Katya Knyazeva (avezink) wrote,
Katya Knyazeva

A lesser-known project of the Russian Cathedral in the French Concession

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral at the corner of Route Lorton and Route Paul Henry, built between May 1933 and April 1937, took a long time to come into existence. The land for the church was purchased in 1927, and the first plan was drafted in 1929 by the architect L. N. Pashkoff. In fact, Pashkoff drafted three plans and all of them were selected as the top three projects. I have not had a chance to see any of them, but it is known that the proposed church was in Vladimir-Suzdal style and had nine domes. It would contain 500 to 700 people.

Pashkoff's ideas had to be set aside while the construction commitee struggled with various obstacles and raised extra funds. In summer 1930, the French Concession authorities announced the plan to extend Route Lorton further south, so the new church would now be close to a street corner, but not quite on it, separated from the street by a narrow strip of land.

In the meantime, the Bishop Apartments, used as a temporary church and living quarters for the clergy, was built. The colorized photo below shows the Bishop Apartments and the lot reserved for the cathedral. One can see the articulated street corner for the future Route Lorton, and the narrow strip of land between the bamboo fence and the rounded corner, which is not part of the church lot:

Keeping in mind the extension of Route Lorton, the Russian architect B. I. Petroff submitted his project in December 1932 (and it is only today that I learned about this from this article). The plan shows the Bishop Apartments with a passage in the middle and the strip of land between the church and the future road, named in a funny patois "part surrender for elargissment of the road":

This looks like a pleasant building, but its design exposed the uncomfortable dimensions of the lot, which forced Petroff to abandon the highly desirable cross-shaped plan for the church. The construction was put on hold while the community was raising money to purchase that extra strip of land along the prospective road to make sure the church would end up on the corner and unobstructed.

Although the strip was successfully purchased, the Bishop Simon supervising the construction died in February 1933, and the appointment of John Maksimovich – who would become the famous Bishop John of Shanghai – led to the rotation of the chief architect. In early June 1933 J. L. Lehonos (Likhonos) submitted his project of the enlarged Cathedral and immediately its cornerstone was laid:

Lehonos's design became the basis of a collaboration between the two architects, which resulted in the cathedral as we know it today. Both Petroff and Lehonos are credited as architects, but clearly Lehonos was the leader and the spokesman for the project. The church resembles a scaled down copy of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, although Lehonos did not admit it, claiming inspiration from a broad variety of Russian religious architecture. Here is his drawing published in June 1933:

If I were better educated in the history of Russian art and architecture I would be able to describe and classify stylistic differences between this and Petroff's earlier proposal.

This famous photo above, from Zhiganov's Russians in Shanghai, shows the eastern side of the almost finished cathedral and the church yard where the entrance would be. That empty space was built up with houses years later.

While the Cathedral was completed in April 1937, the extension of Route Lorton, which delayed the construction, came to a standstill. This photo by Harrison Forman, taken in 1937, shows the absent Route Lorton (Parc Ravinel in the foreground, lined with sheds, is used as a temporary internment camp for Chinese citizens).

Tags: 1930s, 1933, 1937, architects, architecture, church, lehonos, orthodox cathedral, pashkoff, petroff, russians, shanghai

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