From sandy wasteland to urban status
The history of Újpest began in 1831 under Count István Károlyi, landowner from the village of Fót, who also owned the Megyer Puszta (grassland). The first settler was Márton Mildenberger, who received permission from the Count to establish a brewery and a pub on the uninhabited sandy area at the present-day Újpest-Városkapu. From this year onwards, a number of wealthier citizens rented land from the Count to establish vineyards. However, the vineyard planting was not successful, so Count Károlyi invited craftsmen and merchants regardless of nationality or religion. Thus, Izsák Lőwy, the first judge of the later municipality, and Bernát Neuschloss, the first treasurer of the future Újpest, had a house built next to Mildenberger’s. The Lőwy family set up a leather-processing factory, the Neuschloss family established a lumberyard. The flood of 1838 destroyed and damaged their houses, but afterwards many enterprising settlers arrived.
In 1840, Count Károlyi issued the Charter of the Municipality of Új-Megyer, and a year later, the settlement was referred to as Újpest. The rapid prosperity of the village, due to its favourable geographical location and its proximity to Pest and the Danube, is also reflected in the fact that the area, which was still a sandy wasteland in the 1830s, was given the status of a town in 1907. Gyula Ugró was a prominent politician in the history of Újpest, serving as chief magistrate of the municipality in 1906 and then as the first mayor of Újpest until 1911. During this time, Újpest developed into the fourth largest industrial town, but its infrastructure also underwent significant changes: the benefits of electricity, aqueduct and sewerage were already available to its residents. In 1890, the population was over 23,000, twenty years later it was twice as many. Many artisans and merchants were active here, and there were already large factories there at the turn of the century: Egyesült Izzó (United Bulb), Mauthner Leather Factory, Gyula Wolfner and Partner’s Leather Factory and Hungarian Cotton Industries Plc. In 1910, half of the inhabitants of Újpest earned their living as factory labourers.
Transport also developed rapidly. In 1846, the Pest-Vác railway line started, with a station on the border of Újpest and Palota, and the station building has stood on its present site since 1871. In 1866, the first horse tram in Pest ran between Széna Square (now Kálvin Square) and the railway station at today’s Újpest-Városkapu. In the 1890s, the horse tram on Váci Road was replaced by the tramway, and in 1896, the remise building already stood where the stables of the horse tram used to be. Today, the renovated railway station and remise, although they serve a different function, are a reminder of this early period of public transport.
The town hall
The Town Hall of Újpest is one of the most beautiful municipal buildings in Budapest. The construction of the eclectic style palace, with its Art Nouveau features, begun in 1899 by the contractor Gyula Schreiber, based on plans by Henrik Böhm and Ármin Hegedűs. A year later, the magnificent towered building was ready - unlike today's image, it had a row of shops and a café on the ground floor, but it also housed the district court and the fire station. It was originally a bright red building decorated with light limestone, and its characteristic green roof tiles were also red. On the façade, the statue of Roland the Valiant stands guard over the city's rights and the enforcement of justice; a German tradition revived by the installation of the statue.
Emblematic buildings in the city centre built at the beginning of the 20th century
Újpest is generally associated with a working-class image, or housing estates. However, there are still a few palaces that evoke the atmosphere of the former civilian world. One of the most distinctive buildings in Újpest-Centre is the yellow-coloured Diamant House, which, in a curious contrast with the Újpest (former State) Department Store across the road, shows the duality of Újpest, where the bourgeoisie of the early 20th century and the legacy of socialism are both present. The Art Nouveau Diamant Palace at the intersection of Árpád Road and István Road was built between 1905 and 1914 by the furniture merchant Ignác Diamant. The family's furniture store was on the ground floor, and in the 1920s, Meinl's delicatessen moved in its place. Today, the ground floor of the building became an arcaded pedestrian passageway due to the construction of the subway undercrossing in the 1980s and the redevelopment of the city centre. Árpád Road will be mentioned several times, as it was the former main street of Újpest, known as Fő (Main) Road until 1896, and was given its present name because of the Millennium.
Elite Café and Hotel
The first hotel in Újpest was located just one street away from the Diamant House, on the corner of Árpád Road and Mártírok Road. The builder was Gyula Schreiber, already mentioned at the town hall. The Central Hotel was opened in 1899 and was run in the 1910s by Ármin Balog as the Elite Café and Hotel. It looks a bit out of place among the mentioned buildings, because its present form bears no resemblance to the eclectic one-storey building decorated with attic walls and corner balconies. Two storeys were added to make apartments, and a People's Buffet used to face the street front.
The Apollo House, also in Art Nouveau style, was built in 1910-1911 at 77 Árpád Road. It was owned by firewood and coal merchant Gábor Radó until nationalisation. In 1912, the Vigadó Café and the Apollo Cinema opened in the building. The cinema entertained the people of Újpest for more than eighty years, from the 1960s under the name Fény (Light) Cinema, then it was renamed Lux in the 1990s, until its closure in 1998. A lot of things happened within the walls of the three-storey house: in the 1920s, it was the editorial office of the Újpesti Napló, and in the 1940s it was the headquarters of the local Arrow Cross party.
On István Road, on the other side of the Újpest Department Store, the Cyklop House was built in 1928 in late Art Nouveau style, originally with 30 apartments on three floors. It was named after the contractor Cyklop Construction and Real Estate Company. Many apartment buildings in Budapest and the Cyklop Garage, a 250-space car park in the 7th district built in 1924, can be connected to the company. Among the tenants of the ground-floor premises of the Cyklop apartment building in Újpest were the butcher "Antal", which was popular with the locals and operated for 84 years, or the Harangvirág confectionery, which has been well known in the district for almost 40 years and is still open.
The disappeared theatre and the tram track that vanished into thin air
Very few people may remember that the Blaha Lujza Theatre used to stand in the centre. From 1905, the Art Nouveau building on the site bordered by today's István Road and Munkásotthon Street was a place of entertainment and culture for the people of Újpest. Attendance at the theatre was fluctuant, with Mari Jászai, Kálmán Latabár and Lujza Blaha all performing on its stage in its heyday. The last performances took place in 1947, and shortly afterwards the dilapidated building was demolished. In 1969, a grocery store was opened on the site, which has been operating there ever since.
If we are talking about the city centre, we must not forget the distinctive Tatra T5C5 trams number 12 and 14, which have been plying the rails of István Road since 1980, among other places. Tram No. 55, which came from Váci Road and ran along Árpád Road, connecting Nyugati Railway Station and Rákospalota, and tram No. 10, which connected Megyeri Csárda with Rákospalota, are no longer in existence, the tracks were removed long ago on lines that ceased operating in the 1980s. The tramline to Pest was replaced by the M3 subway line, the construction of which had completely transformed the landscape of Árpád Road and Újpest-Centre by 1990, with widened roads and the demolition of houses in the way.
A legendary restaurant, the Bruno
Founded by József Brunovszky Sr., the restaurant is further away from the buildings already described, but its cultic location is unmissable when it comes to Újpest. Located opposite the Újpest railway station, the construction date of the eclectic-style mansion is not known exactly, but it probably dates from after 1875, and in 1888 László Bossányi, a Member of Parliament of Újpest, already owned it. The restaurant of the Brunovszky family opened in 1912, after they moved from Istvántelek to the newly developed resort area, next to Villasor in Rákospalota. From 1916, after József Brunovszky’s death, his wife Rozália Lorbezsbeck took over the management of the restaurant. After her remarriage, her husband Jenő Gaál, also an innkeeper ran the famous place. In 1938, József Brunovszky Jr. took over the family business, true to his name.
The restaurant had a huge garden, which could receive up to 2500 people, and the horse races of Megyer attracted crowds under the shady trees. People from all over Budapest came to the cosy restaurant for weddings and balls. Olympic champion water polo player Olivér Halassy was a famous regular. One of the most popular dishes was freshly caught fish from the large aquarium in the garden, and the specialities included freshly roasted meats. It was not just a place to eat: its café and card room were ideal for formal and informal meetings as well. During the nationalization, the legendary place was taken away from the Brunovszky family and it continued to function as a restaurant under the name Újpest People's Garden. After the fall of communism, the family never got the villa back. A furniture store and other businesses were set up there, and then it stood abandoned; now it is under reconstruction.
Translated by Zita Aknai