Lord of the Manor Jānis Lazdāns / Article
Have you ever thought about buying a stately mansion and living like a squire? A Latvian heritage enthusiast made this dream come true.
In recent years, perhaps the dominant image of British travelers held by Latvians has been that of lager-fueled stag parties, ogling the ladies and peeing on monuments. But in contrast, previous generations of visitors to Albion have brought a touch of class.
These first arrivals left behind architectural monuments, such as the Anglican Church in Riga, and Jaunmoku Castle, a magnificent hunting lodge erected at the beginning of the 20e-century, the mayor of Riga, George Armitstead, grandson of an English merchant who made his fortune in the Baltic countries.
Manor of Padure near Kuldīga, 160 west of the capital, is a lesser-known but equally charming example. Built by a 19eGreat Scottish lord of the century, it is gradually restored by a native of Kurzeme who loves its history and wants to create a place full of joie de vivre.
“I grew up in Valdgale, near Talsi, where an impressive windmill remains from an old manor estate,” explains Jānis Lazdāns. “And I guess it was a childhood dream that I always wanted a mansion.”
Padure was inhabited by former Curonians, then in 1404 the Master of the Order of Livonia gave the land to a certain Hermann Grundys. The house acquired its elegant neo-classical form in 1837 after Scottish merchant John Lewis Balfour (a relative of British statesman Arthur Balfour and Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson) acquired it from of a few bankrupt minor nobles.
When Jānis bought it at auction in 2007 for 300,000 euros, it was in fairly good condition although it served as a German army hospital during WWII and as an apartment building for workers. Soviet collective farms. Under the purchase contract, a family living in the house was allowed to stay a few more years, which Jānis said was positive as they helped keep the place tidy.
Jānis is skeptical of some Latvian stately restorations, which have produced impeccable but drab period pieces, and is pleased with Padure’s current ‘shabby chic’ appearance. Restoration is a gradual process. Funding from the Culture Capital Foundation and individual benefactors has given various parts of the property a new lease of life. A crowdfunding campaign to repair the garden terrace was recently launched, and Jānis wants to rejuvenate the delicate murals hidden under inches of wallpaper.
The original stairs, stoves, interior doors and window frames with latches have survived. A pair of fitted wardrobes that defied even the most brazen looters also remain from the old days, as does a buzzer to call for help in the basement servant quarters. Additional furniture was donated by a blue-blooded German friend who downsized his own property.
A small broken window on the top floor will never be repaired. In 1912, John Balfour’s grandson, Adolf, was murdered on the Ventspils-Kuldīga highway. There is a rumor that his soul wants to enter the house, and every time that said window is repaired, a pigeon arrives and knocks him again.
The domain generates revenue by offering accommodation through Airbnb and as a venue for special events and concerts. As soon as Covid restrictions were relaxed in June, Padure hosted a concert by veteran Latvian rocker Igo Fomins.
“You can’t go wrong with organizing weddings or funerals for Latvians – where would we be without these? Janis jokes.
Jānis says business has been great during the pandemic, as Baltic tourists are discovering their backyards rather than going abroad. However, during the week he works as a property manager in Riga and then takes care of the mansion on weekends. The company is not yet paying enough to give up his day job (he is a single father with two children), and a lonely country life does not suit him.
“One summer, I decided to be here full time,” he recalls. “Spending 14 hours a day waiting for some guests to show up – I almost had a nervous breakdown. I need people around me.
So, when he is in residence, business and pleasure inevitably intertwine. One Saturday evening in August, Jānis invited a few dozen friends and supporters for a garden party. Pancakes were cooked on a stove, an elderly accordion duo and a talented young saxophonist played tunes, and the revelers had a blast without worrying about using the silver cutlery properly or bending their little fingers while sipping. tea.
The host donned a stylish top hat, but only for fun. This man from Earth has his feet on the ground.
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