Moorish Sherlock Holmes

Lichtblau Company

The Lichtblau Company was famous for meerschaum pipes and other high-quality products for smokers. Since the end of the 1800s it was the most significant company among 70 other companies in Vienna. In 1922 the Lichtblau Company transferred its production into the 7th district of Vienna. The 7th district is called Neubau, but its nickname is until today Seidengrund (silk district). The Seidengrund was the very prosperous center of silk and ribbon, leather, silver and other products of high value. The Lichtblau Company bought this almost 100 year old house (1836, Zum schwarzen Mohr) and contracted Ernst Lichtblau, a pupil of the famous Viennese Art Nouveau architect Otto Wagner. By the way Ernst Lichtblau was the son of Johann Lichtblau, who was a manager in the Lichtblau Company and a relative to Adolf Lichtblau – all in all a flourishing family business. Ernst Lichtblau reorganized the building and built rooms for the factory in the yard at the backside of the house. In the end it was an old house with new elements and it was recognized as a building in a modern and functional style with historical elements.

The house mark on the facade was designed by a well known Viennese arts and crafts master Carl Hagenauer. The „figurehead“ of a man with turban and his calabash pipe (Sherlock Holmes) is unique.

The name B(ernhard) Grünfeld is also written on the facade. He was trainee and son-in-law of Adolf Lichtblau and later on the owner of the factory. He was well established in the economy circles in Vienna and he was a very successful international manager. His most lucrative contract was the exclusive treaty with Alfred Dunhill. Actually in the end the contract was life saving for a part of his family. 1934 life for the Jewish community members became more and more difficult – at first because of Austrofascism. After the Anschluss in 1938 the National Socialists began to confiscate the companies, buildings, and all possessions. The Lichtblau family tried to emigrate. The son of Bernhard Grünfeld, Arthur, was at the time in Great Britain. The Dunhill Company helped and so his wife and other family members could follow him into exile. His parents Bernhard and Flora stayed in Vienna until their deportation in 1941. Both of them were murdered in 1942 in Chełmno.

The confiscated Lichtblau Company was so famous, that the name Lichtblau wasn’t immediately changed. In the end it had to be changed after all, but it happened very late. But the name Lichtblau was still hidden inside the acronym ALCONA: A(dolf) L(ichtblau) Co Na(chfolger). In 1949 Arthur Grünfeld (Grenvill) and his sister (Edith Shelton) got the company back. In 1980 it was sold to Austria Tabak.

The house in 1070 Vienna, Hermanngasse 17, didn’t change its appearance since architect Erich Lichtblau redesigned it for the Lichtblau Company in 1922. It’s frozen in time with all its architectural exterior, its historic value and all the tragedy for the Lichtblau-Grünfeld family.