The building at the corner of Mariahilfer Straße and Karl-Schweighofer-Gasse, now home to the Leiner furniture store, has a long and eventful history. Business flourished at the site even before the opening of Esders department store – at the time one of the grandest and most important in the world – rang in the first great era of the department store.
Following the demolition of the building “Zum roten Krebs” in 1839, the site was subdivided into lots to create space for the houses in Karl-Schweighofer-Gasse, and in 1877 the textiles store “À la grande fabrique” opened. The company founded by Belgian-Austrian entrepreneur Stephan Esders together with Heinrich Weltmann, initially operated in Brussels, Antwerp, Hamburg, Rotterdam and Wroclaw and later also in St. Petersburg. The great success paved the way for the first department store on an international scale in Vienna.
Opening of Esders department store
On April 3rd and 4th 1895, the five-storey establishment “Zur großen Fabrik” opened at Mariahilfer Straße 18 as the first Viennese branch of Stephan Esders’ textile department store empire. Built by architect Friedrich Schachner and modelled on large Parisian department stores such as Galeries Lafayette, Printemps or La Samaritaine, the building was one of the world’s largest and most attractive department stores with spacious salesrooms on an area of 12,000 m² and 39 electrically illuminated shop windows – the first in Vienna at the time – on the ground floor and in the mezzanine.
Conversions and extensions around the turn of the century
The impressive building boasted cutting-edge architecture for the time with its modern pillars made of granite, clinker and masonry-encased iron and spacious galleries inside. The salesrooms were on the ground floor and first floor; the third floor housed the clothes factory and the fourth floor Stephan Esders’ apartment. As early as 1898, the first conversions and extensions to the successful company became necessary. An annex followed in 1902. Further conversion work was carried out in 1912.
Difficult times in the Second World War
Following Stephan Esders’ death in 1920, his son Bernhard took over the management of the store until 1933. His grandson Stefan followed in this footsteps. Towards the end of the Second World War, the department store was also affected by the extensive destruction of the city. The impressive facade was badly damaged. In the years after the war and the occupation, the building was repeatedly looted. It was not until the 1950s that normal sales operations were possible again.
The department store becomes a furniture store
The takeover of the department store by Rudolf Leiner GmbH in 1964 was followed by numerous structural changes with a whole host of conversions and modernisation measures inside the building such as the installation of elevators and escalators and the further integration of the upper floors as salesrooms. The façade was radically simplified in the course of the dissolution of the company and designed in the simple style of post-war modernism. Between 1990 and 1991 the company’s own 3-storey underground car park was built. The integration of the new building complex that opened in 1991 in Karl-Schweighofer-Gasse increased the sales area from 12,000 to 30,000m².
On the way to the department store of the future
In December 2017, SIGNA acquired the Leiner flagship store in Mariahilfer Straße. Soon after, a decision was made to revitalise the building with a reinterpretation of its original use as a department store. A voluntary international architecture competition was announced for the ambitious urban planning project that should appeal equally to Viennese customers and customers from abroad. Four renowned architectural firms participated: BIG Bjarke Ingels Group, O.M.A. Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Snøhetta and Hadi Teherani architects.