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Uranie Theatre

Osvald Polívka

alias People's Theatre Uranie
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1898 | construction

(detail)20.6.1898 | opening

(detail)1902 | dismantlement and reerection at different location

(detail)1946 | fire


Václav Pilc |architect
Jan Seifert |builder
Bohumil Kovář |art director
V. J. Suk |director


The exhibition of architecture and engineering that was organized by the Association of Engineers and Architects (SIA) was taking place on the Prague Exhibition Grounds in 1898. Already during its preparation, the association decided that a building for scientific lectures, experiments and  demonstrations would be a part of the exhibition. The requirements for the building were gradually increased. SIA wanted that the building could accommodate even congresses, meetings, musical and drama productions and therefore it wanted a cafe with facilities be built as well.
Architect Osvald  Polívka (1859–1931), an assistant of Josef Zítek in the German Polytechnic Institute in Prague at that time, was commissioned to elaborate the designs. Polívka named the submitted design “Universe”, but the exhibition committee changed the name to „Uranie“. Such an opinion appeared in the Technical Horizon periodical: “ What shall concern  a scientific theatre that shall not be built – as it was originally intended- according to the Viennese or Berlin model. The representatives of our science settled upon that we should stand on our own two feet now.“
The committee decided to insert a proper stage into the building during the preparation works. It was an incentive of the director of a theatrical company V. J. Suk  (1858–1910), who produced plays in summer months in Prague VII. Suk was searching for a building, where he would be able to organize performances during the exhibition, and he found out about the construction of the Uranie. After futile urges by the exhibition committee, he turned to the editor of the Národní listy Kuffner, who already strived to promote construction of a second Czech theatre for a long time. After intercession from theatrical and political groups, the exhibition committee decided in the end that the Uranie would be a theatre as well. Polívka adjusted the design  to this requirement and the building firm Bláha and Makovec started to construct a wooden building according to it in the location behind the main exhibition palace (where a concert and theatrical pavilion used to stand after the Ethnographic exhibition in 1891).
The constructed building was wooden, on a foundation wall, roofed, with a glass roof light above the auditorium. The auditorium plan had the shape of a sector of a circle with elevation, which was unique in this period. The limit radii of the sector intersected in the middle of the rear wall. It measured 13 m and in the maximum breadth 29 m from the ramp to the rear boxes. In the auditorium, there were two proscenium boxes, 416 seats in the ground floor, 14 boxes behind it, each with five chairs, a circle with 252 seats, altogether 750 seats, 40 standing rooms in the stalls and 100 in the circle. The layout of the stage was less fortunate, perhaps for the reason that it was not originally intended. The proscenium arch measured 11 × 6,5 m, the stage of 17,8 × 7–11,5 m plan was 8 m high. The stage was lit by bulbs, the auditorium by two arc lamps. The curtain was created by Josef Hlaváček, scenery by Karel Piperger, a painter of the German Regional Theatre in Prague. The stage equipment was provided by the firm of Bittner Brothers.
The main entrance to the building was framed by two wings with French windows, where restaurant and cafe rooms were located. The architectural style oscillated between Neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau. The theatre was opened by a concert on 20th June of 1898. The programme of the first theatre performance contained a play with songs Our home in sanitation by Bohdan Kaminský (1859–1929) a day later (Luděk Marold created a poster for this production).
After the exhibition had finished, the SIA offered the theatre for sale. V. J. Suk hired it at first and played with his ensemble until 1901 here. Before the deadline for removal of the theatre expired, he had found a financier in Jan Seifert,  a builder, shareholder and executive councillor of the First Prague Townsman Brewery in Prague-Holešovice, who was willing to finance the transposition of the theatre to another location. With a consent of the city council, the theatre was dismounted in March of 1902, transported and erected in a modified form in a garden of the brewery in Holešovice. The construction was carried out by builder Seifert according to the designs by Polívka so it was the same theatre in the inner and outer appearance - except for both the projections on both the sides of the main entrance that were built up to it in Holešovice later, in 1906–1907. The foundation wall was built more carefully and the stage was enlarged.
The theatre was conceived in the spirit of the contemporary movement for a reform of the theatre space. It turned against the established type of a proscenium theatre and was seeking a model of a better arrangement in examples of ancient amphitheatres. It proceeded from the incentive of RichardWagner and Gottfried Semper. These ideas were applied in the famous Bayreuth Festival Theatre (1872–1876), which was built by Otto Brückwald. Reception of this new concept was very strong, but first theatre buildings according to it started to emerge not before the beginning of the 20th century. The Polívka’s realization was very advanced in this regard: the promoter was probably of great importance – the expert body of architects and engineers SIA. The inaugural performance in the transported building took place on 12th June of 1902 in the presence of prominent artists and representatives of the public life. The inaugural speech was written by poet B. Kaminský (Karel Bušek by his proper name) and a tableau was arranged  by painter Viktor Oliva (1861–1928), a disciple of  František Sequens. A comedy The third ringing by  Václav  Štech (1859–1947) was played afterwards.
The Cooperative for Constitution of the People’s Theatre Uranie in Prague VII was constituted for administration of the theatre, its first chairman became V. J. Suk and the members of his society were casted as the first ensemble of the new theatre.
The building underwent a reconstruction already in 1902 – an adaptation for winter operation with steam heating, the stage and auditorium were enlarged once again. After that, J. V. Slukov, a prominent actor of the National Theatre, started as an art director, after his death, his successor became another important member of the National Theatre, Jakub Seifert,  who  was in charge of Uranie until 1907. An adaptation of the theatre took place in Seifert’s era – he built up new technical buildings to the rear part of the theatre (a cabinetry, furniture store room) and started constructing  an extension of restaurant wings at the same time. The building was given the number 953. The theatre was directed by stage director Bohumil Kovář in art maters and Karel Vendulák, a member of the Cooperative and executive committee of the brewery, in commercial matters. The Cooperative was renamed to the Society People’s Theatre Uranie in Prague VII, LLC. Another reconstruction of the theatre was being carried out still in 1914 – cloak rooms and props store room was build up by architect and builder Václav Pilc (1891–?) and master carpenter Antonín Kubeš. A ceiling above the auditorium was built in 1937 by owners (hitherto there was an open view onto the uncovered roof framework).
After K. Vendulákov, his son Miroslav Vendulák  became a chairman of the Society being a director of the brewery at the same time. He built up another provisional rooms of an auxiliary wings in 1941 and repaired the entire structure  thoroughly. The wooden Uranie Theatre survived the Second World War, but burnt down in 1946, thereby the last theatre of such kind in Prague perished.
–  Technický obzor VI, 10. 1. 1898, s. 7
–  Technický obzor VI, 10. 6. 1898, s. 149–151
–  Lidové divadlo Uranie v sedmé části Prahy k oslavě 25. výročí své činnosti: 1903–1928, Praha 1928
–  Alfred Javorin, Pražské arény: Lidová divadla pražská v minulém století, Praha 1958, zejm. s. 265–282
–  Jiří Hilmera, Česká divadelní architektura, Praha 1999, s. 53–55


Tags: Art Nouveau, Austria-Hungary, Belle Époque, detached building, extinct theatre, Fin de siècle, Neo-Baroque


Author: Markéta Svobodová

Translator: Jan Purkert

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