Defenseless masterpieces

«Московский дворик», Василий Поленов

Old log houses in the city of Vologda. Houses where the sense of time has been preserved in the unmatched deep grey of the wood. Carving, combination of pierced, sawn-through and dimensional fretwork, marvelous flight of fantasy. The entire house is like a huge wooden sculpture; in its color, mixed out of rains, snows and sun, the dear old times are present. One yearns so much to cuddle up to this shaggy, cracked wood, to pass one’s hand over it. To hug all these, so dear, houses — the small particles of Motherland.

In the older days, the practical field work for arts colleges students in the old Russian towns helped them to feel, understand and love Russia, its history embodied in architecture, and architectural environment. I was one of those who participated in the painting practice in 1985 in the city of Vologda. “There’s Russian spirit here, there’s Russia’s scent!” The sparkling of Vologda river and little churches on the bank, like white swans, about to spread their wings and fly into the bright blue through the festive gold of dandelions. There is no prettier place than our Easter-time Russia. “Under the blue skies, a golden city rises…” God’s own grace. Everything is so dear and familiar — as dear as the serene “Little Moscow yard” painted by Polenov. A carved-wood town with un-trampled young grass. Vologda of those days was like Moscow of my childhood, my Taganka, my Krutitzy, my Novospassky Monastery (New monastery of the Saviour)…
A two-storey house built of wood in the very center of Vologda. The house smothered in the embrace of giant lilac bush in full bloom, transpierced with its sound fragrance, with the light of white nights. It stayed in my memory like this — the way carved wood appears silver in the inflorescences’ shimmer. Whose hand was it that dared to burn such beauty down! A store is now built in the house’s place.

Some fifteen or twenty years ago, these arsons started, the incineration of Russia. I remember the first time I saw, instead of a silvery house, the black, sleek luster of firebrands. The burnt-down house — like a knife in my heart! And then again, more and more frequent, getting more and more customary. No-one was hurrying anymore to clear up, pull down, hide the arson traces — no, it’s easier to hang on top of it huge banners with paintings by an Academy member war veteran. Such sacrilege! To replace the old, tranquil town, a new aggressive style rushed in from Moscow — the glass-plated architectural monstrosity has pierced the sky with its blue fang, breaking down the entire harmony of the city. What is yet to come, if they have launched in this direction? What is in store for the city?
An academic conference in Kirillo-Belozerski historical reserve museum in 2005 was called “Preservation and implementation of wooden architecture monuments in the 21st century”. Even back then, this problem was not an exclusive concern of Vologda land. Participants from Moscow, Sankt-Petersburg, Veliky Novgorod, Arkhangelsk, Vladimir, Yaroslavl and Kostroma were discussing what was then approaching so rapidly and tried to stop it. They were not afraid to talk about things that still are a sore and unsolved issue today.

An abstract from a report by Lyudmila Kashina, at that time the head of Department of culture and architectural heritage of the region: “Preservation of the monuments not only facilitates popularization of the high standards of the national culture and fostering of patriotic feelings. Historical and cultural heritage is an economic resource of a special sort. The social and economic environment was planned to be created around the monuments.” She stated even back then that conditions of the wooden historical and cultural heritage of the region, same as overall in Russia, engenders serious concerns about its future fate. Analysis of the situation throughout the region has determined a number of the most alarming factors. It is, above all, unfounded and in many cases illegal demolition / scheduling for demolition or arson of wooden structures and a new construction in the historical areas that have become mass-scale in the recent years. Nowadays, there is nearly nothing left to restore. The houses get torched and even if the residents manage to defend them the first time, the arsonists will not stop and burn them down all the same.

Both in Vologda and in other cities, buildings on the housing and public utilities’ balance cause apprehension, as they do not ever get repaired. The buildings are transferred into such a state where the repairs become impossible. This equally concerns monuments and environment-related wooden structures.
Currently, a grave problem is becoming the tendency to destroy the authentic monuments and create their copies out of contemporary construction materials in their place. Article 47 of the Federal Law No. 73 FZ dated June 25, 2002, states that reconstruction of the cultural heritage items may be performed in exceptional instances and using the old-time technologies, where the said item has special importance. This norm does not provide for demolition of existing items of the cultural heritage.

Municipal authorities often ignore requirements of the Federal Law No. 73 FZ dated June 25, 2002, on the necessity to perform repair and restoration works on the cultural heritage items and engagement of restoration specialists for this purpose, leading to the sites’ common repairs being substituted for the actual repair and restoration works. With this approach, a real danger exists that in the nearest future many historical and cultural treasures of the region might by irretrievably lost. Today, the grave and sometimes emergency condition of many items of the cultural heritage demonstrates that this field of activity is not one of the priorities in our country’s state policy anymore.”

All problems that were voiced at that conference have become even more intense in the past years. Especially now, when we have lost so much after that conference that seemed to be a life-savor, where all challenges were clearly defined and the action tendencies were stated. Neither conference nor fight that followed failed to stop anything. Today, a new danger is impending Vologda, a new tide of destruction of those last remaining morsels. I would like to quote here an opinion of a well-known Vologda lore writer expressed in his Facebook account: “One can understand the feelings of young Vologda citizens when they protest against demolition of old wooden houses in the city. Here’s a photo of today’s demolition of one of such buildings. A pity? Yes! But would you like to live in it, to move in here from your customary gas, hot water and central heating?”

This opinion justifies and legitimizes the arsons and is lately introduced so subtly, so gradually into the public mind via mass media. So, it seems easier to drive people out, to burn the house down and build some commercial property on its place, pocketing the profit, rather than choosing the civilized way, reconstructing the old houses carefully and creating comfortable, modern living conditions.
But the major thing is to squeeze the money out of the old housing sites, isn’t it, and for this purpose, to convince the citizens smartly, believing they will not understand, will not defend their dear, to convince them that it is inexpedient to preserve wooden architectural structure, allegedly inconvenient and uncomfortable for living in. To burn it down and justify the crime by expediency. I wonder who builds on the cleared sites afterwards and for whom? Who is the obvious criminal here?

“In the center of Vologda, an architectural monument has been illegally destroyed. The scandal concerning the demolition of a late 19th c. house located on the crossroad of Victory Avenue and Vorovsky Street has been going on for over a week. Despite their protests and appeals to police, the historic preservation activists failed to stop illegal demolition of the architectural monument. In the opinion of member of the public movement “Real Vologda,” it is supposed to be replaced by a three-storey mansion. “To all appearances, some persons in our city are so influential that they deem themselves above the law. There is no other explanation of the situation where the federal monuments are torn down and the culprits remain unpunished. Thus, in the fall 2012, a 19th c. building of Tanners stalls was destroyed. The owner declared that it was necessary to pull the building down in order to “rebuild it from the ground”. Yet, no-one except for the human right activists minded that once demolished, monuments usually lose their cultural value and that Department of Culture had issued a permit to perform works to preserve the cultural heritage item.” A refusal to initiate criminal proceedings on the grounds of this fact was ruled illegal.
The situation repeats itself. Yet another monument is destroyed — presumably by the same people that have earlier pulled down the Tanners stalls. In early March, at Victory avenue 48, workers started demounting the house of pharmacist Nikolay Nemirov built in 1901.

Despite the historic preservation activists having disrupted the demolition works several times within a number of days and even called the police, as of today, the workers have actually pulled the house down to the ground. The regional department of culture has confirmed the house’s status as of a site possessing characteristics of cultural heritage and has brought an administrative action following the fact of the building’s demolition.
The historic preservation activists also appealed to the office of prosecutor,” — writes

Vologda has been awarded the name of a “Cultural capital of Russian North” once again. However, it must measure up to this name in all aspects and do everything to be able to carry this name with dignity and not just on paper. Do not sugar-coat the reality. Let’s define problems and solve them all together. It is admirable that young people acquired such civic courage nowadays, that they fight for their culture and defend it and express their patriotic attitude. I would like the Governor to lead the movement on Vologda restoration, so that our city could finally be named the “Cultural capital of Russian North” by rights. By all accounts, without his dynamic actions corruption cannot be defeated and Russia cannot be strengthened.

Художник. Золотая Медаль Академии Художеств России, Серебряная Медаль Академии Художеств России.

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