Ambitious plans to protect the Secessionist heritage of Nagyvárad

The Darvas-La Roche House

The Secessionist Darvas-La Roche House in Nagyvárad, designed by the Vágó brothers, was put to museum use in spring 2016. The building had initially been lived in by private residents and the wing owned by the municipality operated as the seat of the Nagyvárad Bihar FC football club from 2001. Conferring museum status prepared the groundwork for preserving Nagyvárad’s architecture and its exploitation for tourism purposes. As part of this process, the municipal government plans the exploration and restoration of the town’s Secessionist and Baroque heritage. In 2015 Nagyvárad became part of the Réseau Art Nouveau Network, which presently has twenty members (the network was established in 1999 by the heritage protection organisation in Brussels; its other members in the region are Vienna, Budapest, Szeged and Szabadka/Subotica).

Besides passing local council resolutions urging and promoting the restoration of the overwhelmingly Secessionist apartment-villas in the town centre, the municipal authorities set themselves the goal of reconstructing the main square and expanding pedestrian zones.

While the restoration of the Baroque heritage of Nagyvárad will be realised with the participation of the Roman Catholic Church and the Hungarian state, its Secessionist preservation has become a global municipal priority. Unlike the mythologizing socialist tradition that still has a strong hold over Romanian historiography, the Secessionist heritage of Nagyvárad can easily be channelled into international tourism processes, while it’s being ethnically linked to the local Jewry makes it less likely to be re-ethnicised than in the case of the Baroque. The Darvas villa is one of the buildings jointly designed by architect brothers József and László Vágó and originates from their last period of collaboration. Commissioned by the timbre merchant Imre Darvas, whose second shareholder in his joint stock company was Alfred La Roche, a banker in Basel (the house bears the names of both families), the house was built between 1909 and 1912. The owners were Imre Darvas and his wife, Margit Schulz but La Roche and Darvas Timbre Company inscribed above the rear entrance confirms that the rear wing was used for offices. The building therefore had a dual function: it was a residential home and the seat of a joint stock company. The Simon family purchased the house in the 1930s but were later deported; their memory is preserved by a plaque in the interior. After the building was nationalised, three rooms were reserved for the surviving offspring. The Darvas house had its darkest hour as an historic monument when it was utilised by the sports club, as it was then that it sustained the greatest damage due to construction works.

The Nagyvárad Secessionist museum forms part of the Nagyvárad Castle and Municipal History Museum, a museum network initiated by the local government and established in 2016. The complex comprises the most representative buildings to be involved in the planned tourism development project. At the moment four of its member institutions are open for visitors: the Nagyvárad Castle (with the largest exhibition area and also functioning as an administrative centre), the Neolog Synagogue, the Town Hall tower, and the Darvas-La Roche House.