Sonja Henie's Oslo – in the footsteps of Norway's first superstar

Sonja Henie's Oslo

Follow in the footsteps of Norway's first superstar.

Ice skater, Hollywood actress, businesswoman and art collector Sonja Henie had the whole world as her stage – but she came from Oslo. It was here that she learned to skate and won her first competitions. It was also here she later on established what would be one of Scandinavia's most significant cultural centres, Henie Onstad Art Centre.

Below, we have gathered some Oslo spots that were important in different parts of Sonja Henie's unusual and multifaceted life. 

Bankplassen/Café Engebret: Sonja's birthplace

Sonja Henie was born on 8 April, 1912. A fierce snow storm raged in Oslo, and nobody wanted to take the horses out – not even for the midwife.

Sonja was delivered in her parent's apartment at Bankplassen, located next door to the famous Oslo restaurant Café Engebret. People would later take the snow storm as a sign that a winter and ice princess was born that night.

Sonja was the daughter of Wilhelm Henie, fur trader and former cycling world champion, and Selma Henie. An artist friend of father Wilhelm suggested that he named his daughter Sonja: "It's a name that will sound good in public."

A young Sonja Henie
A young Sonja Henie
Photo: Sonja Henie fotoarkiv, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter

 

Thomas Heftyes gate 52: Sonja's childhood home

When Sonja was four years old, the Henie family moved to Frogner and an apartment in Thomas Heftyes gate 52. Sonja Henie grew up here, only a short walk away from the ice skating rink at Frogner. 


Ice skating was always top priority, and when Sonja was nine, her parents took her out of school so she could devote all her time to training. 

Prinsens gate 12: Wilhelm Henie's fur shop

Movie star Sonja Henie posing in white fur
Movie star Sonja Henie posing in white fur
Photo: Sonja Henie fotoarkiv, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter

In Prinsens gate 12, Sonja's father Wilhelm Henie operated a fur shop, and she grew up playing hide and seek between the fur coats.  

Her father's profession may have nurtured her fascination for fashion and costumes, which greatly influenced figure skating. When she first entered the sport, black skates and long skirts was the standard for women. Under Sonja's influence, white skates became in vogue, and the costumes used in ice skating drastically changed. She introduced sequins, feathers and spectacular costumes, which she often designed herself.

Frogner Stadium: Sonja's first arena

The ice skating rink at Frogner Stadium became Sonja Henie's first important arena. She first started skating here at age five, using a pair of skates handed down from her older brother. When she was eight years old, she got her first pair of figure skates. At age nine, she won her first competition at the stadium.

Today, a bronze sculpture of Sonja Henie watches over the place where it all started.

Jordal Amfi: The stage of Sonja's great return

In the winter of 1953, after spending 16 years in the United States, Sonja Henie returned to Norway. She danced across the ice at the sporting venue Jordal Amfi 33 evenings in a row, in front of a stadium filled to the brim.

Sonja was afraid that her home country had forgotten all about her, but 400,000 people bought tickets for Sonja's spectacular show. That's an impressive number, especially considering the population of Oslo at the time was only 300,000.

King Haakon greets Sonja Henie after a skating show at Jordal Amfi
King Haakon greets Sonja Henie after a skating show at Jordal Amfi
Photo: Sonja Henie fotoarkiv, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter

 

Henie Onstad Art Center: Sonja's gift to Oslo

In line with her artistic nature, Sonja Henie chose to give away her entire fortune to create a vibrant space for art right outside Oslo. Together with her husband Niels Onstad, she founded Henie Onstad Art Centre in 1968.

At the time, the gift from Sonja and Niels was the largest private donation ever given in Norway. It consisted of their respective art collections, the building, and a big fund to operate it all. The centre was designed by Norwegian architects Eikvar and Engebretsen and included details inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.

Both Sonja Henie and Niels Onstad lay buried on a hill overlooking the art centre, which is now one of Scandinavia's most important centres for modern and contemporary art  – just as Sonja intended.

Sonja Henie skating
Sonja Henie skating
Photo: Sonja Henie fotoarkiv, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter



___________________________________


Sonja Henie (1912–1969)

Sonja Henie
Sonja Henie
Photo: Sonja Henie fotoarkiv, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter

 

♦  Became national champion in figure skating at age ten.

♦  Participated in the world's first Winter Olympics in 1924, eleven years old.

♦  Won Olympic gold medals in figure skating in 1928, 1932 and 1936, ten World Championships and six European Championships.

♦  Moved to the US in 1936 to become a movie star.

♦  Had the leading role in eleven Hollywood productions and one large British production during the period 1937–1958.

♦  Was the best-paid Hollowood star at the time, and also held a Guinness record as the world’s highest-paid athlete.

♦  Created Hollywood on Ice, large, travelling ice shows where she toured all across the US. The show was the first ever to be broadcasted on TV in colours.

♦  Had a life-long passion for art and a significant art collection which later formed the basis for Henie Onstad Art Centre right outside Oslo.