Nine decades of the White Villa: from the symbol of the city to ruins 1

Austėja Masiokaitė, 2013-07-12
The White Villa. From the archive of Jurgis Graudinas

In brief: The White Villa of the interwar Lithuanian architect, engineer Feliksas Vizbaras, which was frequently called Vizbaras’ castle and which later gained the shape and name of Kaukas café, is located in the very centre of Kaunas – the tower of the villa may be noticed from any place of Laisvės Alley through branches of trees.

Due to the special location the building was significant to several generations of Kaunas inhabitants: the elder ones remember it as Vizbaras’ castle that shined in white colour from the hill in the interwar period. Intelligentsia of the city gathered here, and the unusual, elegant forms of the building attracted the eyes of people and found their place in postcards that represented Kaunas in those years.

Kaukas cafe was opened here in the last Soviet decade in the building – this is how the building is remembered by the generation of people in their 50s today. However, their children know Kaukas only from stories of parents about acquaintances or festivals that took place there.

The building constructed in the interwar period and reconstructed in the Soviet years remained a forlorn building in independent Lithuania – it is like an orphan as the law does not protect the house that has become part of Kaunas cityscape and history. According to the architect Rimvydas Palys, it became a test for the society and institutions responsible for heritage: it will depend only from their expectations and persistence what will meet people rising by Kaukas steps to the hill from the city centre.

“Three opinions exist: according to the first, more radical, the entire castle should be reconstructed. The opinion which slightly surprises was chosen as the golden middle – to preserve elements that are authentic to a certain extent and to design other buildings in a modern manner. The third opinion is to pull down everything and to construct a building of decent architecture,” the senior state inspector of the Culture Heritage Department, Kaunas Territorial Branch Andrius Liakas generalised the discussions with architects.

At the moment the former castle is preserved only as part of Žaliakalnis territory and element of part of the New Town Visual Protection Zone.

The researcher Indra Adamonytė of the Culture Heritage Research and Design Centre, who made the analysis of masonry of the building a year ago, evaluates the fate of the building sceptically: the authentic masonry of F. Vizbaras’ times was only found in the rotunda, and its condition is very sad. According to her, it is even impossible to preserve the part of the house designed by A.Sprindys as it is all cracked.

In the restorers’ opinion, there is very little of the authentic villa constructions in the building, and it is impossible to recreate the whole. If the decision to preserve the building were accepted, it would be necessary to rebuild it entirely. Would it be an authentic building that preserved the spirit and history then?

Kaunas of Feliksas Vizbaras: interactive map with buildings designed by the architect.

Despite the pessimistic conclusions, the idea of the castle is still alive. According to the architects Robertas Čerškus and Rimvydas Palys, who are against its demolition, the White Villa of Vizbaras was the symbol related with the history of the city and arts, not only a building of unique architecture. The architect R.Palys also emphasises the importance of preserving the memory and originality of the place, not only authenticity of materials in the case of the villa.

According to him, Vizbaras’ castle and later Kaukas cafe represents two stages that mark the life and biography of two generations of Kaunas inhabitants.

The author of the conversion of the White Villa to Kaukas restaurant was the former principal architect of the city Algimantas Sprindys. He may be called the second most important person in the history of the building after F. Vizbaras.

The restaurant opened in 1982 had a banquet hall, outdoor ice-cream café and a fountain. The interior of the restaurant was created by the artist Vytautas Krasauskas.

“The reconstruction was also part of the history of the building, therefore, I would like to believe that the work of A. Sprindys will also be evaluated suitably,” the specialist of the Culture Heritage Department A. Liakas stated.

The idea of the White Villa, which was a centre of culture in the inter-war period, was turned to a multi-flat apartment house for a short period in Soviet years and was reborn as Kaukas restaurant later. The question whether it will crumble away along with the bricks of the building should get the answer soon – at least for the reason that the forlorn walls of the building will not be able to wait much longer.

Fragments of the facades of the café Kaukas in the film “Secret of Endhouse”:

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