Demolished memories, lost buildings – Budapest
I would like to invite you to a short walk in Budapest. Let’s explore which is the most expensive bomb-site of Budapest and why. What kind of buildings stood on the places of hotels on the Pest-side bank of the Danube? How did the busiest or most important meeting-points of Pest – Deák Ferenc Square, Blaha Lujza Square, and Kálvin Square - transform? And why were the City Hall and a whole residential area of Buda demolished?
The Savings Bank of Buda
The building of the Savings Bank of Buda stood on the place of the former Lánchíd (Chain Bridge) Square – presently it is Clark Ádám Square. The building was built between 1860 and 1862, according to Miklós Ybl’s plans, who furnished the eclectic-style external façade with renaissance elements mainly. Visitors were received by a pillared cast-iron archway with Tuscan atmosphere inside. There was a café on the ground floor since 1864, frequented by politicians and famous artists. Later on, the editorial staff of the periodical magazine Nyugat held meetings here weekly, under the leadership of Mihály Babits and Zsigmond Móricz. The cashier’s office damaged seriously during the Second World War. Owing to the state of the building and a new traffic junction, – the roundabout can be seen there even today – the main part of the building was sentenced to demolition in 1949. Lánchíd (Chain Bridge) Café operated on the ground floor of the remaining part until 1990, when the whole building was pulled down. Today, this is one of the most prosilient and most expensive bomb-sites of Budapest. It was empty for 26 years; a hotel and an office building were designed to the place of the former cashier’s office, but only waiting remained. According to the latest news, construction of the new building (a hotel) has been started on the quarter-section-shaped plot. The People’s Theatre of Buda also stood on the neo-renaissance style Lánchíd Square, and the square was named after it back then. Now the image of the square is safeguarded by only one building on the right of the Buda-side bridgehead: the Chain Bridge Palace.
The Lloyd Palace – The Grain Hall of Pest
When contemporary citizens of Buda passed through the Chain Bridge, they could see a completely different picture from the one you can see today: the Pest-side bridgehead also went through a great transformation in the first half of the 20th century. Coming down the bridge and turning right, one could not see a line of hotels, but a line of classicistic palaces. The square was called Kirakodó (Unloading) Square and the Grain Hall of Pest alias Lloyd Palace – built in 1828 according to József Hild’s plans – was situated there. It was the most beautiful classicistic palace of the era. The building served several functions at the same time: during its history it gave shelter to a forwarding agency, a printing and publishing house, a café and later a chinaware shop, a bank, a casino, political party headquarters and what’s more, the first stock market of Pest was founded here in 1854. There was a plan to pull it down in 1914, in order to build a bigger building on its place, but the First World War hindered the plan. Its fate was sealed by the devastation of the Second World War – similarly to the Savings Bank. Although the walls remained almost intact, the roofing burnt down and the whole building was pulled down finally. Only one chapiter was saved, which is now guarded by the Kiscelli Museum. Sofitel Budapest Hotel is standing on the place of the classicistic work of art today.
Transformation of Deák Ferenc Square
Now, we are penetrating the inner city. As you can see in György Klösz’s photo of 1890, the Deák Square we know was completely different in times past. Although the network of streets helps identify the square, the buildings do not really. On the corner, the building next to Erzsébet Square is the building of Adria Insurance Company, which gave shelter to the Police Headquarters of Budapest after the World War and some redecoration. Presently, it is the Ritz-Carlton Hotel (earlier it was Le Meridien). Nor the building on the other side of the square makes us remember today’s conditions. But the Lutheran church on the left side of the photo is the original one. The big building on the right side of the photo is called Kemnitzer House or Two Turks House (and later Wodianer House) and included the Morocco courtyard as well. It was built in 1821 and its name was due to the two turbaned statues that were put on the top of the classicistic building a year later. They planned to demolish the building several times at the beginning of the 20th century, but it survived even the Second World War intactly. After all, the city leaders decided in 1950 that they would integrate Deák Square and Erzsébet Square and pulled down the buildings standing between the two squares. The bus terminal was moved here from Oktogon Square and a new National Theatre was planned to be built on the parking place at the end of the 1980s, but only the pit for the base was dug out and the construction was stopped in 1998. Nothing was done with the pit for several years and finally an art centre developed from it, called Gödör (Pit). Presently, it is named Akvárium (Aquarium). Isn’t it adventurous?
The National Theatre
But what was the reason for a new location? The original building that stood in the place of Blaha Lujza Square was a people’s theatre. It was inaugurated on 15 October in 1875 and King Franz Joseph was also there. The company of the earlier National Theatre (opposite Astoria Hotel) moved into the building in 1908 and played there until 1964. The building was doomed to demolition in 1963, with a much-disputed reason: the underground that was being built there would weaken it statically. The building was cleared away in 1965.
There are two more square transformations in the inner city that is worth mentioning. One of them is Kálvin Square, which was one of the most beautiful squares in Budapest at the turn of the century. In the photo you can see Pintér Palace in art nouveau style and the Geist House designed by Miklós Ybl on the corner of Kecskeméti Street. Both were damaged in the Second World War in 1945; their places were taken by Hotel Mercure. The building next to the National Museum is the eclectic First Savings Bank of Pest (also by Ybl) burnt down during the war, but its demolition in 1947 was not really justified either.
Old City Hall Square
Designers faced serious city-planning problems when constructing Erzsébet Bridge. The decision of construction was made in 1893, but there were some hurdles on the Pest side, thus construction could start only in 1898. In order to link the bridge with today’s Kossuth Lajos Street, they had to decide which one to pull down: the City Hall that was built in 1842 or the Parish Church of the City. They chose the former finally. The square of the City Hall also disappeared as the new Piarist convent and grammar school was put up by 1917. You can see the Iron-Court in the photo, where the office and shopping centre called Millennium Center was opened in 1995. Some buildings of the old square, including that of the 100-year-old restaurant, can still be seen in Piarista Street.
Tabán, unbuilding a district
One of the largest demolitions ever – in the frame of a city-planning – was that of Tabán: a whole district (earlier a separate settlement) disappeared here. The district, which was densely built in with 1 or 2 storey-houses, functioned as an entertainment area at the turn of the century. Demolition work between 1933 and ’36 started due to the construction of a new district, but it was hindered by the world war that broke out. The unsettled area was landscaped partially in the 1960s.
Translated by Zita Aknai