Sunday, December 7, 2014

Giving GUM Its Due

Leafing through the Sunday papers, I saw this photo in the Pioneer Press:

The glass roof and other architectural details were a revelation, because I realized my mental image of the GUM department store in Moscow was completely wrong.

I couldn't say how I used to think of it exactly. I learned back in the Cold War, aka my childhood, that it was a hulking building, anonymous and Soviet-style with long lines of people waiting for stuff. Bread, I imagined.

When, actually, this is what it looks like:

Built in the early 1890s, it's a fine example of the naturally lit, iron-boned arcades that were prominent at that time, like the Metropolitan Building in Minneapolis, the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, the Pension Building (National Building Museum) in Washington, or the Market Arcade in Buffalo. Buildings that didn't need artificial light most of the day, and that had grand open spaces for people to mix and mingle.

Okay, maybe GUM used to be nice, but during the Soviet years it must have been ugly, right? Well, I couldn't find a lot of photos from that time, and they're all black and white, which automatically makes them look drab, but these don't seem too bad:

Aside from falling sway to what I'm now sure was overt anti-Soviet propaganda, my childhood self also had a big bias against old buildings. I preferred modernism, even brutalism, at the time. This was the era of "urban renewal," remember, when buildings like the Metropolitan or GUM were thought to be monstrosities.

Like the city of Minneapolis, I wanted to tear it all down and start over. Preferably in generic concrete.

1 comment:

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Wow, I had no idea. I agree, it's a gift to discover that old buildings can be, and often are, beautiful.