Built as a temporary replacement, Warsaw’s ‘Summer Theatre’ became one of the capital’s best loved attractions
Opened on July 14th, 1870, the ‘Teatr Letni w Ogrodzie Saskim’ also known as the Summer Theatre, quickly became a standout landmark on the Warsaw map.
Although intended to be temporary replacement for the nearby National Grand Theatre which was being renovated, the wooden Summer Theatre surpassed all expectations and stood for 70 years until it was destroyed by fire after being bombed in September 1939 during the Defence of Warsaw, following Nazi-Germany’s invasion a few days before.
Designed by Aleksander Zabierzowski, the structure was 25 meters high, with an area of 42 by 46 meters and consisted of a ground floor, an amphitheatre and a further two floors.
The stage was designed to replicate that of the National Grand Theatre, with the idea of hosting operas in the summer months, and had an initial capacity of around 1,000 seats which would later grow to about 1,500 seats.
The acoustics received praise from audiences and it quickly became recognized as a place to listen to musical performances, attracting audiences from around the city. Those who couldn’t get a seat inside could enjoy the sound outside in the park, making the Saski Garden a popular attraction.
The first performance held at the new theatre was Offenbach’s ‘Beautiful Helene’ and in 1890 the theatre was adapted for use all year round, this included the installation of gas stoves to heat the audience who had complained of drafts. In 1902 the theatre held the first screenings of films in Poland.
The simple films were just recordings of everyday life in Warsaw, including titles such as: Ice skating rink in the Dolinie Szwajcarskiej, Ice skating rink in the Saski Garden, Traffic in front of the Mickiewicz monument, Racing , Ambulance and St. Alexander’s Church.
Later the Summer Theatre became known as a popular venue to watch singers and comedians, farce was particularly popular at the time. Famous acts such as Józef Redo, Władysław Szczawiński, Rufin Morozowicz, Lucyna Messal, Mieczysława Ćwiklińska and Antoni Fertner all performed there.
The last performance took place on the 2nd September before the Summer Theatre became an ammunitions storage facility on the 4th.
Only a few days later on the 9th September a bomb hit the facility, causing a large explosion and a fire that left almost nothing. A landmark that had brought joy to many a spectator was now little more than ash.
Now visitors to the miniatures museum in Warsaw can see a replica of the famous building but the park where it once stood is as vibrant as ever.
The first public city garden in Poland, Saski Garden was originally built in 1724 as a geometric French garden. It was later redesigned between 1816 and 1827 into an English garden style, which it remains today.
The park suffered further damage due to bombing in the Second World War with the partial demolition of the Blue Palace.
The park was closed to the public on 4th May 1942 but was restored and even enlarged before being reopened to the public after the war.
Today visitors to the park can see Henryk Marconi’s Empire fountain, a statue of Maria Konopnicka, memorial plaques and the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.