Largest department store – largest selection - Corvin

An attractive meeting point for some, the modern-age temple of consumption for others, a real monster that incorporates people, inciting their thirst for possessing. The malls that is to say western-type shopping centres spread after the change of regime; until then, department stores had had the main role in Hungary. In their heydays, there was the Úttörő (Pioneer), the Verseny (Competition) and later the Skála (Scale) and the Centrum (Centre). The first Hungarian department store, which could be only a distant cousin of the main character of our exhibition, was already built for our demand of shopping everything at the same place. Let’s see how their story went.

Customers first

LTSZN_60.jpgThe Párisi Nagy Áruház (Grand Store of Paris), the first Hungarian department store, whose establishment is related to the enterprising family Goldberger, served customers’ demand first on Rákóczi Road and later on Andrássy Road. The biggest achievement of the store that took the place of groceries was that the dear customers could get everything at the same place. Naturally, its popularity was also due to cheap goods and buyer teasing discounts – it sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

KF_2005_104_1.jpgThe Párisi ruled until the 1920s, when it almost went bankrupt. Not because of that, but its rival was being built in full swing that time: the Corvin Department Store. The speciality of the store was aiming to popularise shopping as a kind of entertainment, which makes it a real relative of today’s shopping centres. It had a restaurant, a café, a ticket office and even a fast photo shop. The mail-order service was introduced here first as well as the clearance sale. However, that was not all. After the opening in 1926, the junction of Blaha Lujza Square became one of the busiest crossroads in Budapest, thus the first traffic signal of Hungary was installed here. Modernisation was shown in the building: the first moving staircase of Hungary was installed in 1931. The press praised the Corvin, its fashion shows, the afternoon salon music, and the abundance of goods. The newspaper Pesti Hírlap called the building a ‘small city’, which might make you smile knowing the size of the WestEnd City Center.

The double-faced

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The Second World War did not spare the building; it almost burnt down. In 1945, the house was taken over by the Soviet Possession Management Office that restored it. In 1952, the building moved back into Hungarian possession again, but it was damaged badly in 1956. By the 1960s, it got into such poor condition that its renovation became crucial, thus it was reconstructed. The above-mentioned tin coating was put on the building that time. Its moving staircase was repaired many years later, which tells a lot about the reconstruction.

12104.jpgCorvin was in the focus again when the board of deputies of Józsefváros decided in November that the coating was going to be removed on the side of Blaha Lujza Square. Shortly, the store will be able to wear its original coat that was created according to Zoltán Reiss’s plans. The modest house did not even try to compete with the National Theatre that still existed then. It received a pure classicistic style image.

Nevertheless, it also had interesting solutions: the seemingly single-floor façade hid four storeys, whose windows were connected on all the four floors and were separated by hardly-visible wooden panels. The interior and surfaces were decorated by sculptors Szigfrid Pongrácz’s and Fülöp Beck Ötvös’s artworks (Beck created the famous plaquette of the periodical magazine Nyugat). The grandiose interior spaces would be difficult to imagine today, but the rooms and engravings come to life when you see our period photographs, at least until the tin ‘porter’s lodge’ material disappears from the building.


Translated by Zita Aknai

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