Story of Libava
The history of the building housing hotel and restaurant Libava goes back to the distant 1772, when two small buildings facing the Trade Canal were built at the end of the wooden bridge leading to Vecliepāja (Old Liepāja). They were located on each side of the road parallel to each other to accommodate the bridge guard and to provide premises for customs services. Ships arrived here for customs controls through the Trade Canal. Pedestrians and traffic crossed the bridge and continued their way between the two buildings into the city.
In 1830 a new wooden lifting bridge was built instead of the old bridge. Pedestrians and traffic continued crossing the bridge and passing between the two buildings into Lielā Street.
In autumn 1881the construction of a new stone and metal bridge was completed. It was moved seawards by 70 metres thus providing an opportunity to wall up the space between the two buildings, since the old bridge was not used any more. As a result, a spacious hall was built in1894. Elements of eclecticism and art nouveau were used in decoration of the new merged building. The Workers’ House was located here at the very end of the 19th century.
During the world economic crisis from 1928 to 1933 it housed a soup kitchen for the unemployed and served as a hiring point.
The local sailors and fishermen knew this place very well because the legendary pub At the Black Ball was located in the building towards the end of the 1930s. After World War I a high pole was erected in front of the facade of the building facing the bridge. If the weather was bad or a storm was approaching a black ball was pulled up the pole. It was visible from a distance and warned the experienced seadogs of the danger. This is how the fishermen’s pub got its name At the Black Ball at the end of the 1930s. Just there, on the very bank of the Canal, a spontaneous fish market emerged in those days. Fishermen sold their catches straight from their boats. If the black ball was pulled up it was clear to everyone that fishermen had not gone out to sea and that there was no fish.
During World War II the building was lucky not to suffer from German bombing. Unfortunately, there is no information regarding the use of the building during the war and the following years. In the 1950s it was planned to use the building for housing a fish restaurant. Its design was already commissioned and it even had a name – Golden Anchor. However, the project was not implemented because the basement started to get flooded.
In 1967 the Liepāja City and District Division of the USSR Innovators and Rationalisers Association moved into the building. An exhibition hall, library, an amateur photo studio “Liepāja” and offices were also located there. At that time the building was called the Innovators Club. Later on the house was not appropriately managed and maintained for many years.
After 1991,when Latvia regained its independence, the building was disregarded. It only changed hands but the negligence of the new owners towards the building, which had been changing with the times, did not change.
Until 1992 the building was an architectural monument of a local significance, but the then minister of culture, architect Jānis Dripe crossed out many monuments from the respective list, including this building. In 1997 the Liepāja City Council made a decision to include the building on the list of particularly important buildings.
The fate of the building took a turn for the better in 2003 when it became the property of the company SB. Its new owners did not try to save money on renovation. The flooded basement was drained and the old building revived in 2005. The house, which had played an important role in the history of Liepāja for more than two centuries, was given the old name of the sea city – Libava.
Architect Guntars Vīksna and interior designer Antra Blekte breathed new life into the building by combining the old and modern in a very elegant manner. Everything has been well considered right down to the last detail. The house, equipped according to the latest design and technical standards, can boast fragments of its old brick walls. The building which had housed the bridge guard, customs office, Workers’ House, soup kitchen, pub and the Innovators Club was brought back to life.