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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arkhnadzor Sues City Over Heritage Neglect

MTThe house at 6 Potapovsky Pereulok was hit by a fire in December and has had no repairs despite its historic value.

There is now a protective fence around the former home of the 17th-century merchant family, the Guryevs, on Potapovsky Pereulok, and a guard watches over the building.

Cracks can be seen in the facade of the four-story historic building in the center of Moscow, but it is only when you look at the side that you can see the calamitous state it is in. Part of the roof has fallen in after a fire hit the building last December.

Since then the building has been at the center of a struggle between preservationists and the city department that is supposed to protect the building.

Fyodor Bogatyryov from preservation organization Arkhnadzor brought a suit against the city property department and the city cultural heritage committee for their failure to act to save or even attempt to repair the building since the fire. The suit was rejected by the Zamoskvoretsky District Court last week.

The court will explain its reasoning Wednesday, and Arkhnadzor will almost certainly appeal the decision.

When activists from Arkhnadzor went inside the building after the fire, they discovered a hidden gem.

“The cellar is 17th century, the first floor is 18th century, and the second floor is 19th century,” Bogatyryov said. Nineteenth-century interiors are preserved on the first and second floors, including intricate oak balusters and stucco ceilings. All of it would have been destroyed if the building’s investor’s original plans went ahead.

Before they thought of bringing the case, Arkhnadzor appealed to the cultural heritage committee, held meetings, picketed, but nothing was done, Bogatyryov said. “We decided on more radical methods,” he said.

It was not just the fire that had damaged the building, one of a series of blazes that have hit old Moscow buildings in the last year. The water used to put out the fire turned to ice and, with no repairs done since, has melted causing serious damage to the building. With part of the roof falling in, the building has been exposed to the elements for more than four months.

As Arkhnadzor tried to draw attention to the building, holding an exhibition on the history of the building last March, looters targeted the building stealing valuable interior fittings.

It is the first time that a preservationist has sued the city of Moscow.

After the suit was announced in Moscow, Bogatyryov says there has been a change in attitude. He believes that the city heritage committee, also known as Moskomnaslediye, put pressure on the investor, who has since agreed to repairs, restoration of the building and placed a guard at the building. Initial plans included partial or complete demolition.

“The appearance of the suit has forced Moskomnaslediye to give up on its stubborn inaction and use its authority to preserve the Guryev chambers,” said Natalya Samover of Arkhnadzor.

Arkhnadzor took inspiration from an activist in Perm, Denis Galitskin, who took the local heritage authority to court on the grounds that its failure to protect a listed building — in this case a beer factory from the early 20th century — was an abuse of his constitutional rights. He won after a series of appeals.

Moskomnaslediye said in a statement posted on its site that the court case showed that “we have a developed democratic society in which people are not indifferent to the fate of monuments.”

The statement also said the committee had given permission for repair work to be performed on the building in April and that it had done all it could by law to protect the building.

The building remains in a terrible state, and preparation for repair work needs to be sped up, Samover said.