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House of Businessmen M. Posvianskis and G. Klisas

Kaunas, Lithuania
Vytauto pr. 58 - FOMA-18 Large.jpeg
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By Monika Pociūtė, 2023.

There's a reason why a residential building on the edge of a busy avenue attracts the attention of many passing by. Its plasticity and decorative style distinguish it from other interwar modernist buildings in Kaunas, and, in general, it is not very typical of the relatively restrained Lithuanian architectural tradition. Moreover, thanks to its conscious and curious inhabitants, today, we are learning more and more about the equally rich and interesting history of this exceptional house.

There is a tradition of referring to old houses by the names of their builders or owners. Unfortunately, time and historical disasters meant that the first owners of these houses managed to live in them for 5, or in rare cases 10, years before the war. Since the old owners were gone, it is rare for a house to retain its old name in the memory of the townspeople. It is easy to understand that not everyone can afford to build such houses. The two young entrepreneurs, M. Posvianskis and G. Klis were no ordinary owners of a fabric factory. They were co-owners of one of the flagships of the textile industry that was born between the wars, AB Liteks. The textile industry, which reached its golden age between the two world wars, was the fourth largest industry in Lithuania. It was built on private initiative, with the participation of Lithuanian Americans and local, mainly Jewish, industrialists.Until recently, very little was known about this expressive house. The building was built in 1928 for two Lithuanian Jewish businessmen, Moses Posvianskis and Girš Klis, and the fact that the architect of this house, Jakub Peras, also a Jew from Kaunas, "borrowed" the design of this house from another building that was abroad. However, it is neither confirmed nor denied, and there is a growing tendency to doubt this because it is hardly possible to call sufficiently universal and internationally spread architectural fashions or their individual details plagiarism. Also, this building has as many similarities with the Expressionist Het Sieraad multi-purpose school building in Amsterdam (architect Arend Jan Westerman, 1921-1924) as we can count the differences.

The two businessmen lived next door, on the second floor of the same house. The statues of Mercury, representing trade, and Hephaestus, representing industry, were statues on the balcony of the building's entrance as if referring to the owners of the house and their activities. These statues were seen daily by the owners through the windows of their apartments. The first three floors of the luxury building were occupied by two large flats and the fourth floor by three smaller ones. The flats had maids' rooms, a heating room, one room on the ground floor for the caretaker, and an attic room for the laundry. As usual, the flats were rented.The modernity and luxury of the house were evident not only from the exterior but also from the interior fittings: rosettes not only in the rooms but also outside on the balcony and terrace, Swiss electrical switches, German radiators, and a bell for summoning the maid. In one of the apartments being restored, the removal of later layers of paint has revealed rooms painted in expensive pigments with gilded strips of trim. And these are just a few witnesses to the lifestyle and daily life of the time that have reached us today. Thanks to the efforts of the current inhabitants of the building, the archive also contains documents revealing the rental prices of the flats in the building, which amounted to around 8000 litas per year (around 700 litas per month). By comparison, the price of a three-room apartment with a kitchen at the time depended on the agreement but usually ranged from 300 to 450 litas per month. Thus, the income of the occupants of this building exceeded that of the average Kaunas resident. Many famous people and public figures lived here between the wars.

The first people to move in were wealthy, high-ranking people. In addition to the owners of the house, the famous Lithuanian scientist Juozas Matulis and his wife lived here, as well as the director of the cinema theatre, Elena Mikševičienė, and the head of a transport company, Henochas Pumpianskis. These are just a few names that have been preserved in documents. Recently, it has also been confirmed that the family of Herman Perelstein, the founder of the famous choir of boys and young men and the music school "Ąžuoliukas", lived in the house.

But the luxury and tranquillity of life in this house did not last long. The onset of occupation and the war disturbed everything. Like so many others, this house bears witness to the tragic fate of its inhabitants. The co-owner of the house, G. Klis, and his family were deported to Siberia, while others were moved to the ghetto or shot in the courtyard. These events are described in her book by Sara Ginaitė Rubinson, the niece of Arbraša Virovičius, who lived in the house and was a participant in the anti-Nazi resistance in Lithuania and a partisan, who became a professor and a writer after the war. On the eve of independence, Sara moved to Canada and wrote a book in which she shared her personal experiences and memories of the first days of the war.

The house was nationalised during the Soviet occupation. In the post-war period, the luxurious apartments were converted into communal flats, with several families living in the same kitchen and bathroom of the former apartment. Over time, not only the apartments but also the poorly maintained house was "worn out". Recently, however, it has experienced a real renaissance. Back in 2017, through the joint collaboration between the residents of the house and the Kaunas Film Office, the house became the filming location for the US cable TV giant HBO's mini-series "Chernobyl" (directed by Johan Renck), which has received millions of views. The house is the home of the series' protagonist Valery Legasov, a scientist with a tragic fate.In recent years, the house has been renovated through the efforts and funds of the city and the residents.

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