AFTER decades of neglect, an art nouveau landmark in Ljubljana is poised for a renovation.
The owners of the 104-year-old Urbanc store, known in most travel guidebooks as “Centromerkur,” hope to restore the building at Trubarjeva 1, at the edge of Prešeren Square, the heart of Ljubljana.
The building impresses with its statue of Mercury on top, a statue of Commerce inside (right), an ornate staircase, and a hundred little flourishes. Still, it suffered from incongruous additions and inadequate upkeep during the Communist era, and it will take a lot of work–and money–to return it to its original glory.
At the turn of the last century, local businessman Feliks Urbanc commissioned Graz architect Friedrich Sigismundt to design the building that would become home to the city’s first department store. When it was completed in 1903, Urbanc’s name appeared on the building’s side.
The Yugoslav government took possession of the store in 1948, painted over the Urbanc name, and called it “Centromerkur,” the name which now appears above the entrance (right). After denationalization, Urbanc’s grandsons, Ljubljana businessmen Hubert and Jorg Kosler, took possession of it in 2002.
Because the building is a historic landmark, the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia is giving advice to the Koslers, who want to restore the 4,000-square-meter (43,055 square-foot) building and expand and modernize its department store. (Its current dark and cluttered retail atmosphere seems anachronistic in bustling Ljubljana Center.) The Institute’s Restoration Centre prepared a detailed plan for the building, says project manager Boris Deanovič.
The plan calls for a €600,000 ($881,000) renovation that would return the building, last renovated in the 1980s, as close as possible to its original appearance.
This would include a €270,000 ($397,000) restoration of the façade and its decorations. In preparing the plan for the exterior, restoration specialists took samples of multiple layers of varicolored paint to find its original color: cream with gilded flourishes.
A €215,000 ($316,000) restoration of the interior would include removing the linoleum that covers the original oak floors (right) on the upper levels and tearing down the walls that were added in the 1960s to fill the building’s inner courtyard.
The plan also involves a €30,000 ($44,000) cleaning of metal elements such as the front door decoration, and the €75,000 ($110,000) replacement of several etched windows.
As originally designed, the building’s ground and first floors housed a department store which sold mostly textiles, since clothes were then homemade or tailor-made. (The original wooden shelves, seen at right, are still in use, and the plan calls for their preservation.) The 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors were private apartments, several of which have spectacular views of Prešeren Square. The new plan would make all five floors part of the new store, allowing the public to enjoy the views.
On the ground floor, light once came through 12 etched windows with a flower-and-vine design. Only one of the 2m X 2.7m (6.6′ X 8.9′) window panels still exists, but craftsman Aleš Lomberger, who reintroduced the etched glass technique in Slovenia after independence, will likely reconstruct 11 others.
But not all of the fixes need to be expensive or elaborate. Restoration can also mean something simple, like moving the ATM (at right) from its position beside the building’s central staircase to a less conspicuous spot.
With luck, this will be the last overhaul needed for a long time. “It is always easier to keep a building in good shape on an everyday basis than to restore it after it has been neglected,” Deanovič says.