The Casino of Kőbánya

Mert minden, ami elmúlott: egész.
És minden, ami itt van: csonka, tört.
S az elmúlásnak halvány áldozatja,
amelyre bátran azt mondjuk mi: nincs –
a végtelenség finom művű szobra,
min egy kicsinyke karc sem látható.
For everything that has passed is entire.
And all that is here is mutilated and broken.
And the pale victim of evanescence
of which we boldly say: it does not exist –
is a subtle statue of the infinite
on which you cannot see a single scratch.

Dezső Kosztolányi, Az árkádok alatt (Under the arcades) 1905

Kőbánya, Casino, Hermann CaféThe Hermann Café on the ground floor of the Casino of Kőbánya around 1910

My friend lives in Zugló, the 14th district of Budapest, in front of the metro terminus. From his fourth floor window he can see the panorama of Kőbánya, the 10th district of Budapest with the church of Saint Ladislaus built in “Hungarian Moorish style” around 1890 by Ödön Lechner, the Weapon Factory (in my times it was forbidden to call it by this name, and now as it is permitted, they do not produce weapons any more), the long row of Historicist style breweries along Maglódi street, the wireless tower at Határ street from whose crow-nest Bumbó watches the waves of Telecom. The world of my childhood. “Now I will really talk Eszter into going to that Chinese restaurant at Kőbányai street,” my friend says dreamily, “we only have to find a car to that.” That restaurant is only six tram stops from them.

Kőbánya, Casino, Wednesday Table SocietyThe Wednesday Table Society of Kőbánya in the early 20th century

My uncle, an engineer in the Iron Works of Miskolc in northern Hungary was a zealous excursionists beside his several other civil pursuits as a stamp collector, violinist, ornithologist and local historian. At a section of the Blue Tour route in the Zemplén mountain where the border stones painted in Hungarian and in Czechoslovakian colors respectively run in chassé at the two sides of the road, he pointed down to the former Hungarian city of Kassa (Košice) encircled by a light fog on the Slovakian side: “I have seen it so many times from here above that it is already time to finally go and visit it.” He did not visit it until his death.

Kőbánya, Casino, Male ChoirThe Male Choir of Kőbánya. “Besides them, we also have to mention the Singing Circle of the
Ganz Waggon Factory, the Steel Voice Singing Society of Kőbánya, the National Song
Circle of Kőbánya, the
«Ambition» Singing and Literary Society, as well as
the Choir of the Iron and Steel Workers of Kőbánya founded in 1904
and active even today.” (Buzás Kálmán:
Volt egyszer egy
Rekviem egy épületért (There was once
a casino. Requiem for a building),

This is how most people in Budapest look at the far away 10th district encircled by the black fog of Socialist industry. And this is why I make all efforts to explain what was my city, Kőbánya, which had developed independently of the nine other “ancient” districts of Pest, before… before, similarly to so many historical cities in the Eastern block, its downtown was destroyed and it was transformed into a Socialist industrial zone, so much that the only memory it recalls in most people is:

I was born in Kőbánya, I was also grown up there. Splash-guard with the image of Gyula Deák Bill“I was born in Kőbánya, I was also grown up there…”
A splash-guard with the image of Gyula Deák Bill, a renowned blues and protest song singer of the ’80s and the famous first line from his “Kőbánya Blues”

What a good luck that Kálmán Buzás, with the support of the Pataky Cultural Centre and the Polish Minority Society – an important column of Kőbánya – started to publish the “Kőbánya Fascicles” that give at least some hint to the rest of Budapest what this unknown and already unknowable world once was. The first volume of the Fascicles – There was once a casino: Requiem for a building – was dedicated to the former Casino of Kőbánya, and rightly so.

The center of Kőbánya, 1910The center of Kőbánya in 1910 on the map of Budapest

Kőbánya sprouted from several seeds, and each of them is reminded by a historical building today. The most important of them was the Óhegy (Old hill) with its renowned wine-culture about which we will write more in a next post. The local vineyard owners – who counted among them also Lipót Rottenbiller, the most famous Mayor of Budapest – built in 1844 the Romantic style Csősztorony (Vineyard-guard Tower) and the Baroque Conti Chapel (marked on the above map at “Káp[olna] tér,” that is “Chapel Square.” Another important seed of the district was the “Dreher Empire” at the feet of the vineyard hill, with one of the most important breweries of Hungary established in 1862 by Anton Dreher, with its elegant housing estate for workers, and with a number of more breweries set up later along Maglódi street: these are remembered by the gorgeous Neoclassicist Dreher Villa and eleven breweries built in Romantic-Historicist style that are now national monuments.

Kőbánya, Hungarian World Beer
The third seed was the “entertainment grove” organized at the railway station of Kőbánya. The first railway line was built in 1847, and soon it became a favorite amusement of the burghers of Budapest to go out by train to one of the nearest railway stations where they passed the day in the green. So from the city walls of Pest to the village of Rákospalota in the north (today a district of Budapest) a number of “entertainment groves” were created in front of the railway stations, whose traces still can be discovered here and there. In Kőbánya it was established by the “Pest-Kőbánya Entertainment Grove Share Company.” It is recalled still today by the name of Liget tér (Grove square, today a bus terminus) at the railway station, as well as the Hölgy (Lady) and Úri (Gentleman, from 1875 Füzér, that is Garland) streets at its two sides, whose original German names – Damenpromenade and Herrenpromenade – well attest their original function. The civil center of Kőbánya was born and grew around the entertainment grove. The monuments of this part are the Art Nouveau houses, the wonderful Art Nouveau synagogue in Cserkesz street, and the already mentioned Saint Ladislaus Church. And at that time they also included the beautiful Romantic-Historicist building of the Casino of Kőbánya, “the most elegant building of the district” according to the contemporaries.

Kőbánya, Roith RestaurantThe restaurant of Georg Roith at the end of the 19th century

The Social Club of Kőbánya was founded in 1879 by the industrialists and merchants of Kőbánya in their preferred restaurant of Georg Roith, which still functions as “Torockó Restaurant” at today’s Martinovics Square. They commissioned in 1899 Ferenc Brein (1818-1879) to build the Casino of Kőbánya in Füzér (Garland) street, the former Gentleman street. Brein was a renowned architect, the builder of the above mentioned Vineyard-guard Tower in Kőbánya and the Neogothic-Romantic-Historicist Pekáry House in the downtown of Pest, where, accidentally, Dávid Kaufmann had his flat. So small is the world.

Budapest, Pekáry House, 2003The Pekáry House in Király street

The ground floor of the Casino had at its Füzér street corner the Hermann Casino Café (see the photo at the beginning of this post) which was famous for its biliards competitions and for the long black moustache of its popular headwaiter István Csillag. At the other corner opened the florist shop of Anna Tarnay, and between both the pharmacy of István Fáczányi. The furniture of exceptionally high standard of this latter was made by the same local cabinet-maker Béla Valnicsek who also made the furniture designed by Ödön Lechner for the Saint Ladislaus church.

Budapest, Fáczányi Pharmacy, around 1910
“The Fáczány pharmacist dynasty: Ármin Fáczányi Ármin (1827, Novály, Nyitra county - 1891, Budapest-Kőbánya) graduates in Viena in 1856 in pharmaceutics, although originally he prepared to become a priest. He takes part in the War of Independence of 1848 as a sub-lieutenant. He opens the first pharmacy of Kőbánya in 1870. An outstanding supporter of Kőbánya. – István (I.) Fáczányi (1866, Budapest-Kőbánya - 1955, Budapest-Kőbánya), the son of Ármin Fáczányi. He studied in the Bánya square school. He graduated in pharmaceutics in Budapest in 1893. He continues the professional and political activity of his father. – Dr. István (II.) Fáczányi, the grandson of Ármin Fáczányi continues their profession from 1936 until July 28, 1950, the “Black Friday” when pharmacies were nationalized in all the country.”

Kőbánya, Casino, invitation to a scientific lectureInvitation of the Scientific, Literary and Artistic Commission of the Casino of Kőbánya to the scientific lecture “The foundations and directions of our development” by Dr. Gyula Weisz

The Casino gave home to a theatre, a library and a large number of clubs and associations: the Kőbánya Circle which watched over the pureness of public life, the Kőbánya Male Chorus, the Humanitas Charitable Trust, the Rifle, Health Assurance and Burial Society, the Kőbánya 1848 Independence Circle, the Wednesday Table Society which embraced the most eminent personalities of Kőbánya, the Kőbánya Bowling and Hockey Clubs and many other. Scholarly and literary lectures were regularly held in the Casino by invited guest lecturers.

Kőbánya, Casino, 1963
This is an image that I also remember. Strangely, even the crookedness of the trees. In my childhood the ground floor of the former Casino – at that time the district head office of the Patriotic Popular Front, the mass organization of the Communist Party – gave home to the district library. The first library where I was registered.

Kőbánya, Casino, entrance hall, 1963
They started to eliminate the old downtown of Kőbánya at the beginning of the 1970s. On the place of the destroyed old houses was built the monstrous Socialist housing estate of the recently opened Kőrösi Csoma street which wiped out even the traces of the old street structure.

The block of the casino was left for the last. We played football in front of the already evacuated building, and the ball fell in the cellar window of the adjoining house. We climbed down to bring it out. Through the open door of the cellar we could go out to the courtyard. Every flat was open, the furnitures taken away, but their content, the many old books, letters, photos, glass negatives and others were left there scattered about over the floor, like after a bomb attack. We kept taking them home for weeks in the suitcases found there. I even remember the name of a former tenant, Colonel Vilmos Rajner-Micsinyei. His fin de siècle baedekers of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the Riviera, Tuscany, Southern Tirol and the Dolomites, Egypt and Greece in German and French stand here here on the shelf beside me while I’m writing this.

Kőbánya, Casino, destruction, 1976
“It used to be a bourgeois casino. Only the privileged was permitted to enter,” wrote about the Casino of Kőbánya the article of the district newspaper in 1973. “Who remembered in 1973,” comments it Kálmán Buzás in his Requiem “that the casino had no aristocratic members and what is more, it was principally visited by the common people. The inhabitants of Kőbánya heard the news about its planned demolition with an immeasurable indignation. They tried to obstacle it with a large number of petitions, but in vain. In the spring of 1976 it was finally blown up.”

Although this was absolutely unnecessary, for the housing estate had been already completed. Even today, after more than thirty years there is only an empty ground on the place of the casino. Only the habitués of the nearby drink shop fill in their time with standing here with a glass of beer in the hand and gazing at the people crossing it to the nearby bus stop. And one of the crooked trees is still standing here too.

In the flat of Zugló, from whose window we are looking at the tower of the Saint Ladislaus church, there are an old cupboard, a table and three chairs carefully grouped in the hall. “This is all that is left from a middle-class flat,” my friend nods toward them.

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