JUDr. Karel Groš was the last mayor of the Royal Capital City of Prague before the fall of Austria-Hungary. Much like his predecessors he ascended all the rungs of the municipal career ladder, but his advancement was noticeably faster than it was customary in the City Hall.
In 1899, he was elected a member of the Municipal Board of Seniors. Just a year later he became a member of Municipal Council, another two years later he filled the post of the second deputy mayor and in 1903 was elected the first deputy mayor. On 15th February 1906, he was elected Prague Mayor.
His contemporaries ascribed Groš’s swift rise to the fact that he was a son-in-law of Dr. Julius Grégr, the influential leader of the National Liberal Party also called the Young Czech Party. Nevertheless, he proved to be a good mayor and was therefore re-elected for two subsequent three-year terms of offices, in 1909 and once again in 1912. Due to the World War I outbreak, the constitutional rights, including the elections, were revoked and Groš’s term of office was therefore extended for another three years, until 1st November 1918. His served the third longest term of office out of all Prague mayors from between 1784-2009.
Karel Groš was born on 21st February 1865 in Prague to the family of a postal clerk. Following his grammar school studies, he attended the Faculty of Law from where he graduated in 1889. He got married to Božena Grégrova and in 1896 opened his own law office in Prague New Town. He was publicly active right from his student’s years, working at first as a chairman of Academic Club of Readers; later on he became a member of the Young Czech Party. When working in the council he continued with the policy of his predecessors, Podlipny and Srba and managed to bring to completion most of the projects they had started. It was during his term of office, that Prague City Hall truly became an international office of Czechs.
In spite of imperial Vienna, Prague City Hall was ostentatiously receiving and hosting delegations from Slavic nations, Sokol communities as well as representatives of West European towns. In 1902, the City started publishing the bulletin ‘Correspondance tchèque’ that informed the foreign media about Czech politics. One proof of the privileged position of French – Czech relations, was the activity of the French consulate in Prague, headed between 1909 and1911 by the poet Paul Claudel, as well as the founding of numerous branches of the Francophile organizations Alliance francaise. November 1912 saw grand celebrations of the 12th anniversary of friendly relations and ‘municipal’ agreement between Prague and Paris. Three former members of Paris municipal council headed by Mayor H. Galli received the Golden Medal of Honour of Prague City.
Additionally, Mayor Groš established relations with one more world metropolis – London. In 1911 Prague, the 66-person delegation led by Lord Mayor of London City, Sir Thomas Vezey Strong, was welcomed with a Sokol guard of honour, theatre performances, festive lighting and a grand banquet for 230 people.
This time was marked not only by numerous visits, celebrations and social events, such as the biggest one, the Jubilee Exhibition of Chamber of Commerce and Trade (1908), which was organised on the occasion of the 60th year anniversary of Franc Joseph I of Austria’s rule. It was also at this time when the major wave of city modernisation culminated. Demolition of all the affected parts was succeeded by the development of new city districts, a new public drainage system as well as Káransky water supply system. The Vltava embankments were regulated all the way to Štvanice and the Hlávka and Mánes Bridges were built as well as the first mental hospital in Bohnice and the first pavilion of the Bulovka Hospital. Brožík Hall in the Old Town Hall was adapted by architect J. Chochol who gave it its current appearance. The brand new town hall went up close to Mariánské Square, where the previous development had been demolished, and 5th January 1912 saw the ceremonial public opening of to the grand Municipal House which boasts beautiful art decoration and was built using the designs by A. Balšánka and O. Polívka. The Saint Wenceslas Monument and Jan Hus Monument were erected On Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square respectively, while Petřín was adorned by the monument to Czech poet K. H. Mácha.
Mayor Groš succeeded in the difficult task of supplying the city with food during the hungry years of War. In the end, however, he got little thanks because he “proved himself too humbled, and because he was excessively obliging to the occupying forces doing not only what he had to but much more that he was commanded.” Following the establishment of the independent Czechoslovakian Republic, he was removed from his post as early as on 1st November 1918 for “mistakes he made during the War when he was kowtowing to the government and military circles”. He returned to his private life and profession as lawyer with feeling of great injustice. JUDr. Karel Groš deceased on 12th October 1938.