and Puistokatu from merchant Rosenberg. The wooden house originally situated on the lot was torn down, for Jaakko Emil had decided to construct a new building on the site.
In the original drawings of Mauno Forselius there are three windows on the right side of the building. Yet in the actual building the number of windows in four. Because there was space on the lot, the plan was altered in the last minute. In his drawings, Forselius had reserved the ground floor for business premises, differentiating them by using a profiled batten and rougher plastering than in the top part of the building. For the facade, Forselius chose simple and classical ornaments.
There are many interesting names on the list of former residents. The most famous person to have lived in the building must have been Aimo Lahti, the inventor of Suomi submachine gun. There are also other former residents, who were well-known around Jyväskylä area, such as reporters Heikki Särkkä and Antti Pänkäläinen who worked in the Keskisuomalainen newspaper, Kalle Heinonen the founder of the electric appliance store ARE and police officer Karl Uljas. Also the executive of Gummerus printing house is known to have lived in the building.
One of the most extraordinary events in the history of the building has to do with a gentlemen’s club called Keski-suomen kerho, that had its headquarters on the second floor. During the prohibition (1919-1932), the club was known to serve spiked tea. When the gentlemen were enjoying their tea on the second floor, the local boys would sneak up to their vehicles and test their driving skills on cars with cranks on the front. Police officer Uljas did not seem to be bothered by the speakeasy upstairs.
The building has been a kind of a hotel from very early on, as one of the former residents, Martta Koistinen, ran a bed and breakfast. There have also been numerous shops in the building. Coffee company Gustav Paulig Inc. had a shop and storage room on the Yliopistonkatu side of the building. The company had a large neon sign in a shape of a coffee pot put up on the roof. When looking at the building form a right angle, the smoke coming out of the chimney appeared to be steam coming out of the coffee pot.
There was also the Kunelius second hand shop, Systema office machines store, Lundia furniture store and Vihtori Mattila’s grocery store. At some point the grocery store was also ran by Jaakko Emil Vehmas. The janitor of the building lived in a small house in the court and there was a pigsty next to the janitor’s house. On the edge of the court there was a boom, where the country folk could tie their horses as they came to town.
For a long period of time there was a laundry room in the basement, which had several laundry tubs. What is now Pöllöwaari restaurant used to be a sauna, which was reserved for the residents of the building. The janitor’s job was to heat up the sauna and was the last one to bathe. The rooms in the building were very modern, since they all had their own water closets and showers.
There was a small fire in the attic in 1932, which was quickly put out by the fire department. A more disastrous accident occurred in 1970, when one of the expansion tanks in the attic froze and exploded, causing a water damage. When the fire department arrived to fix the damage, they plugged their pump in the buildings power supply, which unfortunately burnt the fuse.
The house remained without electricity for an extensive period of time, and had to be heated with wood. Luckily there was a shed on the court with ten years’ supply of firewood. In the year 2000, there was a bullet hole discovered on the roof of the building. The bullet was apparently fired by Russian bombers, that flew over the building during the Winter War.
In 1987 the heirs of Jaakko Emil Vehmas decided to sell the building to Kerrostyö-company of Sinivuori-group. Kerrostyö preserved the building, but built another one on the lot, next to the old one.
Establishing Yöpuu – The Era of Esa and Sirkku Arola
Besides Kerrostyö company, the building also intrigued a married couple called Esa and Sirkku Arola. Esa in particular had a long-time dream of running a hotel and a restaurant. The Arolas considered several properties and finally decided to rent premises from the Vehmas building, in order to set up their own business. The rental agreement was signed early in 1987.
The remodeling of the building to better suit the demands of the hotel and restaurant business, was multiphase. Dangerous asbestos was discovered from the walls of the building. The remodeling also revealed old liquor bottles hidden inside the walls. They were ”souvenirs” from the speakeasy of the prohibition days. Despite the obstacles, the hotel, named by Arola as Yöpuu, was opened in August 1988.
The hotel restaurant was greeted with open arms. Because the Arolas invested in high quality, the customers included the governance of both the city and the local university.
There were two dining rooms in the restaurant, which were also named by Arola. They were called Pöllöwaari and Pöllömuori. A gym and a laundry room, which no longer exist, were also built. In the beginning the hotel did their own laundry, but it was later outsourced by the Arolas. Their business also included a club and a sandwich shop, which were also located in the building.
The depression and disagreements with Kerrostyö company changed the course of Yöpuu’s history. The Arolas got tired of running a hotel restaurant, since in those days a lot of the work was done by the couple themselves. And the work was though. The last guests, usually pilots, arrived at midnight and the Arolas had to be up at 5 o’clock in the morning to prepare breakfast for the early birds.
The Arolas filed for bankruptcy and with assistance from financial institution Kera negotiated the terms of dissolving their rental agreement. Kerrostyö company ran the hotel and the restaurant for a month before the new owner arrived.
The legacy of the Arolas still lives on in Yöpuu in many ways. The rooms of the restaurant are still in a similar form as they were back then, and also some of the employees hired by the Arolas are still working in Yöpuu today.
The Era of Heli Rajamäki
After the Arolas, Yöpuu was taken over by Heli Rajamäki. The ownership of the building had changed from Kerrostyö to Jykes Inc. Rajamäki opened the hotel restaurant with a refreshed image for the 1000 Lakes Rally (known today as The Neste Oil Rally Finland) in August 1992.
Rajamäki also owned a travelling agency and had travelled the world for 42 years staying in circa 10 000 hotels. Thus when taking over Yöpuu, she drew from her personal experiences.
The Hotel continued to be extremely popular, not only with the people of Jyväskylä, but with people from all over the country. Rajamäki also renovated the interior of the building. She had new floors installed, and with a permit from the National Board of Antiquities had the building painted with new colors. The new look of the building made it stand out in the landscape.
A lot was still left untouched as the staircase, railings, stairs and supporting walls were left as they were. In order to make the restaurant services more multifaceted, Rajamäki established Ranskalaiset korot –restaurant in the Yliopistonkatu side of the building. She also set up a wine terrace in the court and a hot tub was installed in the sauna department in the basement.
Erik Lindström, the composer of the Finnish golden oldie Ranskalaiset korot, visited the hotel and was pleased that the restaurant was named after his song. Lindström also praised the restaurant’s exquisite food and service.
One of Rajamäki’s innovations was marketing the hotel to newlyweds. During her era Yöpuu put together a honeymoon package. The environment was also tidied up. One of the methods was closing a nearby bar, which used to be a hangout for ski jumper Matti Nykänen, notorious for his partying ways. Nykänen’s ski jumping medals were on display at the bar, and Rajamäki called and asked him to come collect them.
Rajamäki gave up the hotel and restaurant, because she wanted to focus on running her travelling agency. Therefore she sold her business to Katriina Pilppula in 2006.
The Era of Katriina Pilppula
With Katriina Pilppula in charge, the business idea of the hotel restaurant was further refined. The international hotel restaurant was directed towards becoming, above all, a Finnish establishment for international customers. Alvar Aalto and Marimekko rooms were decorated to support the idea. The Alvar Aalto room emphasizes the locality of the establishment. After all, the architect and designer has been an important influence around Jyväskylä area.
The business idea of the restaurant was also clarified so that Ranskalaiset Korot, also known as RK Brasserie, was merged with restaurant Pöllöwaari to form an integrated whole.
Still today, Yöpuu and Pöllöwaari cherish the same traditions as always. The business idea is being developed as a private business, independent from hotel and restaurant chains.
The staff has been awarded for their excellence. Maitre d’ and sommelier Ulla Häkkinen won the Young Sommelier of the Year -competition in 2007 and came second in the Wine Sommelier of the Year -competition. In addition Ulla Häkkinen has been the first woman to win the Maitre d’ of the Year -award in the years 2005 and renewed her victory in the year 2009 as she competed against winners from previous years. The wine collection of Pöllöwaari has been highly praised. In the year 2009 Pöllöwaari was awarded the Best Wine restaurant in Jyväskylä. Waitress Miia Siironen won the world championship in her own field in Japan, in 2007.
In the year 2009 Viisi tähteä -restaurant database listed the best restaurants in Finland and Pöllöwaari held the 19th place, and was the best restaurant in Jyväskylä.
In the years 2009 and 2010 the visual outlook of the business was unified and new website and brochures were introduced. The theme was to promise a warm, unique and individual hotel restaurant.
- Interviews by Kalle Vehmas, Sirkku Poikolainen, Heli Rajamäki and Katriina Pilppula.
- Jussi Jäppinen ja Heli-Maija Voutilainen: Loisto & Lyhty – Löytöretki Jyväskylän rakennettuun ympäristöön (Minerva, Jyväskylä 2006).