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 private houses throughout the country. A few weeks ago I documented a similar example in that of the Targoviste Town Hall.

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

The two griffins, from which the building derives its name, stand guard at the centre of roof for more than a century now, being remarkably well preserved, looking as they were just out of craftsman’s hands.

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

The two magnificent square cupolas are covered by well preserved zinc tiles resembling a pointed fish scale model and are crowned by weathervanes of a standard design, which I encountered in many Fin de Siècle house examples from throughout southern and eastern Romania.

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

The monumental doorway contains two Renaissance type columns inspired from the Doric order that flank a quaint wooden door in its original state.

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

The first floor veranda still preserves it original wooden window and door frame, which looks of a northern Italian Renaissance type, crowned by a broken arch.

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

The building is flanked by two smaller outbuildings next to the street line, which probably accommodated the administrative quarters and the servants dwellings. The photograph above presents the beautiful roof-line of one of those smaller outbuildings, flanked in the background by the equally magnificent square cupolas of the main building.

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

Another view of one of the outbuilding’s small square cupola.

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

The House with Griffins is famed in Campina as being the first in town provided with electrical lightning, an absolute luxury in provincial Romania at the start of the c20th and a testimony of the great wealth that started to be amassed by the local entrepreneurs from the oil business. Another remarkable fact was that Gheorghe Stefanescu, the first owner, donated the building after the Great War, when he retired, to function as an apprentice school for oil rig workers, one of the first such establishments in Europe. It is one of those noteworthy examples of Victorian and Great War era philanthropic work in Romania, performed by wealthy native industrialists interested in social reform and betterment of the condition of the industrial workers. I documented in previous articles another two similar examples of local Victorian era philanthropists: one who built a magnificent mansion in the village of Casota and another who built a school for the local peasants in the shape of a Doric temple.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.