On March 19, 1939, days after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi forces, the Bílá labuť (White Swan) shopping center was ceremoniously unveiled on Prague’s na Poříčí street.
In 1990, months after the fall of Soviet rule in Czechoslovakia, the mall welcomed its 400 millionth visitor.
While it has been eclipsed by central Prague shopping centers since then, notably the nearby Palladium, which opened in 2007, at one time Bílá labuť was the talk of the town, and THE place to go for all of your shopping needs.
Construction on the shopping center began in the summer of 1937, when the two-story building that had occupied the lot was demolished to pave the way for progress.
The building that went up in its place dominated the surrounding skyline at the time, and it’s rooftop logo – a giant, white, rotating neon swan – dominated the night sky. At the time, the shopping center was the largest and most modern shopping center in Central and Eastern Europe.
Built by businessman Jaroslav Brouk and designed by architects Josef Kitrich a Josef Hrubý, the shopping center introduced a few other innovations for the time. An escalator from the ground floor to the first floor was Prague’s very vert floating staircase. A pneumatic cash register system transported money from sales throughout the building via tubes to a central cashier. And the building’s front facade featured a giant window measuring 30×18 meters, which was the largest in Central Europe.
This classic video from Bílá labuť’s heyday charts its opening years and dubs the shopping center “The Poříčí Miracle”:
Of course, if you happen to walk into Bílá labuť today, you encounter a very different experience.
The mall is now a ghost town, and besides the few small shops at ground level, most of the other floors are barren.
Today, even the spinning White Swan on the rooftop no longer rotates.
If you happen to walk through Bílá labuť in the future, spare a thought to the gem of modernity that once was.
And one thrifty tip: the top floor of Bílá labuť is currently home to Prague’s 10 & 20 crown store, a low-rent version of the US Dollar Store where various odds and ends can be found on the cheap.