The City Theare Electrification

ID: 267

The theater building is connected with the history of the Lviv electric company. The first power plant in Lviv street was built in 1894 and until 1900, only a tram traction electric grid was connected to it. As the need for the theater's electrification arose, the whole power system of the city entered upon a new path of its development. 



Prosp. Svobody, 28 – Lviv Opera house

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Vul. Sakharova, 1 – former direct current power plant

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Vul. Kozelnytska, 5 – Lviv Heat and Power Plant No. 1

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Electrical lightning was an important part of the theater's construction. With a protocol dated 8 May 1899, the Municipal Electricity Commission appointed Józef Tomicki, director of the Municipal Electric Facilities (MEF), to work on this issue. Two months later, on July 19, Tomicki submitted his proposals. They were not limited to the lighting of the theater. According to Tomicki, "in 1900 a new stage in the development of the enterprise began, since it was in that year that the Municipal Electric Facilities were established." Tomicki stood against building another local power plant solely for the theater, as there were a lot of such in the city. He proposed to enlarge the tram power plant instead, lay cables from it and connect the theater's lighting to it. Furthermore, a distribution point was to be located in the theater's basement which could be used as a base for the electrification of the city's central part around the theater building. The idea sounded so promising that the President of Lviv, then Godzimir Małachowski, headed the Municipal Electricity Commission. Roman Dzieślewski, a professor at the Lviv Polytechnic and a member of the Municipal Electricity Commission, praised Tomicki's plan and supported him. The Commission approved an estimate of 660 thousand crowns to implement this proposal on 4 December 1899.

Ivan Levynskyi's company won the competition for the theater construction works. In the State Archive of Lviv Region, there are acts of works done by the company, from the foundations to the dome construction. Levynskyi asked for permission to connect the mechanisms at the construction site to the tram traction electric network. This could have become the first case of using electricity at a construction site in Lviv, but commission set a price so high that he refused. Working hands were still cheaper at that time.

The construction of the theater stirred up the public and aroused great interest. Lviv's newspapers criticized it persistently even before its opening. The dome looked to them like a dirty copper pot turned upside down; the figure on the façade's top looked as if it was jumping over the palm as if over a rope. The critics came even to the point of saying that the theater looked best only from the back, so they wished there was enough money to turn the whole building around.

Kazimierz Mokłowski, a famous Lviv architect, joined the journalists and said the project had no character, the building was ornamentally oversaturated both outside and inside ("we now have a typical German flea market in Lviv") and added a false lamentation over the architect's fate: "however, professor Gorgolewski, who only at an older age was drawn by his motherland from Berlin, is not to blame!"

There were also hostile words regarding the electric lighting, a new thing then: "Between the windows, there are electric chandeliers which do not fit into any style; the same, only worse, is in the refreshment room... and ten muses who are running merrily around a giant chandelier in the middle of the hall and look like saying: for Lviv, we will suffice."

Despite the criticism, the theater construction and electrification was successfully completed according to the plans. At the theater's opening, which took place on 4 October 1900, Ivan Levynskyi spoke on behalf of all construction enterprises involved and thanked the city authorities for entrusting the project implementation to local companies.

The installation of the electric grid in the theater was done by the Siemens&Halske company. 2800 incandescent lamps for the hall and rooms and 29 arc lamps for lighting the scene as well as rechargeable batteries were installed. All works at the power plant and in the power grid were performed by the same company.

A new steam-electric block with a capacity of 500 hp and a 500 hp Parsons system turbine were installed at the power plant. From there to the theater, three 220 V supply cable lines with 900 sq mm copper strands section were laid. The matter was that the power plant produced 500 V electricity, and that is why a neutral wire was added to the two supply lines connected to the positive and negative outlets of the power plant and adapted to the tram traction voltage. This allowed to halve the traction voltage, which, taking into account the voltage drop in the lines, provided a voltage of 220 V, necessary for lighting.

However, even these powerful lines were not sufficient to provide the necessary voltage level. The city center was somewhat distant from the power plant and thus a considerable voltage drop in the DC network occurred. In order to compensate it, a 250 hp battery was mounted in the city's central distribution point in the basement of the theater. This allowed connecting the surrounding buildings to the distribution point in the theater. Seeing a prospect in Lviv residents' interest in home lighting, the Siemens&Halske opened a technical office on the pl. Halicki, 15 (today, pl. Halytska) in Lviv.

The price for electric power supplied to the theater was set at 35 hellers per 1 kWh. Actually, this was the cost price, while the retail price then was 80 hellers per 1 kWh.

Near the entrance to the theater, 5 arc electric lamps were installed, along with gas streetlights. The electricity they consumed was fully paid by the Magistrate. Such preferences for the theater were made due to the fact that the Municipal Electric Facilities installed a distribution point in its basement.

Less than a year later, on 19 May 1901, a fatal event took place at the theater distribution point. Checking a gas leak on the pavement near the Silbertstein pharmacy on Sykstuska street (today, vul. Doroshenka), the gasmen accidentally pierced the electric cable supplying the theater. Due to a short circuit, the fuses at the power plant worked, while in the theater, where the Siemens&Halske installed the batteries, the fuses had not been mounted. At that time, it was considered that the batteries served only to raise the voltage level in a long DC network. A fire broke out in the theater basement, causing a panic among the city residents.

It was a harsh blow to the power engineers' prestige, especially since it has been only six months after the theater's opening. The police involved Roman Dzieślewski and Józef Tomicki in the investigation, and they suggested that some changes be made in the rules. On the buses in the places where the batteries were attached, it was decided to mount thin-section adapters, a kind of fuses, which, in the case of short circuits, burned out and switched off the voltage immediately. As Roman Dzieślewski noted in his memo, such a procedure for connecting batteries "was used in no existing power plants."

Franciszek Rychnowski, a well-known Lviv electrician, also submitted his proposals to the police as for the reasons for the short circuit. The police, however, rejected them as "purely theoretical, while the safety of spectators requires immediate steps."

In the years of the First World War, the DC grid in the city was eliminated, the DC distribution substation in the theater was dismantled; lead from storage batteries and copper from power cables were scrapped. Instead, in the basement of the theater, a 5000/110 V transformer substation (TS) was installed with a connection to a new AC power plant at Persenkówka. From the transformer substation, not only the theater was supplied, but also the nearby consumers who used to receive electricity from the DC grid earlier.

In 1930, to increase the capacity, the city's distribution grid was switched to a voltage of 220 V. It was necessary to install another transformer substation in the City Theater basement: a new 5000/220 V one for 220 V city grid consumers and to leave the old one (5000/110 V) for the needs of the theater, in particular for 110 V engines used in the theater ventilation system and in the rotation of the stage. The presence of ventilation grates in the foundation on the odd side of present-day prospect Svobody is what reminds today about the transformers in the basement of the theater.

Thus the theater became linked to the Municipal Electric Facilities even more closely. In the basement, where there was a major distribution point of the city's DC grid with a rechargeable battery previously, a verification shop for electricity meters for all urban consumers was also arranged. The shop was transferred from the theater only in 1937, when the new building of the MEF was built (now the Lviv regional department of the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) building on Vitovskoho street).

In the late 1970s, the Lviv Opera Theater was closed down for major repairs, which lasted six years (twice as long as its construction in the 19th c.). Both transformer substations, which were permanently located in the basement of the theater for more than 50 years, were eliminated. Instead, a large transformer substation was built in the courtyard of the Maria Zankovetska theater. There, two transformers for the opera thearer and two for the Maria Zankovetska theater were installed. On top of the substation a room was added for the opera theater's rectifying substation: from it a DC connection to the stage mechanisms was made, while a lot of AC and DC cables were laid under prospect Svobody from the transformer substation to the theater.

In the theater building itself, there is a complex control room for lighting the hall, stage, special effects, ventilation and fire extinguishing systems, as well as a control panel for the stage mechanisms. Now the stage does not rotate, there are plungers for lifting and inclining individual sections under it.




1. Державний архів Львівської області (ДАЛО) 2/4/ 1051.
2. ДАЛО 3/1/4184.
3. ДАЛО 3/1/4348.
4. ДАЛО 3/1/4416.
5. ДАЛО 3/1/4474.
6. ДАЛО 3/1/4489.
7. ДАЛО 3/1/4492.
8. (W.S.). "Nowy teatr", Gazeta Lwowska, 4.10.1900 r.
Author – Andrii Kryzhanivskyi

Editor – Taras Nazaruk 

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