When the city leaders decided to build the Elizabeth Bridge on Eskü Square, they did not yet know that they would face a serious obstacle, as the narrow, winding streets that had developed over the centuries certainly lacked any engineering precision, and there was hardly a way to widen them. In the end, it was decided to lead the Kerepesi (now Rákóczi) Road to Eskü Square and to demolish the buildings in the way, including the already mentioned City Hall. Only the Downtown Parish Church escaped from the buildings designated for demolition, not for monument protection reasons but for lack of funds. Interestingly, the idea of pushing the church emerged later too, but contrary to Pest legends, this did not happen either, as the axis of the bridge simply evaded the parish church.
Returning to the construction of the Klotild palaces, the plots of land vacated on the site of the demolished houses became the most upscale and valuable areas of Pest at one blow. It could not be a coincidence that the three most important properties were acquired by the ruling family. The two centrally located buildings were purchased by Archduchess Marie Clotilde, the wife of Archduke Joseph Karl of Austria, and the third by Franz Joseph I of Austria himself.
Architects Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl received the contract for the construction of the palaces of “two pendant-type four-storey tenement houses” without any tender. The architect duo initially worked in the office of Alajos Hauszmann and then together for more than 10 years. By the way, the architects also designed a building on another key plot on the square, the Royal Mansions.
These two opposite narrow, long plots could be a real challenge for the architects, also because the capital wanted something very special, something that had to do with the bridge. If we look from a little further in the direction of the palaces, we can see that the twin palaces, with their opposite towers, actually function as the gates of the Elizabeth Bridge. And the huge princely crowns on the top of the 48-meter-high corner towers made of carved stone leaves no doubt about the affiliation of the majestic buildings. The two perfectly identical palaces received the building permit on 15 May, 1899. The southern building was completed first from the English Neo-Baroque and Eclectic-style buildings and then the northern one a little later. The mezzanine floors of the two palaces and the subsequent mezzanine parts were made of iron entirely, covered with stone cladding, and the brick walls of the upper floors rest on these foundations. There were offices on the first floor, which were rented by associations, companies, where you could walk up on a wide, great staircase. Six-seven-room apartments were designed for the upper three floors. On the ground floor, rooms were envisaged for renting out shops originally as well. Interestingly, both Korb and Giergl lived in the northern palace.
However, the Klotild palaces not only had an impressive appearance outside: their glass windows came from Miksa Róth's workshop, the stoves came from the Zsolnay manufacture in Pécs, the gates were made in Gyula Jungfer's workshop, and the elevators, which were still a curiosity back then, were supplied by OTIS. In June and October 1900, the occupancy permits were obtained, so in the buildings, which were completed in less than a year, the sounds of tools were replaced by the clatter of coffee cups.
Founded in 1901, the Downtown Coffee House operated in the southern Klotild Palace and rivalled the New York Palace Café in elegance. With its excellent cuisine, it attracted many guests, and according to legends, there were some who asked for their mail here as well. At a time, they also entertained the audience with famous revue and variety shows. Of course, many artists turned up here, and also Gyula Krúdy wrote most of the Szindbád short stories in the café allegedly.
The life of the twin palaces changed in 1917, and the Archduchess had to sell the buildings due to her financial difficulties that worsened after World War I. The family lived in Alcsút anyway; they didn't need the palaces in Pest.
Naturally, there were some unpleasant incidents in the life of the café, one of which was recorded by the 8 órai Újság (8 o'clock Newspaper). According to a complainant reader, after the change of ownership in 1919, milk became watery, coffee was non-drinkable, and prices became higher. Is it any wonder that the regulars at the time took turns away from the restaurant? The complainant found the events so unworthy that he referred the matter to the attention of the Price Inquiry Committee. It is worth mentioning that the Downtown Coffee House reopened first among the cafés closed in a row during World War II, indicating that the war did not completely kill either the coffee house or the city. The memorial plaque on the side of the building also bears evidence of the reopening.
In the sixties, a self-service restaurant operated on the site of the café, and later the Imperial Casino was here. Of course, the WW II did not spare the northern building either, the Váci Street forefront and the upper floors were severely damaged. The main lounge and the main staircase opening onto Ferenciek Square were completely destroyed, and the gate also suffered war damage. The renovation did not started until 1950, when, according to the plans of László Szőke and Károly Lux, the interior of the building was completely rebuilt and the offices of the Post Office Directorate were moved here. The house was purchased by Postabank later, and then the Post Office again, and another ownership change happened again later. Renovation of the building began in 2006 and then the Buddha-Bar Hotel brought life to the palace again. Since then, the southern building has had no cause for grieving either. The beautifully renovated house was completed this year. The luxury hotel in it will open in the summer of 2021.
Translated by Zita Aknai