Magazine article Russian Life

The Hotel National Turns 100 House No 1

Magazine article Russian Life

The Hotel National Turns 100 House No 1

Article excerpt

When the new Soviet government decided to "temporarily" move their capital from St. Petersburg to Moscow in early 1918, they were a bit hesitant to move right into the Kremlin, given its association as "a center of reactionary tsarist power." So Vladimir Lenin moved into room #107 at the National Hotel, directly across Okhotny Ryad from the Kremlin.

The move to Moscow proved anything but temporary, both for the government and Lenin. Ironically, room #107 now provides a perfect view of Lenin's final resting place--the granite mausoleum on Red Square.

Lenin actually ended up living in the National for only about a week. What with World War I raging (a main reason the Bolshevik government evacuated Petersburg) and Civil War looming, the high walls of the Kremlin had some distinct security advantages. Lenin took up residence in a small apartment that had previously been the chambers of the tsar's procurator, in the Senate building. The only piece of furniture preserved since Vladimir Iliych lived and slept in #107 is his green desk, which looks rather humble amid the National's luxurious surroundings.

While Lenin moved out, shortage of office and living space for the tens of thousands of government officials who had moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow sealed the National's fate. In 1918 it was expropriated by the Soviet government and designated "House of Soviets #1" (the Metropol Hotel was #2)-- by 1923, there were 13 such House of Soviets and some 30 a decade later.

Bolshevik leaders such as Yakov Sverdlov, Felix Dzerzhinsky and Joseph Stalin all lived in House #1. On Lenin's order, the once-luxurious hotel restaurant was turned into a canteen where Soviet sluzhashchye (employees) could get their meals for talony (coupons). A commissariat was located on the upper floors. Lenin, despite living in the Kremlin, apparently visited the National often to see his colleagues and to pop in at the hairdresser located there. The latter visits, in all likelihood, must have been rather quick affairs ...

All of this was a rather strange turn of fate for the Hotel National. Its cornerstone was laid on June 15, 1900, and the Varvarinskoye Society of House Owners, which commissioned it s construction, sought to make it one of Moscow's finest hotels. This is why they hired Alexander Ivanov, the famous Russian architect and academician. Ivanov conceived the building in the then fashionable pompous eclectic style. The building was raised with what was then state of the art technology and materials: reinforced concrete, ceramic bricks, and hydro-isolated materials. The construction cost one million rubles, a colossal sum for those times. In fact, among the many buildings and monuments Ivanov had designed, the hotel National was his most costly to date.

The hotel opened in 1903, startling both domestic and foreign visitors with its luxurious furniture, its gorgeous restaurant and stores, and its two electric elevators--a rarity for those times. Celebrities such as the composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and ballerina Anna Pavlova stayed at the hotel. Yet, as is the case today, the hotel was most popular with businessmen--the Russian kuptsy (merchants) and kommersants loved its central location on the busy trading row, Okhotny Ryad. (Today, 85% of the hotel's visitors are businessmen.)

By 1931, when the massive House on the Embankment was completed and top government officials moved to the new apartments there, the National was returned to its status as a hotel.

In an attempt to modernize the hotel, several renovations were undertaken during this period. Oak window frames were replaced by modern aluminum windows and the first floor was painted a deep beetroot color ("granite-like," it was said). The huge majolica panneau on the hotel's prominent outer corner was also redone: the antique picture was replaced with something "industrial." Bathroom facilities were put in rooms, instead of down the hail, as previously. …

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