Known fondly by locals of a certain age today as ‘Żak’, this beautiful building which was renovated in the years after the turn of the century was originally built as the ‘Generalkommando’ (General Command) of the Prussian Garrison stationed in the city. Costing an eye-watering 6.2 million Marks the residence took three years to build (1898-1901) and incorporated an annex and stables all set in 1.8 hectares of parkland.
The new Free City Parliament (Volkstag) wanted to take control of the building for its purposes but lost out to the League of Nations High Commissioner Sir Richard Haking and he forced the Volkstag out and commandeered it for himself. In 1938 Nazi Gauleiter Albert Forster famously promised C.J. Burkhardt (the last High Commissioner) that his residence would be turned into a casino for party dignitaries once they were rid of him although in fact it became the residence of General Max Bock and Lt. Col. Hans-Ludwig Grosser during the war.
The end of the war saw the new Communist authorities take over the building but it was in the period 1957-1999 when a new legend was written for the building. The student club Klub Studentów Wybrzeża Żak or Żak for short became a cultural centre for the youth of the Tri-city as well as a hotbed of anti-communist thinking. Stars like the Polish James Dean Zbigniew Cybulski performed in the club’s theatre while the parties are reported to have been legendary. As well as performances the building featured one of the only cinemas showing independent films as well as a cafe and bar. As described by the students themselves ‘Żak was like a colourful island in a sea of gray: people banging doors and windows at all events, no matter what it was. That's when Żak was a legend.’
In 1991 the new independent city authorities, now staffed by many of Żak’s former members (Gdańsk City President Paweł Adamowicz is a self-confessed veteran) decided to create a new cultural centre here and for the next 8 years it presented music, theatre, film, exhibitions, workshops as well as becoming one of the best places to party in the entire city.
The city took back the building in 1999 and returned it to its former glory turning it into the ceremonial Town Hall of the city. It honoured Irishman Sean Lester, the League of Nations' High Commissioner from 1934-37 by renaming one of the rooms in his honour in 2010. Żak, meanwhile, lives on in a new purpose built property on the main road between Wrzeszcz and Oliwa (see out cultural section).