Architecture / Travel / Ukraine

Kyiv’s Chimera House: Rockin’ the Rhinos Since 1903

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Whether by design or default, our homes reflect a good deal about our personalities. A 62-inch plasma TV is a not-too-subtle clue that home entertainment is important. Place an overstuffed recliner in front of the plasma, and personal comfort enters the equation. But what does a 6-story house covered with rhinos, elephants, frogs, catfish, lizards, stags, mermaids, and a snake hanging down like a scaly drain pipe say about the person?

House with Chimeras

In the case of Kyiv’s Chimera House, it says that architect, big game hunter, bon vivant, ladies’ man, crack shot, and all-around eccentric, Vladislav Gorodetsky lived there.

Snake and Rhinos

Catfish

Designed and built by Gorodetsky in 1903, this 6 level apartment building is an Art Nouveau masterpiece. Each of the 6 floors was an individual apartment, and of course, Gorodetsky lived in the penthouse.

Chimera House Roof

The name, Chimera House, doesn’t refer to the chimera of mythology, but to an architectural style which uses animal figures as decoration. And an exterior literally festooned with animal sculptures makes this building an excellent example of the style. Drawn by Gorodetsky and crafted by Italian sculptor Elia Sala, these whimsical creations hang like a skin over the otherwise clean lines of the building, and no wall is unadorned.

Chimera House

And even though his design is extravagant, Gorodetsky was first and foremost a talented architect who knew about practicalities. He purchased two hillside building lots that overlooked the city, and then planned a building to take advantage of the location. In addition, his clever floor plans took advantage of the path of the sun. The windows and rooms of the people who needed to wake up first (servants and cooks) were on the southeast corner, the afternoon sun shone in the living room and office, and the balconies faced west for sunset views.

Ukraine Flags Chimera House

In the end, Gorodetsky’s lavish lifestyle and love of safaris burned through his fortune, and in 1913 he was forced to sell the building. But this was only a minor setback for the flamboyant architect, who left Kyiv in 1920, and when a heart attack killed him in 1930 he was working for the Shah of Iran.

Fence and Dome

From what I’ve read about Gorodetsky, I think that he’d be pleased to know that the Chimera House still stands as a testament to his creativity. And I’m sure that the colorful architect would also be happy about his Google doodle, published to honor his 150th birthday.

Happy Trails,
James

P.S. Larger-than-life characters like Gorodetsky can’t help but leave behind a legacy of interesting trivia, rumors and myth. Here are a few of my favorites:

• He had one of the first cars in Kyiv, and was said to have motored around town with the top down and a monkey on his shoulder.

• He liked fresh milk so much, that he built a small cowshed on the property which was carefully positioned so the smells wouldn’t upset the other tenants.

• He bought his hillside lots for almost nothing because no one of the day thought it possible to build on such steep terrain.

Rhinos

40 thoughts on “Kyiv’s Chimera House: Rockin’ the Rhinos Since 1903

    • First and foremost Sue, congratulations on finishing the marathon. A big race right before the holidays is perfect as it makes room for more holiday goodies. And I just consulted my personal decorator (Terri), and she says no rhinos. But when we lived and traveled in Africa, we did have a pair of masks that were a carved zebra and giraffe. ~James

      • James I can understand Terri’s hesitancy to incorporate the rhinos. The masks sound lovely. I appreciate the congrats on this bucket list item. As I type my fingers are really the only part of my body that isn’t aching this morning. 🙂
        I enjoyed the post as always and yes bring on the eggnog and shortbread. Sue

  1. The Chimera House is a great example of how I always learn something new about interesting places from your posts. Seeing your photos always whets my appetite to discover these sites for myself one day. Until then, I continue to be delighted by your stories. Thank you. Keep them coming! – Mike

    • Thanks Mike. Kyiv is an interesting place, and definitely worth a visit (maybe after the demonstrations calm down a bit). One thing that interested us in the former Soviet Bloc, was how the countries are faring Post-Communism. And as a staunch communist country, Ukraine is the perfect place to explore, particularly the capital Kyiv. The recent troubles there speak to this point. And the contrast between this building and the large, imposing Soviet-era buildings is incredible. And I always love to hear tales of bigger-than-life characters like Gorodetsky. ~James

    • Thanks Jo. If I thought about it I could probably come up with some artsy-fartsy explanation (which would be total baloney), but for me, I just loved the medieval look of the black fence, and the contrast with the gold dome caught my eye. ~James

    • Thanks Giulia. I’ve seen lots of Art Nouveau in Eastern Europe (Riga was fantastic!), but all the animal sculptures on this building were unique. If you get to Kyiv, search this one out. ~James

  2. I was in Kiev in 1959 for two days as the best man of my best friend Yuri. Missed seeing the building at that time. Glad to see it today. Thank you. Your blog is a treasurse!

    • Thanks JF. This wonderful building is up on the hillside to the southeast of the main street downtown. I don’t know what was there in 1959, but today, it’s directly across the street from the Presidential Office building. Also, it may have been in a sad state in those days. One account I read said that the government was using it as housing, and there were 10 families per floor! If true, that sounds grim. ~James

  3. Good he didn’t paint those animals in technicolor! 🙂 The balcony shot suggests, the views must be marvelous from up there. Lovely, informative post Terri.

    • You’re right Madhu, the views were great from this location. There’s an interesting story that says something about the character of the man. He bought these steep, hillside lots for almost nothing because no architect of the day believed it was possible to build on such steep terrain. Astute and talented chap that Gorodetsky. ~James

  4. What a fascinating character! The house is really phantasmagorical! I like the image of him driving around in his convertible with a monkey on his shoulder. I love the photos, and like Jo, especially like the “through the railings” shot. 🙂

    • Thanks Cathy. I guess that most Americans have a soft spot for talented, eccentric people. Our history is littered with tall tales about these characters. And from what I read about Gorodetsky, he’d fit right in here. I can see him driving down a dusty road in Dodge City, his new-fangled car belching smoke, and his monkey waving at the crowd. ~James

  5. Gorgeous! I’m an Art Nouveau fan and now have another reason to visit Kyiv.

    The animal portrayals look a lot more accurate than Durer’s “Rhinoceros”, which I have just reached in “History of the World in 100 Objects”! (I’m reading the book, but see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/0eHcrXb8RuqIEVYKkExljg )

    • Thanks Kathy. It’s funny you mention the History of the World Series, because I’ve downloaded the podcasts and listen to them while I jog. I haven’t done Durer’s Rhino yet, but I will definitely check it out next. The only problem with the podcasts are that I have to come home and log on to see a photo of the objects. This series is very well done, and I love the contrast from ancient artworks to credit cards. Interesting stuff. ~James

  6. Really interesting, James. I love architecture…one of my majors at university…and I’m a sucker for the flamboyant facades of Gaudi and the like.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. This even goes beyond my concept of weirdness, James. The snake coming down the building might create a nightmare or two. Fun post. Eccentric is good. Peggy always claims that she intends to be eccentric starting when she is 80. I think she is practicing now. 🙂 I had a great uncle, Edison Marshall, who was an author and big game hunter. He owned a mansion in Georgia but didn’t decorate with big game statues… Maybe he should have. -Curt

    • Curt, it comes as no surprise to me that an adventurous guy like you has a big-game-hunting author in his background. Most of my family were from rural Kentucky, and came more from the small-game-hunting crowd – as in critters for the table. Myself, I do my game hunting (large and small) at the Winn-Dixie. ~James

      • I’m with you, James. 🙂 Somewhere in my 20s I decided I didn’t have to shoot things. As for Kentucky, my ancestors settled in the area in the 1790s, but I suspect they bigger things when they were’t grinding grain and making whiskey. –Curt

    • Thanks Nicole. Eastern Europe isn’t the first place that most people think about for a visit, but for experienced travelers, it should definitely be on the list. It’s interesting to see how each country has fared after communism. ~James

  8. Wow! He sounds like he was truly a larger than life character. I’m immediately regretting admitting this, but- I love it! Now to convince Mr. M that we need to affix rhinos & a mermaid to our new house…

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