On the place of the Biograf Hotel, there used to be one of the first permanent cinematographs in Pisek. It was built by Mr. Karel Malkus, a native of Protivin, after he took out a licence in 1910 to operate a cinematograph on the territory of the whole Bohemia. At first, he moved from one „gig‘ to another transporting his equipment in a horse-drawn caravan. He proudly named his business „The Royal Biograph“. In 1911, he decided to settle in Pisek where he set up the first permanent cinema at the tavern of „U Tri ostrostrelců“(The Three Sharpshooters). Later, he ran a „summer“ open-air cinema in the garden of the „Na Stychu“ Tavern. But he also moved to other locations, such as the Municipal Theatre, the Sokol House, and from 1931 on, he rented the hall of then famous hotel „U Zlateho kola“ (The Golden Wheel) on Ales Square where most of the prominent balls took place in Pisek.
Obviously, the cinematographic performances drew a lot of interest, however, there were also moralists who quite disliked this modern technology: „…local businessman, Mr. Malkus, mostly presents sensational, i.e. box-office pictures, which is something we do not approve of from the educational point of view as often absurd and tasteless non-wittiness, detective and very exciting scenes of robberies, and many a time rather delicate matters are presented to the impressionable soul of a child (they are the main cinema-goers)“ – this is what someone wrote in the Pisek weekly, The Otavan, at the beginning of December 1911. Despite such comments, Malkus‘cinematograph prospered and its owner was even thinking about buying an expensive equipment enabling the projection of sound-track films. Up to that time, performances of silent films had been accompanied by live music, but many times, however, only by a crackling record-player. Nevertheless, Mr. Malkus came up with an idea which enhanced the authenticity of his performances: next to the projection screen, he hid a kind of an acoustic-effect workshop behind a huge sheet. A basin full of slivers of glass was put in motion by his helpers just as a house on the screen was tumbling down, cans of pebbles played their role when horses were galloping on the screen, and during frequent shooting in Wild West movies, mattresses were being whipped violently behind the screen…
The first republic
The promising development of Malkus‘ business was not stopped until the World War I. On April 1, 1915, Karel Malkus joined the army at the Eastern front, and he was taken captive by the Russians during the battle of Lvov. His return was far from certain so his wife Marie, needing to support their four small children, could do nothing but continue to run the business. She hired an operator and continued to screen shows at „U Zlateho kola“. After the independent republic had been established, Karel Malkus could finally return from Russia, and on February 14-20, 1919, he presented the first Czechoslovak film „The Lamb Queen“. Shortly afterwards, though, his leasing contract was terminated and he was made to vacate the hotel auditorium.
He solved the situation by buying the house No. 124 in Gregorova Street and adapting it for the needs of a cinema. Let us discuss the history of this house briefly. It was located close to the original town wall. Initially there was a farmstead, from the 19th century a post office (philatelists will be interested to know that on June 1st, 1850, it was here where the first stamps in this country were started to be used). In November 1919, Ing. Ladislav Hlavacek started adapting the street and courtyard section of the building for the needs of a cinema according to the order by Mr. Malkus. Within less than a year the reconstruction was successfully completed, and on October 19, 1920, the cinema received its final building approval (with only a few minor comments). The main entrance of the building was from Gregorova Street through an archway, visitors first walked into a rather small hall with a cloak-room and box office on the left. From there, they continued into a more spacious waiting room with its corner buffet tended by Mrs. Malkusova. One could also enter the restrooms from this waiting room. The cinema hall itself measured 24,3 by 9,1 meters, and it was 8 meters high. The projection screen was painted directly onto the wall at the front of the hall: it was less than six meters wide and the first row was placed about 3,5 m in front of it. Between the screen-wall and the first row, there was an orchestra pit. The hall could be evacuated through two emergency exits leading into the courtyard. The projection cabin with its technical facilities could be approached by a granite staircase. The ground-floor contained 23 rows of 13 seats each and 3 boxes with 10 armchairs, on the upper balcony there were 7 rows of 11 seats each and 8 boxes with 26 armchairs. Altogether, the cinema seated 412 spectators which made it the largest cinema in Pisek of that period. The hall was heated with a big iron stove, it had electric lights including the emergency, accumulator-powered ones by the exits. The new building on Gregorova Street was named „Bio Malkus“.
The pre - war period
In 1920, the ticket prices were as follows: CZK 4,50 for first-class places, CZK 3,50 for second-class places, CZK 2,50 for third-class places, CZK 3,50 for balcony places and CZK 5 for an armchair in a box. The sale of tickets, which had to be stamped by town authorities, was taxed not only in the form of a state tax but also in the form of the so called „imposition on entertainment“, which the owner paid directly to the town authorities. At times, Mr. Malkus tried to evade this municipal tax by selling his own, unstamped tickets. Another, this time more serious aberrancy affecting the safety of spectators concerned the practice of adding chairs to the rows in case of great attendance; however the added chairs filled and blocked the isles and mainly the emergency exits. On other occasions, he agreed to let in children when he showed films rated R. Every now and then, municipal policemen filed a complaint because of these offences and the cinema owner was consequently fined: the fines were to be paid for the benefit of local poverty fund. The fines mostly amounted to CZK 50, but sometimes went as high as CZK 200.
By doing this, Karel Malkus was slowly sawing off the branch he was sitting on, and finally his film projections were banned. Even though he was granted a year-long license again in1924 (the license was granted by the Provincial Political Authority on the recommendation of the Municipal Council), the same Municipal Council nonetheless recommended that Mr. Malkus „…focused more on films of an educational nature and stopped giving in to the sensationalist demands of a certain part of the audience by showing worthless films“. Besides, it was stated several times by various authorities that the cinema of Mr. Malkus showed fewer educational films for school children compared to his competitor whose cinema was located in the building of the present-day Congregation of the Bohemian Brethren-Moravian Protestant Church on Fugner Square. . At the beginning of 1924, Karel Malkus and his wife were charged with fraud (probably for tax evasion), and the Regional Court sentenced Mr. Malkus to one month in prison, stiffening up his sentence by a certain period of fasting. It is for this reason that the Provincial Political Authority in Prague then revoked the license of Mr. Malkus. From that time, Mr. and Mrs. Malkus tried to run the cinema by means of other people or organizations that either held the relevant license themselves, or who directly rented the premises. In 1925, the Company of War Impaired People opened their own cinema „The Bio of the Disabled“, from 1927, the building was rented by the Biographical Section of the Sokol Physical Training Union in Pisek, and finally from 1931 it was the Workers‘ Physical Training Union of Bio-Lido that operated there.
The Workers‘ Physical Training Union was also the last institution that showed films in the building on Gregorova Street. Karel Malkus tried to take out his license one more time, and on March 15, 1937, The Municipal Board even confirmed his project by the vote of 18 out of 32 votes. The negotiation was quite tumultuous, though, and the decision was opposed by all three operators of Pisek cinemas (by Sokol, Orbis and Koruna, and last but not least, the by the army cinema in the army barracks). Nonetheless, the town representatives took a nostalgic position – it was Karel Malkus after all who brought the first permanent cinematograph to Pisek. Unfortunately, in less than a month after this decision, Karel Malkus died. His son, Karel Malkus Jr., tried to save the building of the cinema for the last time, but on January 26, 1938, The Municipal Board refused to approve his license application. This may have been due to the intervention of the Provincial Union of Cinematograph Operators of Bohemia who claimed that a fourth cinema would be too much for a town of the size of Pisek. The survivors of Mr. Malkus sold the building to Ruzena Mathiaskova who turned the cinema into a car repair shop as early as in 1938. She had a wide driveway made into the courtyard walls of the former cinema hall, and had two windows installed into the projection screen wall. In the seventies, a tire repair shop was set up there.
At present, the Biograf Hotel at least symbolically follows up on the famous history of the building.