Sinebrychoff Park was originally the private garden of Russian-born businessman Nikolai Sinebrychoff (1786–1848). Sinebrychoff accumulated a considerable fortune with his business ventures, which included a brewery, a distillery, a hotel and spa, residential and factory real estate, and land. In 1817 he moved his business to Vyborg (Suomenlinna), where he supplied the Russian regiment with goods.
In 1821 he began construction of a brewery and distillery on the mainland in Hietalahti, at that time on the city’s outer periphery. He later built an Empire-style mansion along Bulevardi that was completed in 1842. Behind the house he established an English-style geometric garden. The garden featured three ponds, a viewing terrace, a gazebo, arched bridges, floral arrangements, sitting areas, and large trees. Later a large greenhouse and ice cellar were added. The private garden was open to the public during the day with capped guards to maintain order. The garden flourished in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Nikolai Sinebrychoff himself never lived in the mansion on Bulevardi, preferring to live in Vyborg. The last residents were Paul Sinebrychoff the Younger (1859–1917) and his wife, the actress Fanny Grahn (1862–1921), who amassed a sizeable art collection. The marriage between Paul and Fanny produced no children, so Paul was the family’s last male to carry the Sinebrychoff name. In 1921 the art collection, comprising 750 items, was donated to the Finnish people. It remains the largest art collection ever donated to Finland, creating the foundation for the young nation’s own national gallery. The Sinebrychoff Art Museum specialises in European art, and its collections are priceless.
The garden fell into disrepair after the Second World War. The Mallaskatu Tunnel was built under the park in 1967 and the roof used for a parking lot. Thought was given to using the land for real estate development, but protests by active citizens’ groups prevented these plans from being realised. Instead, new residential buildings were built off to the side in 1980. The size of the park was reduced but ultimately saved.
From a private garden to a city park
The City of Helsinki acquired Sinebrychoff Park in 1965. The mansion and other properties were sold to the Finnish government in 1975. The park is now protected by a town plan ratified in 1980. The current layout of the park was planned by the Park Division of the Public Works Department. The car park was removed from above the tunnel and replaced by turf, disguising the fact that a busy street lies beneath the park.
Sinebrychoff Park was renovated again in 2002. The play areas were modernised, and the café Fanny opened in the park. A free-of-charge public toilet was also added. The park boasts an abundance of lilac bushes. Some of the old trees had to be removed and were replaced by ornamental apple and cherry trees.
The symbol of the park is its redbrick tower. The eight-sided tower was built in 1865 at the end of the Siberia storage building, which was above the ice cellar. Today the tower is part of the Haukka play park, and thought has been given to opening a café there. The festival-like popularity of the park among young people in summertime has disgruntled many of the neighbours, so in 2011 a fence was built around the tower and an automatic sprinkler system installed to dissuade overnight guests.
The local Park Pals have done an admirable job helping the city keep the park clean and monitoring its use.
The splendid larch tree behind the mansion has witnessed the entire colourful history of the park. A few of its contemporaries also remain beside it. Perhaps the original garden fountain could be returned to its original location here, surrounded by beautiful floral arrangements, with matinee concerts to entertain the public?
Photographs about Sinebrychoff Park in Helsinki City Museum Archives.