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Pollack building is being renovated by Pyxis Nautica

One of the oldest buildings in Pest is the downtown Almásy Palace, which during its long history felt like the center of the world. Mihály Pollack's building survived everything in two hundred years, even the worst, when it stood empty for years.

The plot on the corner of Szép utca and Realátanoda utca once housed the Pest Botanical Garden. In 1812, the Commission of Aesthetics parceled out the garden so that, according to the intention at the time, such important public institutions as the National Museum and the National Theater could be built next to the residences. All that remained were the residential buildings, while the name of the street was also formed: Neue Gasse, Schöne Gasse, Szép utca.

In 1815, the plot passed to Count Ignásy Almásy, who built his palace two years later, but left the adjacent plot (today's Szép u. 4) undeveloped. When the count died in 1850, his son Aloysius inherited the palace, but since he also inherited a huge debt, he sold it to Count László Győry that same year. It was inherited from him in 1885 by Count Mária Győry, wife of Count Géza Szapáry, and then the next owner was his son, László Szapáry. The building became the property of the Zichy family after World War I. In January 1938, Milenko Nagykovácsy and his wife Mária Villányi bought the house, and after the nationalization, the Commercial Investment Company was able to move in. As you can guess from the list of owners, many special things happened in the building.

The building in 1924

Almásy commissioned Mihály Ignác Pollack with the design, whose original plans show a two-story palace, but the built version differs significantly from this in the number of levels, the design of the facade, and the presence of the courtyard corridor - the most important of which is II. floor, which may have had financial reasons, as well as the fact that Pollack finally decided to adhere more strictly to the requirements of the townhouse. The first minor modifications - demolition and relocation of partitions - were planned by Ignác Wechselmann in 1870 at the request of László Győry.

Forty years later, the skylight that can still be seen today was completed: László Szapáry requested permission to create a glass roof in the ceiling of the main staircase. The plans were recorded by master carpenter and builder József Horváth. One year later, in 1911, on the 1st floor of the north wing, the area of the dining room was increased by closing the section of the hanging corridor in front of it - in Mihály Pollack's original plans, an open hanging corridor can still be seen here.

Count Szapáry continued to move upwards, in 1916 he built a II. floor, with a cold kitchen, a kitchen with a wire glass skylight, and a servant's room. The designer this time was the architect Ferenc Jablonszky, while the permits were obtained after meeting certain specifications.

At the same time, the Szapáry family also created a new, luxurious interior, because the family's extraordinary art collection was moved to the palace.

It really is not an ordinary collection: the Szapárys were related to the famous Venetian Morosini family, and when the last descendant of the Morosini family died in 1885, one third of the fortune was inherited by Count Géza Szapáry. This is how he came to own the Palazzo Morosini on the Grand Canal, whose rich collection of art treasures became the core of the Budapest part of the Szapáry collection.

The Morosini Room
The tapestry covering the staircase
The Renaissance Hall

Yes, but the collection suffered serious damage: on December 30, 1907, a fire broke out in the house. In his palace, the paintings of the Venetian masters - Tiepolo, Tiziano, Tintoretto, Longhi, Lorenzo Lotto, Bassano, Palma Giovane and Giulio Romano - were placed in an interior that rivaled the luxury of Venetian palazzos, Vasánapi Ujság wrote in January, publishing a perceptive account of the building:

“Everything there was Venetian: not only the pictures and the sixteenth-century inlaid work and the cute eighteenth-century carvings, the furniture covered with old and expensive Genoese soprarizzo velvet, the historically valuable Murano chandeliers, Venetian bronze wall sconces and candelabra, the antique Venetian mirrors, the incomparably beautiful and priceless soprarizzo-velvet tapestry on the walls, but the frame was also Venetian, created by the artistic taste of the count family for all this treasure: the expensive Italian stucco ceilings, the richly carved and gilded paneling of the walls .”

The fire was probably caused by a careless heater, which started from the bedroom of the Realtanoda street wing and spread to the Szép street wing. The flames first spread to the Rose-colored Salon, where the cradle of Doge Morosini and the Morosinis' antique furniture, an Angelika Kaufmann, and a Gyula Benczúr picture were destroyed; then the fire spread to the large reception room, where Venetian mirrors, a chandelier gifted by the city of Murano to the Doge Francesco Morosini, valuable Venetian lace and velvet curtains and a portrait of Doge Longhi Grimani were destroyed.

Paintings by Palma and Tintoretto remained restorable, as well as the paintings decorating the hall opening into the main stairwell: Giulio Romano's battle portrait, Bassatio's two Venetian landscapes and Titian's portrait of a man.

Goya: Female Self-Portrait

Five years later, the palace will once again be populated with art treasures: new ones will be added to the saved pieces, while the interior is also more ornate than before. Again, the Vasárnapi Ujság publishes a detailed report, in which, among other things, it writes about a large-sized tapestry received as a gift from the royal house, a portrait of a woman by Goya, a portrait by Tintoretto, and the tapestries that tell the story of the Medici family. In addition to the artefacts, the magnificent interior can also be seen in the newspaper's photos: under the wall hangings was an ornate wooden paneling matching the shell motif of the door wings and panels, which culminated in a richly carved, coffered ceiling above the hall. Baroque furniture, ornate porcelains and deep brocades also decorated the interior.

Inexplicably, according to László Mrávik, who researches Hungarian art collecting, neither museums nor art historians have paid enough attention to these artefacts. The pieces of the collection were scattered, they were taken abroad illegally, in a way that is now untraceable.

What's more, the building was almost demolished in 1938.

The new owner, store owner Milenko Nagykovácsy, tried to acquire as many buildings as possible on the block, which is how the Almásy Palace was added. In 1938, he received permission to demolish the building, but the Metropolitan Public Works Council reviewed the case and ordered the preservation of the state of the building at that time, citing the nature of the monument and the protection of the old cityscape. The opposite happened with Nagykovácsy's garage construction plan: it was rejected at first, then approved at the second level - with certain restrictions. The plans were made by master builder László Kégl.

During the siege of Budapest, the building suffered serious damage. After the restoration and nationalization, the building was transferred to the Commercial Investment Company, which turned it into a headquarters building and built the courtyard tracts on three floors.

The building before the current renovation - Photo: Bálint Jaksa
The building before the current renovation - Photo: Bálint Jaksa

In 1957, the ground-floor rooms on the left side of the doorway were converted into a porter's apartment, and in 1965 the building was "renovated". During the years of socialism, the changing owners carried out insignificant renovations, which neither improved nor worsened the image of the building. The period after the regime change caused even greater damage, when it remained empty for a while, and the consequences of carelessness, lack of maintenance and lack of heating became visible over the years.

The Almásy Palace is one of Mihály Pollack's most beautiful works among his apartment buildings and palaces in Pest. The house was built in the so-called "rising years" of his career, during which the architect reached the "age of mature works" dating from 1828. The Almásy Palace is in the fortunate position that the additions to the courtyard wings, the early Classicist facade, the doorway, the staircase have remained almost untouched, preserving their original appearance.

The Value Inventory created by Tímea Tóth and Ferenc Bor helped us write the article.

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