Hakodate City in Hokkaido has decided on a buyer for the former Russian Consulate. Built in 1908, this is the only consulate remaining from the Russian Empire era, with the interior still retaining its elaborate and decorative details.
The buyer is a Nagoya City-based wholesale car parts company. After the purchase, the company plans to convert it into accommodation with the project to be overseen by Sapporo-born novelist Shiho Tanimura. One of Tanimura’s novels was set at the consulate.
The terms of the sale require restoration and construction to start within two years. The buyer is required to operate the property as intended for 20 years and cannot transfer the property within that time.
The consulate was in use until 1944. In 1952 it fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who then sold it to Hakodate City in 1964. It was used as a hospitality training facility until 1996 and has sat vacant ever since.
The 113-year old 2-story brick building has a total floor area of 742 sqm and sits on almost an acre of land. The original owner of the land was Magozaemon Nishide (1864-1938), the operator of a fishing company. He leased the land under a perpetual lease (essentially a sale) to Khrisanf Platonovich Birich, a wealthy fisherman from Sakhalin. German architect Richard Seel, who had an office in Yokohama’s Yamate district, was hired to draw up plans for the consulate in 1902 and 1903. George de Lalande took over project management after Seel returned to Germany. The consulate was scheduled to be completed in May 1904, but the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war just three months prior saw the Russians in Hakodate and even the carpenters working on the consulate forcibly evicted. Construction re-started in June 1906 and was completed by that December. It would then be destroyed in the Great Fire of Hakodate in 1907, before being rebuilt to the same specifications as Seel’s design in 1908, re-using the foundations from the older building.
A city-obtained repair quote estimated repairs of the building in its current condition to cost around 115 million Yen (approx. US$1.1 million).
Hotel rooms will be housed on the 2nd floor of the brick building along with a new adjoining annex building. The ground floor will have a restaurant for both guests and the general public.
Initially the city hoped to rent out the building to a hotel or restaurant operator, but respondents were not interested in renting a building that required such extensive repairs and renovations. When news broke of the city’s plan to sell the property, historians and locals opposed the plan fearing the historically significant building might end up demolished.
NHK, February 12, 2021.
Hakodate City Homepage.
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