Artists’ village, lilac garden, and admiral’s house: rambling in Sokol

April 21

A church where service was performed in Georgian, artists’ village, lilac garden, general’s and admiral’s houses... The Sokol district is full of surprises, to a large measure due to its rich history.

Back in Soviet times, the district was inhabited by culture personalities, athletes, and government functionaries. In the second half of the 20th century, the Leningrad Avenue was even called KhLAM (a Russian abbreviation made up of the first letters of the words “artists”, “writers”, “actors”, and “musicians”). Today the facades of buildings feature memorial plaques dedicated to famous Muscovites. reflects on what made Sokol so attractive to notable citizens and what exactly you need to see if you find yourself here.

All-Saints’ Church

A small brick church in the Holy Fathers village situated within what is now Sokol and Airport districts was built in 1683. Half a century later it made way for the All Saints’ Church which had survived to this day. The village name had to change too — it became the All Saints’ village.

Church construction was initiated by a Georgian princess and the service in it was performed in Georgian for a long time. Russian-language services began in the late 18th century.

In 1812 Napoleon soldiers converted it into a stable, but already the following year work started on restoration of the building. In the 1880s an expansion project was undertaken which saw the dome of the nave totally rebuilt and the refectory area increased.

In 1939 a warehouse was set up in the church and a five-tier iconostatis was burned in the yard to make an example. After the war, however, local residents managed to get a permission to open the church. Today it has the status of Patriarchal Metochion. The belfry dating back to the 18th century is sometimes called Moscow’s Pizza Tower due to its five-degree tilt.

There is a legend connected to the village. It is believed that Pseudo-Demetrius II had his loot buried precisely in this place. But the treasure has yet to be found even though the place where it is supposed to have been buried is sufficiently accurately described.

General’s and Admiral’s Houses

Near the church stands the general’s house. As it was built by the military, its facade is decorated with the flagstaffs that have star images. Its residents were heroes of the Soviet Union and the legendary ice-hockey coach Anatoly Tarasov.

A few steps away is another house, which goes by several unofficial names - the admiral’s house is one of them. Other names are the colonel’s or gentry’s nest. Built for the navy ministry, it eventually ended up with the aircraft and automobile industry ministries. The building decorations feature fish, anchors, and helms making it one of the most eye-pleasing structures in the district.

The pride of place, however, belongs to the former Central Air Force Clinic in Sokol. Constructivist in design, this project dragged on for so long that by the time it was resumed, the prevailing trend in architecture was a return to classicism. What emerged as a result may be called post-constructivism with art deco motifs.

Artists’ Village

The Sokol residential village, often dubbed the Artists’ Village, is an embodiment of the ideas of Sir Ebenezer Howard, a sociologist-utopian who wrote the book Garden Cities of To-morrow. Howard’s idea was to ensure the highest possible quality of life by building low-rise towns for 32 000 people.

Initial plans called for building a garden city at Khodynka Field, but the project was suspended for some time. Beginning in 1921 cooperative associations were allocated land for development. Two years later a Sokol partnership was established in Moscow, which received 50 hectares of land just outside the All Saints’ village. This is how the Artists’ Village originated.

“According to one unconfirmed version, the name Sokol owes it origin to the initial plans to set up a partnership in Sokolniki. But a suitable parcel of land could not be found there. That’s why land near the Serebryany Bor railway station was allocated, but the name had been already approved by that time,” according to Denis Romodin, a researcher of Moscow Museum.

The village had all the amenities needed: medical centers, a consumer services center, a pioneers’ camp, and a kindergarten where children studied German during outings. During outings they were not allowed to speak Russian among themselves.

During the perestroika drive, the village residents set up an agency to earn money by renting out commercial property. The money thus earned helped repair cottages and open a playground and a museum.

“Admittedly, artists did not live there even though the village is called the artists’ village, except may be for two or three artists. The village was conceived as a cooperative, and anyone could join it provided he/she could afford the investment,” Romodin continued. “The objective was to build an experimental real estate, but all kind of people populated it. As for the name it came from the name of streets commemorating famous Russian artists. There are, for example, streets named after Levitan, Vrubel, Shishkin, and Venetsianov.”

Lilac Garden

In the mid-20th century, the lilac garden was a recreational spot of choice. It was created by Leonid Kolesnikov, a gifted plant-breeder who devoted himself to creating winter-hardy varieties that would be suitable for central Russia. His efforts bore fruit and the varieties he created gained popularity worldwide.

The garden quickly became famous and even during the war soldiers used to come here before being sent to the front. Kolesnikov tended to lilac garden with assistance from friends and pioneers from neighboring schools. Notable visitors included Alexei Tolstoi, Nikita Khrushchev, and Yuri Gagarin.

The plant-breeder often sent cuttings and seeds, but never took money for them. “Beauty is not for sale. It can only be gifted,” he explained. Kolesnikov was distinguished with the Stalin Award and later turned over almost 5,000 lilac shrubs to the state. Soon after the garden had to be moved to Kaloshino, a part of today’s Izmailovo district. The Lilac Garden which has sprung up here attracts thousands each spring.

However, the very garden Kolesnikov planted in Sokol was left unattended for many years. Efforts are currently under way to restore it. In 2019 a public garden was set up in Salvador Allende street as part of the My District program, in which lilacs were planted.

WWI Memorial Park

Visitors will be well advised to explore the Park of World War I Heroes. Over the past 30 years, new monuments to pilots, soldiers, and officers, an obelisk and a chapel cross were built here. A rock at entrance serves as a reminder that formerly it was the site of a mass grave.

The cemetery was closed for burials in 1925 and several years later a park was laid out here. At the same time the church was closed and in 1959 it made way for the Leningrad movie theater. Interest in the fate of necropolis did not rekindle until the late 1980s. Later the Transfiguration of Jesus chapel was opened, which was followed by a memorial complex built in 2004.

Electric Engine House and Alabyan-Baltic Tunnel

Sokol is also the site of one of Moscow’s oldest metro coach repair facility which went into operation in 1938. It was reopened recently after reconstruction. Its capacity now is 30 trains instead of 15, the number of inspection pits for the night storage of trains, their repair and cleaning is up to 46 from 24.

One of Moscow’s most sophisticated engineering projects, the Alabyan-Baltic tunnel, is also located in Sokol. The project took a lot of time to complete: from 2008 to 2015. The tunnel is built at a depth of 22.5 meters in the zone of unfavorable geological and hydrogeological conditions. Traffic control in the tunnel and at many other large road facilities in the capital city is provided by the control center. The center is housed in an unconventional futuristic building resembling a blue glass ball. The egg-shaped building is the focus of attention of both pedestrians and drivers.


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