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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

6-Month Lease on Life for Rossiya

MTEnjoy it while it lasts: a wide window bay with Kremlin and St. Basil's views.
Anyone who has yet to stay in the Rossiya Hotel just got an extra six months to taste the delights of what was once the largest hotel in Europe.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov announced Thursday that the hotel's closure and demolition would be pushed back a half-year, to the beginning of July.

If you never do get to step through one of the hotel's four entrances, you can see it in its prime in the Soviet film "Mimino," in which two Caucasian comic heroes make their first trip to Moscow and stay in the vast box beside Red Square.

The film was made in 1977, and some would say not that much has changed since then. Staying at the hotel can feel like being trapped in one long Soviet corridor, passing through an endless series of doors, alternatively pushing and pulling your way through the more than 5 kilometers of each floor.

Built in 1967, the Rossiya is a Brezhnev-era brutalist monument. Once the biggest hotel in Europe, the rectangle -- or the briefcase, as it is called -- was built for Soviet bureaucrats and was said to have the same number of rooms as the Soviet congress: 2,717.

Now, it is a bustling hotel attracting tourists with the most reasonable prices available in the center -- $70 for a room, with a view of the Kremlin for $20 more -- where you can hear Italian, German, Japanese and English bubbling around the reception desk. Covering more than 100,000 square meters, it has its own go-cart track, a jail for recalcitrant guests, dozens of cafes and restaurants, and one of the biggest and least used courtyards in Moscow.

The Rossiya's end has not enraged Muscovites as much as other demolitions, such as those of the Voentorg building and the Moskva Hotel.

Some architecture experts praise the building as a representative of its time. It mixes brutal modernism with elements of Stalinism -- the work of architect Dmitry Chechulin, who spanned both periods and also built one of the Stalinist skyscrapers.

"I don't think there is a need to knock it down," said architecture historian Natalya Nikolayeva.

"Every epoch has its own monuments. It is a monument of the Brezhnev epoch and era."

But the general feeling at the time it was built was horror at what had been done to part of the old city. Much of the Zaryadye area had already been razed before World War II, with plans to build a skyscraper.

But the Rossiya razed what was left, and the few old buildings on Ulitsa Varvarka would have gone, too, if not for a public outcry.

"It was a horrible crime," said David Sarkisyan, the head of the Shchusev Architecture Museum. He remembers the empty space that was there before, which used to let wind and light onto Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral.


MT

Although some consider the Rossiya to have architectural merits, its planned demolition has met little protest.

Still, Sarkisyan is not against the building's existence in principle: "If it stood in a different place, I would be categorically against its [destruction]."

Like the hotel's entrance, where security guards make sure no intruders get past the first floor -- although a confident stride often does the trick -- finding out what will take the Rossiya's place is a torturous process.

ST Development, set up by real estate developer Shalva Chigirinsky, won the tender last year to redevelop the site with a bid of $800 million that won despite not being the highest bid. Respected architecture critic Grigory Revzin of Kommersant wrote that ST Development had failed to follow the terms of the tender.

Despite winning the tender more than a year ago, ST Development presented Luzhkov with three different plans only last week, Vedomosti reported. One includes prerevolutionary-style architecture for the area, another would create a series of wide streets with contemporary architecture, and the third would be a reconstruction of what was previously on the spot.

The third plan won, complete with the requisite underground parking space. No official architectural plan has been approved, however.

The hotel will be open for business until July 1. Technically, the demolition is a dismantling. Sartori, the company that took down the Intourist Hotel, also has the Rossiya contract. The Intourist took six months to take down, and the Rossiya will likely take at least as long.

Whatever happens, it seems certain that the Rossiya will go -- and with it, as one expat said, the city will lose one of the few places where you can have sex with a view of both St. Basil's and the Kremlin.