People from Bucharest’s Art Deco era

People from Bucharest's Art Deco era: afternoon dance at the Restaurant Flora, on the Chaussée in the 1930s. (old postcard, private collection)

The two photographs presented in this post are snaps of 1930s Bucharest life, which in my opinion wonderfully capture the ethos of the era when the Art Deco and also Modernist architecture was developed on a large scale in Romania’s capital, imprinting for decades to come the character of the city. The people depicted there belong to the emerging and increasingly prosperous middle classes of the inter-war period, when Romania benefited from large oil exports and a considerable internal market achieved after the country doubled in size and population following the territorial gains in the aftermath of the Great War. These people, clerks, teachers, bureaucrats, small businessmen or entrepreneurs of all sizes and trades, of very cosmopolitan ethnicities from Romanian, Jews, Greeks to Germans, Italian or Bulgarians, were highly sophisticated and cultured and had substantial disposable incomes, which many invested in building their homes in the Art Deco architectural style. I wrote some weeks ago an article about the economic background that made possible the development of the Art Deco architecture in Bucharest and Romania in general, which can be accessed at this link. The WWII and the communist regime dealt a deadly blow to these people and their dreams, when many of them were killed during the world conflagration or had their health and spirit broken through imprisonment in communist labour camps. Their property was in almost all cases confiscated, given to the proletarian masses brought by the regime from the countryside to staff the communist sponsored heavy industries.  Those wrongs have only partially been addressed in contemporary Romania, where the architectural heritage suffers terribly at the hands of a population that after seven decades of communism and post-communist transition has not yet managed to attain even a fraction from the degree of culture and sophistication of their inter-war counterparts.

People from Bucharest's Art Deco era: horse races at the Baneasa hippodrome in the 1930s. (newspaper cut, private collection)

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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 history and heritage.

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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.

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15 comments on “People from Bucharest’s Art Deco era

  1. Thanks for the picture of Baneasa. My Great Uncle John Cockeram was a racing jockey in Romania, and was 5th in the Romanian championship in 1913, was interned in the region during World War I, and later won the Romanian Derby in 1925 on Renomme, He is know to have lived in Bucharest until the 1930s, Are there any other photos of Horse Racing and the people involved during this era.

    • Your information about your illustrious ancestor are extremely interesting and help complete the picture of Bucharest during those golden years, which are now just a foggy rememberace for the present inhabitants of this city. There are many pictures with Bucharest horse racing events from that period, most of them in private collections or newspaper archives at the National Library of Romania. Perhaps a good starting point of enquire would be to email the Romanian Equestrian Federation http://www.ecvestra.ro/ or this association for race horses http://www.racehorses.ro/ which would hopefully put you in contact with private archives and collectors, etc. Best regards, Valentin Mandache

    • Hi Tom

      That was fascinating to read about your great uncle John Cockeram being a jockey and winning the Romanian Derby. I have for a long time been very interested in racing in Romania (sadly long gone, since the demolition of Baneasa racecourse in 1960), and especially in the horses which they sent to race in Czechoslovakia in the Velka Pardubicka Steeplechase.

      I have a list of Romanian Derby winners sent to me by the Romanian Jockey Club and your great uncle is indeed on the list, though they quote a different year and a different horse. They are saying that he won it in 1927 on Maltezi II (by Defensor out of Morelli) , owned by the Herghelia Sasca (Sasca Stud) and trained by B. Gabens. He also appears to have won it again in 1931 on the horse Bar Le Duc (by Prince d’Orange II out of Barcika), owned by Mr C.Diamantescu and trained by A.Romanes. I also have a book, written in Romanian called “Candva la Baneasa” and am happy to look for his name there, to see if there is any further information about him.

      Please feel free to contact me on czechhero@aol.com as I do not have an E-mail address for you.

      • Hi,Graham
        I have been researching my family tree and know that my maternal grandfather was a jockey, Henry Oscar Wilson, of Stockton on Tees. In the early years of the 20th century he was in Romania, where my mother was born in 1908. His brother, who may have been George Maxwell Wilson, was a trainer. It was reputed that grandfather won the Romanian Derby, riding the King’s horse, but by 1911 his wife and two daughters were living in Wivelsfield Green, Sussex. His wife , Fanny, was described as a widow. I have a fair amount of documentary evidence to back up the foregoing, but always hit a brick wall whilst trying to tie up the Romanian part of the story. Any help you can give would be most welcome.

  2. Hello. My name is John Thomas. I am the current President of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles. I am a collector of all things Art Deco. As a side note, My grandfather, John Thomas, came from Romaina. Now I think I know where I get the LOVE of Deco from!!!
    Robin, good to see your post as well.
    John

    • Great to hear from such an august fellow Art Deco devotee and thank you for your kind comment! The style and way of life associated with it defined inter-war Bucharest in every aspect, including the people, perhaps your ancestor too, Ion Toma, in Romanian. Sadly, that heritage is quickly disappearing as the result of the modernisation of the city and also lack of understanding for the architectural history displayed by many among the local public. My blog is engaged in the education process (the site has a well attended Romanan language version) meant to recover something from that remarkable heritage. An idea which I explore, which I also talked about with Robin, is the organisation of a future Art Deco Congress in Bucharest. It would greatly increase the local and also worldwide interest in how that phenomenon took roots, developed and survived the vicissitudes of the last decades in a place like Romania’s capital.
      Valentin

      • I like your idea and education/preservation is the role of ICADS.
        We should explore opportunities.
        John

      • I am conceptualising such a future ICADS event in Bucharest. As a first move, a local ADS should be set up and that is what I am trying to propagate and inspire among my local acquaintances and devotees of this style. I sense that we would need here first a society focused on the Romanian architectural heritage in general, with a chapter for the Art Deco, style which is still a bit exotic in the eyes of many, although is present al over around them in the city. There should be a bit more powerful means to communicate that, such as a newsletter or better a glossy magazine, etc., but funding is, I am afraid to say, a stumbling problem in that regard right now.
        Valentin

      • Ion Toma is a fairly common name, as is in the English speaking world. If you would provide me with more biographical information about your grandfather in Romania and his family, I might be able to outline a research plan for finding out data about his life, former properties, activity, other involvements, etc. The National Archives of Romania hold family records or files with documents, correspondence of some individuals; the Bucharest City Hall has an archive containing plans of its period houses; some other institutions have their own archives, such as the army, religious institutions, etc. where one can find important clues. Another avenue would be to locate and interview distant family member living in Romania or former neighbours, friends, etc.
        Valentin

  3. Great images, Valentin. Very timely for us in Melbourne as we are in the middle of our Spring racing carnival – highlight was the Melbourne Cup (110,000 attended) which is also a major fashion event – and the city has a public holiday for a horse-race! Only in Australia! But your 1930s group would have been right at home in Melbourne this week – lots of social events and elegantly-dressed women but not as many hats on the men.
    regards Robin

    • Thank you for your message Robin!
      It seems that in Melbourne the horse racing tradition is very much alive, unlike Bucharest, where it just kick-started a few years ago after a very lacklustre showing during the communist period (then was just for watching, the betting was strictly forbidden by the then political regime). The inter-war Bucharest and its Art Deco buildings associated with those entertaining activities, were a very attractive and nice to live environment, in contrast with today’s conditions. It just shows you what a wrong geopolitical position in the way of expanding empires can do to a place.

      I read your messages about the buildings erected during the Fascist period. I do apologise for not answering so far, I mixed up my agenda and the messages stayed unattended… am very sorry about that! There is very much to say about that architectural chapter in Romania’s development. The local dictatorial regimes from the royalist one of King Carol II to the Fascist Legionary movement and the wartime fascist military dictatorship that followed, favoured building types similar with those promoted by Germany or Italy. Even the today Romanian government headquarters or the Romanian Military Academy display a very clear monumentalist Mussolinian architecture. I myself documented on my blog a few fascist influences in architecture: http://historo.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/daily-picture-5-mar-10-art-deco-bass-reliefs-national-nuclear-family/ or http://historo.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/art-deco-style-greek-god-bass-reliefs-photomontage-slide-show/
      The best book which touches some of these aspects is “Romanian Modernism” by Luminita Machedon and Ernie Scoffham, which is stored on Google books; do a google search for it or see if the following link works: http://books.google.ro/books?id=Wlz9X3GCX2IC&printsec=frontcover&dq=romanian+modernism+machedon&source=bl&ots=aBN4OyqREZ&sig=fIsw1F2AGjtCQzhGurSOUeVw32c&hl=en&ei=C_fTTLPFBMeEOoqWnLYG&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

      Please let me know if you would like more specific information; or if you agree I can write an article on that subject with my photo material for your forthcoming “Spirit of Progress Journal”.
      Best regards,
      Valentin

      • Thanks Valentin Am just about to do some more research into Romania’s fascist buildings and will follow up on the book by Machedon & Scoffham. Its a fascinating subject and we would love an article on it for the Spirit of Progress. If possible, up to 1500 words and 5-6 images of at least 1 mb, suitable for publication. Had been very impressed by your posting of the greek god bas-relief images some time ago but had not associated them with fascist influences – have been on a fast learning curve. We have a frieze of Mercury on a building in Melbourne – a post-war (1947) post office. Mercury of course was the god of messages so it is appropriate that he be on a post office – the thing I love about the frieze is that there is a telephone dial in his hand! Will send through an image if you are interested.
        best wishes Robin

      • Hi Robin, Great to hear that your magazine would be interested in an article on the architecture during the fascist period in Romania. I will start then putting together something on the lines you indicated. It is a fascinating subject indeed and not much research has been done on it. Good to know that you intend digging up into that period! My impression is that the contemporary Romanian architects and historians are a bit ashamed by that association of their predecessor and refer to the period usually in low key statements or just wipe it under the carpet. There is an exhibition going on right now in Bucharest about the Romanian modernism in architecture, focused of the inter-war and early war time period and there is no reference to fascist buildings which are quite a few and prominent around; that just shows how people are still very keen to keep the skeletons in the cupboard. Best regards, Valentin

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