World Monuments Fund Alexander Palace Time Machine
World Monuments Fund Alexander Palace Time Machine

Contents

Acknowledgments

From the Mayor of St. Petersburg

Foreward

History of the Alexander Palace

The Restoration Project

The Museum Project

Some Next Steps

Project Participants

The Romanov Dynasty

Chronology

Sources

Zoom Views

Palace Floorplan

Garden Facade

Front Entrance

The Restoration Project

 
 
 
 
Birth of the Restoration Effort

The current effort to restore the Alexander Palace began as !.he brainchild of independent American researcher Robert Atchison, who has devoted more than twenty years to the gathering of information about the palace's history, including extensive interviews with Anatoly Kuchumov, the palace's last curator before World War II. In cooperation with author-historian Suzanne Massie, Atchison founded the Committee for the Restoration of the Alexander Palace, which later became the Alexander Palace Association. The mission of the Association is to contribute toward a complete and accurate restoration through public advocacy efforts and the compilation of archival data for use by restoration workers.
At the invitation of the Alexander Palace Association, the World Monuments Fund undertook a preliminary reconnaissance mission to the palace in February 1995. The purpose of this mission was to examine the feasibility of repairing the structure of the building, restoring selected rooms, and returning to the palace its original furnishings, in order to reconstruct the interiors and interpret the life of the Tsar and his household during the early twentieth century.

This first visit resulted in the official endorsement of the restoration effort by St. Petersburg's mayor Anatoly Sobchak. The World Monuments Fund also cemented professional ties with the Museum~Preserve of Tsarskoe Selo and its director, Ivan Petrovich Sautov. This organization, which operates and maintains the Catherine Palace and surrounding park land, will have primary responsibility for the management of the Alexander Palace restoration and the completed museum complex.

The first WMF mission was followed by additional visits in June 1995 and July 1996, which focused on gathering additional information about the building, as well as on fostering constructive ties with local government, military, and historic preservation offices in the St. Petersburg area. Access was gained to additional rooms in the palace, as well as to the attic and roof areas and parts of the building's basement. These surveys solidified the conviction of the WMF program staff that the palace was essentially intact, structurally sound, and viable for restoration.

During these fact-finding missions, visits were also arranged to museums housing artifacts from the Alexander Palace in order to learn about the extent of the collection that could be returned to restored rooms. Initial conclusions suggest that a significant repository of objects from the Imperial apartments survive in these museums, and the authenticity of these collections is well documented through curatorial reports tracking their removal from the palace prior to World War II. A wealth of photographic documentation of the interiors also survives from the time of Nicholas IT, as well as from the decade immediately before World War II.

Among the highlights of the WMF missions was meeting the directors of the St. Petersburg State Commission for the Preservation of Historic Monuments. This official body, which has jurisdiction over all government-designated historic sites in the St. Petersburg area, sponsored the 1992 publication of an independently conceived plan for the restoration of the Alexander Palace which is strikingly similar in philosophy to the proposal of the World Monuments Fund and the Alexander Palace Association. The St. Petersburg Commission serves as the repository of a wealth of expertise and archival information on the Alexander Palace which will be vital to its eventual restoration.

A significant opportunity for launching work on the palace arose with the founding of WMF's new program the World Monuments Watch. In February 1996, an independent jury of eight experts in the fields of architecture, art history, archaeology, and historic preservation selected the Alexander Palace as one entry on the first World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. The American Express Company, the founding sponsor of the World Monuments Watch, awarded a grant of $100,000 through the program to be directed toward emergency repairs to the palace roof. These repairs were begun in September 1996 by the Finnish restoration firm IPR Group - Paanurakerme, under the management of the Museum-Preserve of Tsarskoe Selo.

The Alexander Palace today exhibits a range of architectural conservation challenges. Its impressive scale and age mandate that a special conservation methodology be considered in planning for its repair and adaptation. For this conservation project, the issues can be divided into the following components; restoration of the exterior; rehabilitation of the building structure (and possibly the neighboring kitchen building), including upgrading of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems; restoration and rehabilitation of interior architectural details, furnishings, and fittings; reinstallation and interpretation of decorative objects and furnishings; and restoration of the surrounding landscape.

The optimum approach would allow for these project components to be undertaken in a single coordinated restoration campaign. For this to occur, the whole buildmg would need to be made available at the time of undertaking, and full project funding would need to be in place or firmly pledged.

At the time of this writing, neither of these two assumptions can be made, since the Naval institute currently in residence at the palace may continue to occupy the building for an indefinite time. Additionally, funds for the restoration must be raised through the efforts of a coordinated consortium of public and private agencies committed to preserving the structure. These two key factors have been taken into account in the preparation of this report.

Existing Conditions and Recommendations

Exterior
The first World Monuments Fund survey teams to visit the Alexander Palace for limited visual inspections found the condition of the palace to be basically sound, although deteriorated and in serious danger of further loss. In the years since the Soviet Navy first occupied the building in 1951, the most significant renovations have involved the repair of structural damage inflicted during the Second World War. The damage noticed at the palace was mostly related to weather and deferred maintenance, as evidenced by stained and spalling exterior stucco due to roof leaks and a failing gutter system. Some damage remained from the war, as shown by cracks remaining in central walls. Some problems have resulted from past repair work: inferior stucco materials have begun to crack with time, and inferior roofing repairs have allowed water to penetrate into the building, causing damage to the interiors. Observations during these preliminary visits were not thorough enough to determine in detail the structural integrity of all parts of the building or the adequacy of its electrical, heating. or plumbing systems.

Although defects and significant deterioration are visible today at the Alexander Palace, not all of the problems require immediate attention. Many are localized conditions, and a considerable amount of preventative maintenance of these areas can serve to hold off extensive repairs and replacement elsewhere. In areas where this course of action is selected, temporary protective coverings can be applied without affecting use and appearance.

All of the following recommendations will require verification when a more thorough inspection of the building is possible. Notations made from this preliminary inspection should be compared to archival documentation to learn more about the nature and the location of past repairs. This research can then serve as the basis for contract documents for restoring the exterior of the building.

Roof and Attic
When it was briefly surveyed during the WMF visit in July 1996, the Alexander Palace roof was in very poor condition and required immediate and extensive attention in order to protect the rest of the building from further damage. The galvanized sheet metal covering the roof, most likely dating from repairs after World War II, was rusting and severely dented over much of its surface. The wooden ornamental balustrade surrounding the roof, dating from roughly 1910, was severely deteriorated and missing altogether in some areas. Stucco coverings on chimneys and balustrade supports were cracking and separating, and previous repairs had been ineffective. Poorly prepared flashing - the seams between metal roof coverings and roof penetrations such as chimneys or balustrade supports - had been ineffective in preventing water from leaking into the building's interior spaces.

Preliminary examination of the attic space showed the interior roof framing to be in relatively good condition. It was evident that there had been several repairs and structural interventions over recent decades. Wood had deteriorated significantly only where gaps in the roof surface had allowed water to enter.

WMF team members and restorers from the Museum-Preserve of Tsarskoe Selo agreed that, to prevent further deterioration, the entire roof covering should be replaced, and that damage to the interior structure should be repaired. Seed funding from American Express Company made it possible at that time to engage the Finnish architectural restoration firm IPR Group - Paanurakenne to begin necessary repairs to the roof over the left wing of the palace that would include new galvanized plating, replacement of the ornamental balustrade, and repairs to interior roof framing where necessary. The repairs, when complete, will result in a weather-tight seal that will protect the building and prevent further water damage in the restored area.

Already at this early stage of restoration, important issues of historical accuracy have emerged. Early photographs, eyewitness accounts, and documentation of the palace from the turn of the century reveal a number of roof attachments - among them several chimneys, a skylight, and a water tower - which were removed during renovations later in the twentieth century. At least one nineteenth-century watercolor shows the roof painted green, similar to many St. Petersburg buildings constructed at the same time. A comprehensive restoration effort should address these facts, and a determination will need to be made as to whether to reconstitute these elements of the building's design.

Exterior Stucco
The exterior of the Alexander Palace, like many other Russian buildings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was built with masonry walls with an applied stucco covering and ornamentation. Such buildings, located in the Baltic region where weather conditions are often extreme, require frequent maintenance and repair. When dense cementitious coatings are used to repair these surfaces, as has occurred at the Alexander Palace in recent decades, water which has entered through micro-cracks in the surface is trapped within the wall structure. During freeze.thaw cycles, freezing moisture pushes the stucco away from the underlying masonry, causing small cracks to enlarge. This deterioration is worse in areas around decorative features such as comices, dentils, and windows, or at drain pipes, where rain water and melting snow migrate downward, saturating and staining the walls. The visiting survey team found such deterioration already well advanced at the Alexander Palace. Harsh weather has also resulted in fading and flaking of stucco coatings. The extensive deterioration suggests that the structural integrity of some exterior wall surfaces may be compromised.

Rising moisture from the ground has created a similar pattern of moisture presence at the base of the building, despite the existence of damp proof coursing. This moisture has also penetrated to at least some interior plastered walls, causing cracks, flaking paint. and powdering of plastered surfaces. In some saturated areas, discoloration to certain interior surfaces is already visible.

Once the roof covering has been replaced, the uppermost portions of the exterior walls should be repaired. This work will most likely require extensive removal of the present surface to the masonry beneath. Three layers of new stucco coating should be applied and made level with surrounding surfaces. In areas where original material is to be preserved, stucco should be carefully patched so as to prevent future cracking. Repairs should avoid the use of pre-packaged cementitous coatings and, instead, make use of breathable coatings that are both structurally and visually compatible with the existing wall covering. To protect the base of the walls from rising moisture, these areas should be cleared of vegetation and wall drains installed to help remove debris from the base of the building. Stucco surfaces should be re-applied and expansion joints provided along the length of the wall in order to prevent cracking due to temperature changes.

Central Colonnade
The central colonnade at the front of the palace is in fair condition, with only minor cracks and material loss. However, cracks in the coffered ceiling of the colonnade may indicate interior structural damage, and further inspection will be essential to confirm that the colonnade roof is watertight. Repairs to its roof framing and covering will likely be necessary.

Carriage Ramps and Porticoes
Parapet walls protecting the sides of the curved carriage ramps are in poor condition; their core brick masonry material is saturated and friable. Perhaps as much as fifty percent of the brick can be salvaged in the extensive rebuilding of the parapet walls. The secondary porticoes which are served by these ramps are in fair to good condition, though each requires improved water protection and stucco repair.

Windows
The double glazing system used on most windows of the Alexander Palace, consisting mostly of two operable sets of sash, has served well over the years. The wide space between the window units permits air flow to retard condensation during cold weather. The conditions of the interior windows vary. Some are repairable, while others will require replacement. Exterior storm windows follow a similar pattern. Their condition will vary with respect to their exposure to wind and sunlight.

Interiors
Upon initial inspection, the existing documentation of the Alexander Palace interiors appears largely complete. The extent of the apparent survival of art and decorative art collections and the wide range of archival materials should help to ensure the historical integrity of the restoration. The following rooms that have been made accessible to surveyors to date, from among the apartments of Nicholas and Alexandra and in the central enfilade, remain surprisingly intact. Each, however, show similar signs of water penetration at outside walls, where plaster surfaces have become discolored and damaged.

The inventories of these rooms, from the Imperial period and later, will need to be analyzed. Many of the Imperial rooms were photographed in Nicholas II's day, and a number of photos exist in archives and private collections which could be used for the planning of the restoration.

The following five rooms were visited during WMF missions:

Tsar's Reception Room (see floor plan, no. 23)
This room contains a fine interior dating from about 1900, designed by Roman Meltser, and is now used as a library. Although empty of original furniture, the interior appears to retain its original turn of the century wood-paneled ceiling and virtually all of its wall paneling and fireplace decoration. Most impressive of all, it appears that the room's original wall covering above the paneling remains in good condition. Evidence of some repairs to the wood wall panels was observed, and the central area of the floor appears to have been replaced. However, the overall impression was of a room which miraculously survives with about 80 percent of its original wall, floor and ceiling surfaces.

Tsar's Formal (New) Study (no. 28)
The Formal Study, now empty and apparently unused by the Navy, is another high-quality Art Nouveau interior designed by Roman Meltser around 1900. This is one of the palace's largest interiors, which the architect made even larger by adding "stolen space" from the upper half of the adjacent corridor as a 15 foot wide and 30 foot long mezzanine gallery. The gallery connects to Alexandra's Maple Room on the other side of the corridor. The New Study mezzanine transforms the room from a vertically-centered, eighteenth-century, neoclassical space into a distinctly twentieth century interior with a broad and horizontally-focused spatial quality. The study retains its extremely fine wood-paneled Art Nouveau ceiling and its fine, squat marble pillars along the balustrade of the mezzanine gallery. The wooden staircase up to the mezzanine was replaced after World War II with a creditable replica. The original 1900 wall finishes are badly scarred. However, extensive physical evidence and photo documentation survive, and complete restoration is thus possible.

Crimson Drawing Room (no. 8)
The Crimson Drawing Room in the central enfilade is a fine eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century neoclassical interior, presently used for storage of broken classroom chairs and desks. The thirty-five foot high space has a coved ceiling into which rise the magnificent north and west arch-topped windows. Their sills are badly deteriorated. Only the east and west walls appear to retain their original green and cream scagliola (imitation marble) surface, while the rest of the room's wall surfaces, including an impressive six-column screen, is stuccoed in green as an expedient replacement of the original scagliola. The ceiling, with its coffered bay, is intact but looks fragile. Although the scagliola remains, as does the ornamental plaster, considerable stabilization will be required.

Semicircular Hall (no. 10)
Today the Semicircular Hall is used as an auditorium. In Quarenghi's original plan the space, shown as the center of the grand enfilade of five formal halls, is drawn with doorways, north and south, opening into its adjacent interiors. However, in twentieth-century photographs the hall is shown together with its enfilade rooms as a dramatic ensemble of vaulted interiors separated by giant columned screens. Today the Semicircular Hall is completely closed off from the enfilade. Various doorways and colonnaded openings have been made into interior partitions. However, the white scagliola of the east and west walls survive, and a pair of carved marble fireplace mantels are in place behind protective enclosures.

Alexandra's Formal Reception Room
(no. 13)
The Tsarina's formal reception room is now used as a drafting studio. This finely proportioned room, located at the south comer of the palace, probably receives more natural light than any other room in the building. The condition of the room is good, with virtually all of the white scagliola intact. Where damaged, it is repairable. Only the ceiling molding has suffered from water damage. One door, leading to the Maple Room, has been added.

Off-Site Collections
A number of decorative art objects, paintings, and other personal belongings of the Imperial Family, which once constituted the interior decoration of the Alexander Palace, are known to exist - and some are even on public display - at several Russian museums and in private collections. During their 1995 visits to St. Petersburg, World Monuments Fund team members visited two prominent locations, the nearby Catherine Palace and Pavlovsk Palace, where the largest number of pieces from the Alexander Palace collection are known to be held.

At Pavlovsk, several objects from the Alexander Palace, generally in very good condition, are currently part of the furnishings of the formal and private apartments. Three neoclassical halliantems in the vestibule of the palace were at the Alexander Palace during the reign of Nicholas II. On the ground floor in the private apartments is an exceptionally fine writing desk by, or in the marmer of, David Roentgen, of about 1780, in very good condition. On the third floor there are about two hundred artifacts from the Alexander Palace: several paintings and sculptures, a group of twelve or more Art Nouveau Galle glass vases probably from Alexandra's Mauve Room, several very good Art Nouveau gilded metal vases, and suites of seat furniture.

At the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo, several objects once at the Alexander Palace are currently shown. In the palace's storerooms, considerable collections of the clothes of Nicholas II, Alexandra, and their children are held, as well as paintings - mainly nineteenth-century portraits - from the Alexander Palace. On the whole, the objects from the Alexander Palace which were observable appear to be in good condition and are protected from overhandling by the public or staff.

In the state rooms of the Catherine Palace, a fine full. length portrait of Nicholas I by Kruger, once housed in the Portrait Hall of the Alexander Palace's formal enfilade, is on display. Also on display are two exquisite neoclassical pier tables decorated on all surfaces with lapis lazuli, along with floral details in other semiprecious stones. A group of French neoclassical gilded wood chairs, attributed to the menuisier George Jacob (1739-1814), is in superb condition. Lastly, on the ground floor of the Catherine Palace, a magnificent large-scale porcelain urn and stand is on display, with its gilded bronze attachment of flowers. This unusual piece of great refinement, following a design of Karl Friederich Schinkel, appears in a watercolor of the Alexander Palace's Crimson Drawing Room, painted by Luigi Premazzi in 1863, where it stands impressively in front of a window.

Historic clothes from the Imperial Family's collection which are now at the Catherine Palace include some of the Tsar's navy uniforms and several belonging to the Tsarevich Alexis - including a traveling chest with his uniform of the 12th Eastern Siberian Shooting Regiment, his sword, gloves, and epaulettes.

Along with clothes of the Tsarina Alexandra are ball gowns of her daughters Anastasia, Olga, and Maria. All of the clothes inspected appear to be remarkably well preserved and kept in good storage conditions.

Cataloging of Collections
The recording of all extant objects from the Alexander Palace collection should be the foundation of the new Alexander Palace Museum. To this information can be added and correlated all existing records describing and documenting the collection. The product of this registration will be a physical location of the entire Alexander Palace collection as it is presently determined, which will serve as a primary tool for all future planning, budgeting, preservation of the collections, research, installation, and interpretation.

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