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Summer Theatre in the Saxson Garden

history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)14.7.1870 | opening of the theatre

(detail)1893 | renovation of the interior of the building

(detail)1939 | demolition of the building during the bombing



In January 1870, “Kurier Warszawski” reported that, “Mr Sachowicz’s photo studio has reproduced the plan for the Summer Theatre to be built in the Saxon Garden. The elevation of the building distinguishes itself with many aesthetical advantages. The photograph will certainly be displayed in front of Mr Sachowicz’s studio on Krakowskie Przedmieście soon.” Details concerning “the theatre to be built” followed. The edifice would stand in the Saxon Garden on the spot named “the large lawn” (intended for children). It was to head the great valley and would back onto Niecała Street. The building would not be costly, as it would be made of wood on a brick foundation, on the projection of a large rectangle close to a square, with two rectangular annexes on the sides and a façade bent in a semicircle. According to the design, the building was to be about 38 metres long, about 34 metres wide and about 25 metres high. It was to be covered with a slate roof to protect it from the heat. The walls on all the storeys were to be built “like shutters” to ensure ventilation. The interior was to be separated in two equal parts: the stage and the orchestra pit, and the other part “destined” for the audience. The auditorium was to seat 1,700, with all the seats being numbered, as opposed to the Grand Theatre, which could hold only 1,078 people while performing to a full house, with most of the gallery and the gods having unnumbered seats. The audience area was to include the ground floor and three floors. The boxes were supposed to be mainly located on the ground and the first floor, with a major part of the first floor, as well as the second and the third floor rising amphitheatrically. The gallery with refreshment stalls was going to be located around the auditorium on the ground and the first floor. The basements, “arranged five cubits below the stage level,” were to house machinery and a foyer for the orchestra members, so that they could tune the instruments. Thirty dressing rooms were prepared for the artists, who also had a separate foyer. Every precaution was to be taken against fire: apart from the proper storage of water “with appropriate distribution facilities,” the number of staircases was increased (eight staircases for the audience and two for the artists). “The two main entrances were to be located almost in the middle of the edifice. The top floors could be reached through a fire-resistant staircase. The stage is separated from the auditorium by thick walls, which are supposed to both reinforce the building and provide protection in case of fire.” In addition, the stage was separated from the dressing rooms by a corridor, the wall of which was covered with iron sheeting from the side of the stage in order to stop fire. “The theatre is supposed to be completed by May of this year.” – informed the journalist. “Although there is not much time left, with some energy and goodwill, it is not impossible to keep to this deadline.”

However, the press soon mentioned that the room of the Summer Theatre was to be as large as the one in the Grand Theatre: the theatre in the Saxon Garden was to hold 1,000 spectators. Shortly after that, “a view of the Summer Theatre reproduced from the design by Aleksander Zabierzowski, the local builder,” was displayed at Sachowicz’s studio, the photographer mentioned above. The ‘bricklaying’ was carried out by the well-known Onufry Waligórski.

Construction on the theatre started in mid-March and was to be completed by 1 June. The work was conducted under the guidance and surveillance of the builder Zabierzewski, who also designed the building, whereas Bevensy (junior) was entrusted with carpentry work, and Ferdynand Polzenius with making all the furniture and machinery. Unfortunately, there were a number of accidents on the building site.  On 14 May, a carpenter working upstairs dropped an axe, hurting a worker standing downstairs, who died a few days later. In June, another carpenter, who was working on the box on the second storey, trod on a board that collapsed under his weight. As a result, the worker fell down and, in spite of being taken to hospital, died.

In late May it was announced the theatre would be opened on 14 June. However, on 11 June, “Kurier Warszawski” informed that “although work on the Summer Theatre in the Saxon Garden is proceeding very fast, it will not be completed by next week.” The gas installation was almost laid down and the lighting in the room was tested on 17 June in the evening. On the same day, it was announced that the theatre would not be opened until early July. A technical novelty was also announced – the whole building was to be covered with waterglass, though it is not clear whether this plan was accomplished. “This substance has been successfully used in many other cities and abroad, since it protects wood against the harmful effects of the atmosphere, against humidity, heat, frost and inflammability.” Finally, the Management of the Government Theatres declared that the theatre would be opened on 14 July 1870. “Pink posters have been announcing the opening of the temporary Summer Theatre since this morning – reported Kurier Warszawski – At the moment there is a crowd of people in front of the box office, the vestibule is full and lots of people are waiting in the arcade. The cashier is literally besieged. The lucky ones, those who have succeeded in buying tickets, are coming out of the crowd as if leaving a steam house, dripping with sweat, since it is such an arduous tusk to get to the desired counter, where the tickets are sold.”

Finally the big day for the city and for the theatregoers arrived. The performance was a sell-out; it consisted of The beautiful Helen by J. Offenbach, Inconsolable Widow by A. Mery and A Warsaw Gamin by A. Wieniawski. As early as at noon, numerous spectators and listeners had gathered along the fence encircling the new temple of muses, greedily listening out for any sounds coming from inside, such as the patter of hammers touching up the performance room. “No-one can say they are particularly impressed with the appearance of the interior,” wrote ‘Kurier’, “especially at the time when the performance was starting.  The light, the magical power of evening performances, has to overcome daylight peeping through numerous openings in the building, spilling unclear shades on the audience, looking a little strange to the eye. There is also a look of uncertainty on the audience’s faces: they look around with a kind of mistrust, scrutinising, criticising and comparing the new building with the old premises, where they experienced many various emotions every evening for so many years. Judging by the present state of the building, the comfort of the audience was caringly taking into consideration. The auditorium can house more people than that of the Grand Theatre, although it seems smaller due to the depth of the storeys, containing lots of numbered seats. The acoustics are excellent and there are very good sight lines from every seat, except for those located next to the stage; the curve of the horseshoe–shaped auditorium is too concave, and, as a result, only a part of the stage can be watched from these seats. Put together with the adequate number of aisles and exits, as well as the pleasant cool in the theatre and the smell of trees blooming on the nearby lawns, we must admit that the goal of erecting a new building was achieved. This opinion should prevail over any complaints, though, dear readers, believe me, I do not count myself among grumblers.”

After the performance, the reporter from “Kurier” returned to the building of the new theatre, by that time empty. He ventured behind the wings and into rooms lit by the moon. “The appearance of the silent auditorium changed immediately. Pillars and beams casting shadows, ladders, a raft of hanging ropes and equipment, without which you cannot love or die on the stage today, spread all over the empty stage.”

There was also audience who listened for free. “Some people were thrifty – because they chose to be thrifty of because they had no choice - and gathered around the fence surrounding the theatre. They had to satisfy themselves with the sounds of singing and of the orchestra that reached them, as well as with the loud reactions of contentment provoked by the lucky ones who could afford to pay for the seats.” 

The theatre, known as the Summer Theatre, was a building in the Moresque style, erected from wood on brick foundations with a room under the stage and covered with tar–board. The dimensions of the stage were adjusted to those of the stage in the Grand Theatre, so that the same sets, wings and other “existing effects” could be used. In the auditorium there were eighteen rows of seats; although the theatre was in operation, the balcony had not been arranged yet. The amphitheatrical auditorium for 1,200 seats was two storeys high, with eighteen side boxes (nine on each floor). There was a spacious foyer. The two-storey walls surrounding the auditorium had openwork construction to ensure ventilation. There were seven exits in the auditorium, with seven staircases leading to them. Dressing rooms and storerooms for instruments were located next to the stage. There were gas and water installations.  The stage machinery room was arranged under the guidance of Mr Zybert, a machinery technician with the Government Theatres. The total cost of the building reached about 50,000 roubles.

The theatre was already in operation although the critics kept on complaining. Its drawbacks were still pointed to after years: “The first impression that the uncompleted building made on the public was unfavourable. The audience could not be satisfied with empty walls that had merely been planed; with a bare proscenium that had not been painted; with shutters that did not fit, and, first and foremost, with gallery openings in the walls that were so big that screens from the Amphitheatre in Łazienki had to be placed on both sides of the building to protect the performance from the indiscreet glances of passers-by.” Only in the following year (1817) was the theatre completed. The openwork construction was most reproached: draughts were unavoidable and caused problems. As a matter of fact, artists so often developed colds in the dressing rooms that the theatre gained a bad reputation. “The construction of the edifice cost about 60,000 roubles, with an additional 40,000 roubles for maintenance over 25 years” – wrote  A. Rajchman in “Kurier Warszawski" in 1895.

In August, a few days after the theatre was opened, its creator, the builder Zabierzowski, passed away. An obituary, published in “Kurier Warszawski” said that “through managing the building of the theatre in the Saxon Garden, he deeply regretted he could not erect a shrine that muses deserved. The edifice should have been made of stone and iron – he said – in the Corinthian style, with an oval vault, a magnificent main staircase and a colonnade decorated with the statues of distinguished playwrights, musicians and the artists of comedy and opera.”  The bitter words of the creator revealed that neither the audience nor the architect were totally satisfied with the theatre.

However, its “ugliness’ was not the only drawback. A surprising piece of information was recorded in late August 1870: “Yesterday, a large group gathered in the room of the Summer Theatre, where rains and winds of autumn already reign.” Even if it had been a joke, there must have been a grain of truth to it… As early as 2 September, “The Summer Theatre put on its autumn garments: the openwork walls were covered with wooden timbering. These measures were taken to avoid disturbing performances with voices or other noises coming from the garden, as well as to protect people from the draughts that had repelled some audience from fun that might have led to the risk of developing rheumatism or gumboils.” Apart from cold and draughts, the acoustics were dreadful. In early October the theatre was closed. This time “Kurier Warszawski” welcomed it with a few warmer words, as if it wanted to make up for the previous criticism and complaints, though with a sarcastic undertone. “For three months the theatre had some merits for the audience, the box office and a little for the art. It spoke, danced and sang nearly always to full houses. For the sake of these merits, may it rest in peace for winter.”

In November, the new Warsaw theatre was greatly honoured: it appeared on the cover of the last issue of “Kłosy” in 1870. The drawing was not approved of by the reporter of “Kurier” though: “The fact that the view of the theatre was published a month after the theatre was closed proves – wrote “Kurier” – that the artistic director of “Klosy” does not want the copy to be compared with the original. The view might have been drawn by a talented artist, but he must have done it from memory and without passion.”

At the same time, the theatre put its winter attire, termed “a case”, which was to protect it against blizzards. “One can hear the carpenter’s hammer clatter, like the echo of the theatre’s last breath this year. Wooden timbering is being fixed around both galleries.” These were external galleries serving as passageways to the upper floors of the theatre.

In general, the theatre was not appreciated. Bolesław Prus joined other critics, writing, “What for a synagogue is this, sir? – asked Władzio, pointing to a huge, posh building in a Swiss-Chinese taste. This is the Summer Theatre. The night has already dropped. An opera is being performed in the Summer Theatre, and a crowd of music lovers without tickets hang around the odious fence. A music lover, full of passion, having taken a position between two trees, is glaring at me as a rustle provoked by my feet has reminded him of all inconveniences of free places”.

Henryk Sienkiewicz wrote in one of his columns in “Gazeta Polska” (1875) how the season started. On this occasion, he also stressed the disadvantages of the building. “The time to open the Summer Theatre has come. One must admit there are some drawbacks – the wind is howling at will and, as a result, gumboil, toothaches, rheumatism or twinges in ears are the most common impressions made on the audience. However, putting aside these disadvantages, which stem from the openwork construction of the building, it is quite bearable. It seems that the removal into the summer headquarters is not very troublesome. One day a few carts with paper trees, water, rocks, streams and other parts of landscape, along with paper walls of some interiors, in fact decorated without unnecessary splendour, arrive  at Niecała Street, and this is it. On the following day, lovers and mistresses, margraves and princes, black and white characters recite among wooden walls, they love, get married and die before the eyes of the audience, who wear their hats on their heads instead of holding them in their hands. Indeed, wearing hats on heads is a rare privilege of the audience in the Summer Theatre.”

However, the theatre was already rooted in the life of the city and unceasingly sparked interest. Let us quote Henryk Sienkiewicz once again: “I must descend into the stuffy streets of our city, leastwise because of the performances that have just started in the Summer Theatre and which deserve to be mentioned. So the Saxon Garden is unlocked late at night and when you leave the theatre on a dark night you grope in the dark, as you used to, from one tree to another, guided by instinct rather than memory or sight. Walking with your arms extended, you sometimes find the head of your fellow spectator walking in front of you. Sometimes it leads to awkward situations, or even more awkward mix-ups. The management of the Saxon Garden or the Summer Theatre is said to be going to prevent such incidents by installing oil lamps. Why should they not install gas lamps? In fact, digging in gas pipes is alleged to have a harmful effect on vegetation.” It seems that the preservation of the environment has a long history in Warsaw…

The theatre, and particularly the interiors, was redecorated in April 1893. In the 1890s, the diarist Kazimierz Wroczyński, at that time a child, perceived the theatre as follows: “I hung around by the fence of the Summer Theatre. What I was most interested in at that time was the back of the theatre, where sets were carried outside and lent against the walls of the wooden theatre building. Marvellous castles, forests and seas rose there awaiting carts, which took them away into the blue [to the warehouses in Niecała Street, mentioned by Sienkiewicz], whereas columns, rocks, meadows and groves fell down from newly arriving carts. Sofas, armchairs and tables bloomed on the lawns by the theatre like flowerbeds, and nearby bookcases piled up, stacked with fake books.”

The press still pointed out the drawbacks of the building. A record from 1895 says: “Many people attending performances in the Summer Theatre complain to us about terrible draughts. One simply leaves the theatre with a toothache, headache and so on. However, it is easy to remove the reason: it should be seen that shutters are closed.”

In July 1897, the municipality of Warsaw questioned the right for the theatre to go on operating. They convinced society that the enterprise had been temporary and was to operate for twenty-five years at maximum. Nonetheless, there was no other summer stage in Warsaw and the theatre was in a good condition, and therefore there was no alternative: the makeshift building had to be renovated and used as before; it was decided to start works. In September, the walls were covered with corkboard 40 mm thick. A buffet and a smoking room were built to the left of the auditorium, with dressing rooms for actors and actresses being built to the right.  The latter were to be equipped with a sewage system. The stage and the dressing rooms “were to be covered with cardboard and protected with graphite,” though it is hard to imagine the technique and the purpose of these works nowadays. Steam heating (up to 20 °C) was to be installed. In the case of harder frosts – since the theatre was not only operated in summer, as it used to – gas stoves were to be used in addition to steam heating. Performances started as early as in the first days of October.  In 1911, “Scena i sztuka” reported on the painted curtain, which was an essential decorative element of the auditorium: “A daub depicting the theatre in Łazienki is hanging in the Summer Theatre. It is worth decorating shops in Pociejów or in Bagno Street.”  Around this time, there was “a bidding” (“a tender” by today’s terms) for a “publicity” curtain, i.e. a curtain on which Warsaw companies and shops could advertise their services (like on the final pages of popular magazines), obviously at steep prices. “Marring in this fashion the Summer Theatre, which is a gloomy and uncomfortable shed anyway, must be opposed” - concluded the columnist.

In the early 20th century, Gabriela Zapolska described the theatre in the same way in ‘Tuśka’s Daughter’, “Let us go by the theatre – suggests Władka – we will see actors. They are turning towards an ugly shapeless shed. Oh… They are standing in front of the back entrance… A light, colourful bunch of women are talking in muffled voices. They are leaning against sets. Here and there are men standing. One of them is sitting in a gilt armchair, upholstered in azure velvet. Stagehands carry furniture in the open abyss of the stage. […] The wooden box hides murmurs and radiates with fictional life. At the counter of the box office there is a signboard with a short and triumphant inscription, “Sold out”. Every now and then somebody heads towards the box office and walks away, disappointed, then disappears into a garden alley. The dusk is falling slowly, covering dusty tree leaves. There is some movement around the Summer Theatre, though it is hushed and subdued.  Machine technicians are moving around in silence. By the fence, an artist is smoking and reading a newspaper”.  Behind the wings “It is empty, only machine technicians are struggling with a huge cupboard, banging on it with their fists. Damn it! Shit! - can be heard among the groans and gasps. A safety lantern is dimming, the spilt oil around it stinking.”  Thanks to Zapolska, we learn that the dressing rooms for actors were located on the left, whereas the ones for actresses on the right, and that the rooms had “little, narrow windows covered with shutters.”

Around that time, secondary school student Kazimierz Wroczyński described the backstage area of the theatre as follows: “The sheets of sets quivered as a result of the heat produced by gas blazes, which at that time were used in the footlights; the sets were separated from flames only with wire nests. In spite of the most severe ban, actors smoked in poky wooden dressing rooms, covered with peeling wallpaper, whereas hairdressers heated irons on spirit cookers.” However, it is worth emphasising that the Summer Theatre never caught fire in its entire history.

In 1913, the Summer Theatre season was inaugurated with “Fatherland” by Sardou. The evening was regarded as unsuccessful, since “the duration of intervals was inversely proportional to the duration of acts and the final one lasted fifty-eight minutes. As a result, a performance that started at 8.15 p.m., did not end until 1.30 a.m. According to our sources, this waste of time was caused by ill-fitting sets, and the fact that the technicians of the Summer Theatre were not used to them.” The sets in question had been presumably designed for the stage of the Rozmaitości Theatre. 

During the First World War, the wooden building known as “the shed in the Saxon Garden” was – like other theatres in the capital – the venue of performances. After regaining independence, the theatre operated without interruption, and in 1923 the new season started with an interior that was redecorated to a design by Drabik.

 In 1924, the stalls comprised sixteen rows of unequal length, with an aisle in the middle and with numbered seats. It is worth noting that even numbers were on the right, whereas odd numbers – on the left. On the first floor balcony, there were five boxes on each side, by the stage, along with 244 seats in seven rows with an aisle in the middle. The layout of the second floor balcony, housing 236 people, was similar, but with only two boxes (one on each side) over the boxes of the first floor. There were three entrances leading from the cloakroom into the auditorium: the main one leading directly to the aisle between rows, and two side entrances.

In November 1928, there was an idea to move the company of the Summer Theatre to the edifice of the former Bogusławski Theatre. With this in mind, the civic centre searched for backup premises to house the city’s “cinematograph”, which at that time was located in the Bogusławski Theatre.  As far as the Summer Theatre was concerned, it was to be converted into “a huge gymnasium”, though this project was never carried out.

At that time, the wooden building enjoyed great acoustics and offered about 1,500 seats in the stalls, in four boxes on the ground floor, on the balcony and in ten boxes on the first floor, as well as on the gallery. Both balconies were supported by six pillars. The stage sloped down significantly towards the auditorium, with upper parts for workers also supported by six pillars, and it was equipped with a prompt box. On the right – looking from the side of the auditorium – there were dressing rooms, a telephone box and – by the orchestra pit – a passage leading to the buffet. The stage was covered by a painted curtain, consisting of three rigid parts; after dropping the curtain (by a manual crank) the parts were only drawn aside, so that an actor could receive curtain calls. “The interior of the Summer Theatre was really modest – wrote Jerzy Szaniawski – The room was enjoyable and, more importantly, had perfect acoustics. It is not clear if we should credit the architect or the wood with this, though the words always reached the audience there.”

 The last premiere took place in the theatre on the day following the outbreak of the Second World War. A burlesque by Johann Nestroy, “Heart at Crosswords”, directed by Leon Schiller opened on 2 September. During the war, the theatre was converted into an ammunition warehouse, and a week later the building was hit by a bomb and burnt down. This was the end of a “makeshift enterprise” lasting sixty-nine years.

An excerpt from: Barbara Król-Kaczorowska Teatry Warszawy, edited by PIW, Warszawa 1986, pp. 116–126.




  1. Ilustrowany przewodnik po Warszawie wraz z treściwym opisem okolic miasta, Nakład Redakcyi „Wędrowca”, Warszawa 1893.
  2. Kaczorowski B., Encyklopedia Warszawy, PWN , Warszawa 1994.
  3. Król-Kaczorowska B., Teatry Warszawy. Budynki i sale w latach 1748–1975, PIW, Warszawa 1986.
  4. Łoza S., Architekci dawnej Warszawy. Aleksander Zabierzowski [in:] Stolica 1948, No. 39, p. 10.
  5. Ogłoszenia, [in:] „Kurier Warszawski, 19.08.1870, No. 181, p. 3.
  6. Ogłoszenia, [in:] „Kurier Warszawski”, 10.01.1870, No. 6, p. 4.
  7. Ogłoszenia, [in:] „Kurier Warszawski”, 11.06.1870, No. 127, p. 6.
  8. Ogłoszenia, [in:] „Kurier Warszawski”, 15.07.1870, No. 154, p. 1.
  9. Zapolska G., Córka Tuśki, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 1980.



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