Our Blog

Russian San-Francisco

Welcome to our new edition of Matryoshka’s Diary. This week our author Elena is taking you on a breathtaking trip to San Francisco! City’s Russian heritage may not be the first thing that comes to mind when people visit the city by the bay, but the area’s Russian roots run deep.

Russian hill in San-Francisco and other places to visit

1. The first Russian Orthodox community in San Francisco was established in December 1857, with a first a permanent priest sent from Alaska in 1868. The community’s church changed names several times, but today it is known as the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Not many people know that the bell tower of the Cathedral is adorned with a set of five bells donated by Emperor Alexander III in 1888.

2. A few blocks from the Holy Trinity Cathedral is a place called Russian Hill. During the Gold Rush era, settlers discovered a small Russian cemetery at the top of the hill. The area had been a burial ground for members of the Russian-American Company, many of whom visited the city during the 19th century. Even though the cemetery later was removed, the name of the area remained unchanged. One of the chapters of the famous book “American Road Trip” written in 1935-36 by Soviet writers Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov is dedicated to Russian Hill.

3. The Russian Center in San Francisco is another meeting point for Russian community and those interested in Russian culture. It is located in a large neo-baroque style building. The center was founded in 1939, but its grand opening took place in 1940. The Russian Center is home to a preschool, the Congress of Russian Americans, a Museum of Russian Culture, the publication titled Russian Life, a library of Russian books, Russian folk dancing classes, rhythmic gymnastics, and ballet classes.

The Museum of Russian Culture

Make sure you visit the Museum of Russian Culture is located on the second floor of the Russian Center. It was opened in 1948 with the goal of replacing an emigrant archive that had been located in Prague, but later taken to the Soviet Union. Petr Konstantinov, a historian and head of the Russian historical society, asked all Russian émigrés to send archival materials to San Francisco, where they would be safe from the Bolsheviks. There are more than 1,020 exhibits from 27 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Germany, and China. It is home to the biggest independent archive of documents and objects related to the Russian emigration and Russian immigrants in the world.

There are a few gems in the collection:

  • Made up of documents and possessions of Russian emigrants who came to the United States from the Far East, Siberia and China as well as veterans of the Russian Revolution and Baikal Cossacks, the exhibits include newspapers, books, diaries, letters, photos and military flags.
  • The museum collection also includes the Ipatieff bomb, created by chemist Vladimir Ipatieff (1867-1952), who emigrated into the U.S. in 1937. He was the brother of Nikolai Ipatieff, who owned the infamous Ipatieff house in Yekaterinburg, where the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II, and his family were murdered.
  • There is also one exhibit from Silicon Valley – an Ampex recorder, made by the company of Alexander Mikhailovich Ponyatoff (1892-1980). He founded the company Ampex in 1944, using his initials, A.M.P., plus “ex” for “excellence” to create the name. In 1956, Ampex engineers created the world’s first videotape recorder the VR-1000. This recorder made it possible for programs broadcast on the East Coast to be released in time-delayed broadcast for the West Coast.

Have you got any Russian pieces in your country? Let us know! Or come to Enjoy Russian school and explore the unique culture, meet people and learn Russian 🙂