Myths and legends of Moscow's historic Soviet-era hotels

Hotel Radisson Moscow press photo
The hotels built in Moscow at the height of the USSR’s rush to urbanization (1930s–1950s) created a new facade for the city. They altered the Russian capital’s former image, which had been defined by its pre-revolutionary bourgeois architecture, once and for all.

In order to erect grand hotels to duly impress foreign delegations, Soviet authorities tore down entire blocks, drained swamps and built new bridges. In addition to changing the city's skyline, the new hotels also made a notable contribution to urban folklore, soon becoming the center of everyone's attention and a hot conversation topic.

Some hotels were placed in neo-classical Stalinist high-rises (Leningradskaya and Ukraina), while others were constructed using original designs in the Stalinist Empire style (Moskva and Pekin). Yet another group of hotels was installed in pre-revolutionary buildings that had undergone complete renovation. One example from this third group is the Sovetskaya Hotel, which inherited the quarters of Yar, one of Moscow’s largest 19th-century restaurants.

1. Moskva Hotel

Source: Moskva Hotel press photo

Built in the late 1930s on Manezhnaya Square directly in from of the pre-revolutionary Hotel National and the Hotel Metropol, Moskva was the first major Soviet hotel. The original building has been lost as it was demolished in the early 2000s. It was later replaced by an exact replica, which now houses the Four Season Hotel Moscow.

The right side of the Moskva Hotel is somewhat different from the left side. Legend has it that Stalin himself was the one that approved the final design. The Soviet leader was offered two different facade designs separated by a line and he signed the project right on the line. As no one dared to ask Stalin to be more specific, the architects blended the two designs into one building. The right-hand part was more austere, while the left-hand part featured numerous decorative elements.

A view from the room of the Four Seasons Hotel Moscow. Source: Moskva Hotel press photo

In the course of reconstruction the decision was made to retain the difference between the two halves of the facade.

2. Ukraina Hotel

Source: Ukraina Hotel press photo

Located on the west bank of the Moskva River opposite the government headquarters (commonly referred to as the "White House"), the Ukraina Hotel dates back to the 1950s. For quite a while it ranked among Europe's tallest hotels – its height including the spire is 206 meters. Today this historic building is occupied by the Radisson Royal Hotel.

The hotel was the seventh and the last of Moscow's Seven Sisters skyscrapers. As its construction began only after Stalin's death, its fate was determined by the next Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev. Along with the denunciation of Stalin's cult of personality, Khrushchev is also famous for his innovative approach to housing shortages in the Soviet Union.

In order to resettle tenants from communal flats, he built standard five-story apartment blocks – the so-called "khrushchevkas." According to an urban legend, Khrushchev said that the Soviet Union didn't have enough money to maintain such a grand hotel and ordered the builders to transform its left and its right wing into apartment blocks (about 60 percent of the hotel rooms). It is possible that the legend has some truth to it, as the left and right wings of the hotel are still inhabited by common city-dwellers.

A view from the room of the Radisson Royal Hotel Moscow. Source:Radisson Royal Hotel press photo

Another legend involves the diorama "Moscow, Capital of the USSR," which is displayed on the first floor. The 300-meter maquette of the Russian capital was constructed in 1977 and then put on display in New York. The miniature Moscow was a huge success in the U.S. with 30–40 visitors attending the exposition every day. Rumor has it that the astronaut Neil Armstrong asked the Soviet government to sell the impressive exhibit to him, only to receive the terse reply: "Moscow is not for sale."

3. Leningradskaya Hotel

Source: Leningradskaya Hotel press photo

Leningradskaya was built in 1949-1952 not far from Komsomolskaya, or Three Station, Square. It is the shortest of the Seven Sisters skyscrapers – a modest 134 meters including the spire. Today the building is home to the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya.

This hotel is notable for its interiors, which is pretty rare for a Stalinist-era building. It features ancient Russian and Russian Baroque motifs that give the hotel entrance area an ambience of a medieval castle:

Source: Leningradskaya Hotel press photo

The interior also features a Venetian-style glass ceiling, multi-layered hanging lamps the length of an entire story and an elevator with gilded carvings and gold-plated bronze coffers on the ceiling. Between the seventh and the eighth floors the right side front staircase is decorated with world's longest garland hanging lamp, with its amazing 15.5 meter (about 51 feet) length registered in the Guinness Book of Records:

Source: Leningradskaya Hotel press photo

The foot of the stairs is guarded by bronze mythical beasts that resemble lionesses. A legend proposes that these statues were brought here by Soviet soldiers from Berlin's Reichstag after World War II. The hotel staff even refers to them as "trophies." The entrance hall of the hotel is open to visitors and guided tours.

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