Moscow’s Main Archive Directorate shares the history of GUM’s construction

December 4, 2020

GUM is not just one of the most famous stores in Russia but also an integral architectural monument on Red Square. This intricate Russian Revival (pseudo Russian) style building has a rich history. Moscow’s Main Archive Directorate tells us this story relying on its documents, such as the draft charter of the joint-stock company Upper Trading Rows on Red Square in Moscow, reports from the Moscow City Council and a copy of the plan to change the Upper Trading Rows.

Trade began here even before the 1812 fire of Moscow, which razed the building. Later, the city’s reconstruction saw the Moscow Trading Rows rebuilt. Merchants occupied them until the second half of the 19th century. When the rows fell into disrepair and danger of collapse, discussions began on constructing a new and modern building for trade.

In 1886, a large number of shops in the old trading rows closed down, and temporary shop premises were set up. According to the surviving documents of the Moscow City Duma and Council, in 1888 the joint-stock company Upper Trading Rows on Red Square in Moscow was created to rebuild the shopping centre. Moscow’s Main Archive Directorate has the draft charter of the company as well as an 1888 report from the Moscow City Council on regulations on part of Red Square and several streets.

The company was founded on 10 May 1888 by the owners of the trading premises and land in the old trading rows. They had to transfer their land and the buildings on this land to the company. In return, the company guaranteed to build the premises necessary for trade. Construction was to be completed within four years after the plans for the new building had been approved.

Those who did not want to be part of the company could demand a buy out of their property. The Moscow city government received the right to seize the real estate belonging to those who would not give it up voluntarily. The property assessments ranged from 55 to 4,500 roubles and even more.

The contest to design the new building of the Upper Trading Rows was announced at the end of 1888. Architect Alexander Pomerantsev won. Many engineering innovations figured into the construction of one of the most modern buildings back then.

The Moscow City Council report dated 18 June 1890 says that the underground space needed lighting. In order to do this, workers had to make several round holes in the sidewalk above the unloading area and install ship glass in them. The city also allowed underground tunnels under several sidewalks on Red Square and under passages in the building itself. Walkways between the rows in the new building were supposed to look like bridges or overlapping aisles on the third floor: a technical innovation unprecedented until that time.

Nikolskaya and Ilyinka streets were widened due to the construction. The building was erected very quickly: the main works were completed in 1892.

The city authorities’ inspection in April 1892 showed that the shopping centre’s faсade extended past the approved line by 1.5 arshin (1 arshin equals 71.12 cm – The interior design also deviated from the plan, so the company filed a petition to keep the building in place. Since no seizure of city land occurred, and rebuilding the store to the planned distance would distort the building’s appearance, the Moscow City Duma and the government adopted a resolution on sending a petition to the Supreme Government to change the approved plans and preserve as it is the existing structure of the Upper Trading Rows.

The changes were allowed, so people living or visiting the capital today can admire the GUM building in the same form as it was built more than a century ago.


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