Prague City Hall fights to preserve “unique” villa from demolition

Prague City Hall is currently fighting to preserve a rare villa built in the English style of the late nineteenth century. The villa was recently placed on the market and its prospective new owner intends to demolish it in order to build a modern house. On Tuesday, Prague councillors agreed to appeal the court decision which granted permission to destroy the house. The capital’s administration is also trying to get the old villa listed as a heritage site.

The demolition of the house was originally approved by the local Prague 5 building administration in the beginning of July. Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib told Czech Television that the deadline for appealing the decision runs out on Wednesday, but assured viewers that the city has already agreed on going to court and has prepared the necessary documentation.

Prague City Hall’s plan is also supported by the heritage group Klub Za starou Prahu (Old Prague Club), which described the decision to demolish the villa as “reckless”, and the Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, whose members wrote an open letter to the Prague mayor urging him to prevent the villa’s destruction.

The building was designed and built in 1912 by Czech architect Viktor Beneš as his personal villa. It was inspired by the architecture of English villas built during the mid-nineteenth century by architects such as Philip Webb, Richard Norman Shaw and Edgar Wood.

According to the Old Prague Club, Beneš imprinted an aristocratic feel onto the mansion, which resembles a small castle. Beneš also mixed Modernist and neo-Gothic styles in his design, something that the group says is unique among Prague buildings. Meanwhile, art historians have stressed that the house is unique and plays a dominant role among the villas of Prague 5’s Na Hřebenkách neighbourhood.

The building was partially reconstructed during the 1980s and housed a section of Czech Radio before becoming the headquarters of a communications agency after the Velvet Revolution. It was then purchased in 2007 by Slovak businessman Jaroslav Haščák and his wife  Valérie. However, their family has never lived in the building which has become increasingly dilapidated over the past decade.

Recently, Valérie Haščáková decided to sell the property and found a buyer, but the new owner intends to demolish the villa in order to build a new house on the plot.

Despite the mobilisation of expert and civil society groups, some of which have written petitions against the planned demolition, the building is still in serious danger. Petr Zeman, who leads Prague City Hall’s Committee for Territorial Development, Spatial Planning and Monument Care, said that even if the city succeeds in placing the building on its official list of cultural monuments this will not prevent the villa from continuing to fall apart unless its current owners decide to maintain it.