Bucharest is a city which started to modernize relatively recently, in the second half of the 19th century
Bucharest is a city which started to modernize relatively recently, in the second half of the 19th century. It started as a trade fair, which grew haphazardly on the banks of the river Dambovita, around an area of inns, stores, and alehouses, what is now known as the Old Center. As such, in the first decade of the 20th century the peripheral neighborhoods were insufficiently urbanized, housing was unhygienic, and tuberculosis was rampant among the inhabitants on the edges. Reason for which in the year 1910, city mayor Vintila Bratianu set up the Cheap Housing Communal Society, which was unique in its time in Romania, being found in no other city. The society bought land from the state, which in turn it had purchased from the gentry that owned estates around Bucharest. It then built houses and sold them in installments to the masses. In reality, things were far from rosy. It turns out that it wasn't the workers who got the main benefit, but the middle class clerks, teachers, engineers, and professionals. Obviously, the city had the benefit of expanding and modernizing. Historian Andrei Razvan Voinea studied the activities of the society, and he is telling us about the findings:
“The pricing for housing was state controlled, with a ceiling of 8,000 lei. You could not sell a home for more than 8,000 lei. As point of comparison, a worker earned a maximum of 100 lei per month between the wars. In view of that, the 8,000 lei price was prohibitive. The great advantage was that, when the society purchased such a plot of land, it divided it into equal, smaller plots, and built there all the needed utilities: sewage, running water, electricity, waste management, public illumination, asphalt, everything that modernized the city. After buying a house, the new owner found there everything that was needed, from stoves to shingle, on a paved street, with fences already up. Which is why over the next few years there was a fever of acquisitions. Unfortunately, shortly after beginning construction, the law changed, and the price of houses topped at 15,000 lei. As a result, the workers who were already disparaged by the 8,000 lei price, now found themselves pushed out of the market. At the same time, the homes now went to a category of earners that could have afforded them in the first place.”
Between 1911 and 1948, the society divvied up 25 larger plots to accommodate some 4,000 families. The first of them was a plot called Clucerului, also known as the Boerescu or Delavrancea plot, named after a mayor of Bucharest, who was also a great writer: Barbu Stefanescu Delavrancea. The resulting neighborhood back then was on the northern edge of town, at the end of Victoria Boulevard, and where the so-called Promenade Way started. This neighborhood, raised in 1918, still stands to this day. Here is Andrei Voinea:
“The homes there were built in 1918. Work started in spring, around St. George Day, and were finished by the end of the year. The society offered four kinds of homes, A, B, C, and D. However, in Clucerului neighborhood, only a single type was built, and that was C, with a ground floor and a top floor. All the C buildings there were duplexes, meaning two joined homes, with one family on one side and another on the other. All the homes had a small garden, for either flowers, trees, or vegetables. They were built because the planners wanted to get as close as they could to a garden city: as many houses as possible, surrounded by as many garders with flowers and vegetables.”
The head planner at the Cheap Housing Communal Society, the one who designed these Neo-Romanian style buildings, was Ion Trajanescu, who studied with Ion Mincu, the creator of the style himself. In fact, at the end of construction, using an empty plot, Trajanescu built his own house, as Andrei Voinea told us:
“This is very important, because that became a sort of badge of honor for the neighborhood, a sort of metaphor for what was happening in reforming social housing in Bucharest. First and foremost, its architecture is based mostly on the Neo-Romanian style. Trajanescu, who was no older than 30 in 1911, had been Ion Mincu's student, who had created the style. The Neo-Romanian elements indicate that these homes were built for social strata with some understanding of architecture. In addition, having a home bought from the Cheap Housing Communal Society was a step up the social ladder. Paradoxically, not everyone could afford a house built by the Cheap Housing Communal Society. In the end, the society ended up doing something quite different than what it had set out to do.”
A few of the descendants of the original inhabitants are still living in the Clucer area. Since then, the area is very expensive and competitive, precisely because of its vintage look, and its location close to some of the most elegant residential neighborhoods, north of Piata Victoriei, the place where the government itself now has its headquarters.