The Magyar metropolis is renowned all over the world for its amazing assortment of historic edifices, and while some of these buildings have fulfilled the same function since they were first constructed, a great many of them are now used for a variety of new purposes. Here we feature four completely transformed landmark structures found at prominent locations citywide: the previous headquarters of Hungary’s national TV headquarters, the Grand Boulevard’s former Szikra Cinema, the Gresham Palace, and the Trafó contemporary art center.
From stock exchange to state-TV headquarters – Exchange Palace
The Stock and Commodity Exchange of Budapest was founded in 1854, and moved to its location 40 years later. Designed by prolific Hungarian architect Ignác Alpár, the building complex is 145 meters long, 40-60 meters wide, and 25 meters high, and has a total floorspace of 47,000 square meters, as well as four small courtyards. At the time of its construction, it was the biggest building of its kind in the whole of Europe. According to an article published on mult-kor.hu, “the Exchange Palace symbolizes the power of money and economy; its exaggerated dimensions – just like those of the nearby – represent the rivalry between Vienna and Budapest, and the city’s endeavor to become a regional center and be on a par with the Western world.”
Occupied by brokers from 1907 through May 1948, the Exchange Palace later housed the Lenin Institute and the House of Technology until the 1955 arrival of the Hungarian Television Broadcasting Company (MTV). As a result of a series of gradual transformations, the building’s interior was altered beyond recognition. After MTV vacated the premises in 2009, one of the most famous addresses of Budapest was purchased by a Canadian real estate developer. The newly converted palace is already home to the , and – once the development of the property is complete – it will also comprise offices, cafés, and various shops. Portfolio.hu reports that the new units will be launched in 2017.
From cinema to nightclub – PRLMNT
Constructed in 1926 based on the plans of Emil Bauer, this building originally functioned as a cinema, becoming one of the important attractions of Budapest soon after its inauguration. Contemporary accounts claim that the 700-seat, multiple-story movie theater was a real sensation on account of its elegant, Baroque-inspired decorations, modern interior-design solutions, and state-of-the-art technology. In 1950 the establishment was nationalized and renamed, operating as Szikra Cinema from then on. In its heyday during the ’60s and ’70s, the cinema featured as many as six shows on the busiest days. After a period of extensive renovations and remodeling, the building was temporarily closed in 1974. Between 1990 and 2006 it was called Metro Cinema, and from 2006 through 2009 it operated with the moniker Ruttkai Éva Theater. Thanks to its retractable roof, it could function as an “open-air” establishment throughout the summer.
With the launch of the nightclub PRLMNT in 2014, the imposing, Italian-Baroque-style main hall was filled with life once again. The aim of the owners was to create a significant and hip cultural and electronic music venue, and it appears that their enterprise is very successful. Featuring a unique sound system and visual elements, PRLMNT regularly hosts parties, contemporary theater productions, and fashion shows.
PRLMNT (closed) Address: 1066 Budapest, 62. Teréz Boulevard
From insurance-company headquarters to hotel – Gresham Palace
Listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage sites since 1987, the Budapest headquarters of the London-based Gresham insurance company was erected in 1906 in accordance with the designs of Zsigmond Quittner and the Vágó Brothers. Built in line with contemporary architectural trends, the grand building is a product of the rapid advances of the early 20th century. A fine example of Central European Art Nouveau, the palatial waterfront property is decorated with lots of stained glass, mosaics, and wrought-iron details. The 12,000-square meter, five-story office building was more than a place of work: the employees were registered here as habitual residents. The downstairs café was a regular haunt of the Gresham Circle artist association.
After the economic depression of the 1930s, the insurance company left Hungary, and Gresham Palace was transferred into state ownership in 1948. Later housing a bunch of offices as well as luxury apartments, the building started to deteriorate due in part to the damages of World War II. Located opposite Budapest’s iconic , the well-known landmark was acquired in 1999 by Gresco Rt., and renovated by 2004 in the framework of a 100 million-euro investment. The once glamorous edifice was revived as with 179 rooms, two presidential apartments, and a royal suite. Now the ground floor’s serves gourmet Hungarian cuisine, while the on-site bar can be found in the indoor passage called Páva Udvar.
As one of the companies that introduced electricity to the Magyar metropolis, Budapesti Általános Villamossági Rt. set up one of its five transformer stations on Liliom Street, in District IX. A characteristic representative of industrial Art Nouveau, the building was designed by the distinguished duo of architects Gerstenberg and Arvé, and constructed in 1909. It was used as a transformer house until the end of World War II, and as storage space during most of the following decades. At the beginning of the ’90s the abandoned house was rediscovered by the French anarchist art group named Resonance, and following in the footsteps of similar Western European movements, the group squatted in the building to host performances, concerts, and lectures. The transformer house was purchased by the Municipality of Budapest in 1998.
The very same year it was officially opened as a center for contemporary art (continuing the legacy of the Young Artists’ Club of Andrássy Avenue) during the Budapest Autumn Festival. Now called the Trafó House of Contemporary Arts, the cultural center offers a diverse program ranging from classical theater performances and modern fine-arts exhibitions to concerts in the most random genres and futuristic multimedia screenings.