STROLLING THROUGH BUCHAREST: Palatul Telefoanelor

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Palatul Telefoanelor, the Telephone Palace of Bucharest City, is a historic office building located on Victoriei Avenue. The 52.5-m high building was built in 1929-1933, in a style reminiscent of the US skyscrapers, in an At Deco style. Currently, Palatul Telefoanelor houses the headquarters of the Romtelecom telecommunications operator.

The Great Depression that started with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 strongly impacted the Romanian economy. The Romanian Government decided to take a loan from American trust Morgan in exchange for a 20-year monopoly over telephony in Romania to the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT), which then formed the Societatea Anonima Romana de Telefoane (SART), the Romanian Telephone Company, Ltd. The aim was to modernise Romanian telephony and edify the Telephone Palace.

On the site where the main offices of the company were to be built there was the Otetelesanu terrace, one of the most popular gardens in the late 19th century Bucharest, a meeting place of Romanian literati, including writers St. O. Iosif, George Cosbuc and Ion Minulescu. The pub would be in competition with the Casa Capsa restaurant, as both were located close to the National Theatre House. Around the 1930s, the old terrace had lost its charm and it was bought over by the Romanian Telephone Company.

The design of the building was entrusted to a team of foreign architects comprising Louis Weeks, Edmond van Saanen Algi and Walter Froy. One of the three architects, Dutch Edmond van Saanen Algi, who had settled in Romania, had designed several famous buildings of Bucharest City, including the Bucharest University of Economics (ASE).

It took nearly 20 months to complete the palace, which was ready in 1933. The foundation works were carried out by Union Construction Ltd. The Telephone Palace was one of the first buildings in the city to be built on a steel skeleton, which was cast at the Resita Ironworks and Domains.

It was also the first modern building on Victoriei Avenue, with its Art Deco style emphasising a progressive vision. Moreover, the telephone device, which components were used in stylising details (the design of the door knobs, interior objects) was also considered a symbol of progress and confidence in the future.

The palace opened in 1934, in the presence of Romania's King Carol II. The newly-built 52.5-m high building would remain the highest one in Bucharest City until the construction in 1970 of the Continental Hotel. The emergence of the Telephone Palace in the cityscape stirred some protests that nevertheless died down quicker than in the case of similar buildings, such as the Patria block of flats on Magheru Boulevard, designed by architect Horia Creanga and inaugurated one year earlier.

The building was extended (both vertically and horizontally) in 1940 and 1946, and survived earthquakes in 1940, 1977, 1986 and 1990 and a1944 bombing by Allied Forces during World War II. The National Theatre House, located in the vicinity of the palace was less lucky, as it was destroyed during the August 24, 1944 bombing of the city.

Under the communist regime, the building was switched under the authority of the Government, as the Telephone Company was nationalised and integrated with the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications. After the 1989 Revolution, the company became the Rom-Post-Telecom Corporation, further reorganised in July 1991 as Romtelecom.

A 1993 study revealed structural problems (the roof was never designed to support microwave antennas, but only a coffee shop); before a major reconstruction project could be started in 1997, engineers had to begin by redrawing the building plans, as the original ones had been lost. Works included reconstruction to duplicate the original façade, as well as structural reinforcement. The reconstruction design was made by Romanian architecture office Proiect Bucuresti. The whole project, which ultimately employed 700 people, was the largest architectural reconstruction project ever undertaken in Romania. It cost roughly 1 million euros, and it was finished in 2005.

Because of its historical and architectural significance, Palatul Telefoanelor is now a landmark in the interwar cityscape of Bucharest. AGERPRES

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