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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Landmark Military Store Is Coming Down

MTVoyentorg, located just up the street from the Kremlin, is not on a list of protected buildings, but critics say it has been assessed as such and cannot be demolished.
There will soon be another hole where a historical building once stood in the heart of Moscow.

On the heels of the start of destruction of the Moskva hotel, the Moscow city government has begun tearing down another of the capital's best-known buildings, the Military Store, or Voyentorg.

The Art Deco building, located opposite the Russian State Library at 10 Vozdvizhenka, is covered in a green mesh and workers can be seen on the roof as they demolish the structure from the top down. A 19th-century building next to the Voyentorg has already been knocked down.

"It's outdated architecture," said Alexei Vvedensky, spokesman for the city-run Complex of Architecture, Development and Reconstruction. "It isn't a rational use [of space]."

Vvedensky, pointing to the chronic lack of parking space in the city center, said a huge underground garage will be built on the site and topped with a new shopping center.

Architects and historians expressed outrage -- but little surprise -- over the plan, saying it was typical of City Hall's attitude toward the city's architectural heritage.

"It's a crime," said Alexei Klimenko, head of the Professional Union of Artists Historical Preservation Society and an activist who has fought against the destruction of historical buildings since the 1970s.

"It is the pure apotheosis of Moscow power being unpunishable. They consciously think that they can break the law," he said.

"It's outrageous," said Bart Goldhoorn, a Moscow-based Dutch architect. "After what happened to the Moskva, you can't expect anything else from the Moscow government."

Although Voyentorg is not on a list of federally or municipally protected buildings, it has been assessed by experts, including Klimenko, as a site worthy of the list. This assessment, by law, gives the building a certain degree of protection.

After the assessment is made, it can take years for the authorities to decide whether the building should be protected, but it remains protected until that decision is made, said Oleg Ladygin, who is suing the city over several downtown buildings that have been destroyed or are in the process of being destroyed in his position as head of the Association of Residents Human Rights.

City Hall insists that it will preserve what it says is the sole historical value of the building: parts of the facade. But this is only adding insult to injury to architecture lovers.

"It's not about the facade, it's about the period of architecture, the interior of the whole piece," Goldhorn said. "You can't just say, 'We'll put some ornaments back on afterward.'"

"It's like the death of a close relative," architect Yevgeny Ass, deputy of the Russian Architects Union, said on NTV television.

The city's department for the preservation of historical treasures would not comment on Voyentorg, but its deputy head, Oleg Kukoyev, defended the knocking down of some old buildings.

"It's a cleaning of the city, of [buildings] that do not have an architectural, cultural and historic value," he said.

A committee official, speaking anonymously, was of a different mind.

"We're very upset," he said.

Voyentorg has great historical value and the committee cannot do anything to prevent its destruction, he said.

The committee's official literature describes the building as a "wonderful example of a public building."

Voyentorg was built by architect Sergei Zalessky near the end of the Art Deco era, just before the start of World War I. Even before it was built, it received an architectural prize, from parliament, for its design.

Voyentorg was the chief shop for the military in the country and, for those in the know, one of the best places to buy defitsit goods during the years of shortages. It closed down in 1994 after falling on hard times.

The building was left to slowly rot over the next nine years. The city took over the building and in 1997 included it -- along with an early 18th-century vaulted chamber and 19th-century building next door that were demolished earlier this month -- in a protected downtown zone. But no restoration took place.

"They privatized it, and then left it to fall apart," Klimenko said. "The bureaucrats are at fault."

By the start of 2002, Voyentorg was 60 percent owned by the city, 15 percent by singer and State Duma Deputy Iosif Kobzon and the rest by minority shareholders, Gazeta.ru reported. The city sold a 44.24 percent stake on Nov. 4 for 168.14 million rubles (about $5.5 million), and the building is now owned by Telman Ismailov, owner of the Praga restaurant, according to local news reports. It is unknown when the city sold its remaining 15.76 percent stake.

When the city announced the demolition last month, it said the project was part of an effort to preserve the capital's historical center.

Klimenko said the demolition is a typical example of the way the city hides its destruction of the capital under a lie of reconstruction. It has become common practice for the city to knock down an old building and then rebuild an exact copy, he said.

Media reports say this will happen in Voyentorg's case, but officials at the AST Kapstroi construction company would not give any details. The new building is expected to cost $30 million, Leonid Krasnyansky, the head of the city's department for construction investment, said earlier this year.

Critics said the fact that no blueprint for the new building has been released suggests there isn't one, and this in itself would be enough to make the demolition and construction illegal.

Under Mayor Yury Luzhkov, at least 50 listed buildings have been destroyed with about 300 other historical buildings in the past decade, critics said.

"If such politics continue, you can put the death knoll on any tourists coming to Moscow," Klimenko said.