From hiding place to museum - The history of the Anne Frank House (3)

Renovation, expansion and conservation

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After its initial restoration and opening in 1960, Anne Frank House has undergone two major additional renovations. While extra care has always been taken to maintain the Secret Annexe in its original condition, the rest of Prinsengracht 263 and the neighbouring building at 265 have been subjected to several transformations for museum purposes over the years.

Conservation of Anne's room

Preserving the picture wall

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In addition, the student dorm built on the corner of Prinsengracht and Westermarkt in the fifties was in later years replaced by a new building providing exhibition areas as well as office space for Anne Frank Foundation employees. The complex still retains some student housing to this day.

Otto Frank en burgermeester Van Hall (rechts) met echtegenote voor het pand Prinsengracht 263 FH dat wordt gerestaureerd. Bord No admittance during restauration in drie talen
From top to bottom: Otto Frank and Mayor Van Hall (right) with Mrs. Van Hall in front of Prinsengracht 263 during its restoration; Sign “No admittance during restauration” in three languages.

The first of the major renovations, and the only one ever to lead to closing Anne Frank House to the public took place from 1970 to 1971. By then, it had become clear that the building could not sustain the growing number of visitors it was receiving - up to 1,500 visitors daily in the summer months. The main problem was that visitors were forced to enter and exit at the same point, making it difficult to get through the building. As a result, the decision was made to undertake a major renovation.

Anne Frank House was closed for renovations from October 1970 to February 1971. In addition to a new balcony, flooring and plastering, a passage was built leading from the Annexe on the top floor to the front of the house. This meant that visitors were no longer forced to exit via the movable bookcase and down the narrow stairs, thereby effectively creating a one-way system. Although it was a radical change and one that partially undermined the effect of being “shut up in closed quarters”, it was necessary to sustain the growing number of museum goers.

Financing for the project was provided by the efforts of a popular radio programme known as “Van Harte” ("Sincerely”), in which the show’s hosts and volunteers worked together to collect money for various good causes.

Another change that took place during the early seventies was the implementation of an admission charge to visit the Annexe. Although this idea originally met with resistance from Otto Frank, who felt that entry to the Annexe should be free to all, the Anne Frank Foundation, which was charged with maintaining the Annexe, was in financial difficulty by that time. After the initial trial period, the introduction of an entrance fee of one guilder was largely accepted by everyone, including Otto.

Twee bezoekers bij de entree met bord toegangsprijzen (1979)
Two visitors at the entrance with a sign listing the entrance fees (1979).

The second and more radical transformation of Anne Frank House began in the mid-nineties. This second renovation and restoration project was needed to cope with ever-growing public interest and the need to update the museum’s layout. The project’s objective was to recreate the original building described in Anne‘s diary by reconstructing what the entire front section of the house looked like during wartime. In this way, a visit to the House would be transformed beyond a traditional museum visit – it would become an experience. The project consisted of four parts:

  • Preservation of the Annexe in general and of Anne's room in particular
  • Wartime reconstruction of the rest of Prinsengracht 263
  • Renovation of Prinsengracht 265
  • Large-scale construction of new buildings on the corner of Prinsengracht and Westermarkt 

This second restoration took five years to complete. Thanks to some creative thinking from the builders, Anne Frank House remained open to the public throughout this period. The canalside house was restored to its wartime state using old photographs, the careful descriptions found in Anne's diary and the memories of Miep Gies, who worked there before, during and after the war. Today, the house at Prinsengracht 263 truly reflects the times she spent there.

It was also during this second renovation that the old student dormitory was replaced with a new complex. The construction of the new complex has considerably expanded the exhibition space and museum facilities at Anne Frank House. This new section also provides office space for the majority of the employees and faculty who work for the Anne Frank Foundation.

The reason that part of the new complex was reserved for student housing goes back to the 1950s and is the result of a compromise made between the Foundation, the municipal authority of Amsterdam and the University in the early nineties. During the construction, 24 student housing units were built above the museum café on the Westermarkt side.

Anne Frank Huis. Bezoekers in de rij voor het Anne Frank Huis.
Anne Frank House. Visitors waiting in line for the Anne Frank House.
The newly-built section of Anne Frank House.

Even after the restoration and expansion effort of the nineties, the museum is still working hard to conserve the personal effects that those in hiding might have used during their time in the Annexe. Even after the restoration and expansion effort of the nineties, the museum is working hard to conserve the Annexe in a state reminiscent of the time when it was used by the hidden eight. This is of crucial importance if the Secret Annexe is to be preserved for future generations.

Anne's famous wall of pictures was therefore restored between 1999 and 2008. The wall had been left largely intact during the work done in the fifties, but had suffered during the restoration efforts in 1970.

Finally, in order to maintain the proper temperature and level of humidity throughout both the Annexe and museum, Prinsengracht 263 was fitted with an air-conditioning system in 2008.

From top to bottom: the picture wall behind plastic in Anne’s room; the restoration of the picture wall, Nico Lingbeek's workshop.

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