No. 7: Petrograd Commercial Bank
The House of Vavelberg
The merchant banker Marian (Mikhail in Russian) Vavelberg, who was of Polish-Jewish origin, bought two lots on 7 and 9 Nevsky Prospect and the corner of Malaia (Little) Morskaia Street in 1910 with the purpose of erecting a new building for his bank. The first Vavelberg bank in Petersburg was established by his father on 25 Nevsky in 1869. The architect Marian (Mikhail) Peretiatkovich, also of Polish origin, designed the new building in a monumental neo-Renaissance style and it was built in 1911 – 1912. Although many contemporaries compared the House of Vavelberg to the Doges Palace in Venice, Peretiatkovich said that he modeled it on north Italian Gothic, especially of Florence and Bologna. It was also an example of Russian “style moderne,” or art nouveau, which in this instance had an Italian provenance. The building housed Vavelberg’s Petersburg Commercial Bank and his private apartments. At the beginning of the war, when this photograph was taken by Bulla, it was renamed Petrograd Commercial Bank, as was the city itself – to remove the German connotations of Petersburg. Besides the bank, the building housed the executive offices of the joint-stock companies of Russian Cotton Spinning Manufacture, Upper-Isetsk Mining and Machine Factories, and the “Sormovo” Steel Foundry and Machine Factories.
The heavy, not to say somewhat graceless, architecture reflected the bank’s wealth (the building was often referred to as the “palace of money”) and the industrial enterprises that occupied its interior spaces. The façade on the Nevsky side consisted of two levels of arcades, the upper row smaller than the one at street level. The massive building was covered in dark grey granite and was decorated with grotesque stylized human and animal heads, which were sculpted by L.A. Ditrikh and V.V. Kozlov. Click here to see some examples.
The émigré poet Nikolai Otsup in a nostalgic poem (“Autumn”), in which he imagines riding down Nevsky in a tram, sees the House of Vavelberg and its mirrors shining like a rainbow on the Lake of Geneva.