Cinema “Uzhhorod”

Cinema “Uzhhorod” is an architectural monument of the world level and a special place for the citizens of Uzhhorod. The building was constructed in 1932, in the Art Deco style, according to the project of the talented architect from Košice — Ľudovít Oelschläger.

The development of the project

The work on the cinema project started in 1930. The first iteration of the sketch that was signed by Ľudovít Oelschläger dates to the November of the same year. According to it, the building had a distinctive architectonics of the so-called Crystal Expressionism and the architectural details that are typical for this style — definitive rhythmic articulation, the continuous vertical glazing of the flight of stairs along the whole height of the building, bull’s eye windows, windows segmented into spaces and the metal flagpoles, etc.

The first variant of the project of the cinema and the library in Uzhhorod. The sketch of the ground floor.
© State Archive of the Transcarpathian region
The first variant of the project of the cinema and the library in Uzhhorod. The facade of the building, frontal and longitudinal sections.
© State Archive of the Transcarpathian region
The first variant of the city cinema’s facade in Uzhhorod
© State Archive of the Transcarpathian region

Later, the project was changed and acquired features typical for the Functionalism — flat roof and additional row of horizontal windows, etc. The structure of the building’s interior was changed into more functional type. Also, the author abandoned the idea of the glass roof above the passage. The open space, without redundant details, became the priority and it corresponded to the spirit of that time.

The final variant of the facade of the city cinema in Uzhhorod
© State Archive of the Transcarpathian region

According to the final project, the city cinema together with the building of the city library made up the united complex. The passageway through the building was connected to the Tomáš Baťa Passage. On the first floor, in the passageway on the left, there were 10 shops, each of them had its own entrance from the passage and its window display. A fake panoramic window was installed along the first floor of the building, on the right side of the passage.

The fragment of the sketch of the shops facade elevation and the portal of the front facade.
© State Archive of the Transcarpathian region

The author of the cinema’s project

Ľudovít Oelschläger is the prominent Czechoslovak architect of the German origin. His Hungarian name was Lajos Őry. He was born in 1896 in Košice. The most famous works are — Orthodox synagogue and Jewish school in Košice, the Cinema Slovan in Košice, Sanatórium in Tatranská Polianka, Town Hall in Michalovce, the building of the Chamber of Commerce in Košice, cinema Capitol in Michalovce, Cinema Scala in Mukachevo, etc. In Uzhhorod, he designed the projects for the following building — the city cinema, Jewish cultural centre with a school, the town swimming pool, the water supply service building.

In 1920s, Košice became one of the European centres of cultural development. It was a period of the national revival, the time of the development of the newly established country — the Czechoslovak Republic, and it all had an impact on one of its biggest towns. Artists, architects, philosophers, writers and actors wanted to create the picture of the modern country. They managed to combine current European tendencies and avant-garde thinking with national peculiarities, identity of the country and especially of the town.

That is how the term “Košice Modernism” was coined, and it encompasses different types of fine art, architecture, philosophy and literature. Creative people of that time could travel around Europe freely, they studied, exchanged ideas and had an opportunity to embody their progressive projects that were supported and implemented with the help of the young country.

This describes the given stage in life of the famous architect from Košice — Ľudovít Oelschläger. After graduating from the Palatine Joseph University of Technology and Economics in Budapest, Oelschläger gained practical working experience in the architectural bureaus of Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart and Budapest. This was not only the period of education, but also of the formation of personal style, that was highly praised by the victory in the international architecture contest for the project of the trade academy in Mukachevo in 1924. During the implementation of the project, the 28 years old architect opened his own bureau in Mukachevo, and later the affiliate in Uzhhorod.

The building of the trade academy (on the left) and the cinema Scala (on the right) in Mukachevo.
© Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár

In 1924, at the request of his family, Ľudovít Oelschläger comes back to his native Košice and on the wave of success he continues accepting state and private contracts — mainly on the territory of Slovakia and Podkarpatska Rus (now Transcarpathia, the part of Ukraine), and later in Hungary. Due to historical collisions, we are lucky to have a few works of the architect on the territory of Transcarpathia. In Uzhhorod, Mukachevo, Berehovo and Vynohradiv we can follow the line of the professional growth of the architect, the formation of his own specific style and its correspondence to the world tendencies in architecture.

The facade (on the left) and the interior of the Chamber of Commerce building (in the center), and the Synagogue (on the right) in Košice.
© Wikimedia Commons

In the projects of the second half of 1920s we can observe his interest in the motifs of Eastern architecture and also in the Eastern Slovakian Renaissance and Romanesque style. Spiral fluted columns that narrow slightly towards the bottom were typical for Oelschläger. They were reminiscent of the Romanesque columns. In the usage of the joined arched windows, doors with contrastingly light framing, stylized merlons in the form of rounded raised solid portions on the roof — we can trace the parallels with Romanesque architecture as well as with the Eastern one.

Gradually, the architect starts to withdraw from the excessive or even fairytale-like stylization and moves towards the restrained silhouettes that were popular in 1930s. And in 1932 Oelschläger finishes his work on the city cinema in Uzhhorod.

Construction of the cinema

The construction of the cinema and the library started in 1931 at the order of the Magistrate of Uzhhorod. It was finished in 1932. The total cost of construction was 5,3 million Czech korunas.

The main contractor was the construction company of Hugo Kabos and Zoltán Arató (Ing. Hugo Kabos a Ing. Zoltán Arató) — the long-lasting partners of Oelschläger, with whom the architect implemented the majority of his projects on the territory of the Czechoslovak Republic.

Carpentry work, the construction of windows and doors, fittings and locks, and also glass works were performed by the company of Simon Spira from Mukachevo. Metal doors and windows were made of nickel bronze — the special blend of copper, the main alloying element of which is nickel. The nickel bronze is highly resistant to corrosion and has good mechanical properties.

The electrical works, creation of the neon sign, external neon illumination and the interior lighting systems were done by the Adalbert Richter lighting factory (Adalbert Richter Beleuchtungskörperfabrik) from the city Jiříkov. The contract between the factory and the Magistrate was made on 25 February 1931.

Sketches of the illumination devices for the cinema
© State Archive of the Transcarpathian region

The illumination system was designed according to the individual sketches of Oelschläger. The lamps were made of the alabaster glass, and also from opal glass, made out of cryolite. The light transmission coefficient was 92%, which was confirmed by the certificates of the University of Prague. The metal fittings of lamps were made of polished brass or brass, covered by a silver plated matting method. This exclusive illumination system is preserved in the interior till our days and is of the great cultural value for the city community.

Sketches of the illumination devices for the cinema
© State Archive of the Transcarpathian region

According to the project, the sign reading “KINO” was made out of neon tubes, which produced blue or red light, mounted on a shield. The height of the letters was 100 cm. Unfortunately, this sign did not survive to our days.

The 21.5 meter ribbon neon illumination was installed in the special wall notch, located along the lower part of the block of the higher floors. The color was also supposed to be blue or red.

According to the contract with the factory of Adalbert Richter, there were supposed to be 4 wall clocks with a 25 cm diameter clockface — 3 of them for the cinema and 1 for the library. Another bigger clock, with a 40 cm diameter — was supposed to be installed on the facade of the first floor of the cinema.

The city cinema in Uzhhorod after the completion of construction
© Technická práce v zemi Podkarpatoruské 1919–1933. Redaktor: Ing. Jaromír Musil. — Odbor Spolku československých inženýrů v Užhorodě, 1933

The architecture of the building

The three-storied building of the cinema is characterized by flawless proportions, straight lines and angles. In its architectonics the project can be considered an example of the Functionalism, but the building has some elements typical for Art Deco and some details reminiscent of Expressionism. Ľudovít Oelschläger added some exquisite luxuriousness to the facade of the Uzhhorod city cinema, using stripes of opaxit in black and grey-violet colors. In addition, this decorative touch visually emphasizes the linear structure of the windows and optically widens the facade. The glossy texture of the material reminds us of the shiny surfaces of Broadway theatres, the ultramodern Hollywood chic of the 1930s.

The city cinema in Uzhhorod at the beginning of 1930s
© Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár
Expressionism is the style of architecture that emerged and was formed in the first decades of the XX century. The visual representation of Expressionism corresponds to its name — it is the representation of the expressive emotions or the emphasized usage of new technologies and opportunities. That is why we can single out two major currents of this style. The early Organic– with rounded lines inspired by natural forms. And the later — Crystal — rigorous and minimalistic, but still with some decoration on the facade. It was in the 1920s and 1930s when the mass production of quality facade bricks, steel architectural elements and tempered glass began. The technological direction of these materials emphasized the modernity of the buildings and added a certain chic to the buildings.

The lines of the horizontal windows, emphasized by the contrasting lines of the opaxit glass on the facade make the building more dynamic. This technique optically compensates for the considerable size of the building, especially in diagonal projections. We can trace the parallels with the architecture of the American Streamline, where the stripes — the so-called speed lines — imitate airflows in an aerodynamic tube. The roof at the entrance portal also resembles similar architectural elements that are typical of the US Streamline architecture. In particular, such roofs are characteristic for buildings of this style in Miami, where they are called “eye brows”. Taking in the account that previously mentioned decorative elements in the New World were inspired by the period of the jazz and cinema prosperity, they fit perfectly into the functional concept of the cinema building in Uzhhorod.

The refined style of the cinema in Uzhhorod was achieved by the use of by the help of panoramic windows on the first floor and by the glossy opaxit strip decorations of the space on the horizontal windows and the space above the windows. All this gives the cinema a fashionable look. The base, columns and portal of the building were all made of Slovak travertine from Bešeňov. Stylish artistic details — such as semicircular balcony, metal flagpoles, bronze doors, etc. complemented carefully designed architectural ensemble.

All corners of the building and elements of the film theater facade were covered with the surface called “faux stone” (Czech — umělý kámen), with a textured surface and hand-made notches along the perimeter. This is a definitive feature of all buildings in Uzhhorod created in Czechoslovakian period. They perform both the utility function — the reinforcement of the parts of the building with a strong solution against mechanical damage, and also the aesthetic function, because they create the perfection image} of the building.

The combination of the facade textures gives the special aesthetic pleasure to the architectural gourmets. Extra-glossy tiles made of opaxit glass and matte tinted plaster with glass fragments of fine fractions created an excellent play of light.

The city cinema in Uzhhorod. Postcard of 1933
© Zempléni Múzeum

The main principles of contemporary architecture and Modernism, formulated by the French architect Le Corbusier at the end of 1920s, can be analyzed on the example of the town cinema building in Uzhhorod:

1. Pilotis (supporting columns). Because of them, the first floor of the facade is visually perceived to be lighter and as though floating in the air.

2. The free design. The technology of reinforced concrete structures allows the free planning inside the building. In the given building — the project of a large space of the auditorium.

3. The flat roof terrace. In the modern architecture it is a symbol of avant-garde and functionality.

4. The horizontal windows. Architects of that time, in particular the Bauhaus School, calculated that the horizontal windows give more light than vertical. This principle of designing windows was considered ultra-modern and rational in the 1930s. Oelschläger emphasized this concept by visually combining the window rows with minimalist decor of opaxit glass strips.

5. The free design of the facade. The reinforced concrete structures and columns, made it possible to design large windows and a decorative portal of the central entrance framed by travertine on the cinema facade.

The interior

The building interior was designed in the Art Deco style. The cinema lobby and partially the audience hall were decorated with 7 mm thick opaxit tiles of the Chodopak brand. The entrance hall was decorated with combination of green and grey-violet opaxit glass that alternates in the form of horizontal stripes. The identical green opaxit glass we can see in the interior of the Villa Müller in Prague, built in 1930 according to the project of Adolf Loos. The podium of the auditorium was decorated with the stripes of black and grey-violet opaxit glass.

The parts of the opaxit glass from the interior of the cinema
© Uzhhorod Modernism

The production of this material started after the First World War in the city of Chodov, from which the name Chodopak comes from — the first letters of the words Chodov and “opakní sklo”. The front surface of the tiles was fire-polished, and on the back side the corrugation in the form of parallel grooves was applied — for better adhesion to the mortar. Production had been operating for many years and was stopped in 2001 due to economic problems.

The interior of the cinema in 1932
© Publikace pro zem Podkarpatská Rus. I. část, Hlavní město Užhorod. II. část, Rozvoj Podkarpatské Rusi v letech 1919–1932 / Sestavil Gustav Bianchi. Bánska Bystřica : Slovan, 1932

The floor of the cinema and library in Uzhhorod was covered with a cement tiles RAKO. In the cinema hall, a combination of black and gray tiles is used, which forms a geometric pattern typical for Art Deco style.

Negative effect of the Soviet period

In the Soviet period, the cinema building underwent considerable changes. The most significant loss was that the exquisite opaxit tiles from the window partitions were almost completely lost. The elegant and visually light metal roof above the main entrance was replaced with a poorly done concrete copy. The striking difference in the quality of work by the Czechoslovakian and the Soviet builders can be seen with a naked eye — the concrete porch roof started to crumble a long time ago, but all the corners of the 85-year-old building were reinforced with faux stonework and remain in perfect condition.

The appearance of the cinema building in 1993
©Petro Sarvash, Igor Brody. Pro Urbe

Also, during the Soviet period, the panoramic windows of the front facade were damaged — light, and almost invisible frames were replaced by bulky constructions with imposts and segmentation of the upper part of the window displays. For some time, the window displays on the left side of the facade (on the library side) have preserved its initial appearance. Bulky bars were installed on the part of horizontal windows and balcony doors. Entrance doors that were previously made of glass with the bronze strap, acquired low-grade wooden planks at the lower part, and they look out of place, as they were not foreseen in the construction of the door.

In the same period, a small addition was built onto the right of the building, which did not quite successfully repeat the original style of the cinema. This pseudo-historic building, where at one time the “Diamant” (“Diamond”) store had been located, was reconstructed in 2014. Now it has acquired the features of the contemporary architecture and the cinema got rid of its negative influence, remaining in its own style cleanliness.

The reconstruction of the original appearance

Thanks to the archive materials, original sketches of the cinema and old pictures of the building, we have managed to reconstruct the original appearance of the cinema and develop its three-dimensional model. These visualizations demonstrate the appearance of the building before the Soviet rebuilding and the decline of the cinema at the present stage.

The reconstruction of the original appearance of the cinema building
© Uzhhorod Modernism

The present condition

At the present stage, the cinema building is still under the influence of the negative tendencies that started in the Soviet times. Today, Oelschläger’s Expressionism masterpiece is in a miserable condition.

Some of the building’s rooms are rented for commercial purposes, which could not have left it unharmed — the original bronze door and a part of the travertine cladding were brutally destroyed. The travertine column and the entrance to the left of the central part of the ground floor are covered with cheap signs and banners of a fast food store. The windows beside the entrance are blocked with advertising banners. The panoramic windows of the left, “library” side of the facade were replaced with plastic windows, and to make things worse, metal bars were installed on them.

The present condition of the cinema “Uzhhorod”
The picture taken on 7 March 2017

In 2012, the largest part of the complex (its right side) where the cinema was located, was sold by the city council to a private owner. This moment became the starting point of the complete decay of the cinema.

The majority of people living on the post-soviet territory are not accustomed to the perception of the architecture, that is completely devoid of decorations, or the one that uses Expressionist forms of décor. In addition, a shabby gray building that has lost its tiles back in Soviet times, looks rather faceless. Due to the neglected appearance, nowadays, the cinema looks similar to the low-grade Soviet construction. Therefore, not everyone understands the value of the architecture of the cinema “Uzhhorod”.

It should be noted that the cinema is a part of the Castle Hill architecture complex, which has the status of the monument of local importance. The complex is located in the area outlined by Korzo and Pidhradska Streets, the Koriatovych Square, and the Botanic Embankment. It received the cultural heritage status by the decision of the Regional Executive Committee № 35 of February 5, 1980. The protection number of the monument is 090003 / 1-M.

Today the cinema “Uzhhorod”, the prominent creation of Ľudovít Oelschläger, is under the threat of destruction by its private owner. However, there is a way out. Unfortunately, not all of the details of the building’s exterior and interior are preserved, but the theatre can still be restored to its original design. We hope that the common sense of the building owners will take over and that the building and its original function will be restored, with all the necessary technical precautions. Otherwise, through joint action and protests, the community of Uzhhorod holds the right to return the neglected architectural memorial to the municipal property, which is clearly and unequivocally presupposed by the Law on Protecting Cultural Heritage.

Lina Dehtyaryova, Oleg Olashyn. Uzhhorod Modernism