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Residential Building of the First Russian Insurance Company

This monumental building comprising several wings around a cour d'honneur was completed in 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War. It comprises 250 well-appointed apartments, dozens of built-in garages for coaches and cars, and a courtyard garden with fountain. The house was built at the height of the Russian Neoclassical Revival; the facades were lined with expensive soapstone from Sweden and decorated with monumental columns and sculptures.

Facade of the Apartment Building of the First Russian Insurance Society facing Kamennoostrovskiy Prospekt
Facade of the Apartment Building of the First Russian Insurance Society facing Kamennoostrovskiy Prospekt

The design of the building was a collaborative effort between cousins Leon and Julius Benois, with the assistance of Leon's brother Alexandre Benois and Alexander Gunst. The customer was the First Russian Insurance Company, Russia's oldest insurance company established in 1827. Having significant capital, the company had planned to create the best and largest residential complex in St. Petersburg, a "city within a city" with prototype 20th century condominiums. The wing facing Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt was begun in 1913, and a year later construction began on the opposite side of the land plot from the corner of Bolshaya Pushkarskaya Ulitsa and Kronverkskaya Ulitsa. All of the wings are connected by a system of more than ten courtyards. The complex of buildings was provided with all the modern amenities of the time: steam heating, built-in elevators, electricity, and telephone service. It had its own generating station, boiler room, laundry room, incinerator, and a snow-melting system. On the ground floor there were a variety of shops.

Facade of the Apartment Building of the First Russian Insurance Society facing Kronverkskaya Ulitsa in St Petersburg, Russia
Facade of the Apartment Building of the First Russian Insurance Society facing Kronverkskaya Ulitsa

Epitomizing a particularly haute bourgeois vision of modernity, the Building of the First Russian Insurance Company could be seen as marking the last gasp of St. Petersburg's old social order. After the October Revolution, a part of the apartment house was "condensed" and turned into communal apartments. One apartment was used as the editorial offices for the newspaper of the Finnish Communist Party, and the famous Finnish Marxists Otto Kuusinen and Eino Rahja also lived here.

Picturesque open courtyard of the Apartment Building of the First Russian Insurance Society (Benois House) in St Petersburg, Russia
Picturesque open courtyard of the Apartment Building of First Russian Insurance Society (Benois House)

By the late 1920s, however, it became particularly popular among Party leaders in Leningrad, including the influential local Party boss, Sergey Kirov. Party leaders, including the heads of the city, lived in these apartments. Subsequently, many of them were repressed and, in the years 1934-1938, arrests occurred in 55 of 123 apartments in one of the buildings. Other famous residents of the building included Grigory Zinoviev and the outstanding Soviet military leaders Boris Shaposhnikov and Pavel Dybenko. The composer Dmitri Shostakovich lived in apartments facing Bolshaya Pushkarskaya Ulitsa 1937-1941, and then from 1944-1948 on the Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt side. There is a bust to him in one of the courtyards.

Detail of facade decorations of the Apartment Building of the First Russian Insurance Society in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Detail of facade decorations of the Apartment Building of the First Russian Insurance Society

The apartment where Kirov lived (No. 20) was turned into an apartment museum in his honour in 1957. Managed by the Museum of Political History, it also has an exhibition entitled "Leningrad in 1920-1930s", and an interactive display charting the history of Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, which makes it an excellent starting point for exploring the area, as well as providing the opportunity to get closer to this magnificent building.

Address:26-28, Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt / 29, Kronverkskaya Ulitsa / 37, Bolshaya Pushkarskaya Ulitsa
Metro stations:Petrogradskaya
Directions:Exit Petrogradskaya Metro Station through the pedestrian underpass and turn left along Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt. Cross Bolshoy Prospekt and Bolshaya Pushkarskaya Ulitsa, and the building is on your right just past a small garden.
What's nearby? Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, Alexandrovsky Lyceum, Voeikov House
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