66 Żelazna St. – Chaim Gerkowicz’s historic building awaits rescue

Żelazna Street in Warsaw borrowed its name from the Żelazna Inn, which in the 18th century was located at the intersection of today’s Sienna and Twarda Streets. During the German occupation, the street was located within the ghetto. The buildings standing there witnessed many terrible scenes, and the people living in them experienced a real tragedy orchestrated by the occupier. Among the many buildings there was also the one at Żelazna 66. As a result of the war, much of the building was demolished or damaged, but it survived. Today it stands abandoned, with its windows boarded up and almost completely devoid of plaster. Despite this, it is an extremely valuable monument as a witness to those terrible events and as an element of the preserved old buildings of Wola.

The tenement house standing at 66 Żelazna Street was erected before the outbreak of World War I, between 1910 and 1911. It was designed by Henryk Stifelman in the early modernist style. The first owner of the property was Chaim Kielmanowicz Gerkowicz.

The tenement house in 2012. Photo credit: mamik/fotopolska.eu, Licence: CC-BY-SA 3.0

The street itself had a big-city look before the war, so the tenement house blended in perfectly with its character. The three-storey property was built on a corner plot at the intersection with Krochmalna Street. What made it stand out above all was the corner, which was placed in a bay window suspended above the pavement. The façade in its heyday had ornamentation. Both the ground and upper floors were finished with rustication. Balconies were located on both the Zelazna and Krochmalna Street sides.

Żelazna 66 in 1942 and 2024. Source: Polon and whiteMAD Digital National Library/Mateusz Markowski

In addition, a single-axis risalit of the staircase with a semicircular closed window was placed from Krochmalna Street. The building was crowned with a decorative cornice. On the side façade from Żelazna Street, an illegible inscription, probably someone’s initials, was placed.

July 1941 and June 2024. Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum www.ushmm.org and whiteMAD/Mateusz Markowski

The original layout of the building on the courtyard side was slightly different. Today, one of the outbuildings is missing. In the courtyard there used to be an ornamental cast-iron spring. The ground floor of the tenement was filled with commercial premises. Both elevations were decorated with unique metalwork elements – balcony balustrades with wreaths and flag holders. The large windows were fitted with elegant muntin bars. The gateway attracted attention. Its floor was tiled with bright tiles and the walls with beautiful ceramics. Original blue and dark blue tiles with delicate patterns were laid in two heights. Decorative stucco was used on the ceiling.

Zelazna Street at the intersection with Krochmalna in 1960 and today. Trams ran this way until 1968. Source: Digital National Library Polon and whiteMAD/Mateusz Markowski

The building lost its top floor during World War II, a reminder of which are the surviving balcony brackets protruding from the wall above the top floor. Little of the building’s original decoration has survived. The original consoles and remnants of the former decoration are visible in the upper part of the gate. The gate itself is secondary and was replaced after the war. Nowadays, almost the entire façade is scraped off, which has robbed the building of its former elegance. The large shop windows on the ground floor were later partially bricked up, as was the entrance to the staircase from Krochmalna Street. In the flats, valuable details have been preserved, e.g. floors, tiled cookers, wooden carved doors with frames and with original decorative finials or stucco.

Tenement houses on Żelazna Street at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s and today. Source: Album “Ta nasza Wola” Twój Styl Publishing House, 1996 and whiteMAD/Mateusz Markowski

One of the pre-war residents of the tenement was Mieczysław Wajnberg, a Polish composer of Jewish origin. He had to flee Warsaw because of the war and had lived in the USSR since 1939. From the 1950s, he was known for composing film music. Before the thaw in the USSR he faced a lot of repression, and after Stalin’s death his work was much appreciated. He returned to Warsaw once, in 1966. He died in 1996.

Photo credit: May/photopolska.eu, Licence: CC-BY-SA 3.0 and whiteMAD/Mateusz Markowski

The tenement, which had not been renovated for decades, was evicted in 2008 and has been falling into increasing disrepair ever since. In 2017, the “Stone and What?” association applied to the Mazovian Provincial Conservator of Monuments to have the tenement listed in the register of monuments. Despite significant neglect and the obliteration of many original features, the exterior and interior decoration of the Żelazna 66 tenement constitute a coherent and sophisticated whole that should be preserved for generations while there is still a chance to do so.

Source: warszemuzik.org, czmurek.com

Also read: tenement | Warsaw | Architecture in Poland | Curiosities | whiteMAD on Instagram

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