Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Peter's Spire Suffers Vane Mistake

ST. PETERSBURG -- A repair team's fear of punishment has left one of St. Petersburg's landmarks in dire straits.

The spire of Peter the Great's Admiralty, crowned with its distinctive ship-shaped weather vane, is leaking water and harbors a potentially destructive fungus.

Anatoly Pomazamsky, an adviser to the State Inspectorate for the Preservation of Monuments, said the problem resulted from a faulty repair job 17 years ago.

"The workers and the architect who repaired and remounted the weather vane in 1978 covered up this mistake, since it wasn't visible from the ground," Pomazamsky said. "But I can see him (the architect) on the bottom looking up, saying 'If no one notices, I go back up in 10 years and fix it.'"

"If he had told the Leningrad Oblast secretary, Grigory Romanov, that he had made a mistake and the weather vane must come down, he could have been sent to jail," Pomazamsky said, adding, "Now we live in different times."

The problem was discovered after a high-altitude repair company noticed that the weather vane was listing.

"We were on our way to look at a job at the Astoria Hotel, and we noticed this weather vane on the top of the Admiralty spire," said Roman Yurinov, director of the repair firm BMP Compact. "It wasn't sitting as it should be, perpendicular."

After receiving permission from the monument preservation inspectors and the naval training school based in the Admiralty, Yurinov and his team boarded a helicopter and headed for the spire. Climbing up the 72-meter structure would have damaged the gold-plated exterior.

After rappelling from helicopter to the weather vane on the end of a rope, the specialists found a crack in the ship's supporting post which was allowing water to seep below into the spire's wooden framework. They determined that when repairs were made in 1978, the post holding the vane was not set back level, which meant that the 90-kilogram, 2-meter tall ship was not anchored properly. The crack resulted, and then the leak.

The seepage has gone undetected for 17 years.

"It just goes to show the lack of regularly scheduled care that we have given to our city, even with architectural monuments like the Admiralty," Pomazamsky commented.

With the help of BMP Compact, the spry Pomazamsky, 75, scaled up the inside of the spire to determine the condition of the wooden framework. Examinations proceeded on the central post and its eight sharply angled supports. The final 20 meters that narrow toward the spire's point were not accessible from inside and will have to be examined by piercing the gold plating.

"It could be very dangerous," Pomazamsky said, referring to the spire's internal condition. "But right now no one can say, since the main connection to the wooden mast and the post on the top of the spire supporting the little ship is located in this inaccessible zone." But it is possible that the leak has caused some of the wood to rot, he said.

A wood-eating fungus, caused by moisture from the leak, has also been detected in the inner framework, Pomazamsky said.

"Now this fungus, according to mycologists, is in a non-growing state," said Pomazamsky. "But if the temperature and humidity are right, it could become active again."

Examination of the spire will resume in late spring or early summer, when a hole will be cut in the gold plating to inspect the upper interior. After inspections are complete, the city will discuss funding repairs, said Svetlana Vosinsenskaya, an official with the State Monument Inspectorate.

The glistening spire's troubles can be fixed -- if the city pays for them, said Yurinov, who added that his company recently ended up placing a cross atop the Kazan Cathedral for free.