U Halánků House
In the 15th century there was a group of four separate houses here, which were bound by the brewery and malting business law and the group was here until the end of the 19th century. It was owned by the burgher and maltster Jan Reček z Ledče, who founded the famous Rečkova University Campus not far away from here at today’s Karolíny Světlé Street. In 1567 Václav Krocín z Drahobejle (original name Šafránek was transcribed to the Latin according to then fashion) bought the house; he united the house with two smaller neighbouring houses and converted it into a Renaissance burgher house. Although it was still adapted in the late 18th century the today’s At Halánek House (dům U Halánků) is a basically the building complex from the late 16th century. The rebuilding of the house is commemorated by the slab made of Slivenec marble in honour of Vaclav Krocín dated 1591, which was installed on the house. The house has been named from Jan Halánek z Jičína, who bought it in 1676. After 10 years, the widow of Jan Halánek had married a member of the Hanisch malting house, which administered the property almost for a century. The brewery industry was then accompanied by brandy burning, which really flourished in the 18th century.
Another owner was brewer Antonín Fingerhut and his wife Anna (parents of Vojta Náprstek), who bought the house in 1826. He was the Czech, whose original name was Náprstek but at the registration his name was Germanized. He successfully operated his business here, which, after his death his wife, Mrs. Anna further extended purchasing the neighbouring house. She was known for her charity, when she regularly once a week handed out bread to the poor.
The one-storey At Halánek House has longer frontage towards Bethlehem Square (Betlémské náměstí) and shorter one towards Náprstkova Street. Both wings have mansard roofs. The wide front door in the long passage leads to the courtyard through the passage with a cross-vaulted ceiling. On both sides of the passage there are the rooms of the former brewery and distillery. Above the portal there is an inscription accomplished in an ellipse: At Halánek, brewery and wine distillery. On the half-oval gable on the top at the roof level there is a fresco with the Annunciation motif. Buildings that stood in the courtyard and at the place of the present garden and also served to carry out the trade were demolished. In the courtyard there is a simple stone fountain. The birch, which grows here, was originally planted by Mrs. Náprstková on the roof of a small penthouse, where they had a suspended garden. As it had grown, and the roof would not have been able to cope with it, it was descended with the help of then director of the Prague parks Mr. Thomayer and re-planted at the court, where it has been growing till these days.
Younger son of Mr. and Mrs. Náprstek named Vojtěch studied law in Vienna. As he had been involved in the revolutionary events of 1848 and the risk of being arrested had been upon him he went to America in the same year, from where he returned after 10 years and with invaluable experiences. After his return he founded one of Prague’s main cultural and social centres at the At Halánek House. He also supported the emancipation efforts of contemporary women and thus founded the American Club of Czech Ladies, headed by writers Karolína Světlá and Žofie Podlipná and Princess Jenny Taxis; there he organized for the club members lectures, tours and demonstrations of modern household appliances, he has brought from America such as washing machines, sewing and printing machines, refrigerators, irons, etc. Julius Zeyer, Jaroslav Vrchlický, Josef Václav Sládek, Jan Evangelista Purkyně, Otakar Hostinský and other lectured here. Here there was also given impetus to the establishment of Minerva, the first girls’ secondary school in the country. Vojta Náprstek was the founder and the first president of the Club of Czech tourists. He maintained a lively intercourse with our countrymen in America according to his creed, which he had inscribed over the entrance to the house: What the heart governs – cannot be even divided by the sea.
In 1862 Vojta Náprstek set up the Czech Industrial Museum in the house, which in addition to technical exhibits also owned large ethnographic and art collections from all over the world, which he had brought from his travels or which were donated to him by other travellers with whom he made friends, such as Emil Holub, Enrico Vráz and others, so the collection grew rapidly. The museum also included a professional library, which was apparently managed by the first Czech librarian and translator Klára Špecingrová.
When current premises of the house ceased to be sufficient for the growing museum, the Náprsteks built a new three-story building behind At Halánek House from 1885 to 1890.
In 1933 Náprstek Museum went under the administration of the National Museum, where it has belonged till today. During the World War II it was closed – industrial collections were transferred to the National Technical Museum. After 1945 the Slavic folklore collections were transferred to ethnographic department of the National Museum; since that time Náprstek museum has focused exclusively on non-European cultures.