Even though Emīlija (1881-1941) and Antons Benjamins (1860-1939) passed away long ago and today the Europa Royale Riga Hotel has moved in, it is still known by locals as the Benjamins Building.
The Benjamins gained their wealth and status by publishing the daily newspaper Jaunākās Ziņas (from 1911) and the family magazine Atpūta (from 1924). In 1928, they purchased the building from the Pfab family, and turned it into the most influential parlor in Riga, which only opened its doors to the selected few – high ranking officials, celebrities and so on. The Benjamins were even called the unofficial royal couple of Latvia. Since then President Kārlis Ūlmanis did not have a first-lady, it was Emīlija who was unofficially called the first lady of Latvia. In 1940, the Soviet authorities nationalized the building. Antons Benjamins had already passed away by then. Later, in June of 1941, Emīlija was deported to Siberia by the Soviet authorities, where she died in a gulag that September. From 1945, the building housed the Latvian Union of Writers, Composers and Artists, and was a meeting point for those who resisted the occupation regime. The creative community continued to find ways to inconspicuously express their independence and individual views and desire for freedom. On March 23, 1988, the Latvian Writers’ Union put together a commission which researched the crimes committed by Stalin, and in June of that year a plenary was held where the proposal for the establishment of the Popular Front of Latvia was made. The road towards Latvia’s independence had begun.