1787–1792 construction of the building
1792 the town residence of Count Jakob Pontus Stenbock
1828 owned by District Magistrate and State Councillor Paul von Benckendorf
1833 owned by Alexander Ritter
1855 Cathedral School dormitory
1874 owned by the Knighthood of Estonia
1899 courthouse of the Administration of the Province of Estonia
1924 the building became the property of independent Estonia
During Soviet times, the Tallinn School of Law, the Supreme Court of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (ESSR), various district courts, the Phar- macy Board of the ESSR, a notary’s office and the art classes of the Tallinn Pedagogical Institute were all located in Stenbock House.
1987–1996 the building stood vacant and decaying
1996–2000 renovation of the building
Since 2000, the Seat of the Government and the Government Office of Estonia
Stenbock House is one of the stateliest buildings towering on Toompea’s northern slope and adorning Tallinn’s Old Town skyline. The Government of Estonia and the Government Office have occupied the building since 2000.
Stenbock House, a magnificent classicist building, bears the name of its builder – Count Jakob Pontus Stenbock (1744-1824) from the Island of Hiiumaa.
The prologue of Stenbock House, built on Toompea, is related to the establishment of regency in the Baltic provinces in 1783. At that time, extensive planning of state buildings with financial support from the state began in these provinces. In 1784, each province was allocated 20,000 roubles annually, and the required buildings were to be constructed between 1785 and 1790. The construction of a new courthouse on Toompea was also deemed necessary. Province architect Johann Caspar Mohr drew up the blueprints for the courthouse in 1784. Mohr was responsible for the construction and maintenance of state buildings, and also for administering the imperial Kadriorg Palace. In addition, he designed rural manors and residences for the nobility.
Several competitive tenders were held to find a building contractor for the courthouse. In the summer of 1787, Count Jakob Pontus Stenbock agreed to build the house for 72 000 roubles and construction work began that same year on 20 July.
At the same time, the economic situation in Russia deteriorated due to the war with Turkey, and by 1788 already, the imperial government stopped allocating funds for building government offices. Thus the provincial administration fell into debt to the contractor, and Stenbock had to be given ownership of the unfinished house. Since most of the necessary building materials had already been transported to the construction site, and he could use serfs as cheap labour, he decided to finish building the house. Count Stenbock probably believed that the state would be interested in the building in the future, and would buy it back from him. Stenbock might have also hoped that the house would be suitable for leasing to public offices and courts.
The building was finished, and Count Stenbock made it his town residence in 1792. At the same time, Stenbock mortgaged his Putkaste Manor in Hiiumaa to Baron Ungern-Sternberg for 60 years. The magnificent town house devoured a large part of Jakob Pontus Stenbock’s Hiiumaa property.
As of 1828, the buildings belonged to District Magistrate and State Councillor Paul von Benckendorff, and Alexander Ritter is listed as owner in 1833.
For a long time, the building was at the disposal of the Knighthood of Estonia, and as of 1855 the Toomkooli Cathedral School dormitory was situated there. Thereafter in 1874, the house was sold to the Knighthood of Estonia for use as an administrative building.
In 1899, the Administration of the Province of Estonia became the owner of the building. A hundred years after the building was constructed, it was used for the first time in its originally intended function – as a courthouse. Courts operated in the building for almost the next hundred years.
After Estonia gained its independence, the buildings became the property of independent Estonia on 8 March 1924. The house was big and thus other public offices moved in alongside the courts.
During the Soviet era, the Tallinn School of Law, the Supreme Court of the ESSR, various district courts, the Pharmacy Board of the ESSR, a notary’s office and the art classes of the Tallinn Pedagogical Institute were all located in Stenbock House.
In the 20th century, besides various public offices, residential apartments were located in the arc-shaped outbuilding, the ground floor of which was originally designed as a carriage house. The last residents did not move out of the decaying building until the end of the 1980’s.
Stenbock House on Toompea is one of the most dignified courthouses in Estonia.
During the Soviet era, civil, criminal and labour cases were tried there. There were two courtrooms in the building. In the 1970’s, Tallinn’s October District People’s Court and the Pharmacy Board of the ESSR occupied the first storey, while Tallinn’s Kalinin District People’s Court was located on the second storey. The rooms on the third storey were occupied by the Art Department of the Tallinn Pedagogical Institute, and there were flats in the wing buildings. Peat briquettes stored in the vaulted, thick-walled cellar were used to heat the courthouse.
The house used stoves for heating and was in poor condition. The office rooms were small, al- though the room of the court office was a little larger. Everyone who worked in the building could be unmistakably recognised by the smell of briquette smoke on their clothes. In 1985, the fire department issued a regulation prohibiting heating the stoves, as this was a fire hazard. There were, however, no other heat sources in the building.
On winter mornings, people often discovered that the water in the vases had frozen. If it was very cold, the judge worked in a coat and gloves. Once a secretary’s skirt caught fire in the courtroom because she had been too close to an electric heater.
Cracks in the walls and ceilings bore witness to the building’s deterioration. The ceilings of both the courtrooms collapsed in 1987. Many documents were destroyed when the ceiling of the archive caved in.
The house has been substantially reconstructed three times since it was built. In 1855, it was altered for use as the Cathedral School dormitory. In 1899, judicial bodies moved into the building. Stenbock House was renovated for the third time for use by the Government and the Government Office of the Estonia.
The last renovation began in 1996 using the design project of architect Kalle Rõõmus. Work stopped for a couple of years in the interim due to a shortage of funding and started up again in 1999.
Major reconstruction began with demolition works. The building had been a decaying, haunted house for ten years, therefore collapsed roof structures, floors that had lost their load bearing capacity, and rotting interior walls had to be removed first. When the architect and the project manager first visited Stenbock House, they could see the moon when they looked up from the cellar.
The demolished ceiling structures and interior walls revealed wall and ceiling paintings in many places in the main building. Most of them, e.g. an oak leaf ornament, were discovered underneath the plaster in rooms in the central part of the building on the second storey. The paintings were conserved and covered with plaster again in the course of renovation, as they were fragmentary and could not be restored or displayed. The huge mantle chimneys were in such poor condition that they were not restored.
During reconstruction, most of the roof, interior walls and ceilings were renovated, and almost all the windows and doors were replaced with new ones manufactured according to the original designs. Stenbock House also got back its characteristic columns that had collapsed together with the balcony at the end of the 20th century. One of the few surviving elements was the stained glass above the main entrance.
New steps and landings have been installed in the stairway of the main building between the first and second storeys. The old limestone blocks between the second and third storeys, on the other hand, were preserved.
The wooden staircase from the third storey to the attic has also been preserved, for the most part as it was at the end of the 19th century.
The shaft that extends through the building in the middle of the square stairway was preserved. An elevator for freight and firewood was situated there before the last reconstruction.
Excess moisture in the walls caused major problems in renovating the building. Whitewash simply would not dry, running down the walls instead. The limestone walls absorbed a great deal of moisture during the years when the house stood abandoned without a roof. The house was finally dried with the help of diesel generators. Major construction work was completed quite quickly, in the space of about a year. Renovation work on the entire building was completed in early 2000. It cost the country 69 million kroons to renovate the building, and an extra 3.37 million kroons for the furnishings.
On 26 June 2000, ninety officials set to work in the stately building with 124 rooms and a total working area of 6795 m2.
The Government of Estonia held its first session in Stenbock House on 8 August 2000. The building’s inauguration ceremony took place on 6 September that same year, performed by Jaan Kiivit, Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church.