It has loomed near Red Square since the 1960s, a despised modernist hulk crouching on the Moscow River and clashing with the classic architecture of old Moscow.

Now, the 2,717-room Hotel Rossiya is to be torn down -- the latest Soviet landmark to fall in a capitalism-fueled construction frenzy that is changing the face of the Russian capital.

Critics complain that destroying the Rossiya is wrong: The hotel is said to be profitable, the city has only general plans for what to build in its place and, while it may not be pretty, the Rossiya is a significant part of the city's history.

Once billed as the world's largest hotel, the Rossiya has housed millions of Soviet functionaries, business travelers and tourists over the years in accommodations ranging from cramped singles to plush suites with views of the Kremlin. It counts former president George H.W. Bush as a VIP guest.

Despite that history, the hotel's design has long been the subject of jokes and derision, earning it nicknames like "the suitcase" and "the rectangle."

Contrasted with the colorful onion domes of nearby St. Basil's Cathedral, the Rossiya's steel-and-concrete bulk evokes the Cold War period of stagnation under Leonid Brezhnev, the rigid leader in office when it was built. Its functional style and grandiose scale were meant to reflect the Soviet Union's bright prospects yet preserve the aesthetic prominence of the Kremlin, the Soviet seat of power.

Because of that history, plans for its demise, ordered by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, sparked debate.

Many residents have watched the fast-paced changes in the Moscow skyline and streets with the same sense of helplessness many felt about the political and economic upheavals of the past 15 years.

When a phone-in radio show took an informal poll, 72 percent of more than 2,400 callers said the hotel should stay, even though one supporter, identified only as Gulnara, said it looked "shameful" and "horrible."

Another caller to the Echo Moskvy program agreed that while the Rossiya wouldn't win any beauty prizes, it is as much a part of Moscow as the Kremlin and should not be removed.

Some expressed concern about what will replace the hotel. With the mayor's order of destruction, he announced a competition to find a developer and investor for a "multifunctional complex" to be built on the site, with 2,000 hotel rooms, a concert hall and a movie theater.

Preservationists are dismayed by what they see as the rapid destruction of a history that took centuries to build.

"I'm concerned about the idea of demolition according to taste -- that is, if you don't like it, raze it," Yevgeny Ass, a professor at the Moscow Architectural Institute, told Echo Moskvy. "History does not have taste: It leaves its marks."

With wealthy Moscow experiencing a major construction boom in recent years, many of those marks are being erased.

The Hotel Moskva, a Stalin-era structure also off Red Square, has just been torn down and is to be replaced with a building that looks similar but will generate more tax revenue. The Intourist Hotel, a modernist eyesore nearby, has also tumbled.

The Rossiya will probably be razed within three months.

Moscow's huge Hotel Rossiya, near St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, will be razed to make way for a "multifunctional complex," part of the city's current construction frenzy. Preservationists have objected, saying the Rossiya, though long derided for its stark architecture, is a significant part of Moscow history.