Cracow is a unique city where almost every historical building, even inconspicuous ones, has its own carefully documented story and a history of consecutive proprietors who were famous not only locally but also wielded influence on a national scale. One of such property is the complex of three, small houses located close to the prestigious Nowodworski College (the oldest one in Poland). Very few people pay attention to this incorrectly called "little white palace", when passing by Straszewskiego street, and only persons interested in the history of the city know, that it used to belong to the Potocki family.
Before we take a closer look at the building let us recall who once possessed it. Stanisław Lubomirski, the Grand Royal Marshall of the First Republic of Poland, and his wife Izabela, princess Czartoryska, are the first known proprietors of this property. Their daughter, Julia, married count Jan Potocki who was a popular traveller and the author of the famous novel Manuscript Found in Saragassa. The house was inherited by Izabela's juvenile grandsons, Alfred and Artur, but she administrated the property on their behalf, as their mother died prematurely. Alfred was the founder of the Łańcut branch of the Potocki family, and Artur became a founder of the other family branch in Krzeszowice. In 1822 the brothers divided the patrimonial estate between themselves and then the building, also known as Rzędzichów House, was left to Artur and later to his son, Adam. The latter was a well known conservative politician in Galicja a representative of this region in the State Council in Vienna, and one of the leaders of the "Stańczyk" party. Then "the little palace" was a dowry of Zofia's, Adam's daughter, who married count Stefan Zamoyski, an active legate of the regional parliament. Their grandson,Tomasz Zamoyski, was the next owner of the house. His sister, Róża, was the mother of the present owner - count Władysław Tarnowski. This century was rather a sad period in almost two hundred years of house history. At the end of Second World War for a short period of time (1945 - 1946) the complex became a shelter for many families who had been deprived of their property by the communist authorities. In 1946 the building was taken over for almost fifty years and was returned to the legal owner in 1990.
The present complex of three buildings located at Straszewskego street, close to the Royal Castle, is in fact the only well-preserved town house in the oldest part of Cracow. The building in its present shape was originally designed in 1835 by J. Hertzog, rather unknown architect. However, it was Wilhelm Hoffbauer, an architect from Vienna who came to Poland in 1826 and was a real designer of whole complex. Hoffbauer was a close cooperator of the famous Berliner, Karl Friedrich von Schinkel, a representative of the Neo-classical school of architecture. The latter designed of the church nearby Potocki palace in Krzeszowice. But it was Hoffbauer who simultaneously supervised the construction in Krzeszowice and reconstruction of "the town house" and its outbuildings in 1835 - 1837. The outbuildings of the manor are simple houses of classic proportions, covered with four-slopped roofs with attic windows. Although they are not of outstanding architectural value but they suit the Schinkler's style and reflect some of his other works.
It is worth mentioning here that Hoffbauer was later employed by the Potockis to design their prestigious family chapel at Wawel Cathedral.
In the beginning "the town house" was not a family residence, but rather a guest house for visitors or royal court officials who. The outbuildings served as stables (coach-houses) and stores. It was only at the end of the 19th century and thanks to Zofia Potocka-Zamoyska, that this architectural complex was adapted to fulfil residential purposes. In 1892 - 1895 the house was rebuilt again and a glazed oriel was added to the living room on the side of the garden elevation. The entire interior was also reconstructed at the same time. The fireplace decorated with the Zamoyski and Potocki' coat of arms, stone was designed by Teodor Talowski, and is one of the elements that survived to our times. Teodor Talowski, the designer eccentrically stylised tenement-houses in Cracow (e.g. a very decorative building called "Under the Spider" on Karmelicka Street) is considered to be one of Cracow's most outstanding architects. The town house is Neo-renaissance in decoration and its elevation is diversified by windows frame by profiled stone.
Count Władysław Tarnowski, the present owner, had all the buildings throughly renovated in 1996 - 2000.
The town house was surrounded by a garden shaped according to the original arrangement of buildings geometry. The garden is going to be fully restored and brought back to its splendour in the future, incorporating present-day requirements.
At present one of the outbuildings is being turned in to a hotel - the Maltese Hotel. This name perfectly matches the town house's aristocratic history. One can only hope that it will become frequently visited and not be omitted by the Cracow's guide-books.
author: dr Andrzej Betlej