Goldberger House

Arany János Street: The Place Where Fashion Was Born

The street was named Arany János in 1885, after one of the most prominent Hungarian poets, who died in 1882. Prior to that, it had been called the High Road, the Upper Road and the Main Road. Sporadic property development began in the area in the first decades of the nineteenth century, and by the 1820s and 1830s, today’s Arany János Street was lined with two-storey buildings in a neo-classical style. One of these, built probably around the 1830s, was the predecessor of the Goldberger House; from 1892 onwards its street front housed shops. However, the building was pulled down in 1909 and a new, modern office building erected in its place for Goldberger and Sons Ltd. The request for building permission had been submitted by the previous owner, Mrs. Ágoston, in 1909. According to the plans, the Óbuda-based Goldberger textile factory would now have its central offices and wholesale outlet at 32 Arany János Street.

The plans for a pre-modern style building were prepared by architects Dávid Jónás (1871–1951) and Zsigmond Jónás (1879–1936), and the building work was carried out by Lipták and Co. Construction and Iron Works Ltd. in 1910–1911. The façade is dominated by vertical ornamentation, most notably the tall, thin, oriental-style pillars connecting the two floors. In the frieze just below the roof, the name Goldberger is inscribed between the rosettes placed just above each outside pillar. One design dated March 9, 1909, which was never realized, included a different, art-nouveau roof, although the planned façade was much the same as it is now.

In 1922 Sámuel Goldberger and Sons Ltd. finally bought the building which they had been renting, and where the company employed 120 people. The interior was remodeled in the 1930s, and new premises were rented for the offices next door, at 34 Arany János Street. The Goldberger House survived World War II without major damage.

After being nationalized in 1948, the building was used as storage for the National Textile Factory (Röviköt, later Centriköt). In 1981, Konsumex opened its exclusive “dollar shop” in the building, where goods could only be purchased with hard currency. Before the reconstruction work needed for the dollar shop, the civil engineer’s report described the building as very modern, and “the two-storey, flat-roofed building with a basement can still be characterized in the same way”. The dollar shop operated until the fall of the Socialist regime, after which the building stood empty for several years.

Today, the building reflects much of its original design—the main staircase, for example, was fully reconstructed following the original plans—but in many places, it has been altered to meet new requirements and needs. However, the major, most characteristic feature of the building, the huge glass roof spanning the inner court, has remained unchanged throughout its one hundred years of existence.

The Goldbergers and Their Factory

In 1784, a small blue-dyeing manufactory, the predecessor of the Goldberger factory, was founded by Ferenc Goldberg (1755–1834) in what is now the Textile Museum in Óbuda. At first the manufactory worked only with linen, later adding cotton and calico. Ferenc Goldberg, who had changed his name to Goldberger at the beginning of the nineteenth century, added two neighboring buildings to the family workshop and erected new workshops on the land behind them. From 1810, he handed over the supervision of production to his younger son, Sámuel, and concentrated exclusively on sales, while Sámuel developed new dyeing techniques.

The Goldbergers were firm supporters of the 1848 War of Independence and contributed by supplying uniforms for the army. For this, the Austrian General Julius Jacob von Haynau made them pay substantial reparations, and requisitioned the products of the Óbuda factory. Sámuel Goldberger died in 1848, and the management of the factory was taken over by his wife, Erzsébet Adler. She soon revived production, and in 1854 regained wholesale rights in Pest. In 1856, the factory bought its first steam engine. As a tribute to the factory’s outstanding success, Emperor Franz Josef paid it a visit while staying in Pest-Buda. The family was ennobled in 1867 and became known as the Buday-Goldbergers.

One of the most successful managers of the company was Bertold Goldberger (1849–1913), who modernized the factory, purchasing up-to-date machinery and embarking on the production of new materials. In 1905, he founded Sámuel Goldberger and Sons Ltd., but the recession of 1908 hit the factory hard and weakened its profitability considerably.

Bertold Goldberger’s second son, Leó Goldberger, was born on May 2, 1878. He studied law in Budapest and Leipzig, but after the death of his elder brother, and in accordance with his father’s wishes, he joined the management of the company. He became executive director in 1905, general manager in 1908 and, after the death of his father in 1913, vice-president director. When he took over the management of the company it was on the brink of bankruptcy, but World War I brought new commissions from the army, heralding a new era of prosperity. During the later wartime years, raw material shortages inspired Leó Goldberger to start a spinning and weaving mill but, given the hardships that accompanied Hungary losing the war, the plan could only be realized a few years later. In 1920, Leó Goldberger became the managing director of the factory.

The weaving factory was established in Kelenföld in Buda in 1923, and later, in 1927, the spinning factory was added. In the 1920s, the Goldbergers began producing Bemberg Parisette rayon, which became so popular that counterfeit versions soon appeared on the market. Another novelty introduced by the Goldbergers was the production of shrinkproof materials, following an American patent. The Great Depression of the 1930s passed the factory by; in fact its most successful years were 1936 and 1937, when exports totaled more than two million American dollars.

When the Germans invaded Hungary in March 1944, Dr. Leó Buday-Goldberger was one of their first prisoners. He was deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he died on May 5, 1945, the day that the camp was liberated.

On March 26, 1948, the Goldberger Factory was nationalized. Once the Goldberger National Company had been split up, its central offices on Arany János Street were closed down on December 31, 1950. The management and clerks were transferred to the factories in Óbuda and Kelenföld.

The text and photos above formed part of the exhibition Building CEU, which ran intermittently throughout 2011 in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Central European University.

Photo credits:

Association for Budapest Urban Heritage Protection, Photographic Group (BVE FCS)
Hungarian National Museum, Collection of Historical Photographs (MNM TF)
Kiscell Museum of the Budapest History Museum, Photographic Collection. Digital reproductions were prepared by F. Szalatnyay Judit. (BTM Kiscell FT)
Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library, Budapest Collection (FSZEK BGY)