History of the Werich Villa

The Werich Villa, previously also known as the Dobrovský house or Engel tannery, has more than 450 years of history and is closely connected with the history of Kampa Island, used since time immemorial by craftsmen who needed water to perform their activities: millers, tanners, gardeners and potters (the pottery markets on Kampa lasted up until the 20th century). Later, the aristocratic gardens were first built, then a public park, and the island also began being used as a popular place for relaxation.

One of the oldest reports of the buildings and gardens on Kampa is the information on Sova’s Mill from the 14th century (today it is the main Museum Kampa building). Accounts of the founding of the first gardens are from the 15th century. Most of the buildings were then built in the second half of the 16th and the beginning of the following century.

The first mention of the building that is now known as the Werich Villa comes from the year 1580, and Servatius Engel, whose family was from Flanders and who was raised to noble status in 1648 with the title von Engelsfluss for the protection of Prague from the Swedes, had a tannery here at least from the second quarter of the 17th century.

Part of the gardens, including today’s Werich Villa, was acquired by the house of Nostitz in 1725. They closed the tannery, walled in the space and attached it to the nearby Nostitz Palace as a garden.

In 1797 Bedřich Nostitz had the former tannery, which had been used until that time as a garden house, rebuilt by architect Ignatius Palliardi into the Neo-Classical style of today. Following the reconstruction, the tutor to the Nostitz family, Josef Dobrovský, moved here. In 1840, a greenhouse was built here, from which only the north wall remains.

In the 20th century Kampa was used both by private gardeners and by sports clubs. Most of the complex became the property of the City of Prague in 1918, including what was then known as the Dobrovský house, which was divided into several flats and used for public housing. The renovation of the building was performed based on a design by the architect Bohumil Hübschmann.

The expansive Kampa Park of today arose at the turn of the 1930s and 40s as military training grounds and an area for military parades (the most important parade of the Nazi armed forces planned for March 1940 was thwarted by a flood). The remnants of the historical walls of the original garden were demolished soon afterwards, in part to provide firemen better access to the Vltava River. The park was converted into its current form, an English garden, in the years 1947–1948, and the building/villa was administered by the Public Housing Administration, owned by the City of Prague. The villa was lived in up until the year 2002, when it was hit by a large flood, during which the water rose to the height of the first floor of the building. After some basic reconstruction, the owner of the villa, the Prague 1 city district, looked for a use for the building, announcing a plan to utilise the villa for cultural purposes.

In 2015 Museum Kampa obtained a lease on the Werich Villa as a result of an open public tender. At the current time the preparation of the exhibits and the conception of the accompanying and educational programmes for various target groups are culminating.

Meda Mládková tried to get the use of the Werich Villa for cultural purposes after the flood. She had always seen the dilapidated building with its fascinating history on the edge of the park as a wonderful complement for the activities of the art museum. The foundation’s interest in presenting the legacy of Werich and Voskovec and other personalities connected with the Werich Villa was a natural extension of its long-term efforts to promote Czech culture and to convey it to the public in various forms. In 2007, for example, the Jan and Meda Mládek Foundation, in cooperation with the Akropolis publishing house and the renowned Czech literary theorist, Professor Ladislav Matějka, published two volumes of correspondence between Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich, which were declared the 2007 Book of the Year. It is worth mentioning that Meda Mládková and Jiří Voskovec were friends and met regularly in America and she saw the establishment of an institution that would systematically commemorate his and Werich’s artistic activities as a kind of service to an old friend.

In 2012 JUDr. Jiří Pospíšil joined the Board of Trustees of the Jan and Meda Mládek Foundation. He had worked with Meda Mládková on the preparation of the concept for the exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Jan Werich. Jiří Pospíšil also coordinated the entire project to revive the Werich Villa. Countess Mathilda Nostitz, a close friend of Meda Mládková, became the patron of the project. Both of the ladies are connected by their intensive devotion to the cultural heritage of the Czech Republic and Europe.