Continuing my investigations into the Moskovsky District of St Petersurg, I travelled farther this time, stopping at the brightest specimens of the official Soviet architectural style during the ‘reign’ of Stalin – neo-classicism (aka Stalin’s classicism). I don’t really like it the way I love modern or am attracted to constructivism but without it Moskovsky district of St Petersburg would just not be what it is.
Let’s begin our walk (or bicycle trip) from the building and the square intended to become the city’s new focal point back in Stalin’s times. Dom Sovetov, or the House of Soviets, built in 1936-1941 on Moskovsky Avenue, just before the war broke out, was initially projected in a very imperialistic style (see here and here). Interestingly enough, if you google “Dom Sovetov“, the first in line would be the monster building in Kaliningrad :)
This huge House of Soviets in St Petersburg is also quite monstrous-looking especially now with its darkened facades and apparently degrading decorations. It’s now used as an office building. Never been inside but can imagine the grandeur of the interiors.
It’s hard to imagine now, but back at the time when Dom Sovetov was being built, the surroundings were just void fields, its being located far to the south of the city center, along the historic road leading to Moscow and Tsarskoye Selo.
Now this industrial district is one of the most prestigious in St Petersburg, with construction sites springing all over the place – and there’s even the highest building in the city, the one on the left among the towers in between the Stalinist houses:
Lenin’s statue is right there in the center of the square which was supposed to become the new center of the city. Lenin, as it’s always is with the statues of our ex-leaders, is eagerly pointing somewhere over there, possibly in the direction of the highest tower in St Pete, who knows. Well, a city (re)named Leningrad (city of Lenin) just has to have Lenins all over the place. In various shapes and sizes, usually as an approximately 3-meter statue or a head (bust) with the umptieth time reproduced features, to accommodate a less spacious places.
There are usually several legends as to where each and every Lenin in the USSR is pointing, like to the nearest ryumochnaya or booze place (from ryumka – shot glass), cemetery (Vse tam budem, or We’ll all eventually end up there) or the river… They also claim that from a certain angle this particular Lenin’s hat that he’s holding (not very easily identifiable in the first place) transforms into, well, not exactly what it is supposed to represent :) And they also call this statue ‘dancing Lenin’, just look at his left leg!
Enough for Lenin, let’s take a breath of beauty and nature just behind the House of Soviets and the Moskovskaya Square. This is Chesmenskaya Church (or Chesme Church) built in the 18th century. And that’s the hidden gem of the entire district to my mind! Although not at all free from a bloody relation to Stalin – it used to be right in the middle of a labour concentration camp… And now back to our Moscow-style architecture that is so very prolific in the district:
Built in 1954-57 as a obschezhitiye – a hall of residence
Imagine getting a flat in such a decorated house in the time when the city was recovering from the tragedy of the war, the destruction of the Siege of Leningrad. That was the time when decoration and hyper-decoration was not just à la mode, it was dictated by the state. So even a very dull-looking block of flats was duly transformed into a palace with all the pseudo-classic columns, arches and styled Soviet symbols. And how would you imagine a place a Soviet mother would leave her kid in while at work?
This is not a typical kindergarten though, it’s oval in shape (built around 1954 after an individual project, that is, not a typical project used all over the USSR) and has this relief depicting happy and (super)plump Soviet childhood:
Moving even further into the Moskovsky District up along the Moskovsky Avenue near the Park Pobedy (Victory Park), one comes face to face with this monster of a house unofficially dubbed Washington (or rather Vashington, according to the Russian pronunciation). I wonder what can be more official than a name given by the people themselves? By the way, they say that the House of Soviets was aka White House, so here we are in a Little America :)
Trying to get this building fit in one shot is impossible. See the massive red door in a brown portal? A very typical detail for a very imposing Stalinist architecture, especially in a governmental or around-communist-party construction. Built in 1957 this grand thing was the first 12-floor building in Leningrad. It goes without saying that ‘Vashington‘ was not supposed to house an ordinary Soviet worker.
Yet another not-your-proletariat-building close to Park Pobedy. It’s on Moskovsky Avenue, the wanna-be main artery of the city. It is a very important street of St Petersburg – but definitely not just because Stalin wanted it so. This 1940-53 building is however one of the most distinctive features of Moskovsky Avenue, its tower being a landmark of the entire district. People still call it Dom so shpilem (House with a spire) and they say Russian rock legend Viktor Tsoy lived here when he was a boy.
Superhuman arches and Pompeii-like decorations:
This is also the home for one of the most cherished and true-to-the-origins Pirozhkovaya – a cafe with Russian pirozhki (small pies with various fillings) invariably serving everyone from a biker to a busy office employee since 1956. It’s thus one of the oldest inexpensive authentic eating places still functioning in the city. No, I didn’t go inside (to add my bike to the motorbike’s company) but they say that the cafe is the paradise for those prone to the Soviet food nostalgia.
That day I also spent some time in the Park Pobedy itself but now that I know the history of the place (it being the city’s incinerator during the Siege of Leningrad), I somehow felt very hushed and little among the statues of athletic Soviet youth and alleys of war heroes. The landscape is nonetheless beautiful and the park is frequented by moms with prams. They say Moskovsky District is one of the greenest in St Petersburg.
What is sure though is that the district built to become the new center of the second city in USSR, has been gradually and inevitably turned into… a place where people live.
The grand plans of the Soviet leaders might as well never become reality, but they have surely given a certain grand feeling to the life of this district. And not only the architectural freaks notice it :)
I finally did get to another house where Viktor Tsoy lived (not far from the one with the tower), a 1970s wardrobe / bath ‘on legs’ built after a Swedish project – but to tell you the truth, it didn’t in any way impress me much. There are much more interesting places around yet to discover, that I will one day share with you.
Adding this to my St Petersburg series.