From Iceland — A Tycoon Lays Claim To His Palace

A Tycoon Lays Claim To His Palace

Published May 26, 2015

Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson, the last remaining tycoon of the Icelandic financial miracle, has announced that one of the most iconic buildings of downtown Reykjavík, Fríkirkjuvegur 11, will soon disappear behind scaffolding, only to re-emerge repaired and restored to its full glory.

Björgólfur Thor announced on his blog on Wednesday that he would start renovation work on the outside of the house in the coming weeks, after the Prime Minster signed off on the proposal of the Cultural Heritage Agency to protect the building’s inner and outer appearance. Björgólfur Thor declares that he “hopes the house will have become a true city gem by the summer of 2016.” 

Fríkirkjuvegur 11, also known as “the palace” (from which the adjoining park, the “palace garden” draws its name), was built by the great-grandfather of Björgólfur Thor, Thor Jensen, in 1907-1908. In his time, Thor Jensen was one of the wealthiest men in Iceland, a prosperous merchant, the founder and main owner of Kveldúlfur, the largest trawler company in Iceland at the time. His descendants were destined to become some of the most prominent people of Icelandic society, including his son, Ólafur Thors, who founded the Conservative Party (precursor to the Independence Party), and served as prime minister for a decade in the 40s and 50s.

Björgólfur Thor acquired the house from the city in 2007, at the height of the boom, shortly before he made the Forbes list of the world’s 500 wealthiest people. At the time he had quite extensive, and some felt, overly ambitious plans for the remodeling of the house and the grounds. The plans were put on hold while the authorities debated them, and the house has stood empty for the past eight years.

While some felt it was fitting for the house to return to the wealthiest representative of the Thor clan, others criticized the sale as an example of the celebration of greed and takeover of society by tycoons. Following news that Björgólfur Thor will soon begin work on the house, Álfheiður Ingadóttir, a former MP of the Left Green party, and a member of the “Friends of the Palace Garden” who fought the sale of the house, took to Facebook to stress the need for the public to defend its rights to access and use the garden, which remains public.

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