The historic Saktas House has regained its former glory
Under the leadership of SJSC State Real Estate (SRE), the historical façade of Saktas House in Riga, 32 Brīvības Boulevard, has been restored, making another building pearl in the centre of Riga shine on the national holiday, the cultural and historical value of which is its volume and architecture. The exterior of the Neo-Renaissance house has been restored following the instructions of the National Heritage Board (NCMP) and preserving the authenticity of the house. Skilled project management and contractors have performed their job respectfully and the procedure for putting the building into operation has begun. The historical inscription Sakta has been preserved after the completion of the works, reminding one of the variegated history of the house, says Renārs Griškevičs, chairman of the board of VNĪ. The works were performed by JSC Būvuzņēmums Restaurators; the contract amount is 716 463 euros, which is covered from SRE capital investments. In the coming years, it is planned to restore the historic wooden windows of the building.
Sakta - a place in Riga that sounds through the centuries
Although the house at 32 Brīvības Boulevard is located in the very centre of Riga and has a rich history of facts and emotions from the very beginning, it has always been popular in modern society with the resounding name Sakta, acquired in Soviet times. Meetings are arranged at Sakta, there is still a wonderful Sakta flower market across the street, and nearby is the Freedom Monument. Times have changed; the former elegant perfume shop Sakta on the ground floor has been replaced by the central branch of Latvijas Pasts, kiosks and cafeterias have been located elsewhere on the ground floor, and the Latvian National History Museum has been located on the upper floors since 2014, welcoming guests to get acquainted with the changing and permanent expositions until the moment when it will return to Riga Castle after the reconstruction led by SRE.
House of mason Krieger
In the landscape of the boulevards of the centre of Riga, the house at 32 Brīvības Boulevard (then Aleksandra Boulevard) appeared as one of the first after the demolition of Riga's defensive walls in the 1860s and 1870s, when the construction of the later boulevards of the centre began. In the year of 1868/69, according to the project of the architect Heinrich Karl Schell, it was built by the Krieger family of well-known Riga masons for their own needs; moreover, there was a beautiful front garden on the side of Merķeļa Street. Dr.hist. Toms Ķikuts, deputy director of the Latvian National Museum of History, mentions in scientific work that the mason Krīgers built a large part of the buildings in the centre of Riga and the boulevard.
Since the construction of the house on Brīvības Boulevard 32, there have been various public spaces on the first floor, and apartments on the other floors. In 1869, Frank's café-restaurant and the photo studio of Johann von Manteifel were the first to open; later, other cafes and, according to T. Kikuta, even a cinema appeared. The owners of the house changed several times in the following decades, but for the longest time the remarkable von Tranze-Rozenek family, who belonged to the Knights of Vidzeme, called it their residence.
Social and political life
In 1910, the building became the property of the Riga Landlord's Credit Union, founded by Latvian lawyers affiliated to the Riga Latvian Society. The house was used even more widely for various public events and commercial activities, while also preserving the living space. The fourth floor of the house was built in 1912 according to the project of architect Mārtiņš Nukša. However, as it turned out, after 100 years of studying the structure of the building, not very high-quality building materials were used, for example, the railway tracks that had worn over time. According to Mikus Lejnieks, author of architectural and artistic research (AMI), construction project manager and author's supervisor, representing the Livland Group, modern craftsmen had to correct the carelessness of the past with durable steel clamps, because only the plaster was left of the load-bearing elements in the upper corner of the building.
During World War I and independence, several historically significant episodes took place in the building. In 1917, one of the apartments housed the Executive Committee of the Latvian Rifle Regiment (Iskolastrels). After the proclamation of Latvia's independence, on 27 November 1918, the founding meeting of the Latvian Red Cross Society was held in the Great Hall of the credit union. At the beginning of the War of Independence, in December 1918, a separate student company commanded by the captain of the Armed Forces of the Provisional Government Nikolajs Grundmanis, which was one of the first units of the Latvian army, was formed and housed in the premises of the building. On 20 December 1933, the Commander of the Latvian Army, Mārtiņš Peniķis, unveiled a memorial plaque at the house dedicated to the individual student military unit, which was dismantled during the Soviet occupation, but was rediscovered on 20 December 2003. Eduards Strautnieks, the first Minister of Justice of Latvia, lived in the building for some time, and according to his recollections, in December 1918, Prime Minister Ulmanis stayed here for a few nights for fear of his own safety.
20th century During the 1920s and 1930s, the building continued to house various institutions: associations, restaurants, cafes and shops.
After the Soviet occupation, the building was nationalised. In 1940, the Customs Department was located there, and already in 1941 it was used by the State University of Latvia (UL) for the needs of the Faculty of Economics and Law, as well as the Faculty of History and Philology. The Faculty of History and Philosophy of the University of Latvia was located in the building until 2009. During World War II, the stoker of the building hid Jews who had been lucky enough to escape from the ghetto in the basement. A few years ago, the relatives of the stoker presented the historical key to the house to Žanis Lipke Memorial as an emotional artefact.
Changes in the building and occupants
In 1964, by renovating the former premises of the perfume and gift shop according to the project of the architect Joseph Goldenberg, a popular gift and souvenir shop Sakta was opened. Since 2006, the central branch of Latvijas Pasts has been operating in these premises. And - as already mentioned - since 2014, the Latvian National Museum of History has thoughtfully adapted the premises to its temporary needs, so that visitors can trace the history of our land from ancient times to the present day. A lot of work and resources are invested in organising various thematic exhibitions, about which information can also be found on the museum's website.
Latvia's 100th anniversary exhibition and celebrations
Toms Ķikuts says that in 2018 an exhibition dedicated to the centenary of Latvia was opened in the museum's exhibition premises and in honour of its highly foreign guests - the King of the Netherlands, the President of Poland, the President of Switzerland, the Crown Prince of Denmark and leaders and diplomats came for a visit. The building has been an important place where the history of Latvia and its centenary was told. Toms Ķikuts has had the honour of leading the tours with the museum director, and it is always an interesting and emotional adventure, the course of which is difficult to predict. It is gratifying if the tours manage to touch or offer a perspective on history, which is a discovery for the interlocutor and makes him/her think about the history of our country. Foreign guests are always happy to know about their country's cooperation with Latvia; some unknown details are often revealed. And it is always important to explain the events of World War II, after which the vision of Latvia was greatly changed. Yes, foreign guests are surprised by the brutality of totalitarianism, says Tom Ķikuts at the end of the conversation.
Language of facade architecture
The architectural language of the building is relatively rich and with a noble content, making the house stand out among the boulevards of Riga and preserving more than a hundred-year-old traditions of architecture. The only thing that had completely lost its durability over the years was the plaster, which was carefully restored with analogous modern material and according to the NCMP's guidelines for colour tone, but there was no significant historical loss in the building. The 4th floor added later is also stylistically indistinguishable from the three floors built previously. The rhythm has been observed, the decorative elements have been copied, and the cornices have been supplemented with consoles, explains the restorer Kitija Vingre, who together with the architect Mikus Lejnieks performed AMI. Mikus Lejnieks does not skimp on praise for the performers of restoration and reconstruction of the luxurious facade. During the works, fine restoration of separate sculptures and pilasters also had to be carried out. All the wooden windows are authentic, but are waiting for the next round of the project. The end result is great satisfaction, not only for the specialists, but also for the customers of SRE.
* The article was written by SRE in cooperation with the publicist, Agrita Lūse (society BDDC)
The story of the historic Saktas House is immortalised in time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uTy9UiylDc.