There is a small central square with an unequivocally rich architectural significance in the Oradea-Olosig district.
The present-day eclectic character of the square is the result of public constructions (residential houses, the theater, banks, hotels and restaurants) carried out at the beginning of the 20th century. The square has had several names throughout the century: Bémer Square, after Roman-Catholic bishop Laszló Bémer, Regina Maria (Queen Marie) Square starting from 1923, Bémer Square again from 1940 on, Stalin Square between 1945 and 1966, and Republicii (Republic) Square between 1966 and 1995.
In 1995, pursuant to a decision issued by the Local Council, the square was re-named Ferdinand, even though it was not the square, but Republic Street that was named after King Ferdinand during the inter-war period.
How was the square built?
The small square has the shape of a triangle, with the base being formed by the area where the theater is currently situated. Its middle angle is slightly tilted. The square was built as a result of the reconstruction of the city, of the public building projects from the 18th century.
Around the 1740s, Roman-Catholic Bishop Nicolae Csáky (1737–1747) built an episcopal palace and a theological institute in Piața Unirii (Union Square, Szent László tér) situated in the New Town, specifically over the land that our City Hall currently occupies. Immediate access to the right bank of Crișul Repede (the Rapid Criș) was not achieved, as the access bridge was far away in the area of the fortress. The bishop solved this problem by building a wooden bridge next to the Episcopal Palace. That is how a street was formed between the center of the New Town and the northern gate of the city of Olosig. During that time, Olosig had few residents, and the houses were predominantly placed next to the river bank, maintaining property lines. The trajectory of the street, which commenced from the wooden bridge, featured two bends in the theater area (Bazár szoros).
The eastern front from the end of Republic Street (str. Principală, Main Street, Fő utca) resembles the row of buildings we can see today in Ferdinand Square, and on the left side of the square, in the central area, there was a property named Casa Gireth (Gireth House), which featured an extended garden (in the area of Queen Marie’s statue), and there was also a narrow little street on the left. Around the end of the 19th century, the ambiental development of the city soared, a process that was aided by the activity of the Embellishment Association in 1881, which was founded for the purpose of modernizing the city crossed by the Rapid Criș. Their first desideratum was to demolish the old Gireth House, asking the city administration to buy it and install a public square in its stead. The request was approved, but, due to a lack of funds, the operation was postponed. The Association fought hard to raise the funds necessary to buy the house, organizing charitable meetings, but the amount that they gained did not match the negotiated price for purchase. There were articles circulating in the local press debating the fate of the historically insignificant building. In 1887, the association’s endeavor finally found success. The city bought the Gireth House for 5000 forints and was going to demolish it. They were still 1500 forints short, but that sum was covered by a canon, baron Pál Bémer, who also donated 700 forints for the acquisition of a street lamp to be installed in the middle of the square. The offer of the high prelate was presented during a meeting of the city council. With this occasion, the mayor, Ferenc Sal, made a proposal for the square to be named after the deceased uncle of the donor: László Bémer (1784- 1862), a Roman-Catholic Bishop of Oradea starting from 1842. The martyred bishop László Bémer participated, in 1849, in the meetings of the pașoptist (forty-eighter) revolutionary parliament. In 1850, he was convicted by the Austrian military tribunal for high treason, his property was confiscated, and he was subsequently exiled.
The square during the final years of the 19th century
A street chandelier with several arms, enclosed by a forged iron fence, was installed in the fall of 1888, having been bought by Pál Bémer. The middle part of the intersection was paved with crushed stone, while the sides were paved with stones from the Criș.
The square was asphalted in 1905, and a pedestrian roundabout featuring a small park was built around the chandelier.
The right side
When the demolition of the Gireth House began, there were old arched buildings with small stores operating on the Union Square side of the bridge. After the flood of 1817, the majority of these houses disappeared, and, after the reconstruction of the bridge, one single house was left: the Sdravich House, next to which was Samuel Kiss’ house. From 1892, the square’s change in ambiance became visible. It all started with the purchase and demolition of the two buildings by the new owner, Zsigmond Lévay, who would go on to erect a new construction in their stead (the Lévay Palace), with an L-shaped wing next to the bank of the Criș. The constructor of this building was architect Hazlián János. It is a classical building with early eclectic inserts.
The Lévay House, no. 1 and 2, was followed by the Stiedl House, which featured a simple, unadorned façade. The owners of the stores on the ground floor of the building installed decorated portals and business signs to attract customers. The next house was the Grünwald House (no. 3), and was a more beautiful house with classicist elements. The last house in the row was the Poynár Palace, and the Rimanóczy Hotel and Baths along with the Royal Café was also nearby, located at the intersection with Grigorescu Street.
The left side
At the end of the 19th century, on the left side of the square, close to the bridge, at the corner of Ady Endre Street (former name Szent János utca), was where the Gram House used to be. Across the street (Ady Endre Street no. 1) was an unfinished construction from 1878 featuring a store on the façade, known as the Weidlich House, a house with a raised roof. Next to it was the Roth House. This house was host to the Rusz confectionery, later named Netyő. A well-known café, Elit, was set up in their stead in 1910. The two tall houses were followed by a building with only one floor, the Fekete House (in 1907, it would be replaced by the Central House of Savings of Oradea (extended in 1912), a project by Rimanóczy, Jr.). A yellow building, the Knapp House, used to stretch across the northern side, but it was replaced by the Pannonia Hotel.
Across the street from the Knapp House was the Ferenc Tóth House, situated on a built-up land that extended all the way to the corner of Moscovei (Moscow) Street (Apáca utca). A brewery, which also featured a beer garden, operated starting from 1875 in the Tóth House, on the corner of George Coșbuc Street (Posta utca). It was known as “Rozsbokorhoz” Restaurant (“La tufa de trandafir,” “At the Rosebushes”).
The construction of the theater influenced the formation of the whole of the square at the start of the 20th century. The erection of a permanent theatrical establishment in Oradea was, for many years, one of the constant goals of the city council, and it materialized in 1899. Many buildings were torn down in order to accomplish this cultural project. The architectural plan of the City Theater, as it was called back then, belongs to the Viennese architects Helmer and Fellner. The building was erected in 15 months (July 1899-October 1900). The demolitions on Ferdinand Square (Bémer tér) started on July 10, 1899, and cleared the way for the new constructions. The first demolished house was the Sáfrád House, then followed by Ferenc Tóth’s houses, the Karaguly House, the Hillinger House, the Weiszlovits House and the Mayr House. The opening ceremony of the theater took place in October 15, 1900. The building of the theater is among the greatest achievements of the eclectic style in Oradea.