Kempel House stays at the intersection of two old streets, Gertrudes and Akas, in the heart of ancient part of Riga, Latvian capital. However this place has become a city center not so long ago.
Riga's history has more than eight centuries. Archaeological finds show that settlement activity began in this area already in the XII century.
It is considered that Riga got its name from the title of the river, on the bank of which the first village lied. In various sources this river is called differently: Rigas, Ridzene, Ridzinya. There is no river now. Its flow gradually dried up, and eventually the river was hidden in an underground channel, which existed until the XIX century. Now it is an area of narrow Ridzenes Street. Today the Livs Sguare is decorated with paving stone and special plants recreating the flow of disappeared river.
The official year of Riga’s foundation is considered 1201. Since its inception, the settlement served as the fortress: stone walls were erected around the village. The thickness of the walls reached up to 2.5 meters, height - 10 m. Many powerful towers were built in the walls at a distance of arrow flight from each other. In the Middle Ages there were up to 30 towers. Fragments of fortress towers have survived to our days in some places. Almost in its original form Powder Tower has reached us.
The city could be get through the gates.
Many little villages settled around the fortress walls. Gradually they merged and formed the suburbs. Their buildings were built of wood: while the enemies advanced on fortress, residents set fire to their wooden houses, thus delaying the enemies and clearing space for the upcoming battle. In the period from 1559 to 1812, for example, the Riga suburbs burned eight times, once every 30 years.
The boundaries of the suburbs were the wooden fortifications (palisades), in which the gates also were arranged. Some of that gates, Raunas Gate (later St. Petersburg), were built just near the current intersection of the Brivibas and Gertrudes streets, close to home Gertrudes 23-25. In that place where now the House of Kempel stands, in ancient times there was a well. Latvian farmers watered their horses from this well before entering the town. Hence the name of the Akas Street is "The Well".
At the end of the XVIII century Riga greatly expanded, absorbing the surrounding villages. Thus, the boundaries of the city receded considerably and outskirts became the center of the town.
In the middle of the XVIII century this area was still a suburb called St. Petersburg and Gertrudes Street was called the Great Forge. Gertrudes name appeared in 1885 when the church of St. Gertrude had been constructed (author of the project was an outstanding Riga architect Johann Daniel Felsko). Saint Gertrude, patron of travelers, is always worshiped in Riga, and there are several churches dedicated to this saint in the city. In the vicinity of Gertrudes street there are even two churches: the second building, New Gertrude (as it is called in Riga), was built here forty years after the first, in the early XX century, at a distance from the Old Gertrude.
Buildings in the center of Riga are very diverse in its architecture, most of them have the status of cultural monument. In old town you can see samples built in the Gothic style and Baroque as well as in classicism and eclectic.
At the turn of XIX–XX centuries the rapid construction of multistorey apartment houses has begun in Riga. Therefore many unique Art Nouveau buildings grew in the city. In former St. Petersburg suburb, where the Gertrudes street and Akas street are located, many stone buildings erected in accordance with this European architectural fashion, which soon gave way to National Romanticism (northern modernist style). One of these buildings designed by Eyzhen Laube in the style of the Latvian Romanticism became an apartment house at the crossroads of Gertrudes street and Akas street. Today this building is known as Kempel House.
Generally, Gertrudes street is notable for its buildings. Here and there on it there are still preserved wooden houses. In Riga, in contrast to other cities in Europe, wooden houses were being built until the Second World War. According to experts this is a phenomenon unique in the continent.
The stone houses forms distinguished and elegant appearance of this part of Riga and can tell a lot of amazing stories. Since Gertrudes street has become one of the central way, the mostly wealthy citizens (merchants, industrialists, intellectuals and artistic bohemians) settled on it. The houses were built by well-known architects: Johann Karl Felsko, Janis Alksnis, Heinrich Scheel and Friedrich Scheffel, Joseph Hoffman and Nicholas Herzberg, Alexander Vanags and Eizens Laube, Reinhold and Alexander Schmeling.
For example an outstanding Russian painter Nikolai Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky, whose paintings are kept in the National Art Museum in Riga and in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, lived on the Gertrudes street.
The house № 19-21 (architect Rudolf Donberg) in the 30th years of the XX century accommodated Rubinstein's Chocolate Factory called "Riga". Aromas of chocolate and vanilla created a special atmosphere and poetic aura for tenants, many of whom were actors, journalists, writers, opera singers…
House № 27 is notable not only for its facade. Before the construction of a stone building, on this land there was the first in Russia production of two-wheeled bikes. Merchant and mechanic from Latvian town Kuldigi Alexander Leitner organized it and in 1896 won a gold medal with the words "For a good work and a clean finishing of bicycles, as well as the initiative of the bicycle industry in Russia." Before the First World War the Leitner's factory produced 18,000 bicycles. We can say that the bike was one of the symbols of Riga.
On Gertrudes Street the famous Latvian gymnasium of Natalia Draudzina also housed. Many talented and iconic personalities of Latvian culture taught in there: the writer Vilis Pludonis, painter Janis Rozentals, composer Emil Darzin, graphic and designer Julius Madernieks.
Over the years Riga's outstanding representatives of the intelligentsia - journalists, lawyers - rented apartments in the House of Kempel. Well-known Latvian historian, writer and translator Professor Arveds Schwabe lived here too.
By the way, the Gertrudes street still preserved old Swedish pavers, which remembers the horse-drawn carriages...