In 1927, Josef Gočár was invited to work on the project of the Fénix Insurance Company’s palace on Wenceslas Square in Prague. Originally, the author was Friedrich Ehrmann, who had designed the former headquarters of the insurance company in the nearby Ve Smečkách Street. It has a traditionalist façade with a receding frontage divided by shallow cornices, and the only decorative element is the beveled window chambranles. However, the insurance company apparently wanted to have a project of its new headquarters designed by a famous and Czech architect. Gočár designed a modernist façade broken by longitudinal windows connected by stripes of red syenite and sill strips clad in light granite. The cooperation between Ehrmann and Gočár was probably productive, and they met to realize the branch of the insurance company in Hradec Králové. It was built between 4 April and 25 December 1928.
Gočár’s first design of the façade is dated 14 March 1928; it is a design of the exteriors of
the two opposite buildings: the southern Fénix Insurance Company and the northern Adriatica di Sicurta Insurance Company by Bohumír Kozák. While the Adriatica Insurance Company was a smaller building, the Fénix Insurance Company extended deeper into Mánesova Street. However, the corners of the buildings were to be identical – the first to third floor was to be occupied by a rounded avant-corps ending in a balcony facing today’s Gočárova Street. Unlike the pair of tower houses on the eastern front of the square, these were not to have any articulation or characteristic tracery around the windows. Even the commercial parterres were to be more open and glazed. Gočár designed a glazed strip with rectangular, horizontal panels above the individual shop windows. Most of Gočár’s detailed designs for the Fénix Insurance Company are dated April 1928. The last exterior design by Josef Gočár for
the Fénix Insurance Company is a detail of the tubular balcony railing dated August 20, 1928, which demonstrates Gočár’s ongoing work on the project. As in the case of the Prague headquarters of the insurance company, Ehrmann apparently designed the interior layout in Hradec Králové.
The execution plans, signed by the builder Josef Fňouk, date from July 1928. Although
the building has one number, it has two parts: a corner and a tract with a separate entrance and staircase shaft from Mánesova Street. However, both parts had a common boiler room and coal store in the basement. The rest of the basement was occupied by tenants’ cellars separated by brick partitions. Both parts also shared a common yard, where four garages were located. On the ground floor, there were three smaller shops facing Mánesova Street,
a larger, a corner commercial space, and the largest shop facing today’s Gočárova (then Jungmannova) Street. Each shop had a spiral staircase to a storage area in a glass mezzanine and a separate toilet. There was also a small apartment, probably that of
the caretaker, in the wing facing today’s Gočárova Street behind the largest shop: it contained a living hall, a room, a kitchen, a toilet, a pantry, and a bathroom. The entire first floor was occupied by the administrative headquarters of the insurance company, with the director’s apartment connected directly to the director’s office and other offices. Four rooms faced today’s Gočárova Street; the kitchen and an equally large maid’s room with a large window faced the courtyard. Such a standard for a servant’s apartment was unusual; the maid’s room was usually very shaded and usually the smallest in the whole apartment. The director’s apartment occupied the entire area of the tract facing ttoday’s Gočárova Street, while the two parts of the building facing Mánesova Street and Ulrichovo náměstí Square were occupied by offices. A large so-called “interview room”, i.e. the meeting hall, was situated in the courtyard. There were nine offices facing the street and one facing the courtyard, all of which shared a corridor and a large entrance hall – a waiting room accessible via a staircase closer to tod
ay’s Gočárova Street. In addition, there was another room marked as a “cloakroom” and
a registry office – the company’s archives. The upper floors were already separated in both parts and were not passable. The part facing Mánesova Street contained one smaller apartment with two rooms and a kitchen and one larger one with three rooms, a maid’s room, and a kitchen. The corner part contained one two-room apartment with a kitchen and a maid’s room, one two-room apartment with a kitchen without a maid’s room, and one large four-room apartment with a kitchen and a large maid’s room. On the third floor the layout was different: in the part facing Mánesova Street there was a two-room apartment with a maid’s room and
a three-room apartment without a maid’s room; in the corner part there was one two-room apartment with a maid’s room, one three-room apartment without a maid’s room, and one three-room apartment with a large maid’s room. The fourth floor was the attic in the part of the house facing Mánesova Street, which contained the laundry, drying room, ironing room, and attic space. The fourth floor of the corner part of the house also had a smaller attic area with
a drying room, ironing room, laundry room, and an extra mangle shop. The other, corner “tower” section contained two apartments: a three-room and a two-room, both without maid’s rooms, the same in the corner “tower section” on the fifth floor. The corner tower is not terminated by a flat roof terrace, as it might seem, but by a very low hipped roof.
It is remarkable how the earlier and recent architectural historiography treats Gočár’s co-authorship: neither Marie Benešová nor Pavel Panoch mention Gočár’s contribution in their monographs of 1958 and 2010. Although Gočár’s detailed designs of the façade, including
the design of the craft details, have survived, Gočár used to be credited with authorship only of the opposite house of the Čerych brothers, where he also designed the interior layout. Yet the completely analogous co-authorship of Prague’s Fénix Palace, where Gočár also designed “only” the exterior, is paradoxically attributed only to Gočár. Yet, the Hradec Králové headquarters of the insurance company is equally Gočár’s work.