Iconograph Art Cinema, 41 Andrássy Road

41 Andrássy street - thenSource: pestbuda.hu

The Hungarian cinema has over 100 years under its belt and its adventure-filled story started right here in Theresatown. The first cinema of Pest, the Iconograph was opened on Andrássy Road in 1896. 

The then-newest invention, the cinématographe, which recorded motion pictures and projected them on a screen, was first shown the previous year by the  Lumiére brothers ('light' in French). Soon people of the Hungarian capital city could gawk at the incredible spectacle. The first screenings were held in cafés, cabarets, tents and carnival stalls. We could say that the people of Pest were braver than the Parisians and those in Lyon and did not flee in panic at the sight of an approaching train on the screen, but unfortunately this famous story is an urban legend: there are no reputable written sources that the French audience had panicked, either.

Lumiére's projector
Source: filmkultura.hu

The founder/owner Sziklai brothers also had opposing memories about the Iconograph. In truth, even the date of the first screening under 41 Andrássy Road is up for debate. The permit was issued on 22nd June 1896 and they included the screening of 13th June in it, as well. The owners, however, put the start of the business in May.

Zsigmond Sziklai writes in a memoir-style article published the journal Filmkultúra (Movie Culture - ed.) in 1936, titled Az első magyar mozgóképszínház születése és bukása (The rise and fall of the first Hungarian motion picture theater - ed.), that his younger brother, Arnold Sziklai, told him about a huge sensation in Paris: in a basement of the French capital, the Lumiére brothers were showing motion pictures and people flooded these screenings, paying an entrance fee. Arnold - according to the recollections - convinced his brother, who was a wealthy architect by then, to finance the start of a similar business venture in Budapest. Zsigmond rented the aforementioned place on Andrássy Road and he had it nicely furnished, according to him. He bought the necessary equipment, he even had new machines made. He acquired the film used for screening from the Lumiére brothers. Finally, he mentioned the huge loss of the Iconograph in the summer of 1896, which caused the prompt closing. He put the camera and projector into the basement of his house in Buda and a few years later he sold them for a low price.

The other founder remembered the story of the Iconograph quite differently in an interview in 1915, which was quoted later by the paper Film, Színház, Muzsika (Movie, Theater, Music - ed.) in August 1964. Arnold Sziklai said that during his travels in Paris he found out: the motion picture was invented by a workman in Lyon, not the Lumiére brothers. So he hired this workman and brought him to Budapest and they built the projector, the camera, the copy machine and the developer, too. They even "invented" film: "We had film delivered from Eastman, but it wasn't good enough for us, so we invented it, too." He said that these machines had been placed in the basement of his brother's apartment house, but the lazy porter hadn't watched them closely and the locals had stolen them.

Zsigmond Sziklai (left) and Arnold (right)Zsigmond Sziklai (left) and Arnold (right)
Source: Hungarian National Digital Archive (mandarchiv.hu)

As per other sources, the Iconograph cinema looked like a master photographer's studio of those times: simple, small and pretty cheap. The pioneering businessman thought that the place on Andrássy Road was going to be perfect for luring in large audiences from the busy boulevard. He was wrong. The low-comfort, simple carnival cinema wasn't as up to par for the distinguished crowds, who were used to the neighbouring Opera House and other famous theaters. The movies shown here had low standing and prestige and was just compared to sideshows like the sleeping fakir, the flea circus or the Steam Man.

The enthusiastic owner wasn't just screening, but recording movies, as well. He filmed the Emperor and King, Franz Joseph I, who made his appearance on the National Millenial Exhibition. Unfortunately, since Zsigmond was an inexperienced novice in cinematography, the head of the Kaiser was out of frame. The audience left the cinema outraged then began boycotting it, until it was deserted. In weeks, the first cinema of Pest went out of business. 

After some reconstruction work, a café opened in its place. In the years of World War II, before the siege of Budapest, a married couple ran a restaurant called Polgári Büffé (Civilian Buffet - ed.) then a greengrocer took their place.

Adam PubSource: welovebudapest.com

Later, for a long time, the Adam Pub, famous for its steak tartare, was in operation in the building. The owner of the pub was Zoltán Kós (Reizmann) and the Kaláka folk group was also formed here. Today, the PizzaEATaliano restaurant and a wine shop of Bortársaság is occupying the place.

41 Andrássy street - nowSource: hangosfilm.hu

Sources: terezvaros.hu, mmi.elte.hu, gasztroregesz.blog.hu, pestbuda.hu


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