A tragic airplane accident near Otrokovice airport on 12 July, 1932 which resulted in death of Tomas Bata and his pilot Jindřich Brouček had become an impulse for a construction of one of the most remarkable buildings in Zlin – Tomas Bata Memorial. Since 1927, the area of the current premises of T.G. Masaryk Square had been gradually filled with the buildings of boarding houses, which served the purpose of the collective accommodation for young people who were working for Bata Company at that time.
Presumably, no definitive approach to the site arrangement had originally been established and also the total number of boarding houses located on the sloping terrain remained indefinite at the beginning of the 1930s. For the first time, Bata envisioned the completion of the two rows of the boarding houses by the prominent museum building at the top in February 1932. Tomas Bata was still alive back then.
It seems that the sudden death of the company owner speeded up the final urban layout, and it could be agreed on Peter Všetečka’s point of view that the area was actually a perfect fit for the Memorial site. The author of the project, František Lýdie Gahura, created an extraordinary and incredibly impressive structure expressing the very basic principles of Zlin’s architecture with the features of minimalism. Gahura, when thinking about the design of the building, used a simple Bata’s principle that the purpose is the key element of each building. The Memorial differs so much from all the other buildings because its purpose is ideological. It is supposed to be not only the commemoration of Tomas Bata but it should also embody the idea, or more precisely, the ideal of Bata´s principles.
At the beginning of construction in March 1933, Bata’s press and subsequently some other regional newspapers in the country informed about an extensive subject matter of this Memorial, focusing both on the commemoration of deceased Tomas Bata, including rich photographic documentation of his life, and on the presentation of the development of Bata manufacture and Zlin from the establishment of the factory to the present times. A rich collection of historical and exotic footwear was supposed to find a place in the Memorial as well. František Lýdie Gahura himself, when asked if the glass walls are assumed to evoke the showcase, replied: “The building that serves the purpose of storing collections is actually a great showcase and that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
What role was the memorial supposed to take in Zlin’s context, was well expressed by a journalist, Josef Vaňhara, in a newspaper article published in 1934: “The large glass square with simple lines and narrow concrete columns which are the only thing that disrupts the large glass areas is not a museum, if museum means a place where only the memories of the past are stored. Tomas Bata Memorial is a living part of Zlin, a place that presents the origins, development and growth of the life work of the man for whose memory the building is intended. Just like the spirit of Tomas Bata remains still alive, his Memorial remains closely connected with the busy work in the valley beneath it and by realizing the results, it makes a clear overview of the idea of our collective work. This is how the Memorial was planned, how it was built, maintained and complemented. It stemmed from the piety to a man whose bodily nature succumbs to the law of transience; it remains the memorial of his spirit and work that defy mortality.”
It is not surprising that at the opening ceremony of Tomas Bata Memorial which was held on the occasion of the first anniversary of the tragic accident on July 12, 1933, the interior was not exactly neat. The Memorial was arranged in a hurry and the majority of collections used had already been displayed in Klubový dům (the former name of the Zlin castle). The collections were set out in four rooms, each of them focusing on one theme: memorabilia of Tomas Bata, memorabilia of the development of his shoe company, a collection of historical and world footwear, and the last room displayed the history of Zlin.
This was probably the heart of the Memorial’s exhibition. It is also obvious from the preserved photographs, documenting a considerable diversity of the content and from the form of the presentation. At the beginning, the only thing set in concrete was the entrance area with features much different from the rest of the Memorial. An extraordinary compositional purpose is served by a reconstructed Junkers plane, held in space on four subtle pillars, and a bust of Tomas Bata located near the entrance, supplemented by the busts of his mother Anna and brother Antonin, the co-founder of the company. The rest of the ground floor was dedicated to the memorabilia of Tomas Bata – his study, personal belongings, photographs and various documents. The installation was significantly diverse. For instance, we could see the cases used in museums in the late 19th century, some of the artifacts are pinned to disparate notice boards and we could also identify some objects from housing and architecture exhibition in Brno – for example the model of the department store (a skyscraper) built according to Vladimír Karfík´s design in Brno. The second floor (a gallery) was reserved for the presentation of the collections of historical and world footwear, while the third floor remained more likely empty during the opening ceremony.