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Restoration and business: from a pre-revolutionary decorated pharmacy to a modern cosy café


During the renovation works for a new café in Odessa, they found old decorations of XIX century on the façade, which were saved by a city mobilisation and restored thanks to a fund raising call by the activists of ArchOdessa.


More than a hundred years ago in Odessa, at the intersection of Guleva Street (formerly known as Lev Tolstoy Street) and Nizhynska Street there was one shop of David Afanasievich Leibenzon’s drugstore chain. The goods sold in this chain were very popular: high quality, foreign origin and moderate prices.

David Leibenzon opened drugstore after drugstore, produced pharmacy sets of seven items for sea travel and other use. He also published a catalogue of medicines and became the head of the Odessa Pharmaceutical Society. Leibenzon used to live around the corner of his pharmacy, in Nezhinskaya, in a stately lucrative house.

Every morning the businessman came out of the arch of his house, nodded to the janitor, turned left and, after a hundred steps, was in front of the entrance to his own pharmacy, where anyone could see the printed advertising sign with a list of products: “essential oils, fruit essences, gutta-percha rubber and dressings, dental drops, English and French perfumes, Eau-de-Cologne, toilet soaps from the best factories.” Each word was in different style, catching the eye and making you read the list from start to finish.

Then there was the October coup in 1917, the red revolution and decades of Soviet rule. The interior volumes were rebuilt, the façade was covered with layers of plaster, history was hidden.

In the summer of 2020 a miracle happened. The renovation works for a new shop brought back to life, after 114 years, the pre-revolutionary signs and the memory about “Pharmacy shop D. Leibenzon”.

Photo credit: ArchOdessa

Odessa residents saw the workers ready to destroy the artefact, which showed up on the façade during repair work, and stopped them. Activists of Archodessa soon visited the site and spoke to the owner, not very happy for the discovery. At the end, the owner reluctantly agreed to the restoration, but fixed a term of few weeks to complete the work. Then, in 62 hours 255 Odessans, even from abroad, donated money for tools, materials and food for the restorers.

It turned out to be much more difficult than we expected. We started to remove the top layers, but then came the loss, and the amount of work became clear. We had to search and select compositions. For example, a solution that is applied, stands up and is removed the next day. With it all the excess goes away and the base is strengthened. The lower fragments of the cavities need two or three days for shrinkage, for settling. During this time, they need to be periodically nourished with water, and only then the fixing compound can be applied. Each stage has its own technological process, so the work was delayed.

Anatoliy Izotov, the head of the restoration team

The restorers cleaned the plastered areas, reinforced the existing historic layer, supplemented the lost text, and protected the surface against moisture. It took almost three months to restore the entire façade. All modern elements were removed, including the air conditioning system and the awnings installed in the early 2000s.

Luck has not abandoned the enthusiasts afterwards either. In November, a new tenant, the budding restaurateur Viktor Kiriak, supported the initiative and even offered to continue the restoration work inside the building.

I have long dreamed of opening my own café. It should have a history, and it should be interesting for tourists. We tried a dozen premises, and then we happened to come here and knew right away that this was it. Everywhere else we had to come up with something, but here history found us.

We have cleaned all the walls, one down to the shell rock, to show the stone that was used to build our city. They’ve removed four layers of flooring, and now our visitors walk on the same planks that David Leibenzon and his clients stepped on.

Viktor Kiriak, the shop-owner

The interior also needed appropriate furnishings. Here appeared an old carved sideboard, styled as antique wiring, lots of little things, which sent the visitor back to the times of pre-revolutionary Odessa. Well-known local historians and collectors of Odessa gave artefacts: Alexander Friedman offered bricks with the carved brand, as they used to produce them in the past; Eugene Sokolsky and Dmitry Khamula, an expert on the stove art of the past, brought an Austrian tile and a paraffin lamp.

As a result, Leibenson Café has appeared at Tolstoy street 5, a cosy and modern bar with a unique interior, pleasant cuisine and more than a century of history.

This is probably the first example in Odessa, when the identified history gives impetus for moving into the future, both to the tourist destination and to the business. Such elements of the past are magnets, points of attraction for further activities. No matter how far you are from the main tourist routes, if you have a real interesting history and keep and develop it, people will come to you.

Anatoliy Izotov

Work on restoring the façade has temporarily stopped for the winter. It will continue once it gets warmer.


Source and pictures: Dumskaya.net