Tolstoy House

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Tolstoy house
Доходный дом графа М. П. Толстого
Fontanka, 54.jpg
Tolstoy House in 2020
Tolstoy House
General information
Architectural style National Romantic style
Design and construction
Architect(s) Fyodor Lidval
EngineerDmitry Smirnov

The Tolstoy House is a well-known apartment building in St. Petersburg, located at 15-17 Rubinstein Street and 54 Fontanka Embankment. The building was constructed in 1910–1912 under the aegis of Major-General Count Mikhail Pavlovich Tolstoy  [ ru ], nephew of the 1812 war hero P. A. Tolstoy. The architect Fyodor Lidval designed it in Nordic Art Nouveau. The construction is interesting for its inner street with three connected yards where the facades were decorated as richly as the front ones. Three-storey arches leading to the inner street are the architectural dominants of the compositions.


After Tolstoy's death in 1913, ownership passed to his widow Countess Olga Tolstoy (born a princess of the Vasilchikov family, daughter of Prince Alexander Illarionovich Vasilchikov, a second in the famous 1841 duel between Mikhail Lermontov and Nikolai Martynov). For a century of its history, the building hosted numerous famous residents.

In 2008, the house was made a protected art and cultural monument of regional significance  [ ru ]. [1]


Land and Owners

The data on this land goes back to the first quarter of the XIX century when it was owned by merchant's wife Nikulina. Her estate included four houses, sheds and barns, ice storage room, stables, orchards and vegetable garden. In 1860 the estate was bought out by Mariya Fyodorovna Ruadze; she ordered the house to be rebuilt in stone and connected to the outhouse wing. The reconstruction turned out to be so expensive that she had to borrow more than 190,000 roubles. In 1868 the estate was put up for auction and bought by Salomeya Akimova who in 1870 sold it to Gustav Frank. In 1889 countess Ekaterina Ignatyeva purchased the land and finally in the early XX century it was sold to Major-General Count Mikhail Pavlovich Tolstoy  [ ru ]. [2]

Mikhail Pavlovich was a nephew of the 1812 war hero P. A. Tolstoy. He also was a hero of several wars himself, for example, he fought in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, defended the Shipka Pass and was honoured with the Order of St. George. Tolstoy commissioned Fyodor Lidval to build a profitable house, the project was approved by the client in March 1910. [3]

Mikhail Pavlovich didn't see his house finished because he died in 1913 in Nice. The estate was inherited by his widow Olga Alexandrovna, née Vasilchikova. [4]


Tolstoy House, Fontanka Embankment view Lidval'. Dom Tolstogo.jpg
Tolstoy House, Fontanka Embankment view

Fyodor Lidval designed a building of an unusual shape with the interconnected inner yards. He decorated inner facades as richly as did the front ones. The lower floor walls were layered with red bricks, the upper one — with grey plastering. The decorative elements such as sandrics and arabesques were colored in yellow. [5] [6] [7]

Decorating facades of the backyard in the same manner as the front ones was uncommon for Petersburg. Three interconnected yards that create an inner street are colloquially called the Street of Lidval. [8] Prominent Russian art historian Boris Kirikov  [ ru ] finds the Renaissance arches the most decorative part of the design. Made of limestone blocks, they are framed with pilasters and obelisks. Because of the irregular shape of the land, the inner street is angular and the yards open one after another, creating an unusual perspective effect. Lidval repeated this design in construction of the Nobel House on Lesnoy avenue, 20. According to his idea, the inner yards were to create the spirit of good-neighbourliness with a semi-private zone where the dwellers and the passers-by wouldn't be isolated from each other. [9] [6] [10]

The structure was conceived as a home for all classes, with apartments for people of all incomes, from modest to luxurious. [6] The building was provided with the most modern amenities, it had air conditioning, ventilation and extraction systems, plumbing, electricity, telephone line, garbage disposal, and 19 elevators. For steam heating, 10 coal fired boilers were installed in the basement. [11] [12] 16 laundries, several billiard rooms, and a gym were opened for the dwellers. [13] [14] [10]

The building had 15 entrance halls, the 16th in the side wing was for personnel. [15] Main staircases were decorated with mettlach tiles, patterned bars, and stained glass windows. [16] The third entrance hall was for the budget rental studios usually rented by low-level clerks. The studios shared a hallway and restrooms, but each had its own kitchenette and a tiny alcove with washbasin. [14] Before the 1917 Revolution,more than 1000 inhabitants lived in the Tolstoy house. [17]

After revolution

Tolstoy House, view from courtyard Tolst3.JPG
Tolstoy House, view from courtyard

The Russian Civil War forced many inhabitants of the Tolstoy house to leave their homes, many of them left abroad. Many apartments were deserted and could be taken by anyone. [18] After 1918, the building was nationalized and the apartments were officially resettled as communal. [19] On the contrary, some were repurposed as non-residential. [20] For example, former apartment No. 108 was given to Nikolay Smolich  [ ru ] theater studio. [21]

During World War II apt. No 106 was used as a pillbox, the basements served as bombshelters. [22] At least 17 residents were killed in battlefield, 329 died from hunger during the Siege of Leningrad. [23]

After the war, the inner street was significantly altered: driveways were made, the lawns were planted with poplars, and a statue was installed in the fountain. Thus was lost Lidval's original concept of an internal street. [6] [10]

The Tolstoy House appeared as a setting in numerous Russian films. Most of Igor Maslennikov's 1985 film Winter Cherry takes place in the Tolstoy House, in its yards, or near it. In this film, the Tolstoy House serves as a kind of actor itself, playing up to the stars of the film and creating a certain mood. Maslennikov also used the Tolstoy House in his The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson series of television films to stand in for parts of Holmes's London. [24] Other films using the Tolstoy House include A Doctor Called?, Could One Imagine?, Born of the Revolution  [ ru ], and Gangster Petersburg. [6] [10] [20] [25]

In 1987 more than 3000 residents lived in 327 apartments of the Tolstoy house. [26] After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many apartments were privatized, some were leased as offices. [14]

In 1970 the building was designated an Architectural Monument of Regional Significance. In 1988 it became a part of UNESCO World Heritage Site number 540, Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments. [27] However, in 2008, after reducing the buffer zone, the status of the building has been downgraded to Zone Controlled Building. [10]

XXI century

The archway, 2008 Tolst7.JPG
The archway, 2008
The inner yard, 2020 Dvor Tolstovskogo doma.jpg
The inner yard, 2020

By 2013, 300 apartments were registered in the building. [28]

By 2016, the wear and tear of the structure was estimated 40%, however the outside decorations and utilities were in a poor state. [6] Some sculptures were restored in 2012. [29]

In 2021 a museum dedicated to all residents of the house was opened in the basement. [12] [30]

Famous residents

Past residents

Recent and current residents

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  1. "Карточка объекта из ЕГРОКН". Retrieved 2023-11-28.
  2. Kolotilo 2013, p. 54.
  3. Kolotilo 2013, p. 56, 59-63.
  4. Dubin 2004, p. 97.
  5. Kolotilo 2013, p. 76.
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  8. Isachenko 2002, p. 174.
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  11. Kolotilo 2013, p. 86—90.
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  13. Kolotilo 2013, p. 20, 79.
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  15. 1 2 Kolotilo 2011, p. 19.
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  17. Kolotilo 2013, p. 9.
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  19. Kolotilo 2013, p. 79.
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  22. Kolotilo 2013, p. 83-84.
  23. Axelrod & Mankova-Sugorovskaya 2021.
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  31. 1 2 Kolotilo 2013, p. 137—138.
  32. Milenko 2021, p. 143—160.
  33. Kolotilo 2013, p. 133-136.
  34. Poda 2021.
  35. Kolotilo 2013, p. 329, 479.
  36. 1 2 Chukina 2012.
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59°55′46″N30°20′31″E / 59.92944°N 30.34194°E / 59.92944; 30.34194