Franz Josef Spa

(„Ferencz-József fürdő“ – „Franz Josef Badehaus“)

The very idea of building a lavish spa building stemmed from the desire of the young Ľudovít Winter to build something extraordinary and beautiful, which would attract and satisfy the high demands of a wealthy clientele. In Budapest he met the architect and builder Emanuel (Manó) Pollák, who designed and drew up the plans for the future spa. The construction required significant financial resources. Ľudovít Winter succeeded in obtaining a million-dollar loan for this purpose. Work began in July 1897 and was completed in early spring 1898. The name Franz Jozef Spa was adopted after a mutual agreement between the tenants of the Spa – the Winter family –  and the owner of the spa, Count František Erdődy. It was in honour of the monarch Franz Joseph I (reigned from 1848 to 1916) and the building was completed in the year of the 50th anniversary of his accession to the throne. Its official name was “Kúpele Františka Jozefa” in Slovak, “Ferencz-József fürdő” in Hungarian and “Franz Josef Badehaus” in German. The monarch did not attend the opening ceremony in person, but was represented by his envoy Prince Frederick with his wife and entourage. Ľudovít Winter personally welcomed them as the most important guests. It was an important event for Piešťany.

The monumental main façade of the building and its articulation resembled the façades of former castles. The interior was richly decorated and the internal technical equipment corresponded to the requirements of modern medicine at that time. The materials used, the layout, the expected comfort and the exterior park design confirmed the desire to attract the richest clientele. It combines aesthetic requirements with expediency, hygiene and operational requirements. In terms of layout, it was a ground-floor building with an inverted “T” plan. The frontage was 69 metres wide and the total length from the side view was 62.5 metres (excluding the external staircase and the carriage drive). The centre of the main façade was slightly higher than the side wings, emphasised by a massive square buttress with a columned entrance portal. It was roofed with a high mansard roof. Above the main cornice there was a balustral attic around the perimeter. In addition to the inscription “FERENCZ-JÓZSEF FÜRDŐ”, the front was decorated with a shield with rich stucco decoration and the coat of arms of the Erdődy family, the owners of the Piešťany Spa. A carriage ramp and staircase led to the building. Through the entrance portal one entered the hall also with rich stucco decoration. There were rooms for the inspector, the doctor and the cashier.

Both side wings and the main rear wing were accessible from the hall. In both side wings there were 7 separate cabins for individual mud and bathtub baths. They were entered from a common corridor. The service staff had access to them through a separate corridor on the opposite side, so that guests were not disturbed during the preparation and maintenance of the individual baths. In the left side wing there was a smaller swimming pool in an alcove, called the Prince’s bath, with an area of 10 m2 and its own anteroom. In the alcove in the right side wing there was an inhalatorium. Thermal sulphur water was sprayed into the air. In the main tract there was a large swimming pool called the mirror pool, with an area of 60 m2. Around it were changing rooms and rest rooms. There were also 10 cabins for topical mud application, restrooms, hydrotherapy showers where shower massages, scotch sprays and the like were administered. At the rear of the building were areas for mud handling, a drying room, warehouses and a machine room. The building was imaginatively divided into two halves, and according to the original plan, the left part (individual bath cabins, changing rooms, rest rooms and the entrance to the mirror) was reserved for women and the right for men.

When installing the internal equipment, the requirement for easy maintenance of cleanliness and hygiene was taken into account. To prevent rust from forming, the metal components were either nickel-plated or made of bronze. The pools, baths and walls were lined with faience tiles. All the bathrooms had automatic constant ventilation, which did not bring in cold air from outside, but already heated to a suitable temperature. The indoor climate was thus stable and did not depend on external weather conditions. The cleanliness and freshness of the water in the pool was ensured by the constant inflow and outflow of thermal water. As the building did not stand directly over the springs, the thermal water was pumped out by an electric pump and piped in. The mud was also transported. Fresh drinking water was also piped into all rooms. The new spa building was rightly presented as the most modern in Piešťany.

However, in spite of all the comfort and convenience, after a few years there has been a decline in the number of visitors to the Franz Spa. Although they were more luxurious and equipped with new facilities, guests began to prefer staying in the so-called Old Baths (today’s Napoleon Baths), which, moreover, had undergone repairs and modernisation in 1907. The disadvantage of Franz Spa was partly related to its location and partly to its technical deficiency. As they were not built directly at the source of the springs, the thermal water was pumped out by an electric pump and transported through long pipes, thus cooling it down. The mud had to be transported on wagons in all weathers and so often did not reach the guests at the prescribed temperature. Therefore, their dissatisfaction and preference for the Old Baths, which were built directly above the thermal springs, grew. Ľudovít Winter realised this failure and acknowledged his mistake.

Another technical deficiency also contributed significantly to the decline in popularity of the Franz Spa. The drains of the swimming pools and baths were laid too low and flowed into the Váh River. When its level rose, the river water entered the pools through the waste pipes, where it mixed with the thermal water, cooling it and generally degrading the healing process. This mistake could not be corrected without significant structural and technical interventions.

However, the building was still in use. However, the intention to build a luxury bath to attract a rich clientele did not leave Ľudovít Winter. His efforts resulted in the construction of the modern Art Nouveau complex of the Thermia Palace Hotel and the Irma Spa House commissioned in 1912. The previous mistake was not repeated and the bath was built directly above the thermal water outlets. Its connection directly to the hotel ensured the desired comfort and an influx of solvent guests. At the same time, however, it meant that Franz Spa was sidelined. Until then, the most magnificent building was almost no longer used for its original purpose.

Ľudovít Winter, however, did not stop to consider the idea of using it for the needs of spa guests. The first plans, which envisaged a massive 2-storey extension, were drawn up as early as October 1913. However, the subsequent war conflict and the resolution of more pressing issues put this issue on the back burner again.

The outbreak of World War I emptied the Piešťany Spa. The management of the spa, headed by Ľudovít Winter, found itself in a difficult situation and was looking for ways to keep the business running. It occurred to him to offer the services of the spa to the War Department. A Red Cross hospital was set up in Piešťany in cooperation with the Red Cross for the treatment and rehabilitation of wounded soldiers. As part of it, the construction of the Pro Patria Treatment House, a new building on Spa Island, was carried out in cooperation between the spa’s management and the War Department and the Red Cross.

Despite well-known technical problems, the Franz Spa building was also used due to lack of capacity. The cooperation with the army and the successful construction of the new bath house revived the idea of its suitable adaptation. As the Pro Patria was intended primarily for the men, there was no separate facility for the officers. Ľudovít Winter thus came up with the idea of rebuilding the Franz Spa into an Officers’ Institute (Offiziersheim, or Offizierskurhaus). The Izabela Officers’ Pavilion had stood next to the Military Spa Institute since 1909, but it was quite distant from the spa and its capacity was insufficient.

Around May or June 1917, Ľudovít Winter commissioned the architects Ármin Hegedűs and Henrik Böhm to draw up a design for an institute for about 50 officers, in which year-round operation would be possible. All accommodation, social, catering and spa facilities were to be located under one roof. Given the complexity of the new construction, the overall situation and the lack of time, they should have looked for the most economical solution. Therefore, the most advantageous option was to use the already existing building of the Franz Spa, in which the necessary balneotherapy facilities had already been built. According to the proposal, a spa hotel would be created, where the patient would have almost everything needed under one roof. The missing treatment facilities, such as a mud room, mechanotherapy or a gym, would be available in the nearby Irma Spa House. The cost of the reconstruction, including the construction of the necessary facilities, was originally estimated at 2,000,000 crowns. With this proposal, the spa directorate turned to the military headquarters in Bratislava. However, the whole matter took too long to be discussed and this ultimately proved fatal. The planned establishment of the Institute for Officers in Piešťany did not materialise. This was caused by external circumstances. The war conflict was coming to an end and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was also dissolved. The establishment of a new state unit, the Czechoslovak Republic, thus contributed to the failure of the reconstruction and the revival of the operation of the Franz Spa.

After the end of World War I, the building was out of use for some time. The reason for this was the considerable wear and tear and the destruction of the interior furnishings by the soldiers who were treated here during the war.

After the consolidation of the situation and the resolution of the most urgent difficulties with the operation of the spa, the issue of Franz Spa became topical again. Ľudovít Winter wanted to use the original project of the Institute for Officers from October 1917. The addition of two floors and a minor modification of the project was to create a hotel with 120 to 140 beds. For this, of course, he needed funding. However, he was unsuccessful with his loan applications.

The spa building continued to function for a short time afterwards, but by the end of the 1920s (probably from 1927) it had completely ceased to be used for therapeutic purposes. It began to serve as a warehouse and later it was used as accommodation for the employees of the spa. In the 1930s, these premises were also used for the treatment of animals. Especially racehorses, not only from Czechoslovakia, but also from abroad.

Shortly after the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918, Franz Spa was named Ischia. However, this name did not catch on. In order to increase its attractiveness and to attract clients, the name of the Republic Spa or the Republican Bath was probably adopted around 1924. However, the original name Františkove kúpele (Franz Spa) persisted in the minds of Piešťany inhabitants and it is still used to designate this building today.

However, Ľudovít Winter did not abandon his efforts to make the building functional again for the needs of spa guests. In the late 1920s and 1930s, the architects František (Franz) Wimmer and Andrej (Andreas) Szőnyi worked on a number of reconstruction projects. One sketch of the superstructure with a mansard roof was preserved from 1927, where accommodation rooms for guests were to be created. According to it, a significant extension and partly also a change of plan can be assumed. The second surviving design by the same pair of architects dates from 1935. This one envisaged roughly preserving the original plan. In this case it was not planned to restore the previous medical purpose, but the building was to be converted into accommodation and catering facilities. This intention was not realised either.

In 1940 the Piešťany Spa was nationalized and Ľudovít Winter was deprived of any influence on its further development. The question of the repair of the Franz Spa came to the fore again in the early 1950s, but already in the conditions of the changed political system. The management of the State Spa in Piešťany decided on a new use of the building. It was to be rebuilt and used for social purposes for patients. A social hall with a stage and necessary rooms such as dressing rooms, backstage storage, sanitary facilities, washrooms, etc. were to be built. The plans were drawn up in November 1950 by the architect Andrej Szőnyi and his collaborators under the name of Stavoprojekt. Construction was accepted, but due to errors in the contracts and time delays, the redevelopment was ultimately not carried out.

As early as 1952, however, the use of the building for medical purposes began to be considered. It was to be rebuilt and adapted for the needs of the Rehabilitation Institute. In spite of the elaborate plans and detailed cost estimates, the conversion to a Rehabilitation Institute was not carried out. One of the possible reasons for this could have been the amount of the estimated financial costs. Investing them in the “old building” did not seem appropriate and it was planned to use them for the construction of new, modern balneotherapy facilities. The building of the Franz Spa remained closed and used mainly as a warehouse. In the end, it was decided to completely rebuild the building.

The demolition of the building took place in early 1967, so that by the opening of the spa season (9 May 1967) the site would be converted into a park. Its destruction deprived Spa Island of a unique piece of architecture. One of the reasons for the demolition is often mentioned as the disturbed statics of the building.

Ľudovít Winter also commented on the demolition of the Franz Spa in his memoirs. He briefly pointed out that no one in authority contacted him and asked for his opinion. According to him, the building could have been used for other than therapeutic purposes, for example for the needs of holidaymakers, for whom the healing effect of the water is not of primary importance, but relaxation and entertainment. According to him, “millions of dollars” should have been saved and used and not “shaken to dust”.

Today there is no trace of the magnificent building on its original site. However, its existence and former glory are evidenced by preserved historical postcards, photographs, publications, various documents, souvenirs and a three-dimensional model in the main exhibition of the Imrich Winter Balneological Museum in Piešťany.

Osudy kúpeľnej budovy s bohatou obrazovou dokumentáciou sú podrobne zmapované v publikácii, ktorú je možné zakúpiť v expozíciách Balneologického múzea Imricha Wintera v Piešťanoch alebo objednať na stránkach múzea