The Arcade, or Passazh in Russian (from the French), was built between 1846 and 1848 on 48 Nevsky Prospect. Its main entrance was on Nevsky, the back entrance on Ital'ianskaia Street. Covered by a glass roof spanning the length of the shopping center, the Arcade marked the beginning of glass architecture in Petersburg. It had three levels and 104 shops and was designed by R.A. Zheliazevich in the Italian neo-Renaissance style. Besides high-end shops, hotels, coffee shops, billiard halls, an anatomical museum, a cabinet of wax figures, panoramas and dioramas, workshops, and private apartments were located inside the Arcade. Dostoevsky’s story “The Crocodile” is a grotesque anecdote about a gentleman who is swallowed by a crocodile in the Arcade; a live crocodile was actually exhibited there in 1864. Click here to see a 19th century painting of the Arcade and a 1910 photo of the building by Bulla.
The Arcade was remodeled by its manager S.S. Kozlov in 1900, adding an extra storey. The concert hall on Ital’ianskaia Street became the “Passazh” theater, occupied by the famed Vera Komissarzhevsky Theater between 1904 and 1906, at which time it moved to Ofitserskaia Street (see Puppet Show). Around this time, the second level was transformed into exhibition space for the arts, crafts, and industry. The top gallery was a gay cruising site, especially during the winter.
According to the city’s address book All Petersburg (Ves’ Petersburg) of 1913, some of the fashionable ready-made clothing shops in the Arcade were Maison Annette, A la Coquette, and Au bon goût; note the French names, even though the proprietors were Russian. The perfume shop Rallé and Company, Au Diamant du cap (meaning rhinestones), Omega watches, Tsverner’s metal wares, and Max Leviné’s print shop were located there too. The French bank Crédit Lyonnais (Lionskii Kredit), which played an important role in financing the building of railroads in Russia, was inside 48 Nevsky as well. If you click here you can see photographs of the French bank and a Gramophone shop inside the Arcade.
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