A piece of old Lithuania brought back to life

  • 2002-09-26
  • Ausra Pociene
One more estate has been crossed off the blacklist of Lithuanian heritage sites gone to waste.

Lithuanian-American Raimundas Vincentas Petrauskas has breathed new life into the Sesuoleliai estate in the Sirvintos region.

Petrauskas' reconstruction of the cultural heritage site makes it the first Lithuanian estate reconstruction without any state support.

Furthermore, over three years, Sesuoleliai's nearby buildings, including a barn, an icehouse, a stable and an old distillery, as well as parks and a country cemetery, were spruced up as well.

Heritage experts involved in reconstruction of the estate hope that other businessmen will take their cue from Petrauskas.

According to architect Idalija Beciene, Petrauskas demonstrated an exceptional attitude toward heritage and preservation.

Before reconstruction of the Sesuoleliai estate, all necessary studies were carried out. Such studies together with extant historical material and photo pictures served as a basis for authentic reconstruction of the architecture and interior elements of the estate.

"It often happens that the nouveaux riches sometimes heritage restoration disparage and those who understand its value do not have money," Beciene said. "In this really happy case, both money and culture where enough."

Petrauskas was not willing to announce the amount of money invested into the reconstruction of the estate.

It is said, however, that the reconstruction cost about 20 times more than he paid to acquire the estate.

Petrauskas also had to take care of the housing of families who lived in a hostel and other buildings located on the estate territory.

When the occupants moved out, the new landlord pulled down the hostel and other belongings and outdoor toilets.

Manorial life at Sesuoleliai has been revived, too. Local inhabitants are working at the estate planting flowers and sprucing up walkways and the land around three ponds.

The project has brought Sesuoleliai back to life, and its new owner plans to begin farming there as well.

No, he has not plans to reopen the old distillery, though it was reconstructed for historical purposes.

Instead, Petrauskas has his sites set on horse and sheep breeding, and plans to bring over three Arabian horses from the United States.

In Sesuoleliai, Petrauskas owns about 90 hectares of land. He plans to acquire an additional 75 hectares.

Petrauskas was born in Kaunas but fled Lithuania with his parents in 1944 when still a baby.

His Ukrainian wife Helen arrived in the United States in similar fashion.

The two are now lawyers and Petrauskas a vice president with Ford.

Petrauskas first came back to Lithuania 11 years ago. Back then, everything seemed strange compared to America.

"But now in Lithuania, as in the United States, everything is in order," he said, noting that he has also bought an apartment on Kaunas' Laisves Alley and two more in Vilnius.

"My hobby is to build, construct or create things," Petrauskas said. "I was delighted to reconstruct the estate. We took efforts to preserve everything and renew as authentically as possible.

"But we didn't arrange a museum here. When at the estate, we want to enjoy all the conveniences of civilized life," he said as he showed off luxurious rooms where centuries-old artifacts sit comfortably amid modern TV sets and refrigerators.

A satellite dish sits near the chimney on a roof covered with German tiles and lawns surrounding the main buildings are watered by timed sprinklers.

The house is heated with electricity in addition to the ancient stoves.

Petrauskas has no links with Sesuoleliai. He bought the estate, founded sometime around 1855, from private owners.

The red brick mansion has a style of an English cottage that is very unusual for Lithuania.

In the 1930s, the estate was acquired by Jonas Variakojis, a colonel in the Lithuanian army who emigrated to the West in 1944.

After the war, Sesuoleliai served as an office of a Soviet collective farm and after independence, reverted back to former owners now living in the United States.

"Sesuoleliai estate is a lucky one. It survived the wars, was not ruined in Soviet times and now has passed into good hands," said Beciene.

The estate is in far better shape than many others scattered about Lithuania, with not only walls but authentic tile and parquet floors, doors and even some wooden furniture still intact.

The 100-year-old exterior of the mansion has not suffered a lot, either. The house lost a terrace with open arches that used to be in the front façade.

According to Saulius Simelionis, the author of the reconstruction design, the terrace was rebuilt from an old picture.

The first floor of the house covering some 1,000 square meters is arranged as dwelling representative rooms - sitting room, dining room, office room, library, guests bedroom, kitchen and bathrooms.

On the second floor there are bedrooms and bathrooms for family members and guests.

The basement of the house is under an impressive arched vaulting and includes a rest area, saunas a bar and wine cellar.

Petrauskas has not been planning so far to settle in Lithuania on a permanent basis. He spends three or four months a year in his native country.

In the United States, the Petrauskas live in an ultra-modern house near Detroit. The territory of the homestead covers about 30 hectares and also contains the house of Petrauskas' mother and pastures for his beloved Arabian horses.

"I have a modern glass house in America, and an absolutely different thing, an ancient estate, in Lithuania," Petrauskas said. "I like both of them very much."