Hotel Metropol goes under the hammer and sickle
By Jim Heintz ,AP
September 1, 2012, 12:04 am TWN
MOSCOW -- Michael Jackson slept there. Vladimir Lenin harangued Bolsheviks there. Over the past century, the Hotel Metropol has seen the extremes of Russian life, from austere revolutionary fervor to flashy pop indulgence.
The hotel was sold Thursday for US$275 million — slightly more expensive than the starting price of US$272 million — after an auction organized by the Moscow city government as part of its privatization program. The amount was expected to get much higher — in steps of 435 million rubles (US$13.6 million).
The buyer was Azimut, a major Russian hotel chain that rented the Metropol from the Moscow city government, Russian media reported.
Moscow, with a perpetual shortage of hotel rooms and a business culture that adores ostentation, is an attractive market for high-end hoteliers and the Metropol offers plenty of curb-flash.
Situated catty-corner from the Bolshoi Theater and an easy stroll from Red Square, the location is prime for any guest who wants to feel in the very center of the city's heaving action.
It's one of Moscow's most distinctive buildings as well, a cheery Art Nouveau confection in a city where buildings mostly seem to glower. Although at six stories it's one of the city center's more low-rise structures, it stands out with sinuous curves, friezes of women en deshabille and bands of brightly colored majolica tiles. Several elaborate mosaics top the building, the most noted being Mikhail Vrubel's "Princess of Dreams," showing a dying knight sailing through a crashing sea to a vision of his beloved.
Then, there's the historical cachet. When it opened in 1901, it was a paragon of Russians' growing prosperity and confidence, but 17 years later took on a far different role. When Bolsheviks decided to move their government from St. Petersburg to Moscow, the hotel was appropriated to become the Second House of the Soviets.
A large plaque on the exterior notes that in 1918-19, Lenin "many times gave reports and speeches at sessions and party congresses" in the hotel and chatted there with members of the "prodotryad," armed squads of workers who forcefully appropriated food from the bourgeoisie. Another plaque commemorates a 1921 meeting in the hotel that resulted in a friendship agreement with Mongolia.
In the chaos of World War II, the Metropol became home and office for almost all the foreign journalists allowed to work in the USSR. "Gloomy and cavernous, Mother Metropol was like a college fraternity house" during that time, Whitman Bassow wrote in his book "The Moscow Correspondents."
The auction winner will get all that, but won't get the hotel's elaborate array of antique furnishings and paintings.