The fate of Nicholas II’s Imperial Train

 

PHOTO: Two carriages of the Imperial Train on display in Alexandria Park, Peterhof. 1932
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

In May 1917, the Imperial Train of Emperor Nicholas II was sealed and transferred to Moscow, where it remained mothballed on the side tracks for more than a decade.

In the fall of 1929, two railway carriages were slowly rolled along temporary tracks which were laid from the Novy Peterhof railway station through the Proletarsky (former Alexandria) Park in Peterhof, to a small clearing just south of the Cottage Palace, it was to be the final stop for the former Imperial Train of Emperor Nicholas II.

The history of the Imperial Train dates back to the 1890s. Construction on the first of two trains began in 1894 in the Alexandrovsky Mechanical Plant of the Nikolaev railway, and completed in February 1896. A few years later it was supplemented with three additional carriages manufactured in the St. Petersburg-Warsaw railway assembly workshops. By the early 1910s, the Imperial Train consisted of a total of eleven carriages.

Each of the carriages was painted dark blue with gold trim and gilded decorations in the form of the Imperial coats of arms mounted between the windows. The interiors featured panels, ceilings and furniture made of polished oak, walnut, white and gray beech, maple and Karelian birch. 

PHOTO: Workers move carriages to the Alexandria Park, Peterhof. 1929
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

With the outbreak of World War I, the number of carriages was reduced to three, and the Imperial Train became a travelling residence for Nicholas II. Travelling back and forth between Tsarskoye Selo and General Headquarters at Mogilev, the train served as a military field office, equipped with telephone and telegraph communications. It was in the Salon Car of on this train that Emperor Nicholas II signed his signed his abdication on 2nd March 1917.

Subsequently, the former Tsar’s train was used by the ministers of the Provisional Government for several months. After the Bolsheviks came to power, the Imperial Train was used by the chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council Leon Trotsky (1879-1940).

PHOTO: Semyon Geychenko (second from the left) and Anatoly Shemansky (far right)
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

One can only speculate what the fate of the Imperial carriages would have been, had it not been for the efforts of two Peterhof museum workers, Semyon Geychenko and Anatoly Shemansky. It is largely thanks to their efforts, that two carriages from the Imperial Train were transferred from the People’s Commissariat of Railways to the Peterhof Museum in 1929.

PHOTO: Carriages of the Imperial Train on display in Alexandria Park, Peterhof. 1930
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

The following year, 1930, a permanent exhibition “The Carriages of the Former Tsarist Train” was opened in a small clearing just south of the Cottage Palace in the Proletarsky (Alexandria) Park. At the time of the opening of the exhibition, the interiors of the Tsar’s carriages had survived nearly intact. Near the carriages a platform and two wooden pavilions were built.

The pavilions housed the exposition “Imperialist War and the Fall of Autocracy,” which included four sections: “Causes of the World War”, “Russia in World War”, “The Collapse of Tsarism”, “The Final Journey of Nikolai Romanov from Tsarskoye Selo to Yekaterinburg.” The exhibit was supplemented with items from the Lower Dacha, the summer residence of Nicholas II and his family, located nearby on the shore of the Gulf of Finland.

The first carriage consisted of two parts: a dining room and a salon. In this car, the exhibition outlined the situation that had arisen before the February 1917 Revolution and the projects of the palace coup that preceded it. The dining car was used during the war for staff meetings with the Tsar’s participation.

The second carriage consisted of a maid’s compartment, the Empress’s bedroom, Nicholas II’s office and his valet’s compartment. The interior decoration, furnishings and decoration of the carriages resembled that of the Lower Dacha: Art Nouveau furniture made by Melzer’s firm, a comfortable leather cabinet, family photographs, and numerous icons in the bedroom.

PHOTO: The Imperial Train can be seen through the trees during the years of occupation
© Private Archive

PHOTO: German soldiers stand at the gutted Imperial Train during the years of occupation
© Private Archive

Sadly, the fate of most of the luxurious carriages of the Imperial Train is a sad one, having been destroyed in a fire some time during the Russian Civil War (1917-1922).

Equally sad, “The carriages of the Former Tsarist Train” exhibit at Peterhof was permanently closed in 1936. During the years of Nazi occupation of Peterhof (1941-44), the exhibition complex was virtually destroyed by the invaders: the platform and pavilions were destroyed, as well as the two remaining carriages and their historic interiors.

PHOTO: The salon of the Imperial Train, destroyed by the Nazis
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

PHOTO: The sad state of the carriages of the Imperial Train as they looked in the 1950s
© Archive of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve

In the first decade after the end of the Great Patriotic War, the question of the possibility of restoring the cars remained open. Nevertheless, the revival of the museum turned out to be unrealistic: on 18th February, 1954, a special commission of the October Railway ruled that due to the damage inflicted during the war years, the carriages of the Imperial Train  had become completely unserviceable and could not be restored.

In the summer of 1954, by order of the Department of Culture of the Executive Committee of the Leningrad City Council, the carriages were dismantled. Out of almost one thousand items and memorial items from the carriage interios, nearly all were destroyed or stolen. Today, only 55 items have been preserved in the funds of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve, including writing utensils, furniture, and furnishings.

NOTE: I am currently preparing an article on the Imperial Train and its luxurious interiors. Stay tuned . . . PG

© Paul Gilbert. 12 January 2021

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The sad state of the Imperial Railway Pavilion in Tsarskoye Selo

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Current state of the Imperial Railway Pavilion near the Alexander Palace, Tsarskoye Selo

Over the past 25+ years, I have written numerous articles on the Imperial Railway Pavilion in Tsarskoye Selo. Among these, have been news updates from Russian media sources on proposals to restore this historic building, sadly, none of which have seen the light of day.

Meanwhile, the Imperial Railway Pavilion has continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate. This of course is in part due to the elements, vandalism, but also from sheer neglect.

During my many visits to Tsarskoye Selo over the years, I have visited the pavilion on a number of occasions, only to have my spirits dampened on each successive visit by its ongoing neglect and deterioration.

On one such visit, a door had been broken open, and I ventured inside to explore the interior. I was shocked by what I saw. Graffiti all over the walls, garbage strewn throughout, including empty vodka and beer bottles. The smells were equally offensive. The interiors were being used by local drug addicts and thugs, who not only used it as a public toilet, but also lit fires, charring the walls and ceilings in the process. I took many photographs as evidence of what I saw. The only light came through what remained of the windows, the darkness cast shadows, and I entered each room with trepidation, fearing what or who might be lurking in the shadows.

The pavilion is now completely surrounded with a fence, all the doors and windows sealed – as seen in the photo above – to prevent any further trespassing and acts of vandalism.

Can the Imperial Railway Pavilion be saved?

In July 2019, Channel 5 News (St. Petersburg), reported that a decision by the regional government would allow the lease on historical buildings for the price of just one ruble per square meter. Among the list of seven structures was the former Imperial Railway Pavilion in Tsarskoye Selo.

The investor would be responsible for the reconstruction of the Imperial Railway Station, with a 49 year lease. Some developers suggested using the historic building as a hotel, shopping center, or restaurant. Any of these proposals would further (negatively) affect the historic integrity of this architectural monument, therefore, let us pray that none of these ideas come to fruition!

Given its proximity to the Alexander Palace of one and a half kilometres, it would be both fitting and logical that the pavilion should be turned over to the administration of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve (GMVZ), who have shown a high degree of professionalism in the restoration of damaged building dating from the Tsarist period. For instance, they are about to begin the restoration of the Chinese Theatre, which is in a far worse state than the Imperial Railway Pavilion.

If they could get financial backing from the Ministry of Culture, the GMVZ could breath new life back into the pavilion. Drawings have been preserved of the interiors, including the magnificent wall and ceiling paintings, which have almost disappeared. One idea, would be to create a museum dedicated to the history of the Imperial Railway, which opened during the reign of Nicholas I, and include a permanent exhibition dedicated to the luxurious Imperial Train of Russia’s last emperor. 

A shocking state of neglect and disrepair 

The following photographs taken by St. Petersburg historian and guide Roman Venezin, depict the interiors of the Imperial Railway Pavilion, as they looked in 2014. Please bear in mind that these photographs were taken five years ago, and the building and its once magnificent interiors have deteriorated even further. 

A brief history of the Imperial Railway Pavilion

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The original Imperial Pavilion was constructed of wood in 1895, however, it was destroyed by fire on 25th January 1911. A new stone pavilion designed by architect V.A. Pokrovsky, was constructed in the same Neo-Russian style as the buildings of the nearby Feodorovsky Gorodok. It was here that the Emperor greeted many foreign dignitaries. A special road was laid from the station to the Alexander Palace.

The richly decorated interiors were stylized as chambers with heavy stone vaults. The rich decoration of the facades and interiors corresponded to the grand presentation of the station, being an example of a synthesis of architecture, monumental painting and decorative art, which successfully combined the forms of ancient Russian architecture of the 17th century. with construction technologies and materials characteristic of the modern era.

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The imperial chambers of the station were painted by the artist M. I. Kurilko, reflecting the chambers of the beloved suburban palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich.

During the First World War 1914-1917. The Tsar’s pavilion was used to transfer the wounded soldiers with special ambulance trains to hospitals deployed in Tsarskoye Selo (there were more than 60 of them). In 1918, the station was renamed the Uritsky Pavilion, and was closed in the middle of the 20th century. The pavilion was badly damaged during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). 

© Paul Gilbert. 29 December 2019

Imperial Railway Pavilions During the Reign of Nicholas II

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Nicholas II (center) arrives on the Imperial Train at the Imperial Pavilion in Tsarskoye Selo

During the reign of Russia’s last Emperor, three railway pavilions were constructed solely for the use of the Tsar and the Imperial Train: St. Petersburg, Tsarskoye Selo and Moscow.

All three Imperial Railway Pavilions have survived to this day.

Imperial Railway Pavilion: St. Petersburg

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The Imperial Pavilion was constructed at the Vitebsk Station in 1900-1901, by the Russian architect S. A. Brzhozovsky. It had a separate track, in which the Imperial Train could transport the Emperor and his family to Tsarskoye Selo. The line was also used by his ministers, who travelled from the Imperial capital to Tsarskoye Selo, to have an audience with the Emperor, when he was in residence in the Alexander Palace.

Traffic on the Imperial branch of the railway was opened in 1902.

The lobby of the Imperial Pavilion was crowned with a glass dome, providing natural light. The right side of the pavilion was reserved for the Imperial chambers with a luxurious hall and lavatories, and the left side consisted of a hall for the retinue of Their Imperial Majesties and premises for administration. The platform and track was covered with a special canopy.

Imperial Railway Pavilion: Tsarskoye Selo

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The original Imperial Pavilion was constructed of wood in 1895, however, it was destroyed by fire on 25th January 1911. A new stone pavilion designed by architect V.A. Pokrovsky, was constructed in the same Neo-Russian style as the buildings of the nearby Feodorovsky Gorodok. It was here that the Emperor greeted many foreign dignitaries. A special road was laid from the station to the Alexander Palace.

The richly decorated interiors were stylized as chambers with heavy stone vaults. The rich decoration of the facades and interiors corresponded to the grand presentation of the station, being an example of a synthesis of architecture, monumental painting and decorative art, which successfully combined the forms of ancient Russian architecture of the 17th century. with construction technologies and materials characteristic of the modern era.

The imperial chambers of the station were painted by the artist M. I. Kurilko, reflecting the chambers of the beloved suburban palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich.

In 1918, the station was renamed the Uritsky Pavilion, and was closed in the middle of the 20th century. The pavilion was badly damaged during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). Sadly, it remains in a terrible state of disrepair. It has been mothballed, waiting for an investor.

Imperial Railway Pavilion: Moscow

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The Imperial Railway Pavilion, also known as the Tsar’s Pavilion Building, was constructed in 1896 by the architect G.V. Voinevich.

The pavilion was designed specifically to receive the Imperial Train, carrying Emperor Nicholas II to Moscow for his Coronation in May 1896. It was built of beautiful facing bricks and decorated with Tarutino stone, crowned with a domed roof and a tower with a spire. The interior decoration and furniture were magnificent.

The plans, however, were changed – the coronation train from St. Petersburg arrived at the Brest Station (now Belorussky). Later, the Imperial Trains carrying the Emperor and his family still made stops at this station.

© Paul Gilbert. 23 October 2019