Most people hate renovating (although I secretly love the whole process of watching the old become fresh, fabulous and new), and when it’s an old house, the process can be just unbearable.
So I’m fascinated with the story that came out of St. Petersburg, Russia last week, where workers renovating an 18th century building that had originally been two townhouses, then cobbled into one grand townhouse, then a Soviet cafeteria, then drab Communist apartments, and is presently slated to become a convention center (phew, that’s repurposing!!), opened a hidden storage area between floors and discovered a veritable Aladdin’s cave treasure! The find included jewelry, military orders, coins, documents and silverware (including not one, but THREE dinner services of over 1000 pieces each!) that had been hidden away by the noble Naryshkin family. Not yet fully catalogued, it is expected to be worth several millions of dollars.
Interestingly, much of the treasure was wrapped in newspapers dating from March, June and September 1917. You can just imagine the story unfolding: March of 1917 saw Russia still embroiled in the throws of World War I and the streets of St. Petersburg were filled with tens of thousands of striking workers who brought about the end of the Romanov monarchy on March 2nd. That’s when the Naryshkins put away the first of the cache.
Then in June 1917, the war was coming to its disastrous end for Russia as troops flooded into St. Petersburg and joined the strikes which were now clamoring for a government takeover by the Soviets (yup, it was looking pretty bleak for the aristos as the Royal family would be executed July 16 1917).
Finally by September 1917 when the last things were squirreled away, Leon Trotsky had taken control of St. Petersburg and Russia had been declared a Republic. The Naryshkins left Russia in late 1917 probably hoping to return to their home and possessions. They never did.
According to Russian law, the finders should keep half the treasure with the owners of the property keeping the other half. I think this is an important lesson for all home renovators: make sure you’re there with your workers when they start opening floors and walls, or better yet, get on that demolition team yourself! Start digging!