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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow's First Boulevard

Tverskoi Boulevard was the first of Moscow's chain of narrow parks that make a horseshoe around the old city, ending at the Moscow River. The boulevards were planned in 1775 as the old crumbling walls of Bely Gorod were demolished. Tverskoi, in 1796 the first of the streets to be completed, became the haunt of the upper classes for its promenades and caf?s. It is still one of the most pleasant parts of this green lung of Moscow, with its lime trees bent with age -- across from building No. 14 there is even an ancient, 200-year-old oak. On sunny days it is filled with people hurrying to and fro, some walking dogs, some with children on sleds and others learning to ski.

Stand in front of No. 22, the new Moscow Arts Theater, or as it is now known, the Theater of Nations. You are looking straight at the newest (1973, architect V. Kubasov) and certainly not the best building on the boulevard. Its red tufa windowless facade, highlighted by the groups of iron lamps, clearly does not harmonize with the smaller 19th-century houses and apartment blocks which surround it. In particular, it breaks the solid line of three-story housing by its position set well behind the street and by its sheer size. But there it stands on the site of the Kologrivov house, pulled down in 1937, where by tradition Pushkin is said to have first met Natalya Goncharova, his future wife, at a ball.

In 1985-6 there was a great scandal when the famous director Oleg Yefremov tried to reform the hidebound company by dividing it in two, halving off the talented and energetic actors from the rest. The leading actress, Tatyana Doronina, became the spokesman for the conservative opposition. Yefremov eventually won and moved his specially picked company to the newly restored old Moscow Arts Theater. Doronina and her supporters remained, grudgingly, in the new theater where she still performs.

Look to the right at No. 18, which is now under scaffolding. The art nouveau facade, with its tall windows, undulating moldings and splendid wrought-iron balcony, was remodeled by Fyodor Shekhtel in 1900 for the Smirnovs, the vodka merchants. The splendid Shekhtel interiors are still intact, although it has for long been a district court. It is now under restoration for use by the Pension Fund.

On the other, left side of the Theater of Nations is a rhythmic line of early 19th-century Empire houses, some of the most delightful in Moscow. The first, No. 24, was originally the wing of the long mansion with the delicate moldings to the left. Happily, restoration has at long last got properly underway in time to stop these lovely buildings from falling into irretrievable ruin like the still neglected house at the far end. The houses have a curious link with Rasputin, who wielded great influence over the family of Tsar Nicholas II owing to his apparent ability to stop the bleeding of Alexei, the hemophiliac heir apparent. The nearest of this group, No. 24, belonged to Prince Felix Yusupov, the young aristocrat who assisted in the murder of Rasputin, but the next house, No. 26, belonged to Rasputin's doubtful friend, Dmitry Rubinstein.

On the other side of the boulevard, facing the Theater of Nations, is the Pushkin Drama Theater, a much rebuilt nobleman's mansion. This is the former chamber theater (kamerny) of Alexander Tairov, a famous theater director on a par with Meyerhold and Stanislavsky, who was hounded in the Stalin period. Tairov opened his theater in 1914 but nearly came to grief because of the proximity of St. John the Theologian next door. The church clergy, unhappy at having a house of entertainment so near, requested it be closed. It was only with great difficulty that Tairov's company was able to continue playing. Soon, however, the shoe was on the other foot. St. John was closed in 1933 and handed to the theater, which turned it into a hostel and a carpentry workshop.

St. John, set back from the boulevard, was built in 1665 by the large armory (bronnaya) settlement located just north of it. The church's configuration is complicated by the south chapel added in 1838 and the western bell tower of 1740. For many years now, the main church has stood without roof or cupolas. However, the theater has now vacated the premises, the church was handed back to its parishioners in 1992, and it is once again functioning. A temporary cross of wood bravely stands over the roof and a sign on the door proudly announces that it is open. It is hoped relations with the theater will now be on an even keel. (Metro: Pushkinskaya)

©Kathy Berton Murrell