CAPITAL CHRONICLE Pt.3. A photo story on Blaumaņa street.

For a second time an urban car-free mobility experiment was held in Riga on 1 February, 2020. A full-length of the central Blaumaņa iela was closed for motorized traffic and given to pedestrians, cyclists, innitiatives. We celebrate this experiment again by continuing the series of documentary photo stories called "CAPITAL CHRONICLE" - how does Riga look like from the human scale and what stories it tells?


There would be a completely different CAPITAL CHRONICLE if no Rīgas Centre Development Community would be launched in 2019 in order to support and execute concepts, ideas, and solutions of rejuvenating, calming and making the city centre liveable. One of their conversations with the mayor of Riga, Oļegs Burovs, ended up with presenting a long-incubated idea for an experiment - let's close several central streets for motorized vehicles and turn them into pedestrian lanes.
"The community would get a greener, safer, more accessible urban environment. The city would become peaceful and more walkable, the flow of people would be less hectic. It would seem perfectly suitable for hopping in a shop or café, thus increasing general satisfaction as well as turnover and income," explained Toms from the Centre Development Community.
The first ever micro-mobility experiment took place on 4 January when another central Tērbatas street got half-length closed for motorized traffic. On that day CAPITAL R began BLOW-UP Instawalks by inviting people to join urban saunter and "blow-up closer the invisible city and its stories" as well as share each impression on social media thus "blowing-up" Instagram. The result of such walk would soon be published as the first CAPITAL CHRONICLE photo story.

Setting up the Free Shop.

A month has passed, and here is the second BLOW-UP Instawalk in our CAPITAL CHRONICLE documentary photo series with Barona street coming up next in March. Despite part of the event being affected by heavy rain, we managed to run the tour right before it. So, let us have a walk along Blaumaņa iela then and see what's on its mind:

Although being relatively short, Blaumaņa iela is one of the oldest modern streets in the Centre dated back in 1810 as The Great Cabmen street (related to several delivery offices down the street). Nothing much is left of the old glory since Blaumaņa iela was also one of the central streets suffering the Great City fire in 1812 when, after a false alarm of Napoleon's army approaching, the then suburb area was burnt down with more than 700 estates.

The Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Church is the oldest church in the centre and the oldest structure around Blaumaņa street. Dated in 1820-1825, this classical round building was erected as a memorial to the victory over Napoleon and would become one of the most significant historical wooden rotundas in the Baltics today. It replaced a regularly planned burnt-down church named in a total Russian Orthodox manner - The Orthodox Church of the Icon of Our Lady of the Living Spring (the more words the better!). By 1863, the complex would get its free-standing bell tower as seen behind.

Paradoxically, opposite the oldest building on the street there is this concrete structure being the newest work of architecture. Constructed from 1986 - 1989, it wiped away an old wooden house an became the headquarters of then Soviet airline "Aeroflot" until 1993. The house has been renovated in the late 90's and appealing to minor banks - first "Rietumu banka", then Latvijas Pasta Banka (now LPB).

Not sure if this banana is a work by the famous Cologne-based artist Thomas Baumgärtel (Bananensprayer) or just another rip-off. Despite that, it puts a significant urban note to the street's melody.

Finished in 1902 by Alexander Schmaeling, son of the famous head architect of Riga back then, Reinhold Schmaeling, this piece of historicism draws influences from the newly appearing decorative Art Nouveau. As a matter of fact, this forgotten gem is a living representation of the seminal art of building of its time. It has four well articulated corbels with faces and reliefs on the top, representing four most important elements to define buildings and the era - architecture, industry, painting and sculpture.

The entrance of the house by Alexander Schmaeling (mentioned above). As one of the participants of the Instawalk admitted - the most beautiful views of Riga are only reserved to pedestrians, not chauffeurs.

The square in front of this Neo-Gothic gem by Karl Johann Felsko from 1903 was serving its duty as a space for an artesian well, then kiosk and petrol station. The street was renamed Rūdolfa Blaumaņa iela in 1923 (honouring a famous Latvian writer, who lived up the street for 1(!) year). He was the first Latvian person to have his own sculpture in Riga that was moved here in 1935 to be removed back to the Boulevard area in 1948.

During the Soviet era, there would only be social advertisement (drive safely, or visit libraries) painted on walls or murals of neutral or practical matter (with some exceptions by the end of the 80s). This particular, well established piece was dedicated to the Photo Amateur club "Rīga" launched in 1962 and located in the back of this house. Although relatively passive today, the club gathered now renowned photographers you could hardly call amateurs even back then.

In 1885 Blaumaņa iela would lose 1/3rd of its length to Avotu iela, beginning right from houses behind the vans. Where the functionalism building (1934) is located on the left, there was a smaller building where the first Latvian news organisation, Latvian Telegraph Agency - LETA, was founded.

Starting with the National Romanticism period in architecture in 1905, most of buildings would be constructed in a way they have large stairwells with enormous glass domes for natural sunlight. This, designed in 1911 and located at the very end of Blaumaņa street, is one of the most impressive.

Blaumaņa iela became Warsaw in WWII multiple times when the filming of "The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler" (2008) took place in Riga. It tells a story of a Polish social worker smuggling Jewish children (she claimed more than 2,500) out of the Warsaw Ghetto and then providing them with false identity documents and shelter. What was destroyed in Warsaw during WWII was completely spared in Riga, thus repeatedly becoming a living pavilion for many historical films.

This time there were more tents, tables, and stalls placed along the street than a month ago on Tērbatas street. Some residents would be looking into ways to entertain both themselves and visitors such as this family letting their kids handing out homemade sandwiches or cookies for donations.