Despite its youth, Vladivostok has many ancient buildings that have historic value and attract each guest's attention without exceptions. Vladivostok GUM's luxurious fantasy building is rightly considered one of the most beautiful ones. This oldest trade facility (GUM is Russian abbreviation for main department store) in the Far East is located at city's historical center. It is very valuable architectural monument, Vladivostok's recognized symbol and integral part of its history.
The city owes the appearance of such pompous building to enterprising Germany nationals Gustav Kunst and Gustav Albers, who came here from Hamburg in 1864. Having realized that undiscovered Russian part of the Far East is the perspective territory for trade, they opened the first store in Vladivostok a year later. The most essential goods for military garrisons were sold here: sugar, tea, matches, candles, fabrics, weapon and vodka.
Things were making out nicely for 'Kunst and Albers' trading house, and in the mid-1870s, when Vladivostok had acquired the official status of the military port and its population had increased significantly, German entrepreneurs' goods turnover became several times as high. And it was decided to replace the wooden store with an original stone building.
Experienced architect Georg Yunghendel was invited to carry out the idea, and in 1884, amazed citizens saw his marvelous building in German art nouveau style. It was the first stone store in Vladivostok, which, in addition, had such unprecedented creature comforts as steam heating, telephones, elevator and private electric lighting.
In the early 20th century, trading house's building was reconstructed and acquired the look that survived until now. All materials for reconstruction were brought from Hamburg. Building's facade was adorned with bas-reliefs depicting Old German epic characters and with figures of two angels. One of them holds an anchor in hands - the symbol of the sea trade, and the second one holds Mercury's (antique God of Trade) winged warder twined round by two snakes, which symbolize cunning and wisdom. Installed inside, massive stairways with forged balustrades survived until now.
'Kunst and Albers' company, which by the early 20th century became the largest trade firm in the Russian Far East, had to scale down its operations in 1930. At the same time, Soviet authorities nationalized the trading house's building and opened here a Universal Department Store (GUM) a year later. Now it is one of the biggest and most famous malls in the Primorsky Krai's capital.
In the year 2009, an interesting museum was opened in the Vladivostok GUM. Unique exhibits, devoted to different periods of history of the oldest trading enterprise in the Far East, are showed here. You may see the massive table, where founders of 'Kunst and Albers' trading house used to work one and a half centuries ago. And the account book, keeping records from 1901, lies on it. The walls are covered with pictures that turned yellow with age. They depict the first wooden store, built by German entrepreneurs in 1865. Museum's exhibits also include shaped tapestry brick that was brought for building's reconstruction from Hamburg in 1906.
During its creation, museum's founders discovered underground passages that connected Vladivostok GUM with 'Ussuri' Theater and other buildings at the downtown. The major interest was caused, however, by another finding - two safes built in trading house's walls. Even museum's founders don't know what is inside them: safes are massive, weigh several tones, the keys were lost long ago and no one managed to open them yet.
It's possible to enter the Vladivostok GUM's Museum only as part of excursion, after arranging a visit with trading house's management.