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Disappearing St. Petersburg. What prevents the revival of abandoned buildings



This is Dima and Serega. In their usual lives, they go to work, take a subway and study. But they have an alternative life too – the one with no people in it. But only abandoned buildings and factories. They are like stalkers in these post-apocalyptic scenery. Tour guides to the city which does not exist.

Dmitriy, stalker: “People don’t care about the things they’ve abandoned. So it’s a pity they come here to corrupt it. There were buildings at Sportivnaya where you could turn the lights on and computers”.

This is a secret laboratory of the 18th military-naval arsenal. Or, to be precise, what’s left of it. Here, on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, at Lisiy Nos village, missile systems for warships were designed. Merely couple of years ago, a makeshift “Moskva” warship model stood in one of the rooms. The military left it behind – to rot together with the historic building which dates back to the Russo-Turkish war.

Sergey, stalker: “There were chain elevators here which you could still use. Now there’s nothing left”.

There was a chance of rescuing the building – if it was handed over to the city and be re-opened as a museum. There were even activists interested in that. But the military decided it should not belong to anyone.

Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “It’s almost like The Zone from Strugatsky’s books – with its own traps. Like a parallel reality – only it is actually happening, here and now”.

Such sights in the books by these sci-fi novelists are caused by an alien invasion. In St. Petersburg, those are man-made. If all the abandoned buildings are bundled together, they could form a whole city. A dead city.

This place looks the same at any season – covered by construction netting. What was once a luxurious mansion belonging to Ernest Igel, has been concealed from the public’s eye for twenty years. Before the revolution, it was the epicenter of glamorous life on Petrogradskaya. A restaurant and a concert hall where Shalyapin performed. Today it is a dump and a residence for the homeless. In the summer, it was still possible to get inside to have a glance at the redwood ceilings and marble staircases – but all that was destroyed by the fire. Steel cages were put on windows – and that is all the security there is. The owner – district administration – cannot renovate the building. There is no money for that.

The Brusnitsyny mansion at Kozhevennaya Street. Sadovnikov’s establishment at Kamennoostrovskiy 66. Industrialist Vege’s mansion. These buildings are like nobles who went broke and cannot adapt to this new lifestyle. With a cup of tea and cake, the leader of St. Petersburg’s nobility tells us how hard it is for these monuments in the age of neo-capitalism. Everything would’ve been different, he says, if these buildings and their original owners were not separated.

Alexey Grigorov-Rudykovsky, leader of St. Petersburg’s nobility council: “We wanted to find descendants and begin the renovation works. But we could not find those descendants. Yeah, all this beauty was confiscated and became public property. But the feeling of the beautiful is fostered inside palaces like that”.

It seemed that the city authorities found a solution – renting out the abandoned properties for one ruble. But it would take a billion to renovate each one. Only few are ready to pay such price. For example, Tschelishev’s mansion was put up for sale upon this program, but the person renting it is in no rush to renovate the building.

Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “Fifty thousand square meters of concrete at Petrogradskaya has been occupied by “The Northern Crown” for 31 years. But 247 comfortable rooms of the 5-star hotel never got to accommodate their guests. The final nail in the coffin of St. Petersburg’s famous construction site was hit by a bulldozer”.

Some call it a ghost building, but many think it’s a cursed place. Almost like some supernatural powers prevented the building from being completed. The ownership changed hands numerous times, but eventually the project was deemed unprofitable. But this architecture historian believes that what’s happening now is much worse.

Alexander Krechmer, architecture historian: “This is a crime against the natural development of the city. Not only an extraordinary example of late Soviet architecture is being destroyed, but also a major urban ensemble. The images of St. Petersburg are intertwined in this hotel – something lacking in architecture these days”.

The easiest way to get rid of a building – is to demolish it. And to build a residential complex on its place – just like it will happen at Karpovka embankment.

Owner of a car shop in Gatchina would’ve probably spent all his days getting rid of marauders at the historic site – if the bricked windmill by architect Lvov was not included into the program of monuments’ renovation. His 25-year-long shift has come to an end. Now, the “New Riga” will be protected properly and renovated according to all regulations.

Nadezhda Grzhibovskaya, head of architectural bureau: “If we renovate this building – then we’ll change the perception of Gatchino itself. As the “New Riga” stands at the entrance to the city.

But this is an exception to the rule – this building received a new lease of life thanks to the owner, who decided to open a children education center within these vintage walls. Ropshino’s palace and Demidovs mansion lived to see the renovation works too. Lucky. But how many more left of those which need emergency help – and hesitation would kill them? There must be no dumps inside palaces at the monument city. Or is this parallel reality liked not only by stalkers?