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Panorama on Karowa Street

alias Teatr Maska (Maska Theatre - Mask Theatre), Teatr Elizeum (Elizeum Theatre), Panorama-Cinema, Wielka Scena (Grand Stage), Teatr Artystów (Theatre of Artists)
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1897 | opening

(detail)1910 | rink opening

(detail)1913 | reconstruction of upper part of the building

(detail)1921 | reconstruction of the buiding for a theatre

(detail)1939 | bombing of the building


W. Sokół |architect
(detail)Karol Kozłowski |architect
architect, educated in Warsaw and in France, author of projects of  theatre buildings in Lublin and Minsk, Warsaw Filharmony and many sacral buldingsMore theatres

Stefan Bryła |architect
Jan Woydyga |sculptor
Stanisław Jasieński |interior designer
(detail)Wincenty Drabik |stage designer
Author of over three hundred sets design.More theatres


The building was erected in 1897 to house a monumental work by Jan Styka: a panoramic painting “Golgotha”, depicting the Passion of Christ. The edifice was designed by the outstanding Warsaw architect Karol Kozłowski, and built on the plot next to the one where the Bristol Hotel stands today, on a high slope in front of the Markiewicz overpass, on the left side of Karowa Street. One of the initiators of the project was Ignacy Paderewski.

The edifice was built in the “early Florentine Renaissance” style, as it was described at that time, but in fact it was characteristic of eclecticism, still dominant in the architecture of that period. Obviously it was a rotunda – since panoramas were on display exclusively in such buildings – a regular hexadecagon 40 metres in diameter, 42 metres high; it was naturally deprived of any windows. The building was made of bricks, stones and iron constructions, “embellished” with architectural ornaments: stone sculptures, details in burnt clay and sgraffito.  The main entrance, from Karowa Street, was “protected” by a lion and a tiger, with the inscription “Golgotha” in golden letters “in Hebrew style” over the door. Above that there was a Pegasus, and in the keystone of the archivolt was placed an emblem of Jerusalem. Over the crowning cornice and on the top of the building there were allegorical figures by sculptors Leopold Wasilkowski and Jan Woydyga. The roof of the building was in the shape of an open umbrella, “which was not supported” and was crowned with a lantern, where an electric lamp was to be installed, with power equal to 2,000 candles.

However, the building was briefly used to exclusively display panoramas. Probably a theatre room was installed here early on – as soon as in 1904 the Elizeum Theatre was hosted in Karowa Street. It seems that the theatre room was located in the basement – according to a description, it was “located around five metres above ground level.”

A Łódź company performed in the Elizeum Theatre in September 1904. Apparently, they were unlucky – on 7 September the performance was cancelled due to a lack of electricity as the generator broke down. The press gave assurances that the machine would be repaired soon and the performance on the following day would take place as planned. However, it did not inspire confidence in the Elizeum Theatre, because as early as the 21st of the same month, the Association of Theatre Lovers (Koło Miłośników Sceny) established its headquarters in the room of the Artistic Society – the  former Elizeum Theatre. Meanwhile, panoramic paintings were still being visited upstairs: after “Golgotha”, there were “Berezina”, “Pyramids” and others.

In March 1907, according to an announcement in the press, the Elizeum Theatre and the adjoining rooms were for rent.  In February and March 1908, a Jewish company led by Abraham Izaak Kamiński and O. Rappel performed here. At that time the theatre room could seat 550. A new work by Jan Styka, the panoramic painting of the Sybin battle, was being admired on the upper floor.

In November 1910, a roller skating rink was opened on Karowa Street, as the press announced, which means that the show room for panorama exhibitions had been closed.  Nevertheless, the fashion for roller skating passed relatively quickly, and the building no longer had a regular tenant; it was, however, temporarily used as a venue of various exhibitions, shows, fights and wrestling matches.

In the second half of 1913, the upper part of the edifice was rebuilt to install a cinema there. The run-down interior was redecorated, an “artistic stage” was located opposite the main entrance with a “silver screen shining” in the middle. The auditorium could seat 2,000 and was composed of stalls, a dress circle and a “marvellous representative box” on the balcony. In addition, there were six “exquisite” waiting rooms, a cloakroom and a buffet upstairs. The building was called the “Panorama-Cinéma”. The façade was not rebuilt at that time, so the entrance was still “protected” by a lion and a tiger, originally placed here for the “Golgotha panorama.”

As far as the lower room was concerned, it had a new user: the Artystyczny Theatre, directed by Leopold Morozowicz. It was not in operation for a long time, and it certainly shared its room, known as the “little theatre” with the Ludowy Theatre “for everybody”.

The “Panorama-Cinéma was advertised in the press almost every day. Apart from showing “film dramas”, it was also the venue of concerts by a percussion orchestra. Although the gigantic cinema was described as “unmatched, wonderfully arranged with the use of the newest cinematographic apparatus,” it was not successful. The audience was tempted to visit the cinema by an unsophisticated rhyme: “Ladies, gentlemen, for fun and drama, visit the Cinema-Panorama!” Apparently, it did not work.

In December 1915, the new headquarters of  the Polish Hygiene Association, built to a design by Jana Heuricha (junior), was opened in the building opposite, at 31 Karowa Street. In the future, during the conversion of the former “Panorama” into a theatre, the architecture of the new building was an influence on its shape.

From 1918 to 1930, the room at 18 Karowa Street – the former “Elizeum“, still using the old name –  housed various Jewish theatre companies, irrespective of what was going on in the upper part of the building. At the same time, the old “Panorama” was exploited without being looked after. The building was gradually falling into ruin.

In 1921, the idea arose to use the whole building as a theatre. A joint stock company under the name “The Association of Capital Theatres” was set up; their members were Ludwik Heller, Ryszard Ordynski and Leon Schiller. It was decided to start with the modernisation of the building. However, the design by architects Wacław Moszkowski and W. Sokół, as well as an outstanding constructor, doctor of engineering Ste­fan W. Bryła included not only modernisation, but also the extension of the huge edifice. The expert on electronics was Ksawery Gnoiński, whereas Stanisław Jasieński and Wincenty Drabik participated in designing the stage equipment. The Association decided to install a theatre, called the Large Stage, in the upper part of the building, and the Maska Theatre  in the lower part.

The Large Stage was to have a semicircular amphitheatrical, highly-rising auditorium for 1600 people. The stage itself was to be huge and in the form of a triptych with side wings that could be opened if necessary. The proscenium was designed as a platform parallel to the three stages and protruding considerably into the auditorium.

It seems that the former Elizeum Theatre was converted into the little stage, “Maska”, for about 500 people. Its role was to complete the function of the Large Stage as a venue of literary and staging experiments. Apart from theatre rooms, the building was to be used for “showing cinematographic pictures” and a café.

However, the great plans were not accomplished. What remained is only the designs, giving an insight into how ambitious the plans were. Only one of the above mentioned ideas was brought into existence, namely the Maska Theatre, which was actually opened. The task was not difficult, since the Elizeum Theatre had been working almost without interruption. Thus the new stage only needed touching up. The theatre was inaugurated with the premiere of “The Garden of Youth” by Tadeusz Rittner on 2 January 1922. The artistic director of the theatre was Leon Schiller, who first succeeded here by staging Debussy’s ballet:  “The Toy Box”

Nevertheless, as early as in July of that year, the joint stock company went into liquidation. The Maska room, often called by the old name, the Elizeum, hosted guest performances from time to time, while the upper part of the building was still becoming run-down.

In April 1931, during the General Convention of the Polish Association of Theatrical Artists, it was decided to set up its own theatre. Premises needed to be arranged. The association chose the old, empty “Panorama”. Architect Moszkowski and Professor Drabik were commissioned with the renovation and modernisation of the upper room. It was also decided to abandon the external appearance of the “Golgotha Panorama” for good. The design of the façade in Karowa Street was drawn up back in 1921 by architect Moszkowski. The drawing reveals semicircular arches, double columns with Corinthian capitals, numerous cornices and sculptural decoration. In 1932, the adornments were given up in favour of noble simplicity.  Although there were recesses and columns, they resembled the headquarters of the Hygiene Association rather than the original design. Unfortunately, the preserved scrap of the photograph does not allow us to describe the elevation in detail. What we know, however, is that there were four storeys with windows, and the main entrance was located at the bottom of a recess, which was covered with a semicircle and flanked by two engaged columns. Next to it was another, identical, recess (though it is not clear whether there was door in it).

That time the works proceeded efficiently, and as early as on 20 October 1932 “the largest theatre in Poland” was opened: the Artists Theatre on Karowa Street. It was inaugurated with “Cracovians and Mountaineers” by Wojciech Bogusławski.  The new theatre had an auditorium described as being “in the shape of a rotunda”, and it could seat 1,700 people. There was an amphitheatre with balconies hanging low over it. It was emphasised that the forms were “calm”, the lines “noble”, the colours tasteful and the lighting discreet. The stage was 14 metres wide with very good sight lines from every seat. Although there was no revolving stage, the stage itself was equipped with platforms moving from behind the wings with sets on them. Good and modern lighting of the stage was also pointed to. However, there was a serious disadvantage: the heating functioned so badly that already during the opening night the audience were compelled to collect their coats from the cloakroom after the first act. The Artists Theatre worked only until January 1933, when the company went into liquidation. The Polish Association of Theatrical Artists was left with debts, a trial in court and it was harassed by press attacks into the bargain.

Already in February another company was based in the premises: the Alhambra music hall. From that time, the management and names of the theatre changed quickly. The Alhambra was succeeded by the Rex Theatre, whose managing director, like his predecessors, faced many problems. As “Kurier Warszawski” wrote on 11 July 1933, “the fact that the company moved into the former Artists Theatre turned out to be tragic for Director Włast. On the one hand, the company satisfied its longstanding need for space and showed the breadth of staging with particular plasticity. On the other hand, the space also proved that the staging was weak. The size of the stage was wasted and so was the performance of actors in the present show.”

The large rooms hosted numerous successive Great Operettas and Great Shows until 1939. The room in the basement – the former Elizeum and the Maska, which could be reached through a dozen stairs leading down to the foyer and to the auditorium, with at that time space for about 460 people, had even more users, as it had been installed much earlier. Among them were the Gabriela Zapolska Theatre, a branch of the Stefan Żeromski Theatre in Żoliborz directed by Irena Solska - the first theatre in Poland that was named after Zapolska (1933), the Nowa Komedia Theatre by Stefan Jaracz and Maria Modzelewska (1933-34), as well as Maria Malicka’s theatre (1935-39). Before coming under the management of Jaracz and Modzelewska, the little room in Karowa Street was thoroughly redecorated, or rather rebuilt under the guidance of Iwo Gall and Władysław Daszewski; the theatre room and the adjoining rooms were decorated by Stefan Norblin. However, the room was still deprived of a proper backstage area. The room was rectangular with a small, shallow stage, and the seats in the house were not numbered. During the renovation, the room gained cosy parlours, a smoking room, a buffet and a beautiful foyer.

In a letter from 24 August 1979 addressed to the author of this text, Ludwik Sempoliński described the interior of the building in Karowa Street as follows: “The large room had been converted from a “Panorama” and was known under this name until the First World War. The stage and the backstage area occupied a third of the surface. Everything was makeshift. The stage was huge, but deprived of a real backstage area and wings, and the dressing rooms were adapted to the needs of the theatre.  Only in 1930s did the Polish Association of Theatrical Artists turn the stage and the backstage area to a normal state at huge costs. The same can be said about the little room. It was located in the basement. One entered from the street into the hall and down the stairs into a relatively narrow auditorium. The stage was also small and had a modest backstage area. The dressing rooms were bearable, though separated from the stage by quite a long corridor.” These are the words of an excellent actor who used to play on both stages in Karowa Street.

It is worth emphasising that, in terms of the number of theatre enterprises that had ever been run in one building in Warsaw, the rooms in the old “Panorama” break all records. There were more than twenty regular enterprises, not to mention dozens of one-off shows given in the building in view of a shortage of other premises.

As Mieczysław Fogg wrote in his memoirs, “on 31 August 1939, the last day of peace in Europe, a show entitled Facts and Pacts was premiered in the Ali Baba Theatre in Karowa Street. […] In September, we played the new programme twice a day for three days to empty houses. At most, one-quarter of the seats were taken. […] On 4 September a bomb dropped at night and destroyed our theatre. Kazimierz Krakowski, who was probably one of the first to have arrived at the scene, told how pitiful the destroyed interior looked like with a saved telephone apparatus swinging from a wire.”

It was not established how long the ruin of the former “Panorama” and two theatre rooms stood. Nowadays there are three houses (at 14/16, 18 and 18a Karowa Street) standing on the area once occupied by the huge edifice.

An excerpt from: Barbara Król-Kaczorowska Teatry Warszawy, edited by PIW, Warszawa 1986, pp. 131–137.



Literature and sources:

  1. “Świat”, 1914 r.
  2. Archiwum Państwowe m.st. Warszawy: Akta Miasta Warszawy, Zarząd Miejski w m. st. Warszawie, Wydział Planowania Miasta, Referat Gabarytów
  3. Grotowski A., Kanalizacya, wodociągi i pomiary miasta Warszawy, Edition: inż. Edward Szenfeld, Warszawa 1911.
  4. Król-Kaczorowska B., Teatry Warszawy, PIW, Warszawa 1986.
  5. Majewski J.S., Teatry i rewie z Panoramy, [in:] „Gazeta Wyborcza – Stołeczna”, nr 227, 28.09.2012.
  6. Zieliński J., Atlas Dawnej Architektury Ulic i Placów Warszawy – vol. 5 (I-Ka), TOnZ, Warszawa 1999.



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