A room with a view

 The story of the first luxury hotel in Novosibirsk with a bathroom and telegraph office  07/8/2013, 12:43
A room with a view
Photography by Sergei Mordvinov, Igor Popovski and the S.N. Balandin History of Siberian Architecture Museum

Sib.fm continues its series of stories about the architectural landmarks of Novosibirsk that have got lost among the city’s high-rise buildings and are overlooked by tourist guidebooks. This time, our subject is the Metropolitan hotel and its chic, by Siberian merchants’ standards, suites. The first brick hotel in the area amazed people with its resemblance to the rich mansions of Moscow and St. Petersburg, became the proud owner of a real bathroom before its competitors, defined the city’s business centre, survived a fire and remains perhaps the most detailed and skilfully thought-out building in the city.

Sib.fm’s editorial staff would like to thank the S.N. Balandin History of Siberian Architecture Museum for their assistance in preparing this publication

The hotel Metropol, as the Metropolitan is also known, was opened in the residence of wealthy merchant Pyotr Mamontov in 1917. Although it wasn’t the first hotel in the city to bear such a name, this Metropol was the one that went down in history as a real example of professional architecture in what is now Novosibirsk.

The two-story building was built in 1905 by famous Tomsk architect Konstantin Lygin. With experience in St. Petersburg and Kazan under his belt, he was noted for his special attention to architectural detail, which was naturally reflected in the hotel’s design. Other examples of such a fine and elaborately decorated façade are hard to find in Novosibirsk even today.

The hotel/palace is also notable for its combination of modern and neoclassical elements, which are very poorly represented in the remainder of the city’s construction.

With its impressive scale, snow-white main façade, bay window, helmet dome and spire, triangular pediment and moulded medallion with the letter M in a laurel wreath, the Metropol was in no way inferior to its counterparts in the capital and attracted the gazes of local residents, who were more accustomed to stubby wooden houses.

In 1917, as tectonic shifts were brewing in the Russian world order, former head of the city council Yakov Istomin started his own revolution by opening a 14-room hotel in the building that he had recently purchased. The presence of a real bathroom with all mod-cons made an already expensive establishment truly respectable.

Given that sewerage and plumbing only appeared in the city at the end of the 20s and central heating in the mid-30s, the level of service in the hotel, where water was brought in directly from the River Ob, was really up to scratch.

A wooden extension housing a post and telegraph office strengthened the Metropolitan’s position in the worlds of business and bureaucracy. The combination of a luxury hotel, communications hub, convenient transport and the multitude of offices nearby formed a new business district in the neighbouring streets.

That’s how business life would have evolved in Novonikolaevsk, expanding in all directions from the «palace», were it not for the revolution and the Bolsheviks’ rise to power. The communists seized the telegraph and post office, then set up the Central Post Office at its familiar current location on Lenin Street, from which it hasn’t been moved ever since.

28 postboxes could be found on the streets of Novonikolaevsk in 1917

The Metropol was in turn expropriated for communal apartments and the chaotic alterations that accompany them as early as the 20s. By the end of the century, it was home to the offices of all sorts of organisations and companies. In 1981, the wooden extension burned down and the hotel’s interior was irreversibly altered — only the wrought iron staircases and built-in wardrobes have survived from Tsarist times.

In 2011, the owners of the building were given permission to carry out repair and restoration work, which was started and, as far as can be judged from outside the hotel, remains unfinished. The complexity of the Metropolitan’s current situation is also due to the fact that it is located in an extremely unattractive, not at all «metropolitan» urban environment. The lack of pavements has nullified pedestrian access to the area and the nearby railway only makes matters worse.

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in Russian

Therefore, even if the pride of Novonikolaevsk’s hotel business is completely reconstructed, by no means will everyone come to see it in its former «imperial» glory: there’s just no reason to go for a walk in that neighbourhood. To remedy the situation, the Metropol must once again become a magnet for the public and regain its status as a unique place. Though this time, it’s probably not worth relying on the exclusive opportunity to take a bath.

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