Splendid revival of the Kerkovius's House
A look into historical archives
The project of the building in Riga is dated back in 1874, but the construction was completed in 1878. Latvian architect Jānis Fridrihs Baumanis designed it as a private mansion for Ludwig Wilhelm Kerkovius and his family. Kerkovius himself actively worked in politics, was also the city councilor, mayor assistant and also fulfilled the duties as the first mayor of Riga from 1890 to 1901.
The building was managed by the University of Latvia in the 1940s and became a home for the Library of the University of Latvia. That way, Kerkovius mansion „kept” the mental efforts of its owner when the library became a well attended and popular working place in the 1970s. Back then, not only students and professors spent time at the library, but also foreign researchers and Latvian business representatives attended it quite often.
The protected beauty
„The house was build for Kerkovius’s family (they were nine children, and Kerkovius himself came from a big family too- edit.). As it is seen on the building model, an additional annex was built where the former stalls of The Mentzendorff’s House were once located (currently, The Embassy of France in Latvia is located at this building),” tells I. Gudakovska. She also adds that two annexes on an emergency situation were left in the courtyard during the Soviet times that were later to be demolished.
She believes that it’s best to start the tour from the first floor where the restored historical interior is well represented, besides, in that way, it’s clear how the UL Library intend to work in this building (starting from 2013, also Humanities and Social Sciences Research Centre operates at Kerkovius’s House- edit.). Besides, a virtual picture album „Revival of the Kerkovius’s House” is available for visitors.
The first room to visit is the splendid lobby. „We got lucky to be able to find the building model in the archive, so it was quite simple to renew the coloring. Project materials dated in 1874 were kept in the archive that showed the original room layout of the mansion. We also found several unique interior fragments during our architectonic and art inventory.
The ornate panel doors are well preserved, so are the historical double windows and shutters, radiators from the 20th century beginning when the central heat was first established in Riga. Unfortunately, we are not aware of the room furnishing and the original chandelier design. We did not find any photographs or other materials we could use. Neither of Kerkovius’s relatives did send any photography we asked them to.
However, Kerkovius’s grandson writes on his memoirs about the time he used to live in grandfather’s mansion, but he does not describe any paintings, of course. As a child, he would not be able to remember any of that.”
UL Library director adds that architectonic research group AIG worked at the building before the renovation, but professional experts evaluated all the interior details as high-quality crafts.
The lost fireplaces
The historical winding stairs are one of the many interior treasures of this mansion. The architectonic solution is rarely used. It means that the stairs are sustained only by consoles built in the walls. When asked about the wall artworks at the hallway, I. Gudakovska tells that such painting method was not quite characteristic for mansions like this. It is said in the research report that, usually, this Neo-Gothic polychrome interior coloration was used for sacral buildings. „Apparently, the city mayor wanted such ornaments in his house, one of them was later discovered by the restorers. They used the newly-founded details in order to renovate the rest of the ornaments.”
Little white tile stove is hidden under the stairs. When showing it to us, our guide explains that the mansion was heated with the fireplaces before the central heating was established. However, no fireplace has been preserved till nowadays. „We don’t know about those lost properties. Neither can I say if any heating furnace was found during the 1940s when The University of Latvia started to manage the building.” It means that this white tile stove is the only heating furnace left in the mansion, besides, it’s not located at its original place.
Different parquet for each room
When telling about the splendid entrance doors and stairs, I. Gudakovska also adds that, formerly, the first floor was supposed to be for the owner himself, but the second and third floor would be used for rent. Most likely, the beautiful stairs were mainly used by the mansion owners. „All three floors were planned identical, it was supposed to be ten rooms on each floor. You can see by the floors where separate rooms were originally planned. Although there have been several renovations, the parquet was restored at its best, so visitors will be able to see the original floor.” She also notes that the floor pattern was different for each room, so it’s easy to tell which is the owner’s room and lobby.
„We already know about the floor plan from the project dated in 1874. The owner’s room has a completely restored parquet, we were not able to save the old one, but, again, we restored the old lobby parquet.” When UL Library opens the central entrance, a lobby and a cloakroom will be available for the visitors again, just like in the old times.
Historical furniture returned to the original place
„The hall was the most splendid room in the mansion, most likely it was supposed to be a place for home celebrations. As we don’t have any pictures or other material evidences from that time, we can only guess..” tells our guide while showing the large room with the beautiful floor panel. Apparently, the events were held in there depending on who rented the room, for example, if it was a student organization, etc.
Currently, a modern multi-functional hall is planned at Kerkovius’s House, reveals our guide. „The 94th anniversary of University of Latvia was celebrated in here, so was the exhibition opened, dedicated to the creative collective of the UL. You can find some more information on UL webpage.” In the nearest future, the hall will be used for event organizing.
„The UL Library will operate on a daily basis, in here, we also plan to put the historical furniture that still needs a restoration.”
Hidden treasures under the chalk layer
The fireplace room, that the owner once used, is so splendid and breathtakingly beautiful. It was once called The Turkish Room. „They used the room just on special occasions. It got the title Turkish Room because of the sevaral Turkish interior details- carpets, etc.” One of the lost fireplaces was once located in the place where the easel is now put. „If the time is right, we might renew one of the lost fireplaces,” promises I.Gudakovska. She says that this room is quite well preserved, maybe because of the fact that there were wooden bookshelves that reached the top of the room.
„No repair was ever done in here, so all the floor pattern under the chalk layer is still well preserved.”
We were pretty surprised after the research group showed us what was left under the yellowish grey coloring. Who would imagine that so much treasures are still hidden in this mansion? Researchers told us that such well preserved interior is a rarity for private houses like this.”
UL Library directors sums up: „It’s possible that the interior is well preserved because the library operated in here since the 1940s with a short break during World War II.”
A coffee break after a hard day
The former place of the winter garden is located behind the fireplace hall. I. Gudakovska would like to use it as the memorial and exhibition hall. „People who are interested in Neo-Gothic architecture and the work of Baumanis, would like to visit Kerkovius’s House. The UL Library could easily offer a guided tour for them.” She also reminds that around 2000 Kerkovius’s relatives are living in various countries around the world. Many of them visited Riga in 2001.
They also gave The UL Library around 1000 books as a present from Kerkovius’s family. The most valuable pieces are now exhibited in the mahogany bookshelf, and those books are available for visitors too.
The UL Library director also hopes to publish a beautiful and extensive book about Kerkovius’s House. „I have done a lot, but, still, some extra work is required.”
A reading room is located on the first floor where the newly restored historical furniture is now put. „Potential visitors of The UL Library might learn new habits and gain some new emotions. Besides, the library system is easy, so everyone will be able to find what they’re looking for. And I also think, the historical furniture brings a very unique atmosphere at this place.” A special zone called „brīvnīca” (‘the freebrary”) is located nearby. It’s a place where visitors can have a coffee break and read some bestseller.
A separate cabin for everyone!
At the new annex which is on the second floor, the research library with individual cabins is set. In there, everyone can work in peace. „You can do so much research work in there!” she says also adding that some pre-booked time for cabin use might be required. „Otherwise, just come and do your work!”
On the second floor, a large conference and reading room is also located. One of the greatest tresures of the second floor are the big wooden doors with carved applications.
The empty walls will be used for various exhibitions or presentations by The UL Library employees. „The restorer team have done a great work. Many interior details were either broken or lost, but now, it’s all restored.” I. Gudakovska reveals that she even hired an art historian in order to find the authors for wooden carvings and fireplaces. However, no names were discovered. „Maybe some day we will find out.”
The „silent” reading room on the second floor did not have any historical background, so the UL director adjusted the interior in order to fulfill current library functions. Also a small exhibition room is located on this floor. For now, artworks from „Vāpe” ceramics studio are exhibited in here.
The paintings have to „return” home
„Kerkovius’s House keeps many cultural heritage values, which is quite logical. Kerkovius himself was a man who came from well educated, cultural society.”
The construction work of The Latvian National Theatre was started in his time, so was the former 1st City Theatre (nowadays known as The Latvian National Opera). Kerkovius was the one who suggested to build The Latvian National Museum of Art. Also a collection of paintings from the city art gallery was kept at the Kerkovius’s House until 1905. Kerkovius worked as the board member at Riga Arts Promotion Foundation, so he kept the artworks at his mansion until the museum was built,” tells Iveta Gudakovska also adding that Kerkovius himself kept an art collection.
He gave 26 paintings to Riga city, nineteen pieces of them were put in various Latvian museum collections. Those works were exhibited during „Riga – 800” celebration events. Iveta Gudakovska now keeps a photography catalog of all those 26 artworks. She thinks it would be best if the artwork reproductions were put at the Kerkovius’s House, so that visitors might have a better mood..