Koruna Palace: The “Crown” of Wenceslas Square
Although perhaps not as well-known as the nearby Lucerna, the Koruna Palace is an architectural masterpiece. With its unique blend of function and style, the palace has been an important Prague feature for over a century.
The Koruna, or “Crown”, Palace is one of a handful of truly beautiful modernist buildings on Wenceslas Square. After it was built in 1912, the palace was important first and foremost because of the everyday services it provided for Prague citizens.
Architectural historian Radomíra Sedláková told Radio Prague that the palace was one of the first multifunctional buildings that began to appear in the city in that period.
“The need to build multifunctional buildings arose in Prague because the centre of the city was running out of space. The layout of the squares and streets was already set, while the number of functions that the city was supposed to fulfil multiplied. Suddenly, palaces appeared which had multiple cultural, social, hygienic and commercial roles. The shops themselves became specialised, instead of one general store which sold everything. I should also mention the rise of restaurants, which appeared in the city in greater numbers. Eating at a restaurant was no longer just for travellers but also for residents. And it was hard to adapt existing houses for the numerous new services that were in demand. Once a new plot of land became available, the builders began to think about how to fit in the most functions possible. Another role that was relatively new was the administration of banks, insurance companies and so on. Not all of them needed their own palace, but many wanted to rent some office space. This building was able to provide all of that.”
Besides coming to the Koruna to have a meal or to do their shopping, people could also go to the palace for some wellness or exercise.
Radomíra Sedláková explains that a spa and swimming pool were among the many services on offer in the palace from the 1910s.
“You must realise that, before the First World War, not many flats in Prague had running water or a bathroom. So people had to go to spa baths, which also had swimming pools. The idea was that if people were going to bathe, they might as well get some exercise while they are it. The Koruna also had a steam spa and it was a sort of modern aquatic sports and hygiene centre.”
Similarly to the newer Lucerna just up the street, the Koruna Palace contained an innovative self-service bistro, which preceded the food courts and fast food chains found in today’s shopping centres.
Customers at the Automat Koruna could place a coin into a slot to get a sandwich or pour themselves a lemonade. First opened in 1931, the restaurant was an iconic Prague establishment for over 60 years before it finally closed in the 1990s. Radomíra Sedláková again.
“The Automat was created in the era of functionalism by architect Ladislav Machoň. It was so distinct during its time that they decided to use it in several Czech films before and after the Second World War. It placed a lot of emphasis on hygiene, as nearly everything was made of stainless metal and the displays were see-through so that people could examine the food. However, another aspect of it was cheapness, because the Automat brought to Prague the business model based on not paying for waiters and saving on cooks, service and dishwashing. It was the beginning of this trend, which is perhaps overdone these days. Unlike in traditional Czech pubs, one could not walk into the Automat Koruna to get a drink poured into their cup. You had to drink it there. But it was such a popular restaurant that people from all walks of life went there during all times of the day. It makes me immensely sad that the Automat Koruna is no longer there, having been replaced by a normal store.”
The Automat Koruna was also beloved by Czechoslovak president Antonín Zápotocký, who would in the 1950s sometimes come in person to order one of the restaurant’s famous sausages.
Although many of the Koruna Palace’s original businesses have been replaced, the palace’s monumental design and beautiful decorations remain to this day.
While planning the palace, the designers had to deal with the fact that a chunk of space on the designated plot was already taken up by the “house of carpets”, another significant building that had been built in the 19th century. To get around this, the architects gave the Koruna an L-shaped passageway with a glass dome above the point where the two parts of the “L” meet.
With the large storefronts and stained glass high above, this area is like a town square inside of the building. Radomíra Sedláková told Radio Prague more about the Koruna’s interior.
“It really is very richly decorated. The reinforced concrete frame allowed them to build this sizable, three-storey passage using a lot of glass elements. Away from the little square lead these monumental hallways with original storefronts. The ones on the ground floor and the first floor have been replaced, but they are still in keeping with the Art Nouveau layout. Above them you have the windows and stained glass which partly extend into the open space. The decorations in the palace are not exuberant floral Art Nouveau designs but rather more subtle geometric patterns.”
Of course, the outside of the Koruna Palace is also an architectural gem. Sedláková points out that it is a big part of what makes the palace unique.
“The facade is very sparsely decorated. The bay windows have some ornaments around them, and there are also the loggias, which one would not expect on a building like this. The subtleness of the decoration is interesting. When you say Art Nouveau in Prague, everyone thinks of the Municipal House. But most Art Nouveau in the city is actually more moderate and calm. The style in this regard was set by Jan Kotěra’s Peterkův dům, which stands across the square from Koruna Palace. Prague is so architecturally rich that building something really showy here would go against the spirit of the city.”
“One really incredible thing about the palace is its tower. Many Prague buildings built before the First World War had a tower on the corner. Although every single corner building on Wenceslas Square has a tower, the Koruna’s tower is absolutely unique. It is lined with statues by the sculptor Stanislav Sucharda, who designed them so that they would support the ornamental crown. The crown is also very beautifully geometrically designed. It has these circular lamps placed into it which would nicely light up the crown if we were not currently going through an energy crisis.”
To sum up, the Koruna Palace is one of Prague’s architectural gems and has been a staple in the life of the city for over a century now. Less well-known than the Lucerna Palace, which stands a few hundred metres away, the Koruna Palace is certainly also worth a visit.