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Parliament of Russian Federation
Parliament of Russian Federation
House on the Embankment
House on the Embankment
All-Russia Exhibition Centre
All-Russia Exhibition Centre
FSB (former KGB) headquarters on Lubyanka
FSB (former KGB) headquarters on Lubyanka

Sightseeing tour of Soviet Moscow
(by car)

House on the embankment

Sinister monument to Stalin's era By Pavel Sergeev

Many houses in Moscow are located on the Moskva River, but only one is known as the House on the Embankment. The legendary dismal building in Constructivist style occupies a large area between the Bersenevskaya Embankment, across from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and the Vodootvodny Canal. Its official address is 2 Serafimovich Street.
During the mass political purges of the 1930s this house was inhabited by top Soviet officials. To this time the gloomy building with its narrow courtyards never warmed by the sun and its location on the site of former Bolotnaya (Swampy) Square, where criminals were publicly executed in the 15th-18th centuries, remains a sinister reminder of the past.Many of its inhabitants met tragic fates. In the '30s and '40s one-third were deported to labor camps or shot or committed suicide. Their restless souls continue to wander about the house with the mysterious layout, backdoor passages, and hidden elevators.
When Yuri Trifonov's novel The House on the Embankment was published in the Soviet Union in 1976, it immediately became a cult book among the Soviet intelligentsia and was later translated into many European languages. The novel's characters grow up in this house and then each goes his own way, some becoming big shots, others living out their days as guards at a cemetery.
I read the novel that same year, but it was not until 1990 that I had a chance to visit the notorious house. I accompanied a Finnish journalist who wished to interview Mikhail Shatrov, a dramatist who had written enthusiastic plays about Vladimir Lenin and his associates and whose ideological loyalty must have earned him his huge apartment with a view of the Kremlin.
For centuries the location of the House on the Embankment had a bad reputation. The whole area beyond the Moskva River across from the Kremlin was often flooded and was known as the Swamp. In the 15th century, being the site of public executions, the Swamp gradually turned into a tremendous graveyard. Popular belief that public executions took place at Lobnoye Mesto on Red Square is incorrect. No more than five people were executed there in all of Russian history. It was in the Swamp that the chief of the court guards of Ivan the Terrible, Malyuta Skuratov, tortured people charged with high treason.
When soil was dug out to lay the foundation for the house, such quantities of human bones and scalps were found that it took several trucks to carry them away. It was on these human bones that the Government House was erected in 1931. But the Soviet Communists were never superstitious.
In the 1920s Soviet architects were keen on designs that combined apartments and services in one complex. The idea of building such an apartment house for the Communist Party elite and top government officials was implemented by Boris Iofan and cost 14 million rubles, a gigantic sum in those days. Construction began in 1927 and after three years a gray giant of a building was standing opposite the Kremlin with entrance arches of two or three stories leading into the courtyards.
To accentuate its special link with the Kremlin, the house was to be faced with red and pink granite. But when complaints about the exorbitant expenditure of public money threatened to escalate into a scandal, it was decided to save on appearance. So the house remained gray. But everything else betrayed a generous hand. Each entrance lobby had a wide staircase. There were two large apartments on each floor. The living area alone in a five-room apartment covered 200 square meters. Each apartment had a gas cooker and a bathroom with running hot water, a luxurious novelty for Moscow in those days. Telephones, radios, phonographs, furniture of fumed oak with a Kremlin inventory number and other attributes of luxury were all supplied free to party and government elite.
The wives and daughters of Stalin's executives had no need to slave in the kitchen. Special facilities in one of the three courtyards supplied the tenants with hot dinners at fantastically low prices. The house also had laundry services, a department store, library, gym, childcare center, post office, movie theater, and savings bank, in a word, everything one might need for a comfortable life.
Government House came to symbolize Soviet prosperity. Each family had a domestic. Even in the hungry '30s the women of the House wore furs and jewelry, the men sported expensive cars, and apartments were furnished with rare antiques and works of art. In the evening the gray giant overlooking the river lit up with crystal chandeliers, and laughter and music from the open windows carried far. The gilded youth were having a good time.
A character in Trifonov's novel recalls those days with nostalgia 40 years later, now a decrepit cemetery guard: "He crossed the bridge, looked at the low, long and shapeless house on the embankment with its thousands of sparkling windows, picked out the window of his old apartment where his happiest days had flashed by, and lost himself in dreamy thoughts of a miracle that might change his life once again."
The house was commissioned in 1931. Getting an apartment there, one joined the caste of the chosen. The first residents included the top party theoretician Nikolay Bukharin, Marshall Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a senior Kremlin executive Georgy Malenkov, and many famous Soviet writers, airmen, and polar explorers. After the death of his wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Josef Stalin saw to it that his children, Vasily Stalin and Svetlana Alliluyeva,moved in so that the two lived comfortably and were at the same time under constant supervision: all the porters at the house were officers of the NKVD, the KGB of those days.
Unknown to the tenants, most of the apartments were bugged. Some were occupied by political immigrants who had fled their countries after spying for the Soviet Union. There were claims too that a secret underground passage linked the Kremlin to the House.
The comfortable life of the tenants came to an abrupt end in the mid-'30s, when arrests and searches were launched on a grand scale. By 1939, 280 of the 500 or so apartments had been sealed and their residents sent to jails for political prisoners. Marshal Tukhachevsky and his wife were shot, and his daughter was deported from Moscow. Nikolay Bukharin left the building with the smear of "enemy of the people" and soon after was shot. The beautiful wife of Professor Shirshov of the Academy of Sciences was exiled for five years because she had refused to accept the advances of the all-powerful NKVD chief Lavrenty Beria.
The young too had their tragedies. The House produced a Soviet version of Romeo and Juliet. The son of the aviation industry minister, Volodya Shakhrin, and his sweetheart, Nina, daughter of the diplomat Umansky, preferred death to separation. When Nina's father received a posting abroad, Nina was told she would have to accompany her parents. So Volodya shot Nina and then himself.
After Stalin's death the government complex on the embankment lost all significance. Nothing but the enormous apartments, wide entrance lobbies and the names of its former celebrated tenants carved on the marble and bronze memorial plaques circling the house remind one of the past. Today the few descendants of the first tenants have as neighbors the Russian newly rich and wealthy foreigners. The Russians appreciate the house's size, location, and view of the Kremlin and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the foreigners its historic past. The Russians have pulled down partitions and laid out winter gardens and swimming pools in their flats. One eccentric turns his 50-square-meter balcony into a skating rink in winter and invites in friends to skate. A wealthy foreigner has invested heavily in period furniture that belonged to Kremlin executives in the '30s. The House continues to attract romantically-minded and adventurous Russians. Attempts have been made to discover the underground passages reportedly leading to the Kremlin. Rumors about the passages have circulated for decades but no one has ever found them. The new tenants are rather indifferent to both rumors and history. But when a wealthy Russian buys an apartment, he does extensive renovating and then invites a priest to bless the place and drive the devil out.Unlike Stalin's elite, who were not afraid to live on the bones of the executed, today's moneyed Russians are very superstitious.
Over the past decade a supermarket, cosmetic clinic, and restaurant have appeared on the first floor. The Variety Theater, situated in the building, is active as ever. In October it will launch a Russian version of the musical Chicago. The theater is located next to Russian Press House, an umbrella group of some two dozen small newspapers and magazines.
Yet despite all this activity the House on the Embankment still gives off a funereal atmosphere, even on the hottest summer days. Apparitions of the past have never left it. Some tenants claim to have seen the phantom of Malyuta Skuratov from the days of Ivan the Terrible, others - the victims of Stalin's purges.

Source http://www.whererussia.com