Villa Petschek has an extensive history in terms of who occupied the Villa and when, as well as what happened to the Villa during that period of occupation. In 1923 Otto Petschek bought the land lots that were numbered 746-750 in Bubenec, Prague for the reason that he wanted to live closer to his brothers, who had also built residences in that area. The following year, the German architect Maximilian Spielmann started construction on the Villa. Spielmann was an expert in historicizing styles during a period of considerable rise in modernism throughout the rest of Prague. Just five short years later, Villa Petschek was completed by Matej Blecha and Maximilian Spielmann, designed by Otto Petschek himself. The Petschek family moved into the Villa during the winter of 1929-1930 and the Staff-house next door housed Petschek relatives. Otto wanted a place for him, his wife, and four children- (3 daughters, one son) that displays his wealth and social status with room for a luxurious social life.
Not even 10 years later in 1934, Otto Petschek became ill and passed away. After the death of Otto in 1938, there was a Nazi threat to peace in Europe, and in Czech specifically. Because of this, the Petschek family fled to the United States. When the Nazi’s occupied Prague, they seized the home and until May of 1945, it was the residence of the General Toussaint, who was the head of the German Army that was occupying Prague. After the Germans were forced out of Prague, the Soviet Army took over the Villa for several days. The next occupants were the Czech General Staff and it was used as a Staff Headquarters. Not much was done to the Villa during this time to maintain or modify the property, other than several artifacts being taken and/or destroyed.
1945 was the start of an important few years when in September, the American Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt leased the residence from the Czech Ministry of National Defense. The lease was subject to an annual renewal and was required the ministry to make certain repairs. Three years later, in July of 1948, the residence, which was Deputy Chief of Mission’s house, and the staff-house were purchased for $1,570,000 and were established as the Ambassador’s residence. The money went to the Czech government against surplus property debts to the US Government. The villa and its furniture was a part of the sales agreement between the Czech Ministry of National Defense and the US State Department along with other properties, adding up to $1.72 million. The total cost was credited to the Czech surplus debt after the war, so ultimately did not cost the US any money. When the relationships between the two countries became increasingly worse with the rise of Communism, the Czech Government ceased payment on property debts and the assets and credits were frozen.
Time Line of Villa Petschek
The Gold Claims agreement in 1982 was an agreement between the Czech and US Government to transfer property over to the United States as a method of relieving debt. The entire Villa Petschek account, along with other various debts and financial claims were included in the agreement. It resolved the dispute over the property debts and claims and the residence was acquired without any actual loss to the US Treasury. At this time the Petschek family filed a claim for reimbursement for the property, in which they received compensation that felt appropriate from the Czech Government.
In 1984 Under the Ambassador William H. Leurs’ term, the residence underwent an extensive evaluation. The Ambassador Leurs’ wife, Wendy Leurs, began a project to document the history of the residence and recognized the value and beauty of the rich stylistic elements. She was, however, unsuccessful in obtaining any appraisals in a Communist state. The following year Ambassador Leurs’ wife reached out to multinational brokers and luxury antiques dealer Sotheby’s at their London headquarters for assistance. The president of Sotheby’s, Michael Ainslie, and Chairman of Holdings, Alfred Taubman, agreed to provide public appraisals of all US Government-owned properties in Prague as a pro-bono venture. Valuing over $1.8 million, these appraisals would classify over 600 items by value, condition, and location which started a long-lasting relationship between Sotheby’s and the US State Department that extended to federal buildings in several other countries.
Ambassador Adrian A. Basora began serving in June of 1992 and continued serving after the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic ceased to exist through 1995, now as the Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Following Basora in 1996 Under Ambassador Jenonne R. Walker, the Foundation for Arts and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE) had received a grant from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation to fund the restoration and preservation of the Villa. This would include preserving both interior and exterior components in honor of the organization’s tenth anniversary, along with preserving the mansion’s architectural details. Some of the architectural details include interior and exterior glazing, the boiseries of the State Dining Room, and elements within the interiors of the Wintergarden, Library, and Red Room among others. Just a few years late Prague experienced the Velvet Revolution in 1998. This was a non-violent social revolution leading to the fall of communism, the restoration of democratic rule, the break up of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and more.
It wasn’t until 2007 during Ambassador Richard W. Graber’s term from 2006-2009 that the Villa underwent another restoration effort in November 2007 by GEMA Art group. They carried out a restoration of the building’s statuary and ornaments, interior and exterior decorative metal railings, restoration and reproduction of historical lamps and glass components. Other supporting members of the terraces and exterior walls would also be reconstructed and reinsulated. The next restoration was by the GEMA Art Group who restored the interior from 2012-2013 under the Ambassador Normal L. Eisen, who was serving from 2011-2014.
Currently, from 2017 to present, The residence hosts many social events such as celebrations for the United States Independence Day and housing prestigious art collections and hosting shows with speakers including the recent exhibit: The Lobkowicz Collection in Prague in 2017.