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A street is born

From the third decade of the twentieth century, urban life in Alba Iulia received a new spirit, which combined both the old and the new. The effects of belonging to the new Romanian state gradually extended into daily life, just as they did in the other urban settlements of Transylvania. Up until the Second World War, Jewish entrepreneurs retained their preponderance in industry, commerce and credit. After a slow start, Romanian industries, shops and banks appeared. The Uzina Comunală (Communal Plant) Joint Stock Company, managed by engineer Ioan Buda, provided electricity to the city and undertook electrical installations. The Izvorul Bank, from Ighiu village, was relocated in the 1920s to Alba Iulia, where it joined the National Bank. The same trend evolved in the practices of physicians and lawyers. The number of Romanians increased in the 1920s and 1930s, although they were poorly represented in these two categories at the beginning of the twentieth century. There appeared a radical change in the ethnic composition of the public authorities. The categories of officers, professors, judges and state officials underwent a process of Romanianization. All these representatives of the new Romanian elite needed accommodation, a requirement which left traces in the urban development of Alba Iulia.

The well-to-do members of Romanian society could not be relegated to an unattractive periphery. Local authorities spent a decade seeking a convenient solution to this issue. The answer lay nearby. The eastern part of the so-called “glacis”, the area protecting the walls of the fortress, had no name: in town hall records it was simply called the terrain “below the fortress”. In 1928, this piece of land – an area of 15 hectares – was ceded by the Ministry of War to the city hall. The local authorities enforced the provisions of the 1921 Law for agrarian reform and parceled the terrain up into plots for buildings. These were granted to members of the Romanian elite.

The scarcity of written records is compensated for, in this particular case, by historical photos. The images shot by Adalbert Cserni at the beginning of twentieth century, when he was interested in archaeological exploration of the area, display a barren terrain crossed by a few mud roads. The few people appearing in his photos were peasants wearing traditional Romanian garments.

Photographic plates shot by Arthur Bach in 1930s show a radically changed urban scenery. We see, in the earliest shots, a few houses, and shortly afterwards a few more, first in a mid-construction stage and finally in their completed shape. A photo shot a couple of years later on the northeastern side displays a segment of an almost complete street front.

The quality of the buildings, as proved by the photos, confirms that their owners qualified as members of the elite. For this reason, up to the 1960s, the local tradition maintained the popular name “the Masters Street.” However, the selection of new owners was not exclusivist, either in terms of social and professional status, or in regard to ethnicity. There were owners who did not belong to the category of new elites, as well as proprietors of Jewish and Magyar ethnicity.

The development of the new urban space allowed the authorities to locate in this area public institutions, such as the forest district and the residence of apprentices, attended by those who were to increase the number of Romanian professionals in the town. Thus, one of the major routes of Alba Iulia’s center appeared as a result of the local authority’s urban development policy. The new street received a matching name, Ion I.C. Brătianu Boulevard.

The places that we deal with here, like many others, demonstrate that not only people, but streets too are subjected to changes of regimes. The first abusive changes in ownership were enforced by the National Center for Romanianization, which, in 1940, transferred a couple of Jewish houses to the property of members of the Iron Guard. Ten years later, the enemies of the Iron Guard, the communists, proceeded similarly by adopting and applying Decree nr. 92 from 19 April 1950 for the nationalization of some real estate properties. The new rulers of the city needed comfortable homes. Moreover, this time the homes were already furnished and their wardrobes filled with fine garments.

In 1950, the street was renamed “Constantin Dobrogeanu Gherea”. After 1990, the street was split in two; the northern side, Decebal Street, and the southern longer side, Octavian Goga Street. (V.M.)