The Villa Grébovka (Villa Gröbovka) was built in the early 1870s as the summer home of Moritz Gröbe, a wealthy and well-known 19th century industrialist who made his fortune in mining and railroads. The site was then on the southern outskirts of Prague. Since the time of Hapsburg Emperor Charles IV, the land on which Villa Grébovka now stands, in the Prague neighborhood of Vinohrady, has been the site of vineyards, fields, pastures, and gardens.
Gröbe carefully planned the location of his estate to overlook the vineyards. The cornerstone of the villa was laid in 1871 and can still be seen today in the dining hall of the current Villa.
The building site and foundation were prepared using debris from the excavation of the Nusle valley railway tunnel, which was being constructed by Grobe’s company at the time, on the southern side of Prague. In addition to the villa itself, Gröbe’s construction on his estate was to include a gazebo, a grotto, and a bowling alley. All of these can still be found today, within the confines of the modern Havlíčkovy sady park. All are now fully renovated and beautifully restored. At the time of construction, all of the land that now makes up Havlíčkovy sady was part of Gröbe’s personal estate.
The Villa Grébovka was designed by architects Antonin Viktor Barvitius and Josef Schulz in the neoclassical style inspired by Italian Renaissance suburban villas that served as the summer homes of the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy. The main construction was carried out by František Havel and was completed in 1874, although the villa was not fully completed until the late 1890s. Gröbe and his family were only able to enjoy the completed villa for a few years though, as he passed away in 1891, after which the expense of maintaining the estate caused his family to sell it and the rest of his estate to the local municipality in 1905.
The park was opened to the public in 1906 and the villa has been used as a public space ever since. The park was maintained and locked at night until the outbreak of World War II. The years during the war were difficult. The building was occupied by the Nazis and used in part for youth activities. It was subsequently damaged in the Allied air raid of February 15, 1945, and a resulting fire. During the Communist era, it served as a Palace for Young Pioneers, the University of Forestry, and even a ballet studio at one point in time. The villa fell into disrepair from the lack of upkeep throughout the communist period and early transitional years in Czechoslovakia. The park and villa were declared an immovable cultural monument in 1964, but it was not until the early 1990s that the city of Prague issued a public tender asking for proposals for a rejuvenation project that would revitalize the Villa Grébovka to its original splendor after decades of vandalism and neglect. The villa was finally offered to a group of Czech reformers and American lawyers who created the CEELI Institute and turned the property into a residential training center for legal professionals from across Central and Eastern Europe. The municipality of Prague 2, the official owners of the property, agreed to a 50 year lease with the CEELI Institute and the two entities continue to work together for the maintenance and improvement of the villa.
The renovation project required substantial funding which was initiated by a generous grant provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The project, led by husband and wife Michal Hron and Hedvika Hronova as Architect and Project Manager and general contractor SKANSKA Czech Republic, was extremely time and labor intensive and reconstruction was done in tiers, but the Villa Grébovka was ready for public dedication as the headquarters of the CEELI Institute on June 8, 2007. Today it continues to serve as the headquarters of the CEELI Institute and is host to numerous conferences, seminars, and many other interesting and sundry events throughout the year.
The surrounding park, Havlickovy Sady, has also been extensively renovated in recent years, with funds provided by the European Union, and is now one of Prague’s most beautiful public parks. The park is currently defined by the streets U Havlíčkových sadů on one side, Rybalkova on another, and the Botič Stream at the south end of the park.