- Historic Sites
Full House At Yalta
Vodka at breakfast was only one of the minor problems when Russians entertained Americans
June 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 4
The palace itself was camouflaged in brown and pink. It was not impressive architecturally—too completely Russian. Inside, its prior splendor had to be visualized. Until the decision was made in early January to hold the conference here, all three main buildings had been a shambles of broken windows, smashed walls and floors, and damaged plumbing and heating, with not a stick of furniture on hand. It was easy to see why Mr. Molotov had asked Mr. Harriman to delay his arrival.
Now the buildings were swarming with workmen of every trade. Already they had repaired and glazed the windows, patched and plastered the walls and ceilings, replanked the floors, reconstituted the heating and plumbing facilities, and painted the entire interior of the first two floors of the palace and the main staff building. Already truckloads of furnishings were being collected from various public and private buildings in the Crimean area.
We were met at the entrance by Major General Garlinski, who had been assigned as general supervisor of reconstruction and administration of the Soviet staff. He was a fine officer and a gentleman. We soon became good friends and willing partners in the job. He frankly admitted that he had no idea of our detailed requirements, and was most happy to have our advice and help—an unusual attitude for a Russian at that time. He and his staff were housed in a nearby cottage where we later enjoyed several pleasant dinners.
We entered the palace at one end, a large arched entry banked on either side by large marble benches decorated with figures of lion heads. It was said that the architect had been at odds with the czar during construction, and to avenge himself he had made the lion heads caricatures of the czar himself. The caricature became quite clear when one placed a military cap on a lion’s head.
The entrance gave into a tremendous and towering foyer with great windows. A huge fireplace was set into the far wall, with entry doors on either side. On the right, a great arched entryway led to a grand ballroom or banquet hall large enough to accommodate five hundred to six hundred people.
Already this most important area was beginning to take shape. Its living quarters were just beyond the fireplace and were to be exclusively for President Roosevelt. They included a lovely large office, a beautiful bedchamber, a small private dining room, a toilet and washroom, and a bathroom. These were fairly well repaired, subject only to minor suggestions on our later day-to-day inspection tours. The great ballroom was to be the meeting place for the Big Three, and its renovation was also well under way.
It took us all afternoon to survey the entire area, after which we held a conference in General Garlinski’s office. Two points were obvious. First, even with maximum crowding I could not visualize enough space for the size of the party anticipated. Second, the washroom spaces and facilities were woefully inadequate. I pointed out these limitations to the two generals and urged them to complete the third floors of the two main buildings. I also obtained some floor-plan sketches from General Garlinski, together with a promise that next morning we would reevaluate and look into a small third building, which they considered beyond repair.
On returning to our cottage in Yalta, I passed the toilet en route to my room. The door was open. I couldn’t believe it! The place had been cleaned, scrubbed, creosoted, and whitewashed, and the flushing system worked. I immediately looked up Chuvakin to congratulate and thank him, and to invite him to my room for a drink, which he declined.
The next morning, Saturday, Captain Alien, Lieutenant Chase, and I went out to the palace and spent the day. General Garlinski accompanied us. After a good checkup, he agreed that he would complete the two third floors and would try to do something with the third building, since I had pointed out that only planking for the floors and coverings for the windows were necessary. Actually, they did much more, and we were able to house the entire communications staff and their equipment, brought over later from our ship at Sevastopol.
A study of the palace floor plan had enabled me to chart a general layout of rooms the night before. In addition to the President’s suite, the first floor had room for most of the President’s top advisors—including Admiral Leahy, Mr. Harry Hopkins, Mr. James Byrnes, Secretary Stettinius, Mr. Alger Hiss, and Ambassador Harriman—and for Kathy (Mr. Harriman’s daughter), Mrs. Boettiger (the President’s daughter), and aides and secretaries. The second floor would take Admiral King and General Marshall in separate rooms. All other senior officers would be doubled up from two to fifteen to a room. Senior dining and conference rooms were planned. If we could get the third floor in shape, it would house the President’s stewards and security enlisted men. Details would be worked out later.