If not for the rounded corners, the typical courtyard entrances, and the slate roof of the interwar period, you could think that you are looking at an almost typical post-war apartment block. However, it was designed by Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis, a famous architect of interwar Lithuania, and the four-storey house was home to several well-known citizens and public figures of the time.
Initial project of the J. Žemgulis house. Architect V. Landsbergis-Žemkalnis. Photo source: Lithuanian Archive of Literature and Art.
Originally, the house was designed by Juozas Žemgulys, a well-known surgeon of the interwar period, as a two-storey house. Once he arrived in Kaunas in 1919, Žemgulys started working at the state hospital. From 1923, he was a surgeon at Kaunas Military Hospital and was promoted to the rank of colonel for the Military Medical Service. The doctor also worked for a while as a chairman of the Lithuanian Red Cross, and in 1935, was transferred to Klaipėda.
The doctor was not only a prominent surgeon, but also a public figure; he took part in the activities of the “Fraternitas Lituanica” corporation of medical students and doctors, was one of the co-founders of the Medical Society, and founded the Lithuanian Society of Surgeons. In the end, the house doubled in size, but retained the original architecture: the main volume of the building with three windows, behind which the rooms line up, and a slightly recessed smaller part of the house with the entrance on the first floor, the entrance into the courtyard, and two-roomed apartments (without a kitchen) intended for singles on top.
J. Žemgulis house design. Architect V. Landsbergis-Žemkalnis. Photo source: Lithuanian Archive of Literature and Art.
It is likely that a house made of a few apartments in a convenient location was in demand. Karolis Gercas, the head of “Ūkio Bankas”, Jonas Kalnėnas, the editor of “Trimitas”, Julija Monstavičienė-Veličkaitė, a physician of internal and pulmonary diseases, Dionizas Monstavičius, an assistant of the Chamber of Appeals, Elena Pšigodskienė, a dentist, and Juozas Ratkevičius, the owner of cinema “Saturnas”, settled in the house. After Germany took over Klaipėda, the owner of the house moved to Panevėžys, where he worked in the local hospital. He was married to Leokadija Steponaitytė and they had five children together. However, in 1941, tragedy awaited the family. When the Soviet occupation began, J. Žemgulys was murdered in a hospital in Panevėžys, and his wife with children fled to the West in 1944.
Text by Žilvinas Rinkšelis
Sources of informtion:
Greetings to Paulius Lazauskas for the information about the building!
Photos by Ž. Rinkšelis and M. Rainytė, 2020 m.