The Towers of Petrograd

By Gus Peters
The St. Petersburg Times
Published: December 17, 2014 (Issue # 1842)

At the intersection of Bolshoi Prospekt and Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt on Petrograd stands the Rosenstein House, a building that stands out for its remarkable architecture in a city full of stunning buildings.

Today, if one is in the area of Ploschad Lva Tolstogo, it is impossible to miss the building, with its Neo-Gothic style and two towers that would look more at home along the ramparts of a Western European castle than in a Russian residential area. The gatehouse of Maxstoke Castle, a privately owned castle in Warwickshire, England, reportedly inspired the Rosenstein House’s twin hexagonal towers rising above the square below.

The current building was not there until the beginning of the 20th century, although the location of it played a surprisingly important part in the history of sports in Russia. Before the current building was erected on the spot, this particular corner of Petrograd played host to the Kamennovsky Velodrome, which could reportedly seat up to 10,000 spectators, and the Northern Ice Rink. It was in this arena that the first ever ice hockey game in Russia was played in 1898, using a ball rather than a puck. The first exhibition of boxing in Russia was held in the arena as well that same year.

The Prussian owner of the Dutch Cocoa warehouse in St. Petersburg originally owned the property itself but in 1910, Konstantin Rosenstein, a Ukrainian factory director and aspiring architect, bought the land. He worked with Andrey Belogrud, an architect and artist, to create the distinctly European building that stands there today. Belogrud was an avid enthusiast for all things medieval, a passion that is evident from the building’s exterior. The mixture of grey stone hugging the geometric corners and the large iron-cast gate at street level, along with the towers protruding from the façade and stuccoed windows, give it an appearance distinct on an island full of buildings inspired by European counterparts. The two towers are reminiscent of the fortifications of a town from the Middle Ages, giving the building a somewhat ominous presence as it lurks over the modern-day square.

After construction began in 1913, the current building was completed in 1915 and was equipped with all of the latest innovations, including gas stoves, fitted wardrobes and even heated closets for people to dry their clothes quicker. Aside from being a home for many, including its architect Belogrud, it was also the main headquarters for the City Railway Administration, which oversaw the maintenance of the tram lines that crisscrossed the center, until 1917. After the revolution, the “House with Towers,” as locals know it, became the home of successive movie theaters and later the main stage for the Leningrad Television Studio.

During Stalin’s reign over the Soviet Union, the building’s façade was covered up on public holidays by a gigantic poster of Stalin himself, taking up the entire space on the front of the building between the two towers. The studio became a theater in 1985 and in 1996, it became the Andrey Mironov Private Theater.