20 Prechistenka Street. General A. P. Ermolov’s mansion
Object of cultural heritage of federal significance

Year construction: The first half of the XIX century. 1873

Architect: A, S.Kaminsky (1873), K.L.Mufke (early XX century)

Prechistenka Street is one of the oldest streets in Moscow located in Khamovniki. It runs from Prechistenka Gate to Zubovskaya Square. Prechistenka Street appeared on the map of Moscow back in the 16th century: it used to offer the shortest way from the Kremlin to the Novodevichy Convent.

It got its modern name during the reign of Alexis of Russia, after the Icon of the Most Holy (Prechistaya) Mother of God that was kept in the convent. Prechistenka Street now is a cozy, well-groomed street with designer lamps in the antique style and wide granite-paved sidewalks.

A legend says that back in the 18th century, Christian Loder, a doctor from Germany, built a house where number 20 now stands. The Russian nobles used to call him “the miracle doctor”. Dr. Loder’s treatment routine was simple: to stay healthy, a person had to take a two hour long walk every day, drink three liters of mineral water a day, listen to Mozart, sleep for eight hours a day and avoid bad thoughts. The doctor’s name, transposed by the public on the nobles loitering about with no discernable purpose, begot the word “lodyr” (lazy person).

The Prechistenka area was nearly completely destroyed by the 1812 fire, but was rebuilt rather quickly. After 1815, number 20 was acquired by Senator Prince Khovansky, a member of an old aristocratic family. He and his family lived there for more than twenty years. During this period, the building changed significantly: its façade was re-shaped to a closed rectangle; a small courtyard was added, and stone outbuildings replaced the wooden ones.

Later, the house was bought by General Aleksey Ermolov, a hero of the 1812 war (1777-1861). The General spent the last 10 years of his life there. Due to his advanced age, Ermolov by then had retired from military matters completely, but was a notable public figure none the less, and was even elected head of the municipal militia during the Crimean war. For a time, his house turned into something of the militia headquarters.

The following parts of the building survived to our days virtually unchanged: The first, service floor, including vaulted ceilings from the late 18th–early 19th centuries; the second, formal floor with a balcony.

The mansion was rebuilt in 1873; the plot owner at that time was Vladimir Dmitrievich Konshin, a businessman, a first guild merchant and a co-owner of the Big Kostroma Flax Manufacture. He was also a business partner and an in-law to Pavel Tretyakov (he married Tretyakov’s sister Elizaveta). A curious fact: the other sister of the famous philanthropist, Sofia, married architect Aleksandr Kaminsky. No wonder then, that in 1873, Konshin contracted Kaminsky, a seasoned and widely-known architect, to rebuild his house. Under Mr. Kaminsky’s supervision, the façade got rich plaster moldings. A cast iron fence appeared to the left of the house; the courtyard balconies were decorated with wrought iron railings.

Several decades later, the mansion was bought by tea factory owner, millionaire A. K. Ushkov. He restructured the mansion again, making the façade closely resemble Ushkov’s old Kazan manor designed by Karl Müffke (now one of the city’s key landmarks). He changed the main façade decorating it with expressive figures of eagles, griffins and laurel branches, and added a little room and a fence on the left side of the building. In 1911, the eastern side of the house also got a new annex with a main entrance and a grand lobby. A large rehearsal hall with mirror walls was built on top of it.

As fashion demanded, the mansion got “themed” rooms like the Pompeian, the Roman, two Napoleonic, the Sevres and, of course, the Moorish ones. The last one was lucky enough to be preserved in a state that was feasible to restore. The restoration effort re-discovered the Oriental splendor of the room: a red marble fireplace inlaid with gold and bronze, and a one-of-a-kind domed ceiling reminiscent of the Arab mausoleums.

The Ushkovs lived in the mansion until 1922, when they emigrated to Paris. Meanwhile, Anatoly Lunacharsky, the RSFSR Peopleʼs Commissar for Education, invited the famous American dancer Isadora Duncan to Moscow to create an innovative dance school. The recently nationalized house on Prechistenka Street was offered to her as a residence. She lived there with her husband Sergey Esenin for a few years.

In the first few years after the October Revolution, the exterior and interior of the building suffered some damage. In the 1930s, three spectacular fancy domes on top of the building, the entrance gate, and pylons with lanterns were removed (the intricate cast-iron gate was rebuilt in the 1990s). At the same time, the molded Empire-style decorations of the main façade and joinery retained their original shape.

Nowadays, the mansion that used to belong to Ermolov, Konshin and Ushkov, houses the main office of GlavUpDK under the MFA of Russia. Its formal rooms serve as a meeting place for ambassadors of foreign states and representatives of international organizations.

Restoration (1999)

GlavUpDK regularly renovates the house’s façades and interiors. The restoration done by the Main Administration in 1999 won the best historical landmark restoration or reconstruction award in Moscow.

Sometimes, restoration professionals stumble upon secrets that have long been hidden from eyes and forgotten. For a long time, there was an ordinary office room with a flat white ceiling behind the second backstairs located in the part of the house added under Prince Khovansky. The renovation revealed there was really a counter ceiling hiding an ornamental dome. When workers removed floorboards, they discovered a few boxes with detached plasterwork.

Once everything, including the doors with wonderful gilt ornaments, was cleaned and color schemes were determined, the historic Moorish Hall re-appeared in all its glory. It is impossible to overlook the fireplace made of partly natural and partly artificial marble. An Arabic inscription carved in stone reads as the last ownerʼs name: Ushkov.