The house where Vladimir Nabokov was born is located in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of St.Petersburg, on Bolshaya Moskaya Street, 47. Its history goes back to the 1730s when the two parallel streets were laid out: one was named Bolshaya (Bigger) Morskaya and the other was Malaya (Smaller) Morskaya. The name Morskaya (Maritime) was given as the streets were close to the first shipyard of the new Russian capital where the first sea vessels were built.
The house changed owners many times. Among them were the Roznotovsky brothers, distinguished Russian publishers of the 18th century; Carolina Engelgardt, the sister of the Lyceum Director (a privileged school that Alexander Pushkin went to); the Hitrovo family and Alexander Suvorov, a grandson of the famous Russian military commander.
In the early 19th century the house was rebuilt and the second floor was added.
In 1873 the new owner Michail Rogov commissioned the remodelling of the house to L.F.Yafa, a well-known architect.
In 1887 the house was bought by Nadezhda Iyuneva, the stepdaughter of Baron Stieglitz, a banker and a benefactor. She was believed to be an illegitimate daughter of Grandduke Michail, the Tsar’s brother. She and her husband A.A.Polovtsov also owned the mansion across the street which now houses the St.Petersburg Architects’ Union.
Most probably, it was in that period that the interiors of the first two floors of the mansion were finished with the use of inlaid wooden panels.
In 1897 the mansion was sold to Ivan Rukavishnikov (the writer’s grandfather) who lived in the same neighbourhood, on the Admiralty Embankment. His only daughter Elena was about to marry Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov and the house was a part of her dowry (which also included the Vyra estate where the future writer would spend all his summers). Elena Ivanovna became the owner of the house and her monograms can still be seen in the decor of the second-floor boudoir and on the wall of the courtyard extension.
Elena Rukavishnikova and Vladimir Nabokov were married in 1897 and after a honeymoon in Florence they settled in the house. This is where all their children were born, the first one being Vladimir, the future writer.
In 1901-1902 the house was rebuilt extensively to suit the tastes and the needs of the growing family. A third floor was added, the facade was redesigned with the use of the mosaic with floral motifs, the courtyard building was fully renovated to become an apartment building.
The work was commissioned to the architect Michail Geisler. The mosaic was made by the leading mosaic artist of the time Vladimir Frolov who also designed all the exterior mosaic decor of the Resurrection Cathedral (known as the Church on the Spilled Blood).
On the whole, the remodelling of the house turned it into one of the finest samples of the Art Nouveau architecture in St.Petersburg.
It was then that the stained glass windows were installed in the house. The most impressive of these is the window on the staircase landing between the second and the third floors. It was produced in Riga by Ernst Friedrich Tode who by that time was one of the leading stained glass artists of Russia (among other buildings, his works decorated the nearby German Lutheran Church on the Moika river, demolished in the 1920s).
Later, stained glass of various shapes and colours would be one of the treasured images of Vladimir Nabokov’s literary style both in his Russian and English works.
In November 1917 the Nabokov family left the house taking almost nothing with them. They hoped to stay away for a few months but they were never to return. The building was left to the care of the servants. In 1918 most of the valuable items were taken to the State Museum Fund and only a few were later recovered.
In the post-revolution years the Nabokov House was used as an office building most of the time.
In 1918 the District Military Commission was housed here.
In 1922-1935 the mansion was used as the office and living quarters of the Great Northern Telegraph Company – a Dutch company that was building telegraph lines in Russia under the agreement with the Bolshevik government.
In 1948-1959 the Architectural Academy had its filial branch in the building. Presumably, it was then that the major changes in the interior layout of the house were made.
Various other organizations occupied the building until the 1990s when the two upper floors were taken by the Nevskoye Vremya newspaper and the Nabokov Museum was opened on the first floor.