Streets: Fabrica de Chibrituri, șoseaua Viilor, Învoirii


A. Krause





The lotissement on the Învoirii and Fabrica de Chibrituri streets is one of the oldest of its kind in Bucharest. The houses were built in 1898 for the employees of the Mohr Oil Factory, an institution that later changed its name to Phoenix, December 13 (in the memory of the 1918 socialist strikes), and, since the 1960s, to Muntenia. Due to its historical and architectural importance, the ensemble is classified on the List of Historical Monuments under the name of the Match Factory Lotissement.

Bucharest in the 1890 – 1900

In the year of the construction of the first houses (1898), at the head of the Bucharest City Hall was C.F. Robescu (1896 – 1899), and the liberal governments led by D.A. Sturdza and Petre S. Aurelian (1895 – 1899) were governing the country. The main problem that Bucharest was facing at that time was the city’s precarious sanitation, caused by such factors as cholera, typhoid or tuberculosis outbreaks and the lack of effective measures to combat them, by sharing houses, but also by the presence of livestock in the city, which often carried diseases. As the industry gained more and more ground in Bucharest, the housing conditions worsened, as the workers were forced to live together in small rooms on the outskirts of the city, many of them lacking basic hygiene conditions. The working day was not controlled at 8 hours, and the exhausting work weakened the immune system of the workers, who were often forced to work between 12 and 16 hours a day. Moreover, unhealthy working conditions in workshops and factories, lack of rest, lack of occupational safety measures, but also financial inability to buy medicine caused workers many health and social problems. These problems were discussed in the socialist newspapers of that period, such as “Munca” (1890 – 1894) and “Lumea Nouă” (1895 – 1900), both representing the views of the socialists. The socialists, with leaders such as Constantin Mille and Ioan Nădejde, were fighting for unionizing the workers and for taking part in elections, despite the fact that the vote was censitary and few workers could afford to register on the electoral rolls. Becoming members of the Communal Council, the local councils of the sectors or the Parliament could thus have facilitated the struggle to solve problems such as the construction of schools and kindergartens, the reduction of the working day to 8 hours, the progressive tax, street paving, electricity and the sanitary care of the slums, affordable medical service, Sunday rest and workers’ insurance. In the pages of the newspapers, the Socialists launched calls for workers invoking class solidarity, combating nationalism and the Russian danger, discussing feminist issues and calling for strikes. In addition, the Socialists (grouped in the Social Democratic Party) were constantly campaigning for the construction of clean homes by public authorities.

Thus, referring to housing, the “Munca” Gazette of June 10, 1891 brought up the topic of housing: “in order for houses to be hygienic, they must be roomy, well ventilated and well lit. The homes in which the patients were sick should first be disinfected and then inhabited. The agglomeration of many people in small spaces is dangerous to health.” In October 1894, around the elections, the Socialists presented the reforms they wanted to implement in the event of winning the election: “if the workers were masters or at least if they were represented by a certain number of members in the communal councils, the difference between the center and the slums would disappear. The workers’ representatives would, for example, facilitate street paving, electricity, etc. Workers could be given access to housing for a small price; school canteens where the children of the workers would receive food, clothing and culture could be set up; the children could be sent during the summer to holiday resorts to recover, etc. The representatives of the parliament would pass laws for work protection, they would legally introduce the 8 hours workday, Sunday rest, progressive tax, etc.” In April 1895, in the article Affordable Houses from the “Lumea Nouă” newspaper, the author points out the initiative of the mayor ND Filipescu, who made available cheap land on the outskirts to whomever was interested, but also the intention to discuss with a “union of capitalists” the possibility of building housing on the new boulevard was being build (the present Magheru), but these initiatives were without consequences.

In a depiction of Bucharest from August 1897, the editors of the “Lumea Nouă” newspaper mentioned that the city “during summer, both from the standpoint of the hygiene of the houses, factories and workshops, as well as of the cleanliness of streets, is in a bad condition. Bucharest’s narrow streets are more like dusty communal roads on sunny days, muddy on rainy days. The municipal service on these streets does not exist either,” emphasizing that the city “was and is still haunted by three main diseases: impaludism, dysentery and typhoid fever. ” In the autumn of the same year, “Lumea Nouă” published an interview with Dr. Iacob Felix, the chief medical officer of the Capital, who highlighted the unsanitary conditions in the city: “I knew that our slums were in the worst state possible, full of mud, unlit, I also knew of the precarious state of the drinking water and we did not imagine that we would find them otherwise … in the Basarabi road and in the streets that lead to that road, the dirt is everywhere. The houses are mostly surrounded by puddles and the road is full of dust. The courts are sources of infection. Same thing in Dealul Spirii. In many of the streets of this city, it is impossible to walk without a handkerchief, especially at night. Ecoului street, Minotaur street and the parallel streets are full of garbage, hogwash, bad cabbage, etc. All these are thrown in the street, not to mention what’s in the courtyards.”

This bleak description of the Bucharest slums was to be improved by building housing for socially vulnerable classes. Thus, some of the industrialists who owned factories, especially in the Filaret area (where the first railway station in Bucharest was opened in 1869), decided to build housing for their own employees, as is the case of the Oil Factory to help with the efficiency of the employees’ work and with their loyalty.

The Filaret and Oil Factory areas

Most of the factories in the Filaret industrial area were developed at the end of the 19th century around the Filaret Station (inaugurated in 1869), also benefiting from the provisions of the Law of Encouragement of Industries from 1887. Thus, the area became one of the favorite locations of housing for the workers. In this neighborhood the following lotissements were built: Lânăriei (1908-1910), Fabrica de Chibrituri (1915), Candiano Popescu (10 houses built by the Municipal Company for Low Cost Housing in 1911) and at the end of the 1920s, the CFR Viilor lotissement. There were numerous factories in the area, most of them opened between 1870 and 1900. Thus, in 1879 the Stamp and Match Factory was established, and among the factories in the area are the Filaret SA printing shop, the Chemical Machinery Mechanical Plant, the Reunited Weaving Mills, the Wooden Bootlast Factory, the Carmen Shoe Factory, the Asphalt Cardboard Factory, the Barrel Factory or Jute Industries. According to sociologist Liviu Chelcea, the Muntenia Oil Factory “first appears on the industrial map of Bucharest in 1899, under the name of the Oil Factory, retaining its name also in the 1911 plan, but on subsequent maps it appears as the Pheonix Oil Factory. It was founded by the industrialist Walter Munzer in 1897. In the 1970s […] it produced edible oil, technical oils and solidified oils (margarine and others). It was recently demolished, leaving no trace no possibility to gather artifacts before its demolition. […] It was one of the largest factories built in Bucharest at the end of the 19th century and, could have easily been classified as an industrial heritage.”

The construction history of the lotissement

The Bucharest Archives keep the building permit from 1897, issued for the Filaret Mohr & Co Vegetable Oil Factory, following a request submitted by the Factory in April 1897. Thus, “the Factory, wishes to build a house and office at our property on 20 Viilor Street… please kindly delegate the respective engineer, to give us the alignment and the proper authorization. The city hall allowed to build offices for factory clerks, presenting plans according to the law. The buildings will be raised according to the law, with a 10m setback from the alignment…” However, the confusing terms in the file do not clarify whether the authorization was issued for a single house or for an entire development. Moreover, the file does not include the lotissement plan and does not mention anything about the number of houses to be built, it includes the plan of a house, signed by the architect A. Krause. It is only certain that under the cornice of these houses, the architect mentioned the year of construction – 1898, so one year after the City Hall approved the construction of the first house. According to the permit, the house was built with a massive wall, covered with metal, but the plan of the first house was later changed, losing some compositional elements.

The architecture of the houses

A careful analysis of these houses can be found in the article   The Învoirii Block, a landmark in the study of Bucharest architecture from the end of the 19th century in the Bulletin of Historical Monuments (1980) where the author-Tereze Sinigalia emphasizes that “as far as we currently know, this is the first coherent ensemble intended for such purpose, consisting of modern type housing units. Made up of about 30 buildings – each meant to be inhabited by one family, the neighborhood denotes a remarkable unity of conception and presents a homogeneous solution, the functionality ultimately dictating the adopted solutions, and the style is decipherable in a certain division of the interior space and in the decorative elements. ” Further, the author emphasizes the lack of the yards, “a defining space of rural and pre-urban architecture, hitherto present in the very architecture of the city”. Other innovations are represented by the grouping of the dwellings, (to avoid the unaesthetic dead walls)- coupled, adhering to the semi-detached constructions system, with the long side in common, but also equipping these houses with running water. The author is not limited to an external analysis of these houses, but describes at large the interior: the house is composed of a small vestibule, followed by a hall, both in the axis of the entrance, the hall being flanked to the left and respectively to the right by one or two rooms … the rooms communicate with each in the railroad manner.  The large surface of the living rooms and their brightness…. due to the large windows (the windows are tall and quite wide: 1.70 by 0.90m) represents an obvious improvement of the living conditions, considering the context of the period, characterized by crowded houses, lacking ventilation or brightness that facilitate the propagation of tuberculosis. Going back to the exterior, the detailed characterization of the facade is worth quoting in its entirety: “both the mascaron, as well as the other eclectic decorative elements – grooved pillar with a composite capital, the semicircular or basket handle arch, the heraldic-inspired scrollwork, the rolls in the cornice, the floral festoon or the simple laurel leaf – reappear on other constructions of the ensemble by marking entrances, arches on windows and giving unity to the whole.” Finally, pointing out that the author mentions this neighborhood in an article published in 1980, in an era of massive urban changes, campaigning for its preservation: “this development […] which is nowadays largely owned by the state, could benefit from the protection of the law by implicitly being included in the list of architectural monuments. An exceptional example among the Bucharest buildings, an expression of a time of renewal in the urban and spatial-functional thinking of dwellings in the industrial city, we think that the Învoirii Block deserves both our attention and that of the law ”

In the context of the de-industrialization of Bucharest after 1989, the factories in the Filaret area were demolished one by one, and their lots are occupied by housing complexes or commercial spaces. Most of the residents mention that the houses were taken over by the state after 1950 and that initially the workers from the Oil Factory lived there.

Other Lotissements

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