George Armitstead, sometimes mistakenly referred to as George Armistead or George Armisted was Riga’s mayor during the boom years of the early 20th century.
The beginning of the 20th century was a particularly prosperous time for Riga. The city was the third biggest in the Russian empire and a major trading and manufacturing hub. Large scale changes were being made to the Riga’s layout, a result of the 1812 fire and the dismantling of the defensive ramparts that surrounded the old town. It was a time of great change for the city, and the mn in charge during the most impressive period of development was George Armitstead.
George Armitstead was born in Riga, the son of a successful British merchant family. He studied abroad, in Zurich and Oxford, worked as an Engineer in Russia before returning to Riga, where his family owned many properties and factories. He was elected Mayor of Riga in 1901.
During his time as mayor, George Armitstead oversaw the construction of many major public works and focused on improving the life of Riga’s citizens. Parks were created or renovated, libraries, theatres and museums built and three new hospitals opened. He was particularly interested in improving the educational standards of Riga’s population, between 1901 and 1912, 14 new schools were built in the city. He was also responsible for more practical works, the Andrejsala Power Station, the Fire Station in Hansas street and various public lighting and water systems implemented.
There are plenty of lasting legacies or Armitstead’s tenure that we, living in Riga, must be particularly thankful for. From 1901 to 1912, some 600 Art Nouveau buildings were constructed in the city. Without them Riga’s central district would not be the amazing place it is today. To get a full undrstanding of Riga’s Art Nouveau heritage join our Art Nouveau Tour. Armitstead was also responsible for the creation of Europe’s first ‘forest suburb’ known then as Kaiserwald, nowdays as Mezaparks, including the opening of Riga Zoo. The first electric tram line was created during his time as mayor, replacing the old horse drawn tram.
I could go on and on about Armitstead’s works, but I think we can just say that possibly no other individual had as much of an influence on shaping today’s Riga as he did. Tsar Nicolas II of Russia was definitely a fan, he tried to persuade Armitstead to leave Riga to become Mayor of St. Petersburg, quite an esteemed position in the empire. However, George Armitstead’s heart was tied to Riga, he had given up his British citizenship in order to become mayor of Riga, and he turned down the Tsar’s offer.
George Armitstead passed away in 1912, falling ill whilst still serving as mayor. He died on November 27th and was mourned by the entire city. he is remembered by 2 monuments within Riga, including a particularly beautiful statue of him, his wife Cecilia Pychlau and their dog one a stroll near the Opera House that was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II and her husband on Armitstead’s 160th birthday.
One of Riga’s finest citizens, and it’s most popular Brit, definitely in this age of stag party invasions, George Armitstead is fondly remembered as one of the most important figures in Riga’s history. On any walking tour or bike tour in Riga, you’ll be sure to pass a number of his works. Join us and discover his legacy.