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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Restoring Pavlovsk's Pre-Revolutionary Grandeur

For MTGutzait is repairing the pre-revolutionary mansion of Pavlovsk's first governor as part of his efforts to rebuild the town's landmarks.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Sergei Gutzait is a high-profile personality in Pavlovsk, a small St. Petersburg suburb. Best known as an entrepreneur and owner of the Podvorye restaurant -- which has had President Vladimir Putin among its guests -- Gutzait's community work goes largely unnoticed.

Few realize that Podvorye runs a soup kitchen that feeds several hundred locals every week; or that Gutzait is the driving force, financially and administratively, behind an extensive program aimed at restoring Pavlovsk's former glory.

Pavlovsk was named after Catherine the Great's son, Tsar Paul I, who made it his home. For most of the 19th century, Pavlovsk was a popular summer residence for noble families and also attracted a number of cultural figures: Johann Strauss, Jr., conducted the local orchestra for 10 years in the mid-19th century; later, musicians, including Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Alexander Glazunov and Fyodor Shalyapin, gave concerts; and artists including the Bryullov brothers, Alexander and Karl, and the sculptor Pyotr Klodt frequently worked here.

Among the architectural highlights in Pavlovsk's park is a classical yellow pavilion with white columns. Designed in 1800 by Scottish architect Charles Cameron, the pavilion, known as the Music Hall, was a venue for high-profile musical and dance evenings. Restoring the pavilion was one of Gutzait's first local projects.

"During the war, [the pavilion] was destroyed," he said. "Later, it was restored, but fell victim to neglect and, ultimately, deteriorated.

"The park administration asked me to help. I restored it, maintain it and, on weekends since 1998, we organize charity concerts, in which [Rimsky-Korsakov] Conservatory students participate."

Gutzait's latest restoration project is the Marienthal Palace, or "Tsar Paul's Bastion," in the middle of what was the town's cluster of 15 major residences. The palace is recognized by UNESCO as a Russian cultural heritage site. When the local administration lacked the means to restore the building, Gutzait stepped in.

"I want to rebuild this area and turn it into a cultural and educational reserve," Gutzait said. "We've started clearing away the rubbish, restoring the original layout of the park and finding the former mansions' foundations."

When it was built, the fortress commanded the valley, the river was navigable and the tsar arrived by boat. "It was his favorite place in Pavlovsk, and he treated it as a real fortress, with guards, cannons and moats," Gutzait said.

Today, the building is a colossal ruin, and Gutzait faces an immense task. The bastion suffered several fires and, subsequently, decades of neglect; the main doors are missing; there are no windows; piles of garbage abut the formerly stuccoed cracked brick walls and the once-proud towers are mere skeletons.

"When I was asked to rebuild it a few years ago, I refused; I am not crazy," Gutzait said. "But I know that, if nothing is done, in two or three years, the building will deteriorate beyond repair, and I cannot accept that. The project will take 20 or 30 years to complete, and, although I don't have money to spare, I decided to take it on.

"The restoration project won a national competition for rebuilding Russia's small towns, which means I can get $50,000 in federal money. For that, I have to prepare a lot of documents, which is a long, difficult and expensive task. I have two professionals working full time on financial estimates, planning permission and so on," he said.

The team missed the Dec. 1 deadline for federal funding for this year, and Gutzait has reservations about asking for assistance.

"If I get official help, I will have to hire a contractor, who will want $10,000 when I can get the same work done for $1,000," he said. "I'm not interested in deals like that; I want to prove that it is possible to be as honest with federal financing as with my own money."

Even without federal help, the project is dependent on the generosity of local authorities.

"The attitude to philanthropy has changed in the last five years; it's much better now," Gutzait said. "I must say that the administration's attitude toward my project is good now. In the historic area designated for restoration, building a new villa or apartment building is not allowed, which is a big help."

Architectural restoration is only a part of Gutzait's larger plan to breathe new life into Pavlovsk. The greatest beneficiary of his work so far has been the boarding school he created five years ago on the model of the pre-revolutionary Tsarskoye Selo lycee founded by Tsar Alexander I in 1811.

"Our school is named after Prince Alexander Gorchakov, who was chancellor of Russia and foreign minister for two decades, and who, along with Pushkin, was among the first to graduate," he said.

The boarding school provides eight years of free education to boys from the age of 10. "We have 19 students and, from September, we will have 40," Gutzait said. "To be admitted, [boys] have to have high IQs, be in good health and come from intelligentsia families.

"I was approached by several well-off people who wanted to create a school for the political elite. But, in their case, the school would serve as advertising for their business, and I couldn't agree. I think you have to be involved in either philanthropy or business."

In the 19th century, the main school building was one of three summer houses owned in the area by Alexander Bryullov.

Today, after restoration, which Gutzait financed and oversaw, it is a two-story building surrounded by trees, with a tower on one side.

Two neighboring buildings are being renovated to accommodate the new intake in September. A few hundred meters away is a wooden house in which the teachers live, which Gutzait's investment has converted from a crumbling wreck into modern apartments. Two other buildings belonging to the school are also under repair.

"Nothing is privatized," Gutzait said. "The buildings are completed, teachers and students live here, classes are going on -- and we don't yet have the documents letting us do the restoration."

But Gutzait said he is not worried that someone will try to wrest the school from his control.

"We've already had one revolution," Gutzait said. "Expropriation and its consequences were devastating. But, even if the worst should happen, the buildings will stay, which is the most important thing. So we will continue renovating, rebuilding and recreating the park, cleaning away the garbage and improving our school."