Bank buildings on Gediminas Avenue


The Bank of Lithuania’s Money Museum has an excellent and convenient central location. It is situated on one of the main streets in Vilnius - Gediminas Avenue. Until recently, the central post office was open nearby, which means it is the very heart of Vilnius. Interestingly, the building, which is focused on the money and banking history, is practically surrounded by buildings which used to house, or still do, various banks. The Money Museum is located side by side to the central buildings of the Bank of Lithuania, comprised of a building erected in the late 19th century (which is the oldest to be built specifically to accommodate a bank) and Soviet architecture buildings on Totorių street (see more). The building opposite it (Gediminas Avenue 7) used to house the central post office until recently but, in the beginning of the 20th century, at least several banks used to operate on those premises. The Lithuanian Academy of Sciences is now located at the beginning of the street (Gediminas Avenue 3) but more than a hundred years ago, the building used to house a branch of the Bank of Russia and the first Lithuanian commercial bank after that (see more). Today, we would like to tell you about two other buildings that are near the Money Museum. One of them houses a bank to this day, whereas the other - not anymore. What is so special about these buildings? 

Firstly, it is worth mentioning that the street is just as special as the buildings themselves. Gediminas Avenue is one of the main streets not only in Vilnius but in Lithuania as a whole. It stretches for almost two kilometres and is home to various restaurants, cafés and shops as well as important Lithuanian institutions and cultural establishments. A number of ministries are located on Gediminas Avenue as well as the Constitutional Court of Lithuania. It is on this street that the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and the Government of the Republic of Lithuania can be found. 

It is by no coincidence that the street was named after the founder of Vilnius, the Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas. Despite its name, however, the Avenue itself is not that old. St. George Avenue (as it was then called) started being formed only in the early 19th century. Buildings around it were only started being erected and the street was fully formed at the end of the 19th century. Buildings continued being constructed there up until World War II. A tradition of constructing bulky residential and representative buildings there was established. It remains to this day. 

The importance of this street is also evident in the change of its name. It was first called St. George Avenue. After that, the names changed depending on who was in power. Gediminas Avenue used to be called by the names of Adam Mickiewicz as well as Stalin and Lenin. Therefore, every authority in power tried to convey their ideology through the name. Every authority also placed various important institutions on this street as well as built buildings specifically for banks. Two of such buildings stand side by side, at Gediminas Avenue 12 and 14. Both of them are related to the interwar period when Vilnius was in Poland’s power and the avenue was then named after the poet Adam Mickiewicz. 

Gediminas Avenue 12 

This is a building where a commercial SEB bank operates to this day. This is not surprising since the building was specially constructed to accommodate a bank. During the interwar period, the Postal Savings Bank (PKO Bank Polski) operated there. This bank was founded in 1919 by the order of Poland’s Head of State himself, Józef Piłsudski. The first goal of this bank was to introduce the Polish zloty into circulation instead of the Polish mark and, after that, to carry out ordinary banking operations. The bank’s central office was established in Warsaw and the first branches were opened in Poland’s biggest cities. Smaller cities came after, including Vilnius. 

In 1930s, Vilnius had a plenitude of banks (the city centre alone had about several dozens) and new buildings were being constructed for them. At the time, the philosophy of pure modernism, or the Polish school of new architecture, was very popular amongst architects. Its principle was to purify modernism from representativeness and grandiloquence by separating it from traces of other styles. Buildings of this style started sprouting throughout Vilnius. One of the prime examples of the style is the building at Gediminas Avenue 12, the Polish Postal Savings Bank’s complex. It was built in 1936-1937. It is believed that the building was designed by Warsaw’s architects Zbigniew Puget and Juliusz Żórawski. Engineer Jan Borowski, who signed the projects, was the construction manager and overlooked the maintenance. The building’s northern back facade faces the avenue alongside a residential building erected at the same time (which is currently a hotel). 

The five-storey building does not have an emphasized main facade. All the facades replicate the same means of expression. The main entrance faces the avenue. The facade on the west is invigorated by two-storey high windows of the Banking Operations Hall. The western and northern facades are covered with Polish sandstone and granite tiles adorning the plinth. The building’s composition is very simple but there is also a trace of Classicism.

In addition to the construction, the bank also hired one of the most famous painters in Vilnius at the time, Ludomir Sleńdziński, a professor and a follower of Vilnius Neoclassicism, to decorate the building’s interior. On one of the walls, he painted a panorama inspired by antique motifs. The panorama was painted in al secco technique (a wall painting technique where natural origin pigments mixed with lime mortar, egg whites, casein or other glue are applied onto a dry plaster). The panorama featured a triptych. The triptych’s left side called “Labour” featured a realistic depiction of young men dressed in tunics carrying bricks, the right side called “Saving” - two young women counting money in a chest. The triptych’s middle part was called “Fortune”. It depicted three goddesses hovering above ground and one of them pouring down pearls. This is the only part of the triptych that has survived to this day, however, it is now hidden by a partition wall of the modern SEB bank. 

Gediminas Avenue 14 

Close by, there is another modernist building located at Gediminas Avenue 14 which also used to house a bank during the interwar period. It was built in 1937-1938 for Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego. 
The bank was established in 1924 on the initiative of Poland’s Prime Minister Władysław Grabski. It was created by a merger of three banks from the Galicia region. The bank’s main tasks included granting long-term loans through issuance of municipal, railway and other state institutions’ bonds, providing loans to other credit institutions, etc. It aided in strengthening Poland’s economy, invested in strategic objects of the state and even contributed to the development of the military industry. It became one of the largest banks in interwar Poland. It had a large network with modern branches, located in buildings constructed specifically for them. One of these buildings was erected in Vilnius. 

Before it was built, the bank had operated from a building nearby, the historical Sniadecki Palace (currently home to the Lithuanian Writers Union). The bank’s design project was completed in 1936 by Warsaw architects Jerzy Pańkowski and Stanisław Gałęzowski, and the already mentioned engineer Jan Borowski was the construction manager. 

Vilnius Voivodeship’s Construction Commission ordered the building to stylistically match to the Postal Savings Bank building, the construction of which had been started a little while before; the buildings also had to be spaced 14 metres apart. Together they form an L shaped building. The four-storey northern facade faces the Avenue, whereas the two-storey part is stretched to the back of the lot. The building is situated further from the street, separated from it by a square which is believed to should have had a monument dedicated to Adam Mickiewicz. In 1938, a garage was built in the yard, also designed by the same architects.

The Banking Operations Hall was situated in the two-storey part of the building with stairs leading to the upper storeys of the northern side that start in a spacious lobby connected to the Operations Hall. The premises were separated by a corridor. Only the facade facing the street is decorated, while others do not stand out. Sadly, seven compositions by the painter Sleńdziński that surrounded the lobby on three sides did not survive to this day. On the sides, the artist created three pieces each that depicted various occupations of Vilnius region. On the left side, there was weaving, handicraft and carpentry. On the right side - trade, fishing and timber rafting. The composition in the middle, called “The Symbol of Time”, represented the course of time. It depicted two women holding a clock. 

The main facade is symmetrical and covered with tiles of Polish sandstone. The constructive and ascetic composition of the facade is lightened by a bas-relief above the portal that pictures a kneeling woman who holds a cornucopia, which symbolises work and prosperity. The bas-relief is actually the graduate project of sculptor Tadeusz Godziszewski. In 1938, the sculptor graduated from Vilnius University (at the time called Stefan Batory University) and his graduate project placed on the building’s facade has survived to this day. 

Today, the former Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego’s building houses a cosmetics store.