A short historical background: Lossi 27 in Kuressaare
The north-eastern ravelin of Kuressaare Castle
In the second half of the seventeenth century, the fortifications of Kuressaare’s episcopal castle underwent major reconstruction and extension works. Since the number of cannons was being increased and they had to be given frontal positions, three ravelins were built in the extended moat to house them; later on, local people started to call these ravelins the ‘small mayors’. The north-eastern ravelin was also used as an entrance into the castle. A smithy was built there to provide maintenance for the cannons. Part of the foundation of that smithy is now under the modern day Ekesparre Residents Hotel.
In the nineteenth century, the castle was no longer required for protection and the Saaremaa Order of Knights was allowed to use it. The ravelins caused the noblemen – most of whom had received military training financed by the state – to feel a sense of nostalgia and a yearning for the best years of their lives.
The head of the Order of Knights (the grand marshal), Oskar von Ekesparre, had a brother named Alfred, a retired artillery officer, who wanted to build himself a fancy villa on the north-eastern ravelin. Oskar helped Alfred to register the plot and, in 1890, a house on the ravelin was completed – today, this house is called the hunting castle. In reality, Alfred von Ekesparre himself lived mostly in St Petersburg and rented out the house to wealthy visitors in the summer. At the beginning of the twentieth century, going to Kuressaare, Haapsalu and Pärnu for a holiday was a popular trend and it resulted in a considerable income for the resort towns and apartment owners who rented out rooms.
Arthur von Ekesparre’s idea
Arthur Peter Leopold von Ekesparre (1838–1909), the eldest brother of the grand marshal, studied law and for a long time worked in Tartu as a judge at the district court. After he retired, he came to Saaremaa and lived at Eikla Manor. Having witnessed his brother’s success in accommodating summer visitors, Arthur also decided to invest his savings into the business of accommodation services. Alfred’s house had been built to suit the needs of the bachelor himself, and could therefore only accommodate a few families. Due to this, Arthur suggested another idea: to build a pension with many furnished rooms on the same ravelin, close to his brother’s house, with the new house as eye-catching as the existing building. When Arthur conceived this idea, his brother’s term as the grand marshal was almost over. Therefore, they hurried to register the plot, and the actual construction began when Oskar von Ekesparre, who had been the head of the Saaremaa Order of Knights for thirty years, had already travelled to St Petersburg to become a member of the State Council.
The author of the design plan for the building is unknown because the original file from the Land Registry was apparently destroyed in 1917 when revolutionary-minded soldiers ravaged and burned the property of the Land Registry (“krepostnoe otdelenie”). The phrase “krepostnoe otdelenie” could also mean ‘department of serfs’ for people with poor literacy skills, because the Russian word ‘krepostnoe’ has two meanings one of which is ‘serfdom’.
Based on other sources, it can be concluded that the second house on the Ekesparre ravelin was finally completed in 1908. The next year, when the man who built the house died, the plot and the building were registered in the name of his son, Axel von Ekesparre (1868–1935). Axel had also studied law and until 1913 was employed in southern Estonia, as the secretary of several development institutions of the province of Livonia (the road construction committee among others).
As Axel, the owner, was away, he rented the building out to a tenant who managed the pension and was in charge of the accommodation and even some catering during the summer season, from May until mid-September. In winter, the house was partly used by the boys studying at the local school. Such was the arrangement until World War I when the pension houses belonging to Ekesparre and Michelsen were used as an army station. In 1919, Axel von Ekesparre left to live in Germany. The pension was looted and left in a bad state.
The pension during the early years of the Republic of Estonia
When the Republic of Estonia was established, the aristocratic classes were abolished and the estates they owned were nationalised. The same thing happened to Eikla Manor (which is twenty kilometres from Kuressaare), also owned by the Ekesparre family. Town houses which belonged to noblemen were left to their owners who could then continue their rental activities. According to newspaper archives, the Ekesparre pension was a favourite among Estonian cultural figures in the 1920s. It was especially well-known as the favoured summer residence of the members of the writers’ group called ’Siuru‘, such as Artur Adson, Hendrik Visnapuu, August Gailit, and so on. Local people even started to refer to the house as ‘Siuru Castle’.
In the years 1930 to 1940, the pension in the building was managed by Elisabeth Pohl. She also extended the range of services and opened a vegetarian restaurant - the only one of its kind in Kuressaare. The pension had eight rooms and a large dining room. The former caretaker’s flat was used as the kitchen with storage spaces added to it. There was a basement room below this apartment/kitchen which was used as the cold storage space. The house did not have a water supply and sewage system. The pumping well was outside at the rear of the house. Pot furnaces were used for heating.
Following the death of the owner of the pension, in October 1937 the property (Registered Immovable No 579) was registered as an indivisible immovable in the name of his wife Lucie and son, Erich von Ekesparre.
World War II and the Soviet era
Once the Soviet regime had been established, the pension – which had more than 400 square metres of useful space – was nationalised and given to the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). By the beginning of 1941, the headquarters of the special unit of the Soviet coast defence had been set up there, under the control of Mihhail Pavlovski who was also in charge of conducting the interrogations of people who were arrested.
It is unclear what purpose the house served during the German occupation. In the castle’s courtyard was situated the office of the regional superintendent, the highest authority in the county, and entrance to that high office was guarded.
After the end of the war, the former pension house went to the local Soviet police department. The department’s passport office was in the opposite building.
At the end of the 1940s, the Soviet police department was moved elsewhere, the house underwent repairs and, in 1950, the district’s official guesthouse was opened in the building offering overnight accommodation for 28 people. The sanitary facilities in the house were very poor: on either floor, there was just one toilet and one washbasin. There was no running hot water. The biggest room included six beds. Guests could buy warm tea, pastries and sandwiches from a buffet. At the end of the 1970s, the hostel underwent renovations and some parts of the building were changed. A water supply and sewage system was built, and a boiler room was added in the basement. The crumbling plaster ceilings were covered with wooden boards. A furnished lobby, reception and an upstairs lounge were added. The hotel offered guests six rooms on the first floor and eight rooms on the second floor. Two sheds at the rear of the house were removed.
The hostel was managed by the executive committee of Kingissepa District Utilities Department.
After Estonia regained its independence
In March 1992, the State Property Department re-registered the pension as the municipal property of the town of Kuressaare. In 1993, an Armenian, who had been demobilised from the Soviet army, opened a short-lived grill bar in the basement facing the castle – the bar attracted a noisy crowd in the evenings. In 1996, the pension was renamed Hotel Lossi. The year after that, the property was sold to private entrepreneurs who began to renovate the building and furnish the rooms with contemporary furniture. The owners changed but the occupancy rate of the hotel was low, especially in the winter season. The hotel did not have a restaurant and also lacked the option to add more facility rooms. The authorities demanded that costly changes be made (an additional staircase to the second floor, a ramp for wheelchair users, high sanitary requirements for the kitchen and washrooms, the following of strict heritage conservation requirements, etc). Since this is the oldest hostel or pension in Saaremaa – with a unique atmosphere thanks to its interesting and exciting architecture, and its location and history – the new owners of the building did not need a lot of time to decide, and their interest in historical wooden buildings which needed renovation once again prevailed. The era of the Ekesparre Residents Hotel had begun. Renovation began in 2006 and ended up taking much more time than initially planned, but the owner is convinced that this has also guaranteed a more valuable end result. The first guests arrived in autumn 2007.
Historical overview of construction work in the building
A hundred years ago, the construction of the building which is now used by the Ekesparre Resident Hotel was carried out in accordance with contemporary circumstances and practices.
The foundations were built of limestone, whereas some of the stones came from the collapsed castle embankment walls. The building’s walls were made of squared horizontal logs and the roof was of fired clay tiles. In terms of the exterior, this was a house with a mansard roof, large windows, a festive entrance with steps, and verandas on the southern side. The average height of the rooms inside was 3.4 metres. The walls and ceilings were plastered (being of thatch lathing); the outside walls were covered with planks. Originally, eighty per cent of the floors had oak parquet flooring. For heating the house, impressively designed pot furnaces were used.
Over the course of time, moths damaged the walls and the moisture in the washrooms caused the boards and beams to rot. In the rooms, the wallpaper was dirty and falling off the walls, and plaster crumbled from the ceilings. The roof tiles crumbled and let rainwater drip into the house. All of this was thanks to the fact that there was no permanent owner to live in the house – instead, there were always new tenants and workers and visitors staying for a short time, and in the Soviet era, there was a lot of drinking, smoking and even some vandalizing in the rooms. Between 1950 and 1979, there were no other public guesthouses in Kuressaare, except for the semi-public guesthouse belonging to the army garrison (the former ’Kuld Oda‘ in Lossi Street), and the accommodation provided for tourists in the summer on the second floor of the Kuurhoone and in the yacht club by the sea. Later, the hotel for the mud therapy facility was built and a small guesthouse for distinguished guests was added (the present-day ‘Saaremaa Valss’).
The charm of the Ekesparre Resident Hotel, situated on a castle ravelin, lies in the hotel’s location: water surrounds the elevated ground of the ravelin and reflects the simple grandeur of the building, surrounded by tall trees and greenery.
Written by Bruno Pao, historian
Edited and supplemented by Ekesparre Residence Hotel