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The Bank of Lithuania’s building in Panevėžys

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Nowadays, the Bank of Lithuania operates in two cities, Vilnius and Kaunas. But during the interwar period, it had many more branches. Buildings were built to house these branches, enriching the architecture of Lithuania’s towns. Many of these buildings survived to this day and now house commercial banks. This time, we are going to talk about the Bank of Lithuania’s building in Panevėžys.


The Bank of Lithuania started its operation on 2 October 1922. Its main objective was to regulate cash circulation, facilitate cash payments, create a stable and sound monetary system and promote the development of agriculture, industry and trade. The Bank got exclusive rights to issue banknotes for 20 years. In addition, the Bank of Lithuania performed some of commercial bank functions (e.g., issued commercial loans). In accordance with the agreement signed between the Minister of Finance, Trade and Industry and the Chairman of the Bank of Lithuania of 20 December 1922, the Bank was obligated to take over the state treasury and state savings bank operations from the Ministry of Finance by 30 June 1923, therefore the entire network of treasuries was handed over to the Bank of Lithuania. Thus, the Bank of Lithuania branches started operating from the treasury buildings. At the end of 1923, the Bank had 22 such branches in Lithuania. In 1932, the Bank already had 26 branches with almost 500 employees.
The Bank’s branches were housed in the old treasury buildings after buying them from former owners or the state and in new buildings that were also purchased. However, not all branches had appropriate premises and good conditions for their employees. In the 1930s, the Bank of Lithuania expanded and improved its infrastructure, so it started the construction of new buildings for the Bank in various towns. In total, 8 such buildings were constructed.


The first building for a branch was constructed in Panevėžys. At the time, Panevėžys was the fourth largest town in Lithuania. It was quickly developing since the 1920s and was becoming an industrial town. The Bank of Lithuania’s branch was established in a tsarist treasury at Laisvės avenue that operated there since 1923.


However, treasury premises were gradually becoming too small. In the beginning of 1930, plans to construct a new building for the branch started. At first, the purchase of Panevėžys Mutual Loan Society building, which was then rented by the Cooperative Bank, was considered, but it was later decided to buy a land plot at the cross-section of Respublikos and P. Puzino streets and build a new building there. Two land plots costing 30,000 litas were purchased from two Jewish families. This is where the new building was supposed to be constructed.


The building was designed by a famous architect and professor of that time, Mykolas Songaila, who had also designed the impressive and modern  Bank of Lithuania Kaunas branch building (1928). It could be said that Songaila had become the official architect of the Bank of Lithuania, since he was also the author of the majority of other Bank’s buildings. The architect submitted a couple of projects and the decision was made regarding the final version of the draft.


The application for the construction permit was submitted to Panevėžys Town Council on 23 September 1930. On 25 September, Panevėžys Town Construction Committee, with the participation of the town’s mayor Tadas Chodakauskas, the town’s doctor Didžiulis and engineer K. Germanas, approved the construction. The tender for construction works, announced in Lietuvos Aidas, was won by L. Markovičius, a building contractor from Kaunas, and a contract for the construction was signed with him. The contract contained a provision that “quality wise, the construction work may not be poorer than that of the Bank of Lithuania’s building in Kaunas”.


In accordance with the contract, construction work was split into two stages. The first stage was supposed to be finished on 1 December 1930 and all the construction works had to be finished on 1 October 1931. The construction cost amounted to 415 thousand litas. Additional costs incurred were related to heating, ventilation, plumbing, electricity, alarm system installation, sculpture design and other works. The construction used more than 300 thousand bricks produced in Šiauliai and around 120 running metres of sett for the basement level of the building. To install money vaults and safes, 1.6 km of light rail tracks were used. It is a known fact that around 60 construction workers were employed. In addition to the main building complex, Markovičius’ company also had to install pavements, a garage with a warehouse and a fence where the building faces the street. The building also housed an apartment on its premises, intended for its director Aleksandras Jurgutis (he worked and lived there until 1938). Construction work was finished at the end of 1931, but interior works (e.g. woodwork produced by Kaunas furniture and woodwork factory) were only finished in 1932 and the installation of a telephone line along with an alarm system was finished in 1934. An interesting fact is that in 1932, the first payphone in Panevėžys was installed on the Bank’s premises.


The building’s composition resembles the Kaunas branch building constructed earlier - two rectangular buildings on different streets, connected by a corner semicircular building. The building’s façade is not decorative, but there is an ornamental embellishment featuring Vytis on the façade facing Respublikos street. The interior is luxurious. The ceiling of the banking operations hall has the shape of a vaulted dome that is held by 12 Atlas sculptures created by the famous sculptor Juozas Zikaras (the author of the Statue of Liberty in Kaunas and the designer of the interwar period Lithuanian coins). Zikaras was also the author of other sculptures inside the building. His works of art cost 13,500 litas. The original chandelier that hung from the dome and decorated the banking operations hall disappeared after the war and now a plant form chandelier consisting of 24 branches and 2 levels, designed by a Panevėžys artist Vidas Žigas, hangs in its place. The original safes were installed by a German company Berlin Reinkendorf.
The Bank’s opening ceremony was planned for 8 November 1931, with the participation of 55 invited guests, including the Prime Minister Juozas Tūbelis, the Bank’s Chairman Vladas Stašinskas and other distinguished people. However, owing to the global crisis, a decision was made not to organise the ceremony. Employees moved to their new premises in November of 1931. The building was insured for the amount of 300,000 litas.


Although the building was completed almost 100 years ago, it is so well suited for a bank that a commercial bank (Luminor Bank AB) now operates on its premises and anyone who visits the bank can admire the impressive interior designed by the sculptor Zikaras.
 

Last updated: 2021-06-23