In the early 1970s, the Icelandic government had planned to tear down the old buildings at Bernhöftstorfan (where there is now a cluster of restaurants and stores on the corner of Lækjargata and Bankastræti) in central Reykjavík to make room for new and modern government offices. Story has it that a comment from US President Richard Nixon during his 1973 visit to Iceland saved the historical houses from demolition.
This was revealed on the program Steinsteypuöldin on RÚV, aired last month.
Bernhöftstorfan is considered to be an important part of the history of Reykjavík because this is where the city’s oldest continuous row of houses stands.
Prior to Nixon’s arrival, people had protested the houses’ demolition, founding the association Torfusamtökin to protect them. A few days before the president’s visit, Torfusamtökin had the houses on Bernhöftstorfan painted to improve their appearance as they were in a state of decay.
“Then Nixon comes to the country and takes an unexpected evening walk around downtown. As he walks along Lækjargata, he sees these buildings and starts talking about how admirable it is to observe that Icelanders take such good care for their old houses. This wasn’t what the-then Prime Minister Ólafur Jóhannesson wanted to hear because he was one of the main advocates for tearing the old buildings down. So, story has it that US President Richard Nixon saved Bernhöftstorfan,” architect Pétur Ármannsson said on the show.