Warsaw's communist "palace" turns 55

WARSAW (Reuters Life!) - Some say it is an ugly and unwelcome reminder of the post-war Soviet domination of Poland and should be pulled down.

But others believe it’s a part of history for better or worse and should be left alone.

The debate has resurfaced in the run-up to Thursday’s 55th birthday of the huge neo-Gothic Palace of Culture and Science in downtown Warsaw, a legacy of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Constructed between 1952 and 1955, the palace was once Europe’s tallest building and features a mix of Socialist realism, art deco and classicism.

Many Poles hated it in the years before the collapse of communism but most seem to have softened their views now.

“Tearing it down makes no sense. It became an integral part of Warsaw’s skyline through several decades,” said Jan Lipszyc walking down a street in the city center.

“The architecture is rather awful, but it’s a remembrance of its times.”

Warsaw wants to overshadow the palace, which has 42 storeys and 3,288 rooms, surrounding it with modern skyscrapers.

“I got used to it. I think it’s a symbol of Warsaw and it should stay as it is. It doesn’t bother me at all,” said another passer-by, Renata Franczak.

In fact, since it was declared a historical monument in 2007, its safety is assured, but in 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was nearly demolished.

Varsovians today use its cinemas, restaurants and bars, three universities and colleges, theater workshops, dance and drama studios, and a 25-meter (80-foot) swimming pool, in their own way.

For tourists, the building’s chief attraction is the view from the top.

It uses as much electricity as a town with a population of 30,000 and its management says it takes a new security guard more than two years to become acquainted with all its marble staircases, ballrooms, corridors and passageways.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Mateusz Pawlak and Monika Pronczuk; Editing by Steve Addison