Circling the Lion's Den

FSB Headquarters, Lubyanka

In the late ninteenth century, Great Lubyanka Street became a street of insurance companies. Fifteen insurance companies operated from that relatively short street. So it was no accident that it was on the Lubyanka that one of the country's largest insurance agencies, Rossia, should purchase a plot of land on which to build their offices. Construction began in 1897 and was completed by 1900. The ground floor was rented out as retail premesis. There were bookstores (Naumov's), sewing machine stores (Popov's), bed stores (Yarushkevich's), Vasileva and Voronin's liquor store and more. Storeys two to five housed several dozen apartments, with between 4 and 9 rooms each, costing up to 4,000 rubles in rent per annum. Elsewhere in Moscow similarly sized apartments cost half as much, or even three times less. The Rossia association made over 160,000 rubles per annum income from the building.

After the Soviet government moved from Petrograd to Moscow in 1918, Number 11 Grand Lubyanka Street housed the offices of the The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (VchK), Number 2 was to be occupied later.

In accordance with the SovNarKom decree dated December 1918 all private insurance companies were liquidated, including the Rossia, and their property and assets were nationalized. Initially, in May 1919, Number 2 Lubyanka Square was transferred to the stewardship of the Moscow Council of Trade Unions. But they didn't get a look in, and a few days later Number 2 became the headquarters of the secret police of the RSFSR, who set about evicting all the tenants who had been renting apartments there happily to that point.

In September 1919 part of the building was occupied by representatives of the new Soviet security services: the Special Department of the Moscow ChK, and several months later the Central Apparatus of the VChK moved in. In the 1920s-30s the building underwent farreaching renovation. Behind it, by Furkasovsky Alley, in 1932-33, a project by architects Langman and Bezrukov was built: a new building in constructivist style. The chekists' main entrance now looked out on Furkasovsky alley, while two side facades with their rounded corners faced Grand and Lesser Lubyanka. The new building fused with the old, with the rear facade on Lubyanka Square.

Inside the building, the prison, which was situated in Number 2 and which had been functional since 1920, was also treated to comprehensive renovation work. The new project expanded it by adding an additional four storeys. The problem of exercise space for the prisoners was solved by the architect Langman in a rather unorthodox fashion: he built six exercise courtyards with high walls directly on the roof of the building. Inmates were led up there via special lifts or taken up the stairs.

Secret police chiefs from Lavrenty Beria to Yuri Andropov used the same office on the third floor, which looked down on the statue of Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinsky.

With Beria's arrival the house on the Lubyanka began to undergo a new phase of development. One of the most famous architects of those years was drawn into the project: the man responsible for Lenin's mausoleum, Shchusev. It was his idea to unite these two buildings, with their entrances on Lubyanka Square and Lesser Lubyanka, Number 2, built in 1900 as part of a project lead by Ivanov, and Number 1, erected by Proskurin. Work on the blueprints for the new building, which was to expand the older structure, began in 1939.

By January 1940 the sketch for the final version of the building had been approved by Beria, and Shchusev received the official permission to build it. War interrupted proceedings: only the left part of the facade was reconstructed under Shchusev's direction in the 1940s, due to the war and other hindrances. This asymmetric facade survived intact until 1983.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the full architectural ensemble of Lubyanka Square finally came together. In the period 1970-1982 the left corner of Grand Lubyanka (then Dzherzhinsky Street) and Kuznetsky Most saw the construction of a new, massive building for the USSR's KGB, construction work on which was overseen by Palui and Makarevich. While on the right corner of Myasnitsky Street (Kirov Street), in 1985-1987, the same talents were responsible for the creation of the KGB's central computer center.

After the dissolution of the KGB, the Lubyanka became the headquarters of the Border Guard Service of Russia, and houses the Lubyanka prison and one directorate of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). After 2003, when the Border troops were absorbed by the FSB, the latter got to be the only service to occupy the building.

Agentura.Ru, November 30, 2010

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