Old Photos: A Marriage Palace in Leningrad

Every person who grew up in the Soviet Union has photos like these stashed in their dusty photo albums. Not all Marriage Palaces used to belong to the Czar’s family but any self-respecting city had a place where the new units of society were forged or at least registered under the watchful stare of Jesus Christ Vladimir Illych Lenin.

In Leningrad the florid stairs of Tchaikovsky march filled the old palace of the czar’s cousin, Prince Andrei Romanov, as a happy couple mounted the deeply carpeted stairway to the elaborate hall where they would be married. Except for the informal dress, the wedding of Elena Pogorelova and Nikolai Smolin might have been a scene in the czarist Russia. It was, ironically, the newest in the “socialist” marriages.

Previously the Communists required civil marriages to be businesslike and perfunctory. But since many comrades missed the ceremony and ritual of church weddings, the government decided to add a bit of romance. The Leningrad “Marriage Palace” is the nation’s first, but many others are planned. In the palace’s waiting rooms Elena and Nikolai could enjoy piped-in music before hearing the speeches at their warm-hearted ceremony. A pleasant room was provided afterward for a champagne reception. Some 500 couples a month have come to be married at the palace and hear the council member admonish, “I wish you happiness and love. Complete happiness is impossible without creative labor for your country.”

Marriage Counseling © Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

Couple and friends mount stairs to ceremonial hall, preceded by modishly uniformed ceremonial attendant (left). © Time Inc.Carl Mydans.Leningrad, Russia.November 1959

In "brides' room" Elena primps before the ceremony. She is a student at a technical college. © Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

© Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

In a hall where Russian nobility once waltzed on parqueted floors Nikolai and Elena stand before city council member who marries them. © Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

© Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

© Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

© Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

© Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

© Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

© Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

© Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

At reception Elena's father Ivan (center), chairman of cooperative farm leads toast. © Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

Newly married couple with family at Marriage Palace. © Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

Newly married couple with family at Marriage Palace.© Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

Married couple leaving Palace following ceremony.© Time Inc.Carl Mydans.

Not shown: lots of drinking, toasts and dancing all night.

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*there are several different couples in these photos.