13 October 2016

Sofia - Monument to the Soviet Army

Built in 1954, on the tenth anniversary of the 'liberation' of Bulgaria by the Soviet Army, the monument to that army features a central pedestal, 121 feet high, topped by a statue featuring a soldier and a Bulgarian family. 

This is surrounded by a large enclosed area, now somewhat ruinous, on the leading edge of which are two secondary but still monumental sculptures. The figures are secretly painted from time-to-time to indicate solidarity with various peoples and countries subjected to present-day Russian totalitarianism.

12 October 2016

Sofia - Museum of Socialist Art

Originally to be named the Museum of Totalitarian Art, but concentrated solely on communist works, the collection of the museum is hidden away in a nondescript block in the outer Iztok district of Sofia. It opened in 2011, and consists of paintings, busts and statues from 1944 to 1989, the period of the USSR's control of Bulgaria.

The collection includes a statue of Georgi Dimitrov, first General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party (more snappily Stalin's Puppet), by Lubomir Dalchev (late 1960s, above); and the statue of Lenin, by Lev Kerbel (1971), that used to dominate Nezavisimost (Independence) Square. Pride of place goes to the five-pointed star that topped Party House in the same square from 1954 to 1989.

09 October 2016

Sofia - Living at a Snail's Pace

On Boulevard Simeonovsko Shose in Sofia is a five-storey building in the form of a snail, which appears to crawl from a side road. The architect was Simeon Simeonov, who heads the Bulgarian practice Nommad.

Completed in 2009, the apartments took ten years to build. The principal material is light-weight concrete. Atop the antennae are street lamps which double as lightning conductors, and riding the snail's back are a bee (the chimney) and a ladybird.

Suspended from the drooping eyelids are spinning cowls for the ventilation systems. Beside the doorway is a mosaic duck, and the pavements are painted the same mad colours as the building, and elaborated with snail plant pots.

08 October 2016

Sofia - National Art Gallery

The National Art Gallery of Bulgaria is housed, along with the Ethnographic Museum, in Sofia Palace. This started life as the local headquarters of the Ottoman Empire. After Bulgarian independence in 1878 the building was remodelled as a palace for Prince Alexander Battenberg, the first post-independence monarch. The principal architect was Viktor Rumpelmayer, of Vienna.

Only the foundations and part of the façade were retained. The style is decidedly Second Empire. The palace was inaugurated on 26 December 1882. In 1894-96 the next monarch, Prince (later Tsar) Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg Gotha had the architect Friedrich Grünanger, also of Vienna, add the north-east wing. Neo-Baroque crept in.

The National Gallery moved into the palace in 1946, after the communists abolished the Bulgarian monarchy, and following destruction in 1944 of the gallery's original home. The exhibition space utilises the ballroom, a number of drawing and dining rooms, and one of the winter conservatories. All the rooms boast gorgeous tile or parquet flooring, and unique marble fireplaces.

28 September 2016

Wurlitzer 616

The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, of Cincinnati, OH, and later North Tonawanda, NY, started making multi-selector phonographs in 1933 - the word "jukebox" wasn't adopted until 1940. The Model 616, designed by Paul Max Fuller, was the last of Wurlitzer's all-wood models, released in 1937. It was available in two principal versions: that photographed (serial number A32237A), and with illuminated Lucite grille bars (Model 616A).

There were also numerous after-market cabinet variations - cut out and lit louvres, illuminated Catalin panels and domes, marble-effect paintwork, a heads-up selector that replaced the original selection wheel, replacement grilles, and bolt-on mirrors. The all-Wurlitzer 616 cabinet itself went through various incarnations, some sporting the coin entry point on the top right of the cabinet, usually with a coin return cup lower down. Some took only nickels, others dimes and quarters too.

This example is an early incarnation, with the coin slides, for nickels, dimes and quarters, to the face of the cabinet, and no coin return mechanism. Some early 616s featured a colour-wheel mounted inside the back of the cabinet, illuminating the plain wood interior of the upper rear door. Others, as here, instead had a coloured clam-shell pattern, formed of pressed cardboard, affixed to the inside of the rear door, and illuminated by a plain bulb. In both cases the machine could be switched for continuous illumination, or only upon insertion of a coin.

About 23,500 Model 616s were manufactured, plus a further 13,600 or so Model 616As. Given the various cabinet adaptations, it is unlikely that any two of the few survivors are exactly the same. All though used the Simplex mechanism, designed in 1932 by Homer Capehart, the rights bought in 1933 by Wurlitzer. The mechanism used in the Model 616 allows for selection from 16 ten-inch 78rpm discs. The chosen disc is swung out on a ring platter and the turntable rises to lift it to the tone-arm. Accordingly, only the 'top' side of each record can be played.

The amplifier used in the 616 was Wurlitzer's Wide Range Sound System, Model 771. Of a robust 155 watts, this was also used in the 316, 416 and 716 Wurlitzers. The amplifier (serial number A15588A) of this example  has been overhauled. The motor for the Simplex mechanism has been rewound, and the speaker re-coned.

This survivor is largely unadulterated, the cabinet in fine condition, although the clam-shell decoration has been sprayed silver at some point. A mains transformer and a cycle converter have been fitted to enable use in the UK without re-gearing. The original Model 61 bear's claw tone-arm has been fitted with a light pick-up to protect the 78s. Without end-weight, the tone-arm is instead lifted at the end of a record by an automatic switch-operated solenoid added to the manual lift-off mechanism.

31 August 2016

Ekco - Round Five

Ekco released its first round radio, the AD65, in 1934. Four further circular designs followed, both the AD36 and the AD76 in 1935, the AD75 in 1940, and the A22 (pictured) in 1945. This was the last word in development of Wells Coates' original design, with the tuning dial turning a complete circuit, making the A22 the most elegant of the round Ekcos. It was the only one that included the shortwave band. The cursor is in the form of a light box that circles the dial, illuminating it from behind.

Two standard versions were available: walnut-toned Bakelite with a Florentine bronze ring, which cost £17.17s.3d; and more expensive black Bakelite with a chromed ring, as in this example. There are also known to be three genuine special order A22s, made of urea formaldehyde, two in red, and one (made for the 1946 Britain Can Make It exhibition) in marbled green. All other coloured A22s are fakes or copies.

16 August 2016

Llandrindod Garages I - Automobile Palace

Commenced in 1906 and completed in 1911, what was originally known as The Palace of Sport, trading as Tom Norton Ltd from 1908, was founded by Tom Norton. Norton started in 1906 one of the earliest public bus services in Wales, between Llandrindod Wells and Newtown, held the first Wales-wide Ford agency, and was also a major agent for Austin and Ferguson.

The architect was Richard Wellings Thomas, and the building a very early example of steel construction. It was enlarged in 1919 to about three times its original size, providing nine bays along its curved frontage. Although built to the same Art Deco design, with faience facing throughout, the extension was constructed using reinforced concrete.

22 lions sejant-rampant, each with a shield, guard the building, which faces onto three streets. The elevation to Princes Avenue includes a pedimented entrance to No. 2 Garage. The ground floor fascia boasts faience tiles with raised lettering, including the word Aircraft. Circa 1913 Norton had invited pioneer aviator Gustav Hamel to give flying demonstrations from the nearby old race-course, in an effort to introduce aviation to mid-Wales.

The facility was renamed The Automobile Palace in 1925. It operated as a garage into the 1980s, and was Grade II* listed in 1985. Regrettably, much of the building is unoccupied, but it is home to the National Cycle Museum, a collection of over 250 bicycles that brilliantly charts their history. Apt given that Norton's first business was selling and repairing bicycles.

Llandrindod Garages II - Pritchard's

Also known as Central Garage, Pritchard's Garage was at one time a Rootes dealership, as evidenced by the aged signs for Commer, Hillman, Humber and Sunbeam. 11 lions sejant-rampant upon the parapet hold shields that give a completion date of 1929 for this fine concrete building, now largely unoccupied. The lions and the curved façade echo those of the nearby Automobile Palace.