Violation of a Vilnius cultural treasure or one big misunderstanding?

Z. Sierakausko g. 25
DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

The villa, located on Z. Sierakausko g. 25, belonged to the state until 2016. Now, the abandoned villa, which served as a hotel for guests of the district during the later years of the Soviet occupation and is suspected of having been a CIA prison in 2009, has been sold on.

In an auction held on January 13, the building and the land surrounding it were sold for €2.725 million, with a reserve price of €1.89 million. Lithuania’s Property Authroity told Delfi that the sale price rose because several serious investors were interested in the property. In the end, the property was acquired by the Realnija real estate management and development company, which belongs to the Renagro Group.

Apartment construction authorised

The property was repurposed on May 17th. Alma Vaitkunskienė, the Vilnius City Municipality’s administrative director at the time, signed an order to authorise the construction of apartment buildings on the property.

According to the new regulation,69.14 acres of the 81.96-acre plot can be occupied by apartment buildings, with the remaining 12.55 acres to be set aside as recreational space.

A representative of the city confirmed that the change was made at the request of the landowner.

The neighbours are upset

The property’s neighbours, however, have risen up against the new plans. Vidmantas Ložys, who represents the surrounding area’s residents, told Delfi that local residents are against the construction of an apartment building on the property because of the villa’s cultural value.

The building, designed by architect Michail Prozorov in 1912, is also called “Anastasija Danilova’s villa”.

In the Vilnius 1900-2016 architectural guide, it says that “The villa of Danilova, the wife of an official, is an example of free planning and whimsical asymmetry. The small villa’s premises are laid out over two stories with the rooms circling around a central vestibule. The staircase is installed in a corner tower. The building’s dynamic volume and its bay window with a tower draw the eye. The decorative outer elements reflect neoclassicism and the popular cosmopolitan modern style, which Prozorov supported. “

“From 1925 to 1940, the villa belonged to famous doctor Vitoldas Legeika. In the late Soviet period, the villa was a government guesthouse – a hotel.”

From 1973 until 1997, the property at Z. Sierakausko g. 25 belonged to the Draugystė government guest service company. It later become the Draugystė hotel, which was signed over to the Embex company in 1996. Beginning in 1996, the company in question was run by Kristina Brazauskienė, wife of former Lithuanian prime minister Algirdas Brazauskas.

In March of 1997, the government took over ownership of the building, which was managed by the government chancellery. In May of 1999, the government handed the building over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On 28 December 2007, the State Security Department received a lease to use to building for three years.

During a parliamentary investigation in 2009 regarding the possibility of a secret CIA detention centre existing in Lithuania, there were also suspicions that the centre might have been installed at Z. Sierakausko g. 25.

Community representative Ložys believes it would be wrong to build an apartment building at such a location. “The entire right-hand side of the street has maintained its early 20th-century identity. What they are planning is simply to destroy the entire perimeter and create a normal apartment building. What’s strangest is that a cultural object was so easily handed over. Especially when it was a building for public use that was given away to ruin so easily,” he said.

Building’s value acknowledged

What’s interesting is that on June 15th of this year, the building at Z. Sierakausko g. 25 was written into the Real Estate Asset list. According to Rūta Evelina Šutinytė, a representative at the Cultural Heritage Department, the building was added to the list by the Vilnius municipality’s real estate heritage assessment service.

“That territory where they want to build apartment buildings is not part of the historically researched property. It was added on after the second World War,” said Šutinytė. She also said that she had not yet received any project proposals for apartment building construction.

However, Ložys said that he was uneasy about the Vilnius Architectural Studio’s project prepared for Realinija, which owns the property. In the project, the apartment buildings would cover both the park and the villa.

Awaiting construction permits

Realnija director Kęstutis Graužinis claimed that neighbourhood residents’ concerns were unfounded and that it was all one big misunderstanding.

“We wanted to choose the best construction method so we did an architectural competition. We invited a group of architects who offered us their proposals. One proposal won and the others were rejected or found unsuitable. The people expressing their opposition found the contents of a project that did not win on the internet when the architect simply uploaded the proposal from the competition on their website. Now they’re walking around with that unchosen project and telling everyone that we intend to build all over everything. In fact that’s not the case, because we rejected that project and have chosen to work with another architect,” he said.

He revealed that the T. Balčiūnas Architectural Office had won the competition, but that this office had not yet made its proposal public. There was no reason given by Graužinis as to why the architects plans for the building that won the competition had not been made public.

“When buying that property, we knew that the villa is valuable and one of our ideas was to leave it just as it is. That’s why we initiated the acknowledgement of that building as a cultural asset and had it researched by cultural heritage specialists. Its authenticity, history… we carried out historical research and are prepared to preserve that building and integrate it into our future construction, the project for which we are currently preparing,” said Graužinis.

Graužinis could not yet say when construction work would start on the development because he said a permit for the construction had not yet been received.

“Because the property is very complicated and there are many different nuances, everything depends on when we get our construction permits. If we receive them soon, then we will begin construction soon.” he said.

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