Rotermann Quarter celebrates its 189th anniversary this year and can be compared to Tallinn’s Old Town in terms of the number of historically valuable buildings. The defining role in creating this compact industrial district in the 19th century was played by the company Rotermann Factories. This famous enterprise with a wide and extensive list of activities was founded in 1829 by Christian Abraham Rotermann. The first business of the company was a merchant court that dealt with construction material production, import and export. Initially the Rotermann properties were located all over the city, but Christian Barthold Rotermann, the son of C. A. Rotermann, led the initiative to later gather the company within the Rotermann Quarter. 1850 saw the completion of the oldest building that still stands: the Rotermann department store on the corner of Viru Square and Mere Avenue that has been an academic building for many schools, most recently the Tallinn Pedagogical University. A starch factory, ravaged by the fire of 1880, was erected on the seaside portion of the estate. In 1879 the Rotermanns finished the construction of a steam-powered sawmill.

The district was also home to other companies. In 1875 a distillery was built next to Mere Avenue and became one of the most successful businesses in the Republic of Estonia under the stewardship of the brothers Arved and Alexander Rosen. The high-quality Rosen & Co rectified spirit was sold all over Russia and in several places in Europe. In 1887 C. B. Rotermann built a pasta factory on Hobujaama Street. A year later, architect Rudolf Knüpffer’s project was built next to Mere Avenue as a new department store and Tallinn’s biggest flour mill. In the 1890s, three limestone buildings with brick overlay were erected behind the Rotermann department store – a new home for a lumber mill, wool factory, and mill machinery plant, respectively.


At the beginning of the 20th century, the Rotermann business expanded extensively. 1902 saw the erection of the high chimney that continues to stand as the ‘landmark’ of Rotermann Quarter. The grain elevator and flour mill were completed in 1904, the five-floor barley mill in 1905. The salt storage, completed in 1908, was made according to the project of Ernst Boustedt, a Baltic-German engineer, and is one of the most idiosyncratic Estonian limestone buildings preserved to this day. An Art Nouveau residential red-brick home was built at one end of Mere Avenue in 1910-11 as replacement for the wooden residence of the Rotermanns. The architectural solution of the building is ascribed to Eliel Saarinen, the famed Finnish architect. A new gatehouse was also completed in 1911. 1912 saw the opening of a bread factory, the most modern bread production facility in all of Russia.


The time of wars and troubles that reigned during 1918-20 did not leave Rotermann Quarter untouched and several buildings that had lost their owners were dismantled. During the existence of the Republic of Estonia, the district lived through all the rises and falls along with the country itself. In 1921 the Rotermann Factories concern was taken over by C. B. Rotermann’s son, Christian Ernst August Rotermann, who, among other things, led the construction of one of the first car sales outlets in Estonia. The 1920s were extremely successful for the stock company Rotermann Factories. A big setback was the gigantic fire of 1930 that wiped out much of the company’s grain reserves. It took two weeks to put out the flames. However, the accident did not break the stock company. During the 1920s and 1930s, Rotermann Quarter housed not just the flour and bread factories but also the timber plant, roofing paperboard mill, lumber mill, wool factory, raw linen processing plant, porcelain and decorative glass workshop, weaving workshop, refrigeration house, and the Rosen & Co Tallinn Vodka Factory that was the first to offer an extremely rich selection of alcohol. Major projects were designed during the first republic for making Viru Square more upscale, but unfortunately these were cut short by World War II.


The Soviet occupation brought major reorganization also to the Rotermann Quarter. All private companies were nationalized. The Rosen & Co rectified spirit factory was renamed as Tallinn Spirit Rectification Factory, Rotermann Factories was named Viktor Kingissepp Integrated Grain Works. During the German period in 1941-44, several companies were returned to their former owners and Rotermann Factories was also restored, but production capabilities were severely limited under the conditions of war. The bombing of Tallinn did not leave Rotermann Quarter and its environs untouched and among the buildings destroyed were the Art Museum, located at one end of Narva Highway, and the cinema Grand Marina, located next to Mere Avenue. The Soviet occupation returned in 1944 along with parasite buildings and an unexpected regression in urban space maintenance and care. One of the anchor companies of Rotermann Quarter during the occupation was the bread industry. The production facility Leibur used the Hobujaama building as a bread factory even until the latter part of the 1980s.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Tallinn’s downtown area became the subject of an extensive reconstruction plan according to which the Viru Hotel and the port would have been connected by an extraordinarily wide pedestrian boulevard – the potential death of Rotermann Quarter. Fortunately, the detailed plan was dismissed in 1981 after opposition from architects. A new arrival to the district in 1980 was a square-shaped Tallinn Post Office Headquarters building. The Soviet-era atmosphere changes to Rotermann Quarter have been immortalized in world cultural history. The decaying industrial area became the set for the majority of scenes from Stalker, a film by Andrei Tarkovsky. The majestic old industrial buildings along with layers from a completely different world create the conflict that forms a poignant frame around Tarkovsky’s philosophically powerful film.


The development of Estonia after the restoration of independence is nicely symbolized by the changes in downtown Tallinn. Rotermann Quarter was not spared by the winds of change. The Soviet era had wreaked havoc on the district’s buildings and the period of indetermination that followed led the buildings to dilapidate to such an extent that their repairs were considered unfeasible. During the reconstruction of one end of Ahtri Street, creation of a new direction of traffic cut through the district, separating it from the portside area along with the Rotermann salt storage. In 1996 the salt storage was reconstructed and now houses the Museum of Estonian Architecture. A multiplex cinema with 11 screens, Coca-Cola Plaza, was opened in the district in 2001. The same year Rotermann Quarter was declared a region with cultural and environmental value. According to the heritage conservation folks, the old industrial quarter was to be a friendly host to both former industrial buildings with a new function and to the high-quality contemporary architecture. The height limit of the new buildings was set at the peak height of the grain elevator (24 m). This restriction sat well with the conditions of the development companies and soon Rotermann Quarter witnessed lively construction activity.


Rotermann Quarter has turned into an urban space with unique architecture and an active rhythm of life. The developer Rotermann City OÜ has cooperated over eight years with architecture firms Kosmos (Mihkel Tüür, Villem Tomiste, Ott Kadarik), KOKO Arhitektid (Andrus Kõresaar, Raivo Kotov), Alver Arhitektid (Andres Alver, Indrek Rünkla), Teigar Sova Arhitektid (Vahur Sova), HG Arhitektuur (Hanno Grossschmidt, Tomomi Hayashi) and Emil Urbeli Arhitektuuribüroo. The Rotermann Flour Storage, Barley Mill, Lumber Workshop and Sample Mill have been renovated, a new four-section building capacity has been completed on the basis of the architectural solution by the architecture firm Kosmos, and the New Flour Storage (HG Arhitektuur) has been joined with the Old Flour Storage through the atrium. The building at Rotermanni 10, constructed on the basis of a project by Alver Arhitektid, was completed in the spring of 2013. Under renovation are other historical industrial buildings like the elevator building, the control inspection building, the bread factory, and the wheat and rye mill. A new name has been granted to Rotermann and Rosen streets and the Rotermann Square has become the heart of the district.