The Greatest Hotels in the World – Gresham Palace
From its birth in 1906, the Gresham Palace has intrigued residents and visitors alike for its magnificence an one of the world’s finest Art Nouveau/Secessionist structures – and for its historical mix of high finance and bohemia. Its evolution is a fascinating tale, tracking the course from life insurance company and prestige residence to communist-era housing, now culminating in its transformation into a luxury hotel by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
The Gresham Palace was built for the Gresham Life Assurance Company. At that time, insurers were prohibited by law from investing in the stock market and other potentially risky investments – a fact that enabled Gresham to invest heavily in the new building for a solid source of rental income, as well as a means of “discreet promotion” of the company’s financial strength. The company had the resources to build a “jewel in the crown” to showcase its wealth and power.
A tender offered by the Gresham Life Assurance Company in London in 1903 was won by Zsigmond Quittner (1877 – 1947), were influenced by Art Nouveau /Secessionist movement that originated among groups of avant-garde artist in Paris and Vienna. It emphasized vibrant colors, fluid lines and themes taken from nature, as well as sometimes fantastical designs.
Given free reign and generous funding by Gresham, Quittner chose the most talented Hungarian artists and craftspeople of the era to work on the project – a “who’s who” of architecture and the decorative arts – whose work can be seen in numerous magnificent public buildings and grand apartment blocks throughout Budapest. The celebrated Zsolnay Ceramics Factory produced all the tiles covering the walls of the ground-floor passage, the courtyards and the inventor wall and floor tiles.
Glass painter and mosaic maker Miksa Róth (1865 – 1944) executed the exterior glass mosaics and the stained glass windows.
The wrought iron railings of the main staircases and the three large peacock gates opening onto the courtyard were made in the workshop of Gyula Jungfer (1841 – 1908). Subsequently, Maróti, Róth and Jungfer were to collaborate again on the spectacular interior spaces of the world-renowned Teatro Nacional in Mexico City.
In addition to being an architectural masterpiece, the Gresham Palace became the pride of Budapest for its modern technological innovations, unavailable in most buildings at the time, such as central heating and a unique centralised dust extraction system. It also introduced, for the first time in Budapest, a T-shaped interior shopping arcade roofed with glass. The designers accommodated one unusual request from the Gresham company’s directors – the incorporated the baroque helmets that top the turrets of the Tower of London into the towers of their own design on the banks of the Danube.