Napoleon Survivor Loses to Bureaucrats

MTThe ruins of the Khamovniki barracks, built at the beginning of the 19th century by Matvei Kazakov. They housed almost 1,000 horses in the early 1900s.
The stables of the Khamovniki barracks survived the Napoleonic wars, but they are losing the battle of the bureaucrats.

The one-story building across from the Frunzenskaya metro station is now swathed in tarpaulin, but through the gaps one can see that all that remains is a roofless shell with neither windows nor interior walls.

The construction work is described as "restoration for contemporary use" by the developers, who plan to turn the 19th-century building into an office center.

But the deputy head of the Moscow Heritage Committee last week described the project as the "destruction" of a protected building of national significance.

Built at the beginning of the 19th century by architect Matvei Kazakov, the Khamovniki barracks survived the 1812 fire almost unscathed. The stables, with a classical facade and a central arched entrance, housed almost 1,000 horses at the beginning of the 20th century.

The yellow-painted barracks, which still dominate the area, now house a Defense Ministry hospital, a military institute and the Defense Ministry's central military band.

In 1960, the group of buildings was listed as a monument of national significance, a status then-President Boris Yeltsin confirmed by decree in 1995.

The street numbers of all the buildings were not included in the decree, however, meaning that the stables at the far western end were excluded from protection list.

"The investor cleverly made use of a gap in the legislation in the area of buildings of cultural significance," Alexander Filyayev, deputy head of the Moscow Heritage Committee, told a news conference Friday.

Part of City Hall, the committee oversees historic buildings in Moscow.

The previous leadership of the Moscow Heritage Committee allowed the stables to lose their protected status in summer 2006. That decision was canceled in January 2007 after new leadership took over the committee, but a company called Alfa-Mig had already begun construction work.

The building stood without a roof throughout last year.

Late last year, permission for restoration work -- including the demolition of damaged walls -- was granted by the Federal Inspection Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

When demolition work in the stables began again last weekend, local residents contacted Yulia Mezentseva, editor of the web site Moskva, Kotoroi Nyet, or The Moscow That Is No More, and asked her to alert the authorities.

The inspection by Moscow Heritage Committee, shown on Rossia television last week, found that "part of the building was simply destroyed, razed to the ground," Filyayev said.

Alfa-Mig must now stop construction and provide detailed plans of a historically accurate reconstruction of the building, Filyayev said. If the company does not comply, the committee will ask prosecutors to open a criminal investigation in connection with destroying or damaging a historical monument, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

Officials for Alfa-Mig could not be reached for comment. But Tatyana Averina, chief architect at AR'SS, the company that is carrying out the work at the site, said Monday that work was still continuing, though she conceded that she had never visited the stables.

"It's not a demolition," Averina said, adding that the company is "taking down dangerous walls" and rebuilding them.

The building will be a one-story office complex, Averina said. There will be no underground floors.

On Friday afternoon six workers in protective helmets could be seen walking through the construction site, although no machinery appeared to be working.

The Federal Inspection Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage said in a statement Friday that it had granted permission for the demolition of damaged sections of bricks and for the strengthening of foundations.

The work is being carried out "in strict accordance with the design documents and under the personal supervision of an architect-restorer," the agency said in the statement, which was posted on its web site.

The agency has not made any documents related to the project available to the public.

Agency spokesman Yevgeny Strelchik said Monday that there would be no further comment from officials on the issue.