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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Artist Hub Turns Into Beverly Hills

The statue of Friedrich Engels that graces one of central Moscow's most prestigious neighborhoods has not been of much use to any but pigeons in recent years. But Engels, the co-author of "The Communist Manifesto," was a handy rallying point not long ago for some residents of that neighborhood, Ostozhenka, who were protesting its transformation into a hotbed of luxury housing thanks to the capital's real estate boom.

"Leave Us Alone," read banners unfurled by the protesters in September. That is the name of their movement, spurred by the latest luxury housing project, slated for the site of an apartment building in which some of them still live, at 3 Khilkov Pereulok. The gold domes of Christ the Savior Cathedral overlook the area.

Ostozhenka, once home to many artists and intellectuals, is now known in the parlance of real estate agents and their wealthy clients as the Golden Mile. In the last five years it has become a Kremlin-view Beverly Hills on the Moscow River. Its winding lanes are now home to modern, multimillion-dollar penthouses, Ferraris, gourmet restaurants and bizarre crimes: Last year, a celebrity plastic surgeon was stabbed by roller skaters, and later died, in what appeared to be a roll-by contract killing.

The neighborhood's rise is only one of many morality tales of money, power and real estate now playing out across the country.

In recent months, dramas included an elderly Moscow couple who had been evicted from their home and were camping in the yard of their old apartment building, which was slated for demolition to make way for new construction, and villagers being pushed from their homes on the edge of Moscow to make way for high rises. In both cases, residents were infuriated by orders to move to apartments in Yuzhnoye Butovo, a district that is near a former Stalinist killing field and one hour from central Moscow by subway. They are still fighting the orders.

The fight continues in Ostozhenka as well. "The Golden Mile is the most brilliant business project in post-Soviet Russia," Denis Litoshik said in November at one of the neighborhood's Starbucks-like coffee shops.

Litoshik, 27, has a personal stake in its transformation: He lived, until recently, at 3 Khilkov Pereulok, and is a leader of Leave Us Alone. As a journalist for Vedomosti, he is awed by what he says is a reported $33,000-per-square-meter price tag on apartments going up next door to his former home. "They're not selling drugs, but they're making much more money," he said of developers who have converged on Ostozhenka.

A few buildings, some ramshackle, some solidly middle class, hinder a complete makeover.

Ostozhenka stood virtually untouched until the late 1990s, frozen in time by a Soviet decree that called for the construction of a vast Lenin-topped Palace of Soviets in place of the razed Christ the Savior Cathedral. It was never built, but the plan was never revoked; a swimming pool was instead built on the site. And Ostozhenka figured in Mikhail Bulgakov's novel, "The Master and Margarita."

Bulgakov depicted the early Soviet years, when aristocratic abodes were forcibly transformed into communal apartments for the masses, with shared bathrooms, kitchens and secrets.

Now new money is squeezing out the remaining kommunalki, as the communal apartments were called.

Aleksandr Khosenkov, 56, lives in a friend's communal flat. "I live here, but all the streets have been renamed -- I can't find the houses," he said. "It doesn't matter if a person has a Mercedes. Their soul should matter, not their car."