Khitrovka Residents Say Area Facing New Threat

Itar-TassLocal residents say they won't miss the four-story building standing on the corner but don't like what will replace it.
The Khitrovka quarter in central Moscow used to be the thieves' den of the city, a lawless place where police entered at their peril.

Now the residents of this sleepy, bohemian neighborhood near the Kitai-Gorod metro station are incensed over a very different threat: a giant office complex to be built in the heart of the historic area.

Khitrovka residents and preservationists have gathered 5,000 signatures for a petition asking Mayor Yury Luzhkov to prevent the construction of a 33,000-square-meter office block on a site surrounded by historic buildings dating back to the 17th century.

The office complex would replace a four-story, Soviet-era college, which residents say they will not mourn. The new building, however, would be eight stories high.

The building "will be a great height and block out the sky," said Maya, a Khitrovka resident involved in the campaign. She declined to give her last name, citing fear of reprisals from the site's developer, Don-Stroi.

The planned design includes underground parking, which could cause subsidence in a hilly area dotted with tunnels, Maya said. "If they dig a foundation pit, the whole hill will simply slip down," she said.

In the 19th century, Khitrovka centered on the large Khitrov Market, and its flophouses were a refuge for escaped prisoners and criminals, social chronicler Vladimir Gilyarovsky wrote in his famous 1926 book "Moscow and Muscovites."

In Soviet times, Khitrovskaya Ploshchad was turned into a park and named after Maxim Gorky, though the park was built over in the 1930s.

"Khitrovka used to be considered the most frightening criminal area of Moscow," said Alexander Anevsky, a resident who lives on nearby Khitrovsky Pereulok. "Now it's quite a privileged place, but it still has the spirit of a bohemian area."

Two smaller business centers have been built in the area recently, and the new office complex would destroy the area's unique atmosphere, Anevsky said. "It's enough already," he said.

Art critic Nikolai Palazhchenko, who is supporting the campaign against the new building, said the quarter had been preserved "to an amazing degree. Suddenly building a huge office center in the most historic area of Moscow is absolutely absurd," Palazhchenko said.

Natalya Loginova, spokeswoman for the Moscow Heritage Committee, said her committee had yet to grant permission to Don-Stroi to build the office complex.

"There hasn't been an official inquiry into this question," Loginova said. "Now it's a bit premature for us to comment."

The committee looked at designs in 2006 and said the planned building was too large for the site, Loginova said. The committee is now looking at an application to declare the area around the site as historically significant, which would allow for only minimal construction.

"As it stands today, Don-Stroi will at least have to provide a new design," said Yulia Mezentseva, editor of the web site Moskva, Kotoroi Nyet, or The Moscow That Is No More.

A new building "would still kill Khitrovskaya Ploshchad, but at least it won't be 30 meters high," Mezentseva said.

Don-Stroi spokeswoman Yelena Barteneva said Tuesday that no one was available to comment, and questions e-mailed to the developer were not answered in time for publication,

But Maya, the Khitrovka resident, said Don-Stroi officials met with residents and district officials on March 20, presenting a design for the office building and saying permission had already been granted for construction.

Residents protested and held an unofficial vote, but an official transcript of the meeting only said they "expressed their wishes," Maya said.

The design for the office center, published on Don-Stroi's web site, shows a split-level, glass-walled building, which the company describes as "organically fitting in with the historic buildings around."

Artist Nikolai Avvakumov, who has a studio in a neighboring 17th-century building, has drawn up a design for the location with a sculpture park replacing the planned office.

"We want to recreate a garden that was here in the 1920s, but with sculptures," Avvakumov said.

The Moscow Architecture Preservation Society said it was planning to hold a walk through Khitrovka with writer and preservationist Alexander Mozhayev to draw attention to the planned construction in the quarter.