The Verkatehdas quarter has a long and multi-stage history, dating back to the 19th century.
The first large buildings rose in the area during the 1830s and 1850s with the construction of three crown granaries. Two of these are still in use to this day and serve as exhibition space for Hämeenlinna Art Museum.
In the 1860s, restaurateur A. Nordin founded the Pinella restaurant in the granary situated in the Keinusaari area. A lot of music performances were held in the park area at that time.
Hämeenlinnan Verkatehdas Oy was founded on 17 February 1895 to serve as a baize factory. The combined factory hall, dyeing mill and repair shop were all completed during the same year. The factory was Hämeenlinna’s first large industrial complex and a local pioneer in the use of electric lighting.
Around the turn of the century, new buildings rose up in the Verkatehdas quarter: the factory’s own spinning mill was completed in 1897, the log villa “Iso Huvila” (Big Villa) in 1906, an art nouveau office building in 1907 and a three-storey spinning mill building in 1914.
Today, the villa is home to the work facilities of the Hämeenlinna Art Museum and the spinning mill building houses, among others, the operations of Yle Hämeenlinna.
Following the depression, the factory expanded its facilities. A worsted spinning mill and woollen spinning mill were built in 1933 and 1937, respectively, and together increased the area of the factory buildings by manifold. The mid-1930s was, in many ways, a record time for the Verkatehdas factory, since it reached its highest annual profit then as well as seeing a record year in terms of production volumes. The factory rose to be one of the largest in its field in Finland.
During WWII (1939–1945), the factory avoided any significant bombing damage, but the building of air-raid shelters and other precautionary measures resulting in extensive costs.
The start of the 1950s was a productive time for the factory and the factory employed, at its most productive, 1,300 people and had 120 looms.
In 1952, the leather factory for the Defence Forces, situated in one of the old granaries, was turned into a museum for the City of Hämeenlinna.
In 1962, the Verkatehdas factory, then known as Hämeen Verka, shut down its operations. After the shutdown, discussions were had during the 1960s and 1970s about the future of the area and facilities. In 1978, the City of Hämeenlinna exercised its right of pre-emption and purchased the property for itself.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the old machinery halls of the factory filled gradually by upper secondary educational institutions and, afterwards, increasingly by different cultural actors. For example, in 1991, the studio theatre Verstas was built in the former boiler room of the factory.
In the early 2000s, the City undertook to strongly develop the area into a centre of urban culture. The basic renovations of the Art Museum’s Engel building were completed in 2003 and the ARX Open Cultural Centre for children and young people initiated its operations in the form leather factory building in 2004.
The City of Hämeenlinna received funding from the EU and the State for its Verkatehdas project. The winner of the general architectural competition held in 2003 was won by JKMM Architects with its proposed ‘Stemma’ design, which the City Council decided to immediately realise. The head designer was Architect Juha Mäki-Jyllilä (SAFA Finnish Association of Architects). The construction work got underway in 2005.
The opening of the Verkatehdas Culture and Congress Centre was held on 31 July 2007, when Vanaja Hall and the BioRex cinema were taken into use. In 2008, the Sibelius Institute and Vanajavesi Adult Education Centre moved into new facilities at Verkatehdas, and Suistoklubi and GalleriaKONE initiated their activities. Over the period of 2002–2010, a total of €46.5 million (0% VAT) was invested to transform Verkatehdas into a culture and congress centre. Of the total, around €27 million was used towards the main building.
The new main stage of Hämeenlinna Theatre was completed in September 2010. The cinema centre was expanded with the addition of a fifth auditorium in 2018. A new café for 100 patrons was built in the foyer area between the cinema centre and the main Verkatehdas building.
During 2019, altogether 662,500 visits were made to the Verkatehdas quarter for art, entertainment, studies, hobbies, meetings, congresses and corporate events. The facilities in the quarter had a utilisation rate of 99.5 per cent in 2019, and approximately 300 person-years are realised each year throughout the quarter.
The 2020s got underway at Verkatehdas under the same challenging conditions experienced worldwide, as the coronavirus pandemic significantly hindered activities in the event industry. As of March 2020, numerous events were forced to be cancelled and rescheduled for safety reasons.
The pandemic did, however, also bring a new type of activity to Verkatehdas, when the City of Hämeenlinna decided to use its facilities for the purpose of mass vaccinating its residents from the February 2021. As many as 1,200 COVID-19 vaccinations can be given during a single vaccination day at Verkatehdas.
During 2020, Verkatehdas had the honour of hosting a large, Finnish TV production for the first time, when Talent Finland, produced by Fremantle and presented by the MTV channel, was broadcast from the facilities at Verkatehdas. New winds were also swept into Verkatehdas’ operations along with the decision of the Executive Board of the City of Hämeenlinna, according to which Hämeenlinna Theatre became a subsidiary of Verkatehdas. After long preparation, the merger is planned to enter into effect on 1 January 2022.