Bucharest Art Nouveau House: Letter from A Reader

Bucharest Art Nouveau house, Dorobanti area (©Valentin Mandache)

Recently I had the pleasant surprise to receive a letter from one of my readers who has seen photographs of his house published and analyzed on my blog in two previous articles (Bucharest Art Nouveau House and Blue frame Art Nouveau Window). The house in question is one of the few methodically restored and renovated historical buildings in Bucharest. That was possible because, as I found out from the message, the proprietor is an experienced architect, who has meticulously restored his own house. The results are indeed remarkable, as I detailed in my articles. The edifice is designed in what I would describe as a predominantly Art Nouveau style, with some motifs and shapes recycled from the c19th historicist and other architectural styles popular at that time in Bucharest. The new and substantial information brought to the fore by my reader about his house are an absolute gem, enlivening this fascinating period property from Romania’s capital with mentions about its architect, previous owners and their often dramatic personal stories, detailing the laborious and difficult restoration works undertaken. The following is the letter received from my reader concerning this beautiful historic edifice:

Dear Sir,

I would like to bring to your attention, in my quality as the proprietor of the house described in your blog articles, the following additional information:

The house has been built in 1915 by a Czech entrepreneur, for his German wife. The architect was a member of the Storck family, the famous Bucharest artists, namely Jean (Johann) Storck. I have affixed a name tablet with his signature on the façade, next to the main entrance. The architectural style is a composite one (the client probably requested that), for example mixing together [nn in an Art Nouveau matrix] Neo-Romanian elements (on the street façade) with elements inspired from the German expressionism seen in such house examples from Berlin or Prague (on the courtyard façade).

Because the wife of that entrepreneur did not like the house, it was sold as soon as it was finished to a Romanian aristocratic family, the judge Constatin R. Sturdza and his wife Maria-Irina (nee Campineanu). The family was part of the high Bucharest society, but decent and quite religious when compared to the conspicuous frivolity and arrogance displayed by many among that class during those times.

Mr. Costantin Sturdza has been a front line officer during the Great War, the president of the Constanta County court of justice, and later a good lawyer. He also administered the land and farms that remained in his wife’s property after the radical state agrarian reform of 1923.

His brother became a Foreign Affairs Minister during the Legionary (nn the local Romanian fascist party) government in the first phase of Antonescu’s regime [nn 1940]. Constantin (aka Costache) Sturdza was vehemently opposed to the deportation by the Romanian fascist government to Trandnestria in the Romanian and German occupied Ukraine of the Roma/ Gypsy minority members who lived on his land properties (the family has a letter from those Roma people attesting that fact).

It is interesting that this house has been visited a few times by the fascist dictator Ion Antonescu, who came there for discussions with Costache Sturdza’s brother (before he took over the power in the country in the autumn of 1940). The meetings took place in the lawyer’s office on the ground floor of the building.

After the 23 August 1944 royal coup (nn when Romania broke the alliance with Nazi Germany, joining the Allied cause) the house became the residency of the General Radu R. Rosetti (an in law relative of the Sturdza family), the famous military historian of Romania. He was subsequently arrested by the new authorities and died in the Vacaresti prison.

Costache Sturdza’s wife has been one of the local Red Cross presidents, and their children were also distinguished persons, such as the navy officer, Dinu Sturdza (married with Ionana Rosetti, the daughter of General Rosetti), Ion Sturdza (an engineer, who has recently died in France), Maria Irina (married Fof) (an agronomist), the wife of professor Mihai Pop (the great Romanian folklorist) or Ileana Sturdza (married Cerchez).

Even the owner, Costache Sturdza, was forced to endure a few spells in political prisons between 1945- 1949.

The house was confiscated by the state in 1950, but continued to be partly occupied by the owners’ family until 1989. Among other communist era tenants of this house was the family of the actor Dan Nutu. They were also harassed by the communist authorities, but professor Mihai Pop has managed through his efforts and connections to protect them and avoid the worst prosecutions to which they were exposed because of their status as descendants of an aristocratic family.

Art Nouveau house, Bucharest, how it looked before and after the restoration works

After the 1989 regime change in Romania, the family has successfully reclaimed the property, which was by then in a very run down state as is shown on the left hand side column of photographs in the above collage [nn the right hand column shows images of the house after subsequent restoration and renovation works]. I bought the property in 2003, and being an architect by profession I restored and renovated it in all details after the long 45 years period during which it was badly maintained by a communist state property management company (ICRAL). Amid those works I discovered the original colourful frieze mentioned in your article, hidden under a layer of plaster put there by the ICRAL people. I had an excellent team of workers that assisted me throughout this laborious project, without any support from the state authorities in charge with the heritage buildings, and tried my best to bring it as close as possible to its original shape and details.

One of the interesting discoveries during the restoration works, was the blue hue paint that originally decorated the window woodwork and doorways, under thick layers of more recent nondescript brown paint. I noticed that you also mention the beauty of this blue paint (surprisingly many other people, uneducated in these matters, consider the colour as too strident), this being the original paint colour.

Art Nouveau house, Bucharest- before and after restoration

In the interior of the building, as can be seen in the above photomontage, I installed a central heating system, air conditioning, overhauled the electricity cables and its water and drainage systems, tanked the cellar and thermally insulated the loft ceiling. I consider this project as a salvage operation meant to recover something from the ART NOUVEAU atmosphere of the old Bucharest. Many other owners of such architectural gems in this city would be able to save them if the state authorities in charge with the heritage buildings would give them just a minimal support, which tragically is missing in this country. Your kind articles about this house made me very happy and gave me new hopes and I would like here to thank you for that! With respect, Architect GRS

I am truly moved by these wishes and the impact made by my articles and would also like to thank my reader for his fascinating pieces of information and nice words! I thus hope that my creative effort expressed through the blog posts and the relevant photographs would contribute somehow to the necessary attitude change among the public and authorities toward the conservation of the local historic architecture. Bellow is a close up of the beautiful 1910s frieze uncovered by the proprietor of this house during the restoration and renovation works.

The frieze of a predominantly Art Nouveau house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Article in the Romanian press

The article in the Romanian national daily "Puterea" about my activity as a historic property consultant.

The Romanian national daily newspaper “Puterea”, which has recently been launched in Bucharest by the former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, has published an article-interview in its 17 May 2010 issue, where I speak about my activity as a historic property consultant specialised on the Romanian market. The journalist has correctly noted that I am the only expert in this market sector active in the country. The translation of the article’s title is “The new land grab – the demolition of Bucharest’s historic houses” (click the link to access the article- written in Romanian language); it is authored by Dana Fodor Mateescu.

I translated bellow a couple of paragraphs for your information:

“Valentin Mandache is an expert in historic houses, the only such specialist in the country offering consultancy services in the field of period property ( historical appraisal, market analysis, property finding, advice regarding the renovation and restoration of a historic property). He confirms the truth felt by many among Bucharest’s citizens: that a majority of this city’s historic properties are in a real danger of obliteration in the foreseeable future. […] My activity epitomises a less common gathering of qualifications and work experiences for Romania’s professional landscape; it is a combination of skills pertaining to the fields of history of architecture and property market analysis, developed throughout 20 years of activity and specialist training in the United Kingdom, other European countries and the United States.

According to Valentin Mandache, the period property market is a very specialised market segment, mostly ignored or unprofessionally approached by virtually all Romanian property consultants. It requires a lengthy training and experience in the field of history of architecture, marketing and analysis focused on this more unusual market sector. […] “When I encounter a historic house, I become extremely curious to find out details about its history and of the previous generations that had lived there” confesses Valentin Mandache. I just want to unravel in minute detail the intricacies of its venerable architecture and unearth the old mysteries that might be buried in documents, personal stories or the structure of that house. I believe that I am in a position to save a historic house when a client has a tangible benefit from my consultancy services, advising him or her how to buy that property, efficiently restore or renovate it, how to chose the best architectural details, decorative themes and conservation methods. I can also help that individual or organisation to properly market their property as an asset endowed with a distinct historic and architectural value. This is my contribution to the conservation and rescue of the cultural heritage of this country.”

“Puterea”, 17 May 2010

“Old and New in Bucharest Architecture. How to Preserve our Identity?”- Radio Programme

This was a radio broadcast programme by Radio Romania International on 16 March ’10, 20.00h-21.00h, on the subject of Bucharest’s old buildings and their plight in the last two decades of Romania’s painful transition from communism to democracy and market economy. The debate, entitled “Old and new in Bucharest architecture. How to preserve our identity?”, took place among blog authors specialised on the architectural heritage. The participants were the following: the author of this blog- Valentin Madache (Historic Houses of Romania), Cezar Buimaci (Orasul lui Bucur) and Dan Rosca (Bucurestii Vechi), moderator- Mara Popa. The language used is Romanian; apologises for the non-speakers of this language.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Daily Picture 18-Mar-10: Art Nouveau and Property Bubble Hangover

A Bucharest variety of 1900s Art Nouveau style house that also displays rococo and early Neo-Romanian elements, in a very bad state of repair, next to a flashy stretch limo that gathers dust, among empty plastic bottles scattered on on a dirty unmaintained pavement. Maria Rosetti area. (©Valentin Mandache)

The photograph, which I took in late autumn last year, of a luxury limousine next to a deteriorated period house, inhabited by poor state tenants, is a telling metaphor of the hangover feeling that engulfed Bucharest after the bursting in 2009 of the Romanian property and financial bubble, which saw New York type prices for property and credit fuelled ‘new Russian’ style consumption excesses. The sky-high property prices are still lingering aroung, making the purchase of a period property in Bucharest one of the most expensive, riskiest and unprofitable investments anywhere in the European Union. My estimate is that although the prices are about 20% less than the exuberant levels of late 2008, they are still having a very long way to go (another 60% down from today prices) and reach a level that would reflect the undeveloped infrastructure and economic reality of Romania.

***********************************************

I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

From Country Mansion to Village Hall and Back Again

An old country mansion dating from early c20th, built by the local aristocrat/ landlord, in what was perhaps initially a neo-classical style, for use as his residence and farm administrative headquarters. Olt county. (©Valentin Mandache)

The mansion in the image above was confiscated by the communist regime in late 1940s as part of the communist takeover of the private property in Romania, subsequently used as a village hall until early 1990s, then given back to the descendants of the pre-communist owners and now as the result of a lingering property bubble that affects the country, is on the market for huge price tag, much higher than better quality period property from Southern France or Tuscany, left to deteriorate and out of reach of anyone willing to properly restore or renovate it. This is the usual sad trajectory followed by many of the historic houses that dot Romania.

***********************************************

I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Neo-Romanian Style House in Early 1900s Photograph

Photograph taken in early 1900s of a newly built Neo-Romanian style house, Pitesti, Arges county.

The above old photograph shows a magnificent Neo-Romanian style house located in Arges county, today much altered and in bad repair, put on the market by its owners (presumably property flippers) and advertised by estate agents as “Austrian baroque” building, with a huge price tag, characteristic of the property bubble mentality that still lingers around in Romania. Old photographs of period houses, from the public archives or private sources, are among the most important resources for a restoration/ renovation project. With the passing of time many of those houses were altered and in some cases modified beyond recognition. The problem is even more acute in the particular cases of countries that have suffered wars and social upheavals as in Eastern Europe.  Ironically, in Romania, the most destructive period for historic houses is in the last twenty years since the fall of communism, when imperfect property and heritage legislation, coupled with the ignorance of many among the locals about their own history and heritage resulted in a veritable massacre of the country’s valuable old architecture. There are however some individuals and organisations that have gone in the right direction and put great effort an money in restoring and renovating historic houses. Unfortunately in many instances those projects are done by ear, without proper expert documentation and advice. Consulting archives, photographs from the family of the former owners, old newspapers or interviewing local historians is seen in many instances as a distracting and time consuming pernickety. I am afraid that what remains today from the beautiful house in the photograph above will share the unfortunate fate of countless many other period properties in Romania.

***********************************************

I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Art Nouveau Project

Art Nouveau style house project. Plantelor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The image above shows one of the most exquisite period houses in Bucharest, undergoing a thorough specialist Art Nouveau renovation. The house structure dates from the 1900s and it was a Little Paris style dwelling. What we see now is a thorough transformation in Art Nouveau, undertaken in the last decade. It is obviously a very expensive enterprise in a city where builders’ prices are on a par with those found in London. The progress of this project seems to have been quite slow since I visited it last February, also probably because of the onset of a very serious financial and economic crisis in Romania. In the following months I intend to post some more updates about this iconic project for Romania’s capital city and its period property market.

***********************************************

I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Daily Picture 14-Dec-09: Deliberate Deterioration of a ‘Little Paris’ Style House

Picturesque 'Little Paris' style house built at the end of c19th, deliberately left to deteriorate by owners as a short cut to obtaining a demolition permit. central Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The ‘property bubble mentality’ is still lingering around in Romania, a consequence of the hugely insane property development boom that has affected the country in the last five years, which saw prices rise in many instances by 5,000%(!) or even more for properties in central Bucharest. Many historic house owners do everything in their power to sell their asset or build there a more profitable modern commercial building. Because most of these houses are on the architectural heritage list, the usual short way to secure their demise is by deliberately leaving them to deteriorate in order to obtain the much desired demolition permit from the usually corrupt city authorities. One such telling example is in the image above depicting a Little Paris style house (what I call the French c19th architectural styles, provincially interpreted in Romania), which I took in one of the central areas of Bucharest. The old ceramic roof tiles were dismantled and replaced with ordinary plastic sheeting, practically leaving the structure open to the elements. The drain pipes are falling apart and some of the windows are broken. All of these are obvious sings of deliberate neglect in order to deteriorate the house beyond repair. That type of building is one of the most iconic for c19th – early c20th Bucharest and marks the identity of this town in Europe. The house, into the right hands, would constitute a wonderful renovation project. Unfortunately many inhabitants of this city are completely oblivious to the intrinsic value of their architectural heritage, being focused on quick, short term gain by flipping on the market historic properties or building in their place modern low quality structures that are perceived as immensely more prestigious.

***********************************************

I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

PICTORESQUE DECAY in 2009 Bucharest

It is hard to believe, but this photograph was taken in 2009 Bucharest. It looks more like a classical fin de siècle Parisian slum building. Yet, this charming Little Paris style house (what I call the locally interpreted French late 19th century architecture) is situated in a relatively central area of Romania’s capital and conveys the plight of many such period buildings in this part of Europe.

Pictoresque decay or tragedy? Bucharest Little Paris house in Grivita area, 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)
Pictoresque decay or tragedy? Bucharest Little Paris house in Grivita area, 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)

This type of house would constitute, for anyone brave enough to buy a property in these days Romania (beware of wildly unrealistic prices), an excellent renovation project that would add again spark to the quaint historic Bucharest. There are not many takers of such a chance and until that eventuality would happen on a visible scale, the city’s old buildings will continue to display a sort of picturesque decay of which this little house is a worthy representative.

***********************************************

If you are interested in acquiring a period property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Earthquake Events in Bucharest and Their Effect on Historic Houses

The recent catastrophic earthquake in L’Aquila from Italy’s Abruzzo region that has also damaged many medieval, Renaissance and Baroque buildings, brings back to many people in Romania the grim memories of the big 1977 Romanian earthquake (7.2 Richter scale magnitude), which destroyed in as little as 1 minute an important number of old and new buildings throughout the entire country and killed more than 1,500 people.

1977_earthquake
Neo-Romanian style building damaged in the 1977 earthquake, Magheru Boulevard – Italian Church area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The nightmare was briefly reawakened by another short earthquake that struck Romania a few days ago on 25 April, which fortunately was very short and of moderate magnitude (5.3 Richter at the epicentre), without causing victims or damage.

I was a witness of the big 1977 earthquake and its terrible consequences, then also studied the phenomenon as part of my coursework and training as a geophysicist at the University of Bucharest in late 1980s and later worked as a seismics specialist for a big oil exploration contractor in Britain, facts which I believe qualify me to give you in this article an  informed view on the earthquake risk faced by the large stock of period buildings from Romania’s capital.

Most of the period houses of Bucharest and from the rest of Romania for that matter are vulnerable to earthquakes over 5.5 degree magnitude. Historical data spanning the last millennium, gathered from medieval chronicles, archive sources, etc. indicate a rate of 2 – 3 catastrophic events, defined as over 7.0 degree Richter magnitude, per century.

Unlike the Italian mainland earthquakes which are of shallow depth and thus highly localised, the Romanian ones occur at depths between 70 -180 km, their effect being felt over large distances from the epicentre, which is situated in the Vrancea region of central Romania. Their origin is the collision and friction in that area between three regional tectonic plates, a sector of the larger system formed by the collision in southern Europe between the major African, European and also Arabian tectonic plates, which in the course of geological times formed the mountainous chains that include the Alps, the Carpathians or the Caucasus.

ro_seismic_map
Vrancea seismic region (red colour)- located at the triple junction point of regional tectonic plates that converge in that area (map source: Romanian National Institute for Earth Physics; tectonic plate delineation: V. Mandache)

Explained in basic terms, that triple junction point of tectonic plates is a rare occurrence in geological terms, making the geological movements more numerous and dynamic compared with the ususal collision between just two plates, as can be seen on the map above that shows in red colour the high density of earthquakes in the Vrancea region. The seismic waves are also propagated and even intensified by the blanket of sediments (sandstone, gravel or clay washed up by the rivers and deposited in the plains that surround the Carpathian Mountains), acting like a huge resonance box for the earth tremors, in the same manner as sound waves are amplified in the resonance box of a string musical instrument.

Bucharest is located in the middle of one of those plains, being directly exposed to the seismic waves generated 150 km away in Vrancea. The damage caused by many intermediate-depth earthquakes is therefore extremely severe.

The property bubble of the last four years has made Bucharest period properties some of the most expensive in the entire European Union, even more expensive than superior examples in the United Kingdom or France. The euphoria induced by the bubble, coupled with the unrealistic expectations of both seller and estate agent, induced them to casually ignore or just wipe under the carpet obvious facts such as these properties’ bad state of repair or the fact that many went through three catastrophic earthquakes in the last century (1908, 1940 and 1977). The prospect of quick undeserved gains continues to make them considering trivial a multitude of other details, such as the fact that many period houses are built on the unstable old floodplain of the Dambovita river, on shallow inadequate foundations and put toghether from questionable quality materials, provided with low earthquake resistance structures.

Shallow foundations on a rubble filled groung of a 19th century building seen in a recent archaelogical dig in Lipscani area, Bucharest 2009 (Valentin Mandache)
The shallow foundations, on a rubble filled ground, of a 19th century Lipscani area building seen in a recent archaelogical dig. Bucharest 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)

The majority of Bucharest period buildings were erected between mid-19th and mid-20th century (see my previous post on the history of the building booms of Bucharest with the largest proportion of them affected by at least two catastrophic earthquakes, those that took place in 1940 and 1977.

The 1940 event badly affected the Cotroceni Royal Palace, the official residence of the king, a beautiful edifice in French Read more