Renoma Department Store, the pre-war Wertheim, has been functioning in Wroclaw for over 80 years. Due to the uninterrupted business ever since the building has been known as a shopping destination to the generations of Wroclawians.
The current name – Renoma – has been selected by the Wroclawians themselves in the poll organised by Słowo Polskie journal. Renoma has existed under such name since the 70s.
The begginings of Renoma
The department store at Świdnicka street was opened on 2nd April 1930 as one of the stores belonging to Wertheim, a Berlin based company owning the largest chain of department stores in Europe. In order for the building to be erected, the company was forced to demolish a prosperous hotel and twelve 19th century apartment houses.
The building was constructed according to the design of prof. Hermann Dernburg, whose concept won unanimously the competition taking place in 1928. The competition’s protocol emphasised good solution for merging of retail spaces and ingenious proposal for the future expansion of the building, towards Czysty Square (at that time Salvatorplatz).
The structure being culmination of the evolution of Wroclaw’s department stores aroused admiration. The building was three times as big as any other retail complex in Wroclaw in those days and additionally the largest framework building in Europe. It also surpassed any similar structures with panache of its workmanship. The skeletal construction weighing 3,800 tons was created in a specially built Karol’s Ironworks (Carlshütte) in Walbrzych, curved glass for the displays was brought from Belgium, and flakes of gold were used as a finish for the facade. Several artists were invited to work on this project. Among other things, they created sculpted heads positioned at the facade – portraits of the city councillors of the time and finials, furthermore they designed decor of one of the two inner courtyards (the second one was designed by Dernburg himself).
The building was conspicuous from different directions, and thanks to homogeneous facade easily recognisable for the customers regardless of the side they would approach from. It had six side entrances and a main one from the side of Świdnicka Street. Due to the small number of internal supports, it was possible to create large sales rooms. Modern lifts, escalators and two four-storey courtyards covered with glass skylights made an impression on the customers.
30s and the war period
The glamour of Wertheim didn’t last long. Economic crisis in Germany, rise of the fascists to power and following Crystal Night brought the fall of trade and persecutions of Jews, including the Wertheim family. In 1939 they were forced to sell the building to a state-owned company AWAG (Allgemeine Warenhendelsgesellschaft mbH). Under this name the building was functioning until 1945. The new owner has altered the trading model of the building expanding social facilities for staff and offices, and in the place of a luxury restaurant with terraces offering a panoramic view a big canteen for the soldiers was founded.
On 12th March 1945 the building was bombed and was burning for several days. What survived of it was its steel construction protected by non-combustible enclosures, as well as the ceramic coating of the facade.
Wertheim company itself did not rise from ruin caused by the fascist repressions and the war. Later, the company was absorbed by Hertie. Building of Wroclaw’s Renoma is currently the only Wertheim’s department store from before the war remaining in business.
Immediately after the war, it was decided the department store would be rebuilt. The facades, the roofs, the interiors of the first two floors were renovated, including complete woodwork and glazing of the ground floor displays.
In 1947, the renovated ground floor of the building began functioning as a General Department Store – the first large-area retail outlet opened after the war within Western and Northern Territories. Slowly, the other stories were renovated – the first floor was completed in 1953, whereas the second floor took 15 years to be completed. Further stories began being modernised in the second half of the 70’s (third floor was completed in 1977, fifth and sixth between 1984 and 1985).
In 1975 the store became part of the state-owned Centrum Department Stores. In 1977 the building was enlisted in the monument registry as a prominent work of European Modernism. Attention was drawn to an expressive composition, clear and simple spatial arrangement and functional form typical for that trend in architecture.
The first major modernisation of Renoma was carried out in the 80s. It focused on internal infrastructure and facilities – above all escalators were installed within the two courtyards. Regretfully however, the destruction caused by the war and the subsequent modernisation carried out without attention to preserve the original atmosphere, together with a significant technical deterioration of the building, led to a considerable reduction in its standard. Despite that, many Wroclawians are likely to remember the scene in which while the metal screen at the entrance was slowly being raised, some of the waiting crawled under it to be at the front of the queue.
Centrum – Renoma Department Store was privatised in 1997. The new owner – Centrum Department Stores Ltd. proceeded to extensive refurbishment and modernisation works, with the aim of raising usability standard and restoration the original style of an elegant department store.
The design was developed by Maćków Pracownia Projektowa (architects: Zbigniew Maćków, Christine Kirschke and Paul Kirschke), in cooperation with TSR from New York and Estudio Zara from Barcelona. In the first step the ground, the first and the second floors had their construction reinforced and new installations and interior design was made for the new stores on the ground floor and the first floor. Additionally, new lifts and air conditioning were installed.
In the second stage of the works, in 2001, the cellar which was to house a supermarket was modernised. At that time new panoramic lifts were installed together with a range of technical equipment in the basement.
Restoration of the facade begun with the historic main entrance.