The Bourgeois Architect of Bucharest’s Stalinisation

The article is researched and written by Cătălin Gomboș.
Translated by Claudiu Revnic

Horia Maicu was one of the influential architects of post-WW2 Bucharest. His name is tied to the endeavors of the Communist regime to turn what was once called Little Paris into a Soviet inspired city. In fact, Maicu, who served as Bucharest’s chief architect between 1958 and 1969, had  in the 1950s, publically expressed his admiration for the achievements of Soviet architects. He was however a late adopter of the Soviet model, opting for it in the second half of his life. In between the world wars, Horia Maicu had been one of Constanța’s most prolific architect. He had actually kickstarted his career in the seaside town.In Constanța, Maicu, who at the time was known by his birth name of Harry Goldstein, was designing art-deco and Mediteranean inspired villas, blocks of flats and hotels, which were later to be rejected and reppeled by the communists. Horia Maicu passed away in 1975 and has been largely forgotten ever since. Nearly 40 years after his death, the chance discovery of his archive brings his life and work back into the spotlight.

 

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The archive in the dustbin

Daniel Balint is a Bucharest based 38 year old painter and art restoration professional. He has a keen collector’s eye and is always on a lookout for rare and valuable artefacts. In December 2013, he was coming back from a night out and was passing Bastiștei Street. On that particular street, overlooking the church was a dustbin. As Daniel was strolling by, a dash of wind displaced what seemed to be an architectural design. The sketch was intriguing enough for Daniel to look into the dustbin, which was stocked with rubble from an apartment that was being renovated, shreds of furniture, clothes and many pieces of paper. The first thing he stumbled upon was a watercolor piece signed Horia Creanga, one of Romania’s most important architects, coined as the father of Romanian modernism.

This particular discovery made Daniel realise that there were other valuable documents to be retrieved from the trash. He knew that he had to empty the dustbin quickly, otherwise the sketches, mostly made on the very fragile decal paper, could be ruined by the snow. He then called a handfull of his friends and together they searched through the rubble till the break of dawn, picking up whatever they found to be worthwhile preserving. They found several albums with photos and sketches, one of them being the sketch to the Casa Scânteii/House of the Spark (a Communist press hub named so after the flagship Propaganda newspaper called Scânteia- the Spark`), pictures of a visit to the Soviet Union and the portfolio of an architect. Also in the bin there were several architecture sketchbooks belonging to a certain Leon Compan, art pieces belonging to renowned Romanian artists  Merica Râmniceanu, Gherman Lazăr and Horia Creangă, as well as several family photos. An overwhelming number of these sketches and photographs were signed by a certain Harry Goldstein, name that  appeared also on a folder titled “The Personal Archive of Harry Goldstein” comprised of official documents, invoices and letters to public institutions. Daniel Balint would later find out those pictured in the family photos was Harry himself and his wife Sultana.

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Personal photos of Harry Goldstein

 

 

 

Harry Goldstein, the Elegant Exponent of Romanian Modernism

Harry (Haim) Goldstein was born in 1905 to an an affluent Jewish family in Constanța, where he would later begin his career as an architect in the 1930s. That decade proved very prolific for him as he planned dozens of buildings in his native city. Amongst the most impressive buildings he designed are the art-deco infused Carlton/Continental Hotel, which has been demolished, and the Villa Leon [1], a Mediterranean style architectural gem that can still be visited today. Architect and historian Vlad Mitric-Ciupe stated that “ (Harry Goldstein) becomes even more important of a figure in architecture if we take into account his body of work during the interbellum period. The sheer refinement of the buildings ,hotels and residential homes he designed clearly places him [...] amongst the most worthy proponents of Romanian modernism” [2]

Goldstein’s clientele was comprised of Constanța’s elite, of which he himself was part of, as a young up and coming architect. This installed on him a certain elegance, with a touch of the pedantic, that he did not give up even when communism imposed more somber and uniformised attires. A student of his in the 1950’s, the architect Emanoil Mihăilescu recalls that “ even if he was left wing, he was still a classy gentleman. Ever top notch in the way he dressed, wearing a white shirt, he was nothing like what we see today”. [3]  Panaite Mazilu, an engineer that had worked with him, remarked that in a time where clothing was rationed and only accessible through ration cards, very much like food was, Goldstein “ was always elegant, looking brand new, as if he had just come out of a shop fitting room . We were all so dressed in rags..(He) Even had shoelaces which looked brand new”[4] .His elegance was not confined to his sense of style and also transcended to his conduct, according to architect Romeo Belea, one his closest collaborators. Goldstein resided in a spacious 5 room apartment with a fireplace, at the last floor of a block of flats on Batistei Street nr. 11, that he had designed himself, not far from where Daniel Balint would find his archive . His house was always open to his fellow architects as well to painters and artists , that would pay him frequent visits up until his last years. They were all drawn by his erudite knowledge and the brilliant conversations that Maicu was able to entertain[5].

 

Horia Maicu, the promoter of socialist realism in architecture

There is very little information regarding his activity in the first half of the 1940’s. It does appear that he had left Constanța, for Bucharest in 1940. Given his Jewish origins, the WWII period must have been an undoubtedly difficult and precarious one for him. Even before the mass murders orchestrated by the Legionary Movement, the mass deportations to Transnistria and the Holocaust, Romania had adopted a series of racial laws in 1938, under the Octavian Goga government, as well as in 1940, by the Ion Gigurtu led cabinet. The latter would divide Jewish people in three categories, according the moment they arrived in Romania. The 2nd category included WWI veterans and Jews naturalised before 1919, to whom Harry himself belonged, was the least discriminated. But even this group was deprived of a series of rights such as: owning property in rural areas, adopting a Romanian name, to have a military career etc[6]. For a mere train journey they had to provide a formal invitation letter, made by a “Romanian by blood” and certified by the Justice Ministry.

The latter half of the 1940s finds Goldstein bearing a Romanian name: Horia Maicu. Unlike other architects that were victims of Communist persecution, Horia Maicu was drafted by the regime from the onset, for its first grandiose project: the House of the Spark. Maicu was sent in 1949 on a research trip to Moscow, where work had just begun on the so-called Stalin’s skyscrapers, seven (although eight were initially planned) gargantuan buildings that the dictator himself had styled as the Soviet response to the American skyscrapers.

.Initially named “ The Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin House of the Spark Poligraphy Combine”, the building took its inspiration heavily from the ones based in Moscow, particularly from the Lemonosov University buildingr. Horia Maicu would himself express his admiration for that building. In 1954, in an article he had published in The Spark[7], following a recent visit to the USSR, he would refer to Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Sciences, the Polish copy of the Stalinist skyscrapers, as a “a wonderful gift offered by the USSR to Poland”.

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Casa Scânteii/House of Spark ensemble in Bucharest. Author: Horia Maicu

 

 

The House of the Spark was the first project that testified Horia Maicu alignment to socialist realism. This was followed by the “The Monument for the Heroes of The Struggle for The Liberation of People and Country and of The Fight for Socialism” built in what is today Carol Park [8], the Palace Hall, the National Theatre , and entire apartment buildings destined for the working class, that were either supervised or directly designed by Horia Maicu during his time as Bucharest’s Chief Architect. Vlad Mitric-Ciupe writes that “ Horia Maicu ( director of IPC in between 1949-1951, university lecturer in between 1950-1972) (had been) probably the leading promoter of Socialist Realism in Romanian architecture. Together with his activity in urban planning, he would influence the mentality and the output of generations of students for more than 2 decades”[9]

The adoption of realism socialism in his work is something he publicly asserted. Horia Maicu was writing in 1952 that “ through the Union [of Architects of the People’s Republic of Romania we will light up the way to a new road for our architecture,  we would accomplish our new socialist architecture, that would in turn correspond to the needs and aspirations of the people […]  Let us work such that we are on par with the Stalinist era in which we live  […]  Let us prove through our work our warm gratitude towards the Romanian Workers’ Party and towards the government of the People’s Republic of Romania, that have opened to architects the perspective of such incredible greatness that we would not be able to even dream of in the past” [10]

His efforts do not go unnoticed by the authorities: he is awarded with the State Honour in both 1951 and 1962, and in 1961 he is awarded with the Order of “ The Star of People’s Republic of Romania”, distinction which was reserved for a select group of important figures of the time such as the actress Lucia Sturdza-Bulandra, poet Tudor Arghezi, army general Emil Bodnăraș and USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev.

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Designed by Andrei Cotruț

Bucharest. Block. Citadel” – A Cultural Project written for Artoteca

In the same building where Daniel Balint has his workshop, two architects have share an office. When they saw the retrieved documents, they confirmed that these were authentic and quite valuable . However ,even they did not know that Harry Goldstein was in fact the more well known Horia Maicu. After he had taken the archive back to his place, Daniel Balint began sorting the archive into several distinct groups and, with the help of an architect, they managed to bundle the sketches according to projects. The archive was left unused for a few years until Daniel mentioned it in a conversation with Claudia Zidaru, who was involved in several cultural projects working for two cultural associations, Artoteca and Otetelișanu Manor Foundation. Claudia Zidaru, graduate of Political Sciences, had always been interested in Communist history, had completed a series of studies on dictatorships in Europe and on the interplay between arts and politics. She found the Goldstein/Maicu archive as being of utmost historical importance, due to the fact that its original owner had fundamentally left his mark on the city, fact which is still not widely known. She then decided that this archive would find the appreciation it deserves through a unique cultural project – „Bucharest. Block. Citadel

For nearly a year she tried to get financing for this project from public institutions as well as private companies but the only calls she received in return were private bids  for bits and pieces of the archive from individuals that wanted to buy them. In the end she was given support from the Association for the National Cultural Fund, that will co-finance the project together with Otetelelișanu Manor Foundation.

Thirty blocks of flats in Bucharest, many of whom were designed by Maicu himself, will see their entrance hallways turned into exhibition spaces as the people of Bucharest will be able to glance into a selection of the Maicu-Goldstein archive. Some of those that had met him as well as much younger architects and historians have agreed to talk on camera about Horia Maicu and the era which saw Bucharest transform into a Communist citadel, as part of a “human library” project. Claudia Zidaru states that the purpose of the project is not to engage in a debate on the aesthetic value of Socialist Bucharest but rather to shed light on a certain time in the city’s history that hasn’t been studied properly.

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Horia Maicu, Nicolae  Cucu, Romeo Belea,Teatrul National, Bucuresti 1970-1973 b

The National Theatre in Bucharest

 

Maicu’s Heritage

Maicu has left a lasting mark on Bucharest and on the inhabitants of the city as well. The buildings he designed, the monumental ones as well as the blocks of flats, have significantly changed the urban landscape. It would be interesting to see how his work and living in these new neighbourhoods had shaped the collective psyche. In an interview he had given in 1966[14], Horia Maicu seemed to reflect on the impact of  the projects he had coordinated  He acknowledged that the specific features of Bucharest were not preserved in the new building complexes and he was pleading for the conservation of historical and architectural monuments. In the same interview he talks about plans regarding the future of the city: the systemisation of the river Dâmbovița, an underpass in Unirii and another in the Universitate area, the building ensemble comprised of the Intercontinental Hotel and the National Theatre, the Polytechnic, the Unirii Department Store. Maicu put clear emphasis on the necessity of transforming Bucharest into a greener city, with more parks and lakes.

In 1975, Maicu had one day invited his closest friends to have a meal together. He was visibly weakened and for some time he had been physically unable to leave his apartment. The architect had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was aware that he didn’t have much time left to live. That meal was to be his farewell supper, but he chose not disclose that to his guests. Three weeks later, Harry Goldstein, a.k.a. Horia Maicu, passed away at the age of 70 [15]. He had no children. He left behind an archive, that would later found its way into a dustbin and then later be saved by an artist, and several buildings reminiscent of two Romania’s: the interbellum one that we look towards with nostalgia and a communist one, lurking his shadow,

 

 

[1] http://constantaoldcity.blogspot.ro/2014/02/vila-leon.html

[2] Interview taken from the documentary “Bucharest. Block. Citadel”, produced by Artoteca, www.artoteca.ro

[3] http://arhitectura-1906.ro/2012/10/interviu-cu-arhitectul-emanoil-mihailescu-fost-detinut-politic/

[4] http://www.evz.ro/casa-scanteii-tovarase-mazilu-pune-si-dumneata-mai-mult-acolo-889831.html

[5] Interview taken from the documentary “Bucharest. Block. Citadel”, produced by Artoteca, www.artoteca.ro

[6] http://www.lege-online.ro/lr-DECRET-LEGE-2650%20-1940-(37632)-(1).html

[7] “Cu arhitecții români în URSS”, Scânteia, 17 – 02 – 1954

[8] https://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mausoleul_din_Parcul_Carol

[9] Vlad Mitric-Ciupe, Arhitecții români și detenția politică 1944 – 1964, Editura Institutului Național pentru Studiul Totalitarismului, București, 2013, p. 30

[10] Horia Maicu, “Perspective luminoase sunt deschise de hotărârile partidului și ale guvernului”, Arhitectura RPR, nr. 12/1952, pp 3-4, cf. Arhitecții români și detenția politică 1944 – 1964, Editura Institutului Național pentru Studiul Totalitarismului, București, 2013

[11] http://arhitectura-1906.ro/2013/11/cezar-lazarescu-povestea-unui-arhitect/

[12] http://lege5.ro/Gratuit/g43dgojq/hotararea-nr-281-1963-privind-acordarea-premiului-de-stat-al-republicii-populare-romane-pe-anul-1962

[13] Cristian Vasile, Politicile culturale comuniste în timpul regimului Gheorghiu-Dej, Humanitas 2011, p. 113

[14] “Frumusețea de mâine a capitalei”, Scânteia, 20 – 08 – 1966

[15] Interview of Romeo Belea, taken from the documentary “Bucharest. Block. Citadel”, produced by Artoteca, www.artoteca.ro

 

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Author: Claudia Zidaru

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