The unknown 165-year history of Russia’s San Francisco consulate

"The rocky history of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco began when Pavel I appointed William Montgomery Steward as Russian vice-consul on the American West Coast."

"The rocky history of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco began when Pavel I appointed William Montgomery Steward as Russian vice-consul on the American West Coast."

Wikipedia/Eugene Zelenko
Russia’s diplomatic bastion in San Francisco has had its ups and downs throughout the hectic course of Russia-U.S. relations. Will it survive the latest closure?

The history of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco dates to 1852. In competition with a rival company to colonize Alaska and California, the state-sponsored Russian-American Company elbowed out its competitor and secured a monopoly on the territory of Russian America.

To keep a grip on the North American lands colonized by Russian explorers and entrepreneurs, the Tsar needed a strong man on the ground. The choice fell to William Montgomery Steward, about whom little is known except that he was an entrepreneur. The rocky history of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco began when Pavel I appointed Steward as Russian vice-consul on the American West Coast.

Before 2790 Green Street

The site of the current elegant and grand brick building of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco was not the original location. Before arriving at 2790 Green Street, the Russian Consulate changed location several times.

The original consulate building looked like a three-story mansion with a small superstructure on top. The wooden design left no doubt about its Russian origin.

The original consulate building looked like a three-story mansion with a small superstructure on top. The wooden design left no doubt about its Russian origin. Source: kdmid.ruThe original consulate building looked like a three-story mansion with a small superstructure on top. The wooden design left no doubt about its Russian origin. Source: kdmid.ru

The renowned Russian diplomat, Artemiy Vyvodtsev, was the mansion’s last and arguably most determined inhabitant. After the Revolution of 1917, Vyvodtsev went off to Russia and took part in the Civil War, but returned to the U.S. when the Red Army was victorious. Although his tenure as Russian Consul was over, the ousted diplomat made the surprising decision to continue consular responsibilities despite having no state to represent.

Vyvodtsev circulated a personal message inviting his compatriots to ask for help in legal matters and promised to pull strings with former colleagues and friends in the consular services of other countries.

“Come to me as children come to their father, in all cases of doubt and bewilderment. I will give all my experience acquired during 45 years of consular service in almost all countries of the world as a representative of the true Russia,” wrote Vyvodtsev, who resided in California until his death in 1946.

Although his tenure as Russian Consul was over, the ousted diplomat made the surprising decision to continue consular responsibilities despite having no state to represent. Photo: Artemiy Vyvodtsev. Source: kdmid.ruAlthough his tenure as Russian Consul was over, the ousted diplomat made the surprising decision to continue consular responsibilities despite having no state to represent. Photo: Artemiy Vyvodtsev. Source: kdmid.ru

Cold War closure

Although Russians could use Vyvodtsev’s unofficial assistance, there was no way to receive official consular services in California until the U.S. and Soviet Russia established diplomatic relations. The new Soviet Consulate opened in 1934 at 2563 Divisadero Street. The historical building was not preserved and residential apartments are now located on that spot.

The Consulate on Divisadero Street closed in 1948 at the beginning of the Cold War, when relations between the U.S. and the USSR spiraled downward.

The red brick building on 2790 Green Street was officially opened 25 years later in 1973, and in spite of all the ups and downs in bilateral relations it continued operating until this day. That is all about to change, however.

On Sept. 2, the Russian Consulate in San Francisco will close – a step that Washington took as retaliation for President Putin’s decision to cut the number of U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia. But who knows, maybe some day diplomatic services will resume. In the past, Russia and the U.S. were able to overcome setbacks that interfered with the work of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco.

Read more: When Hawaii, Aceh, and Menorca nearly became Russian territories>>>

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

More exciting stories and videos on Russia Beyond's Facebook page

This website uses cookies. Click here to find out more.

Accept cookies