Updated: Dec 1, 2019
The story of how Copşa Mare's 1890s townhall was saved from dereliction by an English family - without a penny of taxpayers' money.
The Dual Monarchy town hall of Copşa Mare was built in the last decade of the nineteenth century. At that time, the village was a much larger settlement with over 1000 households (today, there are around 250) of which over half were German-speaking Lutheran 'Saxons'. As its name implies, this fine building was once the seat of local government until the Communists took power, after which time it was used, variously and sometimes simultaneously, as a nursery school, a youth club, a dance hall, a brandy distillery, a police station, a grain store, a medical dispensary, and latterly as a warehouse for building materials, indeed whatever was required by its owners. The life of the building is worthy of a book on its own, spanning as it does two World Wars and the sudden collapse of two empires.
It is now a much loved family house. The de Candoles, who settled in the village in 2015 after 26 years in Bohemia, bought the building and the land in which it stands in early 2015 from a property developer, BEPA Investitii Consult SRL, otherwise known as simply 'Giovanna', after the majority owner of the company, Giovanna Benazzo aka Bassetti. BEPA bought the hall in 2007 and for the next seven years used it as a warehouse. The de Candoles were curious to discover how the property had been privatised. The sales contract is between the commune of Biertan, represented by its then two-term (2004-12) PSD mayor Ratiu Cornel, and BEPA. The contract states that the house was sold for 120.500 lei, based upon a valuation that resulted from a verbal auction No. 655 on 15.03.2007.
In March 2015, the de Candoles began to restore the hall, in a dire state after years of neglect. The developer had given the main street facade a quick makeover with damaging cement and acrylic paint, creating the impression that the building's structure itself had been repaired, which it had not. Juxtaposed photographs of 'before' and 'after' on the developer's website entitled 'restoring the village townhall' served to reinforce the make-believe.
The de Candoles began urgent repairs in the cellar and attic. The first three months of work were spent repairing the roof structure and re-laying the old roof tiles, dredging the large cellar of the sediment that had built up over decades and removing the perilous concrete 'reinforcements' of the cellar's brick walls which were falling in, the ceramic bricks behind them having disintegrated because of moisture trapped in by the offending concrete. The vaulted cellar ceilings were supported and the walls rebuilt with new ceramic bricks. A simple and effective water collection system was made in the cellar, which allows the water to seep in under the stone foundations, and to be collected in a deep well from where it is pumped out.
Having stabilised the building, work then moved on to essential but less critical repairs. Of these, the most time consuming was the removal of all harmful sealing layers on the facades, some of which had been added very recently, uncovering and saving where possible the old lime mortar and touching it up with a lime-based render and wash coloured with earth pigments. The plinths around the house were returned to their original, smaller dimensions. All the original casement windows and frames were stripped and oiled.
Today, the building breathes again and there is no rising damp. The great north and west facades have been left unpainted and are somewhat unforgiving. In the case of the north facade, this is due to the fact that a much older farmhouse, against which the northern wall of the hall was built, has disappeared. But the main east and south facing facades are now pleasingly feminine, blushing modestly in the rain, and radiating warmth and good health in the bright winter sunshine.