The Macca-Villacrosse covered passage is a coquettish commercial area like many others in Europe
The Macca-Villacrosse covered passage, in the center of Bucharest, with a fancy glass ceiling, is a coquettish commercial area like many others in Europe, in terms of architecture and decorations. It is smaller than most, but is more intimate, just right for the capital of Romania. Even though the name leads one to believe that it is named after its designers, it really has nothing to do with Xavier Villacrosse, chief architect of the city around the middle of the 19th century.
In spite of his important position, he is a lesser known figure, and archive research reveals surprising information, according to art historian Oana Marinache: “In terms of the Villacrosse family, so far historians of Bucharest were speaking only of Xavier Villacrosse. He was thought to come from Catalonia, but in the first archive documents, dating to August 1835, he was writing that he had just arrived in Wallachia, signing 'Xavier Villacrosse, French Architect'. At present, we have all the documents to trace his activities in the Romanian space, which occurred between 1835 and 1855, when he passed away.”
Xavier Villacrosse was probably called to Bucharest by the local authorities, being employed as a public servant by the Wallachian state. Back then, the modernization of the country depended on foreign experts to fill in key positions, in construction and architecture, for instance.
Even though he was not in charge of designing the Villacrosse commercial passage on Victoria Road, he had many other contributions to the city's architecture: “The first document about him dates to August 1835, when he entered the competition for chief architect of the city of Bucharest. Unfortunately, as he was a new arrival, the authorities preferred another architect, a Prussian. Villacrosse was entrusted with several designs, less important at first, such as renovating the former Golescu mansions, which back then were the princely residence. This happened between 1838 and 1840. Also in 1838, after a strong earthquake damaged taller buildings, especially Bucharest churches, he was appointed to head a commission to evaluate damage. The restoration of several churches was entrusted to him personally. He was also entrusted with a major project in the history of Bucharest, in the year 1842, when he was already chief architect of the city: the building of City Hall, close to Manuc's Inn, on the bank of Dambovita River. Unfortunately, this House of Magistracy, as it was called back then, was demolished in 1880, to make room for a redesign of the entire area, which was the venue for the main commercial storage buildings of the city. The area is now Unirea Square.”
Archival research also reveals the fact that there were in fact two architects called Xavier Villacrosse, father and son. Xavier the younger also contributed to public projects, but his career was not as well known as that of his father. However, it seems that the commercial passage called Villacrosse is named after him.
Here is Oana Marinache once again: “I would rather believe that the passage was designed by the son of the chief architect. What we know from Bucharest historiography is that Xavier Villacrosse the younger married, in 1843, Paulina Serafim, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Her dowry included properties around what is now the Macca-Villacrosse passage, named after the husbands of the merchant's two daughters. Documents of that time indicate that there were a few outdoor restaurants in the area, meaning that the owners realized the commercial potential of the area. What we know now as the Mecca-Villacrosse passage is in fact designed by late 19th century architect Xenopol. At the time, neither of the Villacrosse architects were alive. However, the man who applied for the authorization for construction on that plot is one of their descendants, Ion Villacrosse, who was a lawyer.”
Xavier Villacrosse the elder did not limit his activities to the capital Bucharest. In 1836 he designed the cityscape of Drobeta Turnu-Severin, and in 1851 he designed the main hospital in Braila.