Legionnaire House – Electric Theatre
1921–1922

Masarykova 448/90, Slezská 448/2 (Plzeň) Plzeň Doubravka
Public transport: Poliklinika Doubravka (BUS 29, 30, TROL 16, 17)
GPS: 49.7530222N, 13.4154858E

The legacy of the Czechoslovak Legion, units of military resistance abroad during the First World War, was taken very seriously and perceived quite positively in the young Czechoslovak Republic. After 1918, numerous groups and organisations were established to promote the ideas of the Legion in various ways. At the same time, monuments and buildings were built to honour their legacy, especially buildings of the Bank of the Czechoslovak Legion, or “Legiobank”, where these soldiers were meant to save their pay. Bank branches played a significant representative role throughout the entire existence of the institution.

One of the three branches of the Bank of the Czechoslovak Legion was founded in Pilsen in 1921. That same year, the Legionary Cohort for Operation of Electric Theatre commenced with the construction of the so-called Legionnaire House with a cinema (or electric theatre), which was situated in the newly forming Masarykova Street connecting inner Pilsen to the district of Doubravka. The design of a multi-purpose building was created by Pilsen builder Karel Tomášek in 1921. Tomášek also provided for its implementation. It was designed as a two-storey set of two parts – a corner house with a hipped roof and an adjacent main theatre hall wing, retracted from the street front with a gable roof.

That same year, however, Karel Tomášek invited a friend to join in the project. This was fledgling architect Jan Víška, who was later active in Brno and became famous as the author of progressive Functionalist buildings. He demonstrated this in Pilsen as well by designing the nearby Modernist house for Karel Tomášek (C14–854) in 1931. Víšek preserved the mass and layout solution designed by Tomášek but made significant changes to the architectural and artistic concept of the facades and interiors.

The Legionnaire House – like the buildings of Legiobank – posed a completely new construction task for the architects, and was one for which they lacked relevant experience. This may have been the reason that they struggled to find a suitable style concept. A number of architects eventually resorted to the then widely-discussed National Style with curved décor inspired by folk tradition, as evidenced by probably the most famous “Legiobanka” in Prague’s Na Poříčí by Josef Gočár, but also by the “Legiodům” in Jihlava by Jaroslav Dufek.

Jan Víšek, however, did not assume such a distinct style concept in the Pilsen Legion House project. He drew inspiration rather from the work of his teacher Theodor Petřík, who at the time employed Víšek in his studio at the Czech Technical University in Prague as an assistant. Petřík’s original approach to Modernism and his flirtation with Cubist morphology (as seen for example in Petřík’s house built for the Novotný family in Tábor) was close to Víšek’s concepts. Petřík’s influence manifested itself most pronouncedly in the inventive design of the triangle gable above the main theatre tract, the area of which is filled with a pattern of pointed plastic curves reminiscent of rustic cottage gables. The main entrance to the building is lined with a pair of originally ground-floor semi-circular niches, the flat roof of which served as a terrace (during later adjustments, the niches were extended to create two-floor niches while the terraces with interesting brick railing disappeared). The facade of the building, which combined surfaces of smooth plaster and bare brickwork, was originally complemented by subtle geometric decor.

Similar design elements were found in the interior of the building as well. The interior’s appearance was also influenced not only by Víšek, but also by Professor of School of Applied Arts in Prague Vratislav Hugo Brunner (decorative painting) or Prague sculptor František Žemlička (sculptures and sculptural details). The building housed a multi-purpose hall on the ground floor – used for both theatre and cinema, as well as lectures and entertainment – and a restaurant with kitchen. The first floor included guest rooms and the apartment of the restaurant owner. Baths were located in the basement. The garden, with verandas and a bowling alley, was also designed to serve as a social area.

After 1989, the Legionnaire House, later known as Leningrad Theatre or Cinema Lucerna, underwent several very insensitive alterations due to changes in the use of the building, which unfortunately erased the original architectural qualities of both the interior and exterior. Currently, the former theatre hall serves as a bowling alley and the street-oriented corner section of the ground floor houses a chemist’s shop.


Investor

Legionary Cohort for Operation of Electric Theatre, Ltd.

Sources

  • Daniela Brádlerová, Banka československých legií v letech 1919–1938 (disertační práce), Ústav hospodářských a sociálních dějin FF UK, Praha 2005
 
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