The House with Griffins: oil wealth and Beaux Arts architecture in Romania

Campina is a prosperous oil town in the Prahova county, on the southern slopes of the Transylvanian Alps’ piedmont. The wealth generated by the oil business was responsible for a remarkable architecture ever since the inception of the oil industry in late c19th. Romania has been one of the first countries in late c19th to extract and export oil on an industrial scale, with some of the main oil fields located in the Prahova Valley, where Campina became one of the main extraction and refining centres. The images bellow document one of the first and most flamboyant houses built from oil fortunes at the beginning of the c20th, named the House with Griffins, which now hosts the local town hall and mayor’s offices.

The House with Griffins, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The building is a very eye pleasing and well proportioned Beaux Arts style edifice with a symmetrical structure erected in 1901 – ’02 by Gheorghe Stefanescu, a wealthy local businessman active in the oil industry. I have not yet been able to find the name of the architect who designed this house, but my inkling is for an Italian architect, from among the pleiad of Italian architects and builders active in that period in Romania, who built numerous Beaux Arts style public and Read more

Origins of the money that financed the Neo-Romanian & Art Deco architecture of Romania

Oil field in southern Romania, late 1920s (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

After the first Romanian building boom, when the “Little Paris” style was prevalent in architecture, came to a close with the onset of the First World War, the country experienced again such a phenomenon in the inter-war period with the new architectural preferences evolving toward Neo-Romanian and Art Deco. This second building boom was financed mainly by revenues from the country’s large oil exports, as one of the then top world producers of that important commodity, and also because of the creation of a large internal market, a result of the doubling of Romania’s territory and population after the Great War in consequence of the country being in the victors’ camp. Although agriculture was still providing the largest share of the GDP, the money resulted from oil exports were in greater part responsible for fuelling the building boom of that era, through investments made by oil firms and individuals connected with that industry and facilitating the emergence of a proper urban middle class with aspiring modern tastes. The architecture that characterises most of the building designs of that period has an interesting opposing duality, being represented by the grass roots indigenous Neo-Romanian style and the quintessentially internationalist Art Deco and Modernist styles. It reflected in architecture the huge dilemmas faced by Romania in its process of nation and identity building in the aftermath of the Great War. The old postcard from my collection (I found it at an antique fair in London) displayed above shows one of those rich oil fields of that era located in the Subcarpathian piedmont, north of Bucharest, where the landscape is literally overwhelmed by tens, even hundreds of oil wells. To underline the highly international nature of this business and its role in connecting Romania to the world, the postcard also shows a telling annotation made by the person who used it for correspondence in late 1920s, an English speaking individual (the US and also British companies had large investments in the Romanian oil industry of that time) who worked at that particular oil field and marked on the postcard the location of his home (see the hand written note “my home” at the end of a drawn line indicating a house among oil well towers).


I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles 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 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.