Until the Old Customs House (Tullikamari) found a new life as a base for cultural activities in mid-1980s, the building functioned as the headquarters of the Tampere District Customs Office since its inauguration in 1901. The main building and its adjacent Pakkahuone Hall were designed by local architect Georg Schreck. As the District Customs Office vacated their old headquarters to move to its new location in the southern parts of the city, the local association for live music, TEMU, became interested in the building as a potential concert venue. It was clear that there was much pent-up demand for a club that would specialize in live music in Tampere, as in the mid-80s it was often almost impossible to get a hold of tickets to live concerts in the city. Moreover, the incumbent local clubs had to restrict their ticket sales to students only, for example, as demand typically far exceeded supply.
However, before it could be converted into a concert venue, the Old Customs House and the Pakkahuone Hall had to be totally renovated. The next step for TEMU was to convince the City of Tampere, the owner of the property, to provide funding for the project. At the same time, the Theatre House of Tampere was due to be closed for the winter season of 1987-88 due to renovation work and the Tampere Theatre needed to find a temporary venue for this period. TEMU came up with the idea of combining these two projects and the solution proved to be ideal for the Theatre as well. The City Council took the decision to support the scheme and in due course the Old Customs House was converted into a theatre for the 1987-88 season, after which it was opened as a venue for music and culture.
Initially it was the Tampere City Cultural Office that took management responsibilities at the newly renovated building and consequently it established a Cultural Centre in its part of the building. The Pakkahuone Hall became a venue for concerts and diverse events, as the City of Tampere made it available for private use as well. One part of the building became the domain for Rytmiravintola Oy, a company established by a consortium of local music associations. Amongst others, the company’s main activities were the operation of a restaurant as well as organizing events in the building. The opening ceremony was held 12-14 August 1988, and ever since the Old Customs House Festival managed to attract a wide array of artists to perform in Tampere.
It did not take long for the Club at the Old Customs House and the Pakkahuone Hall to establish themselves as primary concert venues in the country. Encouragingly, almost immediately these two venues were drawing both domestic top artists to perform there, as well as large audiences. Not long afterwards, foreign bands were added to the programme. Additionally, the Club functioned as a venue for so-called Garage Nights, where up-and-coming bands were able to demonstrate their skills on stage.
Unfortunately, Rytmiravintola Oy filed bankruptcy in early 1990 and it was shortly replaced by a new company, Tullikamari Klubi Ky. The Challenge for the new entity was to further improve the selection of events at the Old Customs House, as competition was becoming increasingly intense by the early 1990s. While the goal of offering a wide variety of events was achieved, the business side of things proved to be less than a success. Tullikamari Klubi Ky was declared insolvent in 1993, which brought the activities of local associations at the Old Customs House to an end. However, primarily thanks to the active members of the local music associations, the building became known as one of the principal club venues in Finland.
The City of Tampere had to find a new company to run the club operation. The city set one key condition to the new operator: there would have to live music performances at least three nights every week. Aleksin Ravintolat Oy, owned by the restaurateur Saara Sinivuori, won the bid in early 1994. At the time there was an increasing emphasis on rock music, but the company also saw growth opportunities for the Pakkahuone Hall adjacent to the main building, where other patrons could enjoy other music. The club operator was the sole catering provider for events at the venue and Aleksin Ravintolat managed to attract new events to the Old Customs House thanks to its professional organization and strong business-to-business relationships.
After Aleksin Ravintolat’s franchise expired in 2001, a new tender was opened for the operation. This time the winning bid came from Tampereen Kulttuurikamari Oy, which was established for the sole purpose of improving the Club’s programme. The new company wanted to improve the selection of events by ensuring that there would be something interesting going on year-round. Although the Club has profiled itself as primary a rock venue, the new operator has made an effort to introduce the top performers of each genre at the Club. Today, the Club’s programme is extremely diverse, attracting wide demographic with guests of all ages, and consequently the club has been refurbished with these needs in mind. This refurnished interior is open and welcoming, and during the day the Club operates as a casual restaurant, while in the evening it is the top concert venue in town.
The Club continues to be the domain of bands and artists, while the Pakkahuone Hall’s schedule is divided between corporate events, festivals and concerts. The Club and the Pakkahuone Hall are among the foremost concert venues nationally, which is primarily thanks to a long track record of well-organized events as well as the diverse selection of cultural events at the Old Customs House over the years. The national television channel YLE TV2 has also broadcast numerous music events from the venue over the years, making the building known all over the country. Tampere Music Festivals, Tampere Film Festival and Tampere Theatre Festival have had their offices in the Old Customs House since 1990. The Cultural centre of the Old Customs House has gone through many changes during its first 20 years of operations, but the mission – offering a wide selection of cultural and music events - has remained the same since the beginning. Given this goal, interaction between the different operators at the Old Customs House continues to be encouraged, as this will guarantee that the Club and the Pakkahuone Hall serve the community in the best possible way.