St.Petersburg Vyedomosti uncovers the secrets of the New St.Isaac’s Office Centre

Issue #159, 26/8/2011

The “Mustard House”, long without mustard


You can find plenty of references to Petersburg buildings in Nikolay Leskov’s books. Not all of them, however, can be tracked down. Moreover, the writer almost purposefully covers his tracks.
For example, in the novel “Nowhere” Leskov placed the “House of Concord” on one of the distant streets of Petersburg, whereas, in reality, the famous commune was located at number seven, Znamyenskaya Street. In the novel “Iron Will” there is a mention of the “Mustard House” and though there is no confusion with this one, few would remember its location nowadays. In fact it is located in the very centre, near to the main Post office. The address is: Konnogvardeisky Lane, house 2/24 but it’s more commonly known as Yakubovich Street, 24/2. Yet looking back on history, it is more pleasant and correct to use its original, historical name.


In 1765 the Herrnhuters – colonists from Germany – came to Russia in response to Catherine the Great’s suggestion to colonise the area at the mouth of the Volga River. There they established the Sarepta colony. To the Herrnhuters who arrived in St. Petersburg - the Empire’s capital - the Empress presented a three-storey mansion which became the home to the Sarepta Society.
After some time this house began to be called the “Mustard House”. Two factors contributed to this strange designation: firstly, the house was painted in a mustard-colored paint; and secondly, the most wide-spread commodity sold by the Sarepta Society was mustard.
In the XVIII Century Russia started buying mustard from England. At the beginning of the XIX century Napoleon established the continental blockade, and the English ships could not pass through with their goods. Sarepta, on the other hand, grew wild mustard in abundance. The German expert, Konrad Naiz, bred a new sort using the French and English varieties. In 1810 he presented this mustard at the Emperor’s table, for which he was awarded a gold watch by Alexander I. This is how Sarepta mustard became popular in Russia.
Today the house is no longer called the “Mustard House”. Nothing here reminds us of this product anymore. Minor changes in the interior of the building took place when, after 1892 it was sold to the Evangelical Union of Religious and Moral Edification of the Protestants. Following the October Revolution services were still held for some time inside church, but they were stopped after a few years and the building took on a completely civil and residential character. Now the building houses the New St.Isaac’s Office Centre, the name of which harks back to Yakubovich Street’s former designation. Everything bearing witness to the rich history of the building, which until very recently used to be divided into huge communal apartments, has been carefully restored. The arches of the prayer hall which exsisted from 1773 were re-opened after having been covered over with a ceiling by the architect Theodore von Postels in 1903. The present-day owners have contributed some new things as well and even the most ardent defender of historical architecture is unlikely to object to the additions. Three staircases have been given their original names: Staircase dedicated to the War of 1812; Peter's Staircase; and the Staircase of St. Petersburg Bridges. The walls of the first are decorated with replicas of paintings depicting the war with Napoleon. The second is adorned with paintings telling the story of St. Petersburg’s founding and the third staircase boasts old photographs of the city’s famous bridges. Nothing to do with mustard can be found. That's why it's nice to remember that this once used to be the “Mustard House”.