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Studio Two

Bedřich Ehrmann

alias Blaník Theatre
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)20. 's 20. century | construction

The Blaník Theatre has been converted from a cinema hall in the basement of the Fénix palace, designed by Friedrich   Ehrmann in 1927. The first variant of the facade was not approved and Josef Gočár was invited for its reworking. Construction works were carried out in 1928–1930.


(detail)18.09.1929 | opening of the cinema

The cinema in the first and second basement with “ representative interiors that were designed in a sophisticated way“ was opened to public on 18th  September of 1929. The cinema belonged among the most popular cinemas in Prague until the 1980s.


(detail)50. 's 20. century | reconstruction

Probably the most extensive structural modification in the cinema has been its reconstruction to enable wide screen projection that was carried out in 1958–1959.


(detail)2003 | opening
A new tenant of the cinema decided to convert the cinema for theatre purposes in 2001. The the building approval was issued on 18th June of 2003 to the reconstruction „for use of the cinema stage for musical plays“. The original intent to produce musical plays concurrently with movie projections was gradually abandoned and musical plays prevailed for the time being. But even musical plays were recently disappearing and production has been concentrated on black light theatre performances on a daily basis.

People

History

The Blaník Theatre has been converted out of a cinema hall in the basement of the Fénix palace, an administrative building in Purist architecture that belongs among the most important structures in the upper part of the Wenceslas Square. It was built by a Viennese insurance company of the same name (Phönix) in the location of two older houses. The design was elaborated by professor of Prague Polytechnic Institute Friedrich (Bedřich) Ehrmann (dates are unknown) in 1927; Ehrmann’s name is on the design under the header of the Building Office of the Fénix insurance company. The first variant of the facade was not approved and Josef Gočár (1880–1945) was invited for its reworking probably due to the incentive of the Building Office. A daring structural system of the building was designed by professor Nowak from Viennese Polytechnic Institute. The construction was carried out by the building firm of Strnad and Fanta from Prague. Mosaic in the shopping arcade was executed by Marie Foerstrová according to the design by Rudolf  Kremlička. Construction works took place in 1928–1930. A building approval for the first phase was issued already in June of 1929, the final one after modifications and supplement works on 12th February of 1930.
A cinema in the first and second basement with “ representative interiors that were designed in a sophisticated way“ was opened to public on 18th  September of 1929 under the name Blesk Cinema. The Vierendeel truss system was implemented in the construction of the ceiling in a unique way that enabled to span the space over for 1030 spectators without a need to support it with a single column.
The name Blesk did not remain with the cinema for very long. It was renamed to Blaník already in February 1939. A German variant of the original name, Phönix, replaced the name that was outrageous for Nazis in February of 1942, but immediately after the end of the war, the cinema was given back the name Blaník. With this name, the cinema belonged among the most popular cinemas in Prague until the 1980s.
A Czechoslovakian branch of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer had its seat in the third floor of the palace until 1938 (when it moved above the Broadway cinema in Na Příkopech) that secured premiers of its production to the cinema. Apart of this, it was a seat of several other movie companies and of the post production division of the State Distributor of Movies after the war. Probably the most extensive structural modification in the cinema has been its reconstruction to enable wide screen projection that was carried out in 1958–1959. Among other, this large modification required that a part of the side boxes would be torn down, five new boxes would be inserted instead of the original projection cabin and a new cabin would be inserted into the ground floor instead of seats and boxes under the balcony. Floor slope   was modified and the entire hall was given acoustical lining that considerably changed the appearance of originally austere geometric shapes of the hall.
Theatre was occasionally played in the cinema in the 1960s. At least in 1964, one of the ensembles of the State Theatre Studio, the Paravan Theatre, performed here. 
No records have been preserved for any other building changes, although some were certainly carried out. At least, the capacity of the cinema was reduced from originally more than thousand seats to 760 seats.
The change in ownership in the 1990s came about with progressive restoration of the palace, implemented for several investors according to the partial designs by different authors. Blaník cinema still operated after the half of the 1990s. It was run by the Movie Company of the Main City of Prague, however, projection was complicated due to discords between its long-term operator and the owner of the structure after the revolution, the Strojexport Company.
A new tenant of the cinema, the firm Medea Kultur of Roman Janoušek, decided to convert the cinema for theatre purposes in 2001. The reconstruction was being prepared by Michael; however, Miloš Šaněk is signed under the project named „ Modernization of the Blaník Cinema“ that is stored in the building records. The original plan contained rapid reconstruction during the summer and the premier was scheduled to November of 2001. The works were delayed and the building approval was issued on 18th June of 2003 to the reconstruction „for use of the cinema stage for musical plays“. The original intent to produce musical plays concurrently with movie projections was gradually abandoned and musical plays prevailed for the time being. But even musical plays were recently disappearing and production has been concentrated on black light theatre performances on a daily basis. Understandably,  the reconstruction affected mainly the stage. The low stage was deepened,  new floor steelwork was inserted along with an access staircase and a turntable with its supporting structure and a latticed construction of the proscenium arch. Actor’s background was built as well. The former cinema was converted into a theatre with 684 seats during the reconstruction.
 
Present state
The Fénix Palace with the former Blaník cinema in the basement stands in the upper part of  the Wenceslas Square and itself it forms a closure of the entire block of flats between Krakovská and  Ve Smečkách streets. An arcade in the middle of the front facade, from the  Wenceslas Square, meets another  perpendicular arcade, joining Krakovská  and Ve Smečkách streets, in the mall inside the block. The difference in elevation is balanced by the floor slope and by a staircase into Krakovská Street. The mall in the middle with glass steel structure of the ceiling has a trapezoid plan.
The eight storey building, which supporting system is composed of a reinforced concrete frame, has with three basement levels. The hall of the Blaník cinema occupies the major part of the layout of the 1st and 2nd basement.
 
The trapezoid shape of the plot between converging side streets determined not only the layout of the mall, but also the spacious cinema hall below it. According to Jiří Hilmera, this “ led to natural application of a floor  plan scheme of reform character in the stalls, where the number of seats increased from 16 to 28 in the first 25 rows”.  There should have been another 8 rows  in 3 sections next to each other behind the columns supporting the balcony. “the layout was changed in the end as far, that boxes,  frontally oriented, were inserted behind three rows in this section next to each other. In harmony with principles of Theatre Reform movement, rows in the balcony were concentrated into seven ascending rows in a wide front, balconies with traditional boxes (12 in total) were confined to the rear half of the auditorium and were parallel with the longitudinal axis for an adequate view in the space on a trapezoid plan.”
Spacious foyers with cloakrooms are located on the both sides of the hall being accessed from cash desks in the arcade through wide staircases. Three two-leaf doors lead into the stalls on the both sides of the auditorium.
Much of the original majestic  furnishing has been preserved in the entire building,  therefore in the cinema area as well. The skeletal structure of the building is covered by high-quality marble and travertine in  the arcade and public area (and originally in the hall as well), some parts of original lightning have been preserved in many locations. The auditorium was originally illuminated through glass panels between massive ceiling trusses, but these were covered by acoustic lining from the end of the 1950s.
 
Sources and literature:
–  Úřad městské části Praha 1, archiv Odboru výstavby, spis domu čp. 800/II
–  JiM [Jiřina Muková], heslo 802/II, in Růžena Baťková a kol., Umělecké památky Prahy: Nové Město a Vyšehrad, Praha 1998, s. 454
–  Jiří Hilmera, Stavební historie pražských kinosálů: Část 2. Dvacátá léta, Iluminace 10, 1998, č. 2, s. 93–136, zde s. 128
–  Jiří Hilmera, Česká divadelní architektura, Praha 1999, s. 106
–  Richard Guryča, V kině Blaník se bude hrát muzikál, iDnes.cz 5. 4. 2001, on-line: http://zpravy.idnes.cz/v-kine-blanik-se-bude-hrat-muzikal-dqh-/domaci.aspx?c=A010405_120533_praha_kultura_pek
–  kne, Hříšný tanec má zpoždění, iDnes.cz 31. 8. 2001, on-line: http://kultura.idnes.cz/hudba.aspx?c=A010831_125001_hudba_kne
–  Jaroslav Čvančara – Miroslav Čvančara, Zaniklý svět stříbrných pláten: Po stopách pražských biografů, Praha 2011, s. 66, obr. na s. 67
 

 

Tags: basement theatre, Interwar period, Purism, theatre hall

 

Author: Jiří Bláha

Translator: Jan Purkert

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