Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Return of Newspaper Street

Stand next to the 1920s Central Telegraph building opposite and a little to the west of the new McDonald's on the recently renamed Gazetny Pereulok (Ogareva) just off Ulitsa Tverskaya. The name Gazetny came from the newspaper Moscow Gazette, which was published in the last century at the university Pension for Nobles, which stood in place of the Telegraph.

This is a busy street, filled with people bustling to and fro from offices and ministries and cars jostling for position in the narrow lane. But do not miss the odd group of buildings across from you under No. 9, two flush with the street and the central one set deep within the courtyard. They comprise the town estate of the Yankov family, who lived here from 1735 until the late 18th century. One member of the family, the sociable Yelizaveta Yankova, who died in 1860, kept a diary of her family and the society in which she moved. It was published by her grandson in the last century and is a great source of information about the upper classes in 19th-century Moscow.

The central house, much altered over the years, was built in the early part of the 18th century, a rare example of a private house of the Petrine period. Now, as Moscow struggles to renew itself under pressure for space from new offices, this delightful house is being intensively restored by official Moscow restorers. Its red brick has reappeared from beneath the newer layers of stucco, revealing the baroque window frames of the upper main floor, the engaged Tuscan pilasters, the heavy cornice and the steeply pitched metal roof which must have once been tiled. When complete it will add greatly to the charm of this odd little street. The two unequal classical wings that flank it were built in 1810 and, as was common, let as apartments.

Opposite, in contrast to the old house is the long colonnade of a Soviet classical building par excellence, the Ministry of the Interior, begun in the late 1940s by Iosif Loveiko. Its Composite pilasters and paired columns, its ocher walls and contrasting white details, give it monumentality, dignity and, inevitably in the Soviet context, a sense of dread. One does not loiter even today before its inhumanely tall doors.

You will, by now, have noticed the pseudo-Gothic bell tower of what resembles a church across from and a little to the right of where you are standing. This is the former Church of the Assumption "na Uspenskom Vrazhke" ("ravine" -- there was a slope here allowing water to drain into the Neglinnaya), which was completed in 1860 by the architect Alexander Nikitin. It was closed after the revolution, its main cupola and ogee-shaped gables removed, the top spire of the bell tower lopped off, and it was turned into a telephone station for calling other cities. If your telephone will not make long-distance calls to other cities, just come here, wait in the line for the operator to take your order, and she will give you a cabin for your call. Unlike other Moscow churches, it does not seem to be preparing to reinstate religious services.

Twinkling through the trees of the little park in front is the gold cupola of a delightful functioning church, the Resurrection na Uspenskom Vrazhke. It was completed in 1634 after Moscow had recovered from the Time of Troubles but the refectory and bell tower are of the 19th century. This church was known to have the best choir in Moscow because so many singers from the Bolshoi Theater who lived in the neighboring buildings joined the choir. They are even reputed to have kept the church open when threatened with closure. Inside are many icons brought here from other closed churches.

The musical connections with this corner of Moscow do not end here. Just beyond the telephone station/church is the somber, gray-rendered stucco of the buildings of the Composers' Union with offices and concert halls and apartments for musicians like Shostakovich and Khachaturyan. Like all cultural groups in Stalin's time, the union was formed in the 1930s as an umbrella organization to ensure composers and musicians did not stray from socialist realism.

The noted composer, Tikhon Khrennikov, was its hardline first secretary for over 40 years until his recent retirement. Although the state was in some ways a generous patron to those who toed the line, it dispensed concerts, housing and trips abroad on a system where the behavior of the musician counted more than his actual music. Khrennikov once said, "I think that of greatest importance to the composer are not the methods and systems but the lofty aims and tasks which he places before him." (Metro Okhotny Ryad)

© Kathy Berton Murrell