general info
address: Lijnbaan / Kruiskade, Aert van Nesstraat, Rotterdam
architect: Van den Broek en Bakema (now
sign: renovated neon box letters by Frijo, 2013
based on the original sign
drawn by Frans van Gool, 1953
original neon: Haaxman Neon, 1953
urbanism/architecture realised: 1953

letter details
features: horizontal diacritics on the IJ :))
capitals or romans: romans
cursive or upright: cursive
see also: Blijdorp Zoo sign by Sybold van Ravestyn

In 1951, architects Van den Broek and Bakema designed the Lijnbaan as the first pedestrian shopping centre in Europe. Van den Broek asked the 23-year old Frans Van Gool, who just had joined the office, to make all drawings. Many of Van Gool’s drawings and sketches show (neon) signs for the 66 shops they were commissioned to design.

Only a few years before the opening of the Lijnbaan, during WOII, for a long period of five years, it was very dark in Rotterdam: lamp posts were off, shops were dark, and cars and other means of transport had to dimm their lights. To prevent allied bombers to find their way to Germany, the German occupiers ordered to blackout windows with black paint or special blackout paper.

In 1953, at the opening, the Lijnbaan must have been such a miracle of modernity with its glass, transparency, the lights, and neon signs. Also, over 700 metres of neon lines were used for the Lijnbaan, placed along the canopies and steel beams connecting the shops.

Thousands of Rotterdammers were present at the opening on the 9th of October 1953, and many foreigners came to visit. During weekends, shopping at the Lijnbaan was a must. From that moment on, the Lijnbaan was considered the most renown, modern urban shopping center in the world.

I found the following, outdated, but amusing quote in a newspaper from 1957, illustrating this sense of modernity: “Comparing the ultra-modern, rebuilt Rotterdam and the city of New York, an American female window dresser who worked in the most important shopping centres in the American metropolis, said: New York is really an old-fashioned city”. (Nieuwe Tilburgse Courant, 6 November 1953)

A blueprint from the archives of the Nieuwe Instituut (BROX907t5-9, Nieuwe Instituut, see below) which is published in “BOUW, 1953, no. 45, p.862-873”, shows the sign “Lijnbaan” for the first time. The capital ‘L’ has been realised quite similar to the design. Although not signed nor dated, I think these drawings must also be by Van Gool as not only he was the one in charge of all drawings and sketches of the Lijnbaan – his name is on all the drawings -, he often liked to draw little stars as illustration (BROX_907t5-6, see below). Also, his little human figures all have these cute tapered legs (BROX_907t21-1, see below). Before, in a sketch dated 13 September 1951 for example (BROX907t5-7, see below), the sign is not yet there.

Jimmy Jacobs from Frija who renovated the sign in 2013, told me that they did not make new signs but worked with the old ones tracing the boxes and/or the glass tubes that needed renovation, making new parts and repairing damaged pieces.

Image: Detail BROX-907t1-9, Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam

Photo: Stadsarchief Rotterdam. From:


Willem Witteveen (civil engineer, architect, urbanist, 1891-1979) was Director of the Technical Department Rotterdam when the city was bombed by the Nazis on 14 May 1940. The city center burnt down; over 800 Rotterdammers lost their lives and 80.000 lost their homes. Just one day later, on 15 May 1940, Witteveen became responsible for the cleaning operation “De Puin” (“The Debris”) because the Germans wished to be able to efficiently cross the city with their armed forces. Soon, most remaining buildings were ruthlessly torn down; the debris were used to fill ditches and canals. Without this, the center of Rotterdam would have now resembled old cities like Haarlem or Delft.

On 18 May, Witteveen was commissioned to design the Reconstruction Plan of Rotterdam. However, all drawings and all data of the city of Rotterdam were destroyed in the fire. From memory and with newly collected data, Witteveen and his new team worked day and night to draw a reconstruction plan. They managed to do this within ten (10!) days. Industry and most of the housing were projected outside of the city center – in this way, Rotterdam got rid of its unhealthy and poor slums – making the necessary space for the increasing number of cars and tramways. Banks and shops were also placed in the city center. And a new station! Issues that were near impossible to solve in the old city, could now be realised on the tabula rasa that the Rotterdam center had become. Witteveen and his team also removed all underground services like sewers, cables, pipes, tramrails, etc.

The main reason for Witteveen to finish his Reconstruction Plan as fast as possible, was to prevent nazi-architect Albert Speer, part of the inner circle of Hitler, to be involved in the planning of Rotterdam. Speer and Hitler were very interested in Rotterdam as a pilot for the first German Grossstad. Reichskommissar Seyss-Inquart, also responsible for the deportation of the Jewish people in the Netherlands, and later sentenced to death in the Nuremberg trials, presented Witteveen’s plan to Hitler early January 1941. The Germans suggested to organize an international urban competition. In this way, the architects of Speers office could take over the planning for Rotterdam. Witteveen tried to delay this competition as long as possible. In the meantime, a building stop halted realisation of the Reconstruction Plan. The competition was held after all, but the quality of the 80 submissions was considered too low: the participating architects and urbanists were badly informed and none of them had the same knowledge of Rotterdam as Witteveen. None of the plans were taken into consideration.

At the same time, already since the summer of 1941, prominent Rotterdam entrepreneurs, united in the “Club Rotterdam”, were meeting regularly en petit comité to discuss plans for a post-war Rotterdam.  Members of this club were the Director of Van Nelle (yes, from the modernist Van Nelle factory), the Bankers of Mees & Zoonen, the Director of the Holland America Line, and other prominent Rotterdam businessmen. They felt that a Restauration Plan had to be mostly functional, designed for the Rotterdam economy. They gave modernist architects and urbanists like Oud, Van Tijen, Van den Broek and Van Eesteren, private commissions to make sub-plans and to study the most important problematic urban areas.  Witteveen had successfully tried to prevent the Germans from taking over the plans for the Restoration of Rotterdam, but very much to his annoyance, they had forbidden him to share the drawings, organize discussions, or getting feedback without their approval. He received more and more critique, and his position became too difficult. With a burn-out, he had to resign in April 1944.  Cornelis van Traa who assisted Witteveen until that moment, reworked the Reconstruction Plan into The Basisplan with a more orthogonal two-dimensional layout based on American grid cities. Modern, functionalist architects like Van Eesteren and Van den Broek were given commissions to design the architecture, and so Van den Broek designed the Lijnbaan. The Basisplan was still operational into the 1980-ies.

Image: BROX_907t5-1, Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam

Image: BROX_907t21-1 Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam

Image: BROX_907t5-6 Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam