The history of Stanislavsky’s merchant dynasty

August 18

Alexei Alexeyev founded the dynasty after his landlord in the Yaroslavl Gubernia (Region) legally freed him. In 1746, he moved to Moscow and started trading among silverware merchants. He became a merchant some time later. Although Alexeyev was not very popular, everyone in the city knew the names of his grandsons and great-grandsons. They built hospitals, schools, museums and a water supply system and also opened theatres. Their companies were nationalised after the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917.

The Alexeyevs from Bolshaya Alexeyevskaya Street

Semyon Alexeyev, the son of Alexei Alexeyev, was only 34 years old when he launched the production of gold and silver threads in the city. The thin wire thread, used for couching, became popular during the reign of Catherine the Great, when nobles started wearing luxurious clothing, embroidered with gold and silver.

Alexeyev did not confine himself to sales alone. His threads were used in jewellery and decorated the attire of priests. The merchant personally visited monasteries and showed the samples of his threads there. Gold thread production brought in a substantial and stable income. Semyon Alexeyev soon became a Merchant, First Guild and received the rank of Commercial Councillor, coveted by any entrepreneur. The rank guaranteed hereditary citizen status to its holder and his children.Semyon Alexeyev bought a mansion, built in 1767 to a design by architect Rodion Kazakov and later altered, for his family. City Manager (Mayor) Vasily Zhigarev previously owned the luxurious Classicist building. Until 1919, the street where the Alexeyev family lived was called Bolshaya Alexeyevskaya Street. Today, it is called Alexandra Solzhenitsyna Street. However, the street’s former name had nothing to do with the industrialists’ clan. Actually, it was named after the nearby Church of Metropolitan Alexy Beyond the Yauza River. The Alexeyevs owned the mansion until the late 19th century.

Semyon Alexeyev passed away in 1823, and his widow, Vera, took over the business. She was descended from the Vishnyakov merchant family that owned a flattened-silverware factory. Vera elevated the company to a new level. Its goods became highly popular in other countries and were displayed at numerous international exhibitions.

Vladimir Alexeyev, one of Semyon Alexeyev’s three sons, managed to expand the family business still further. He did not forget the gold thread factory, which he had owned since 1849, either and established the shareholding company Vladimir Alexeyev. The new company purchased and processed wool and resold it to cloth-making factories.

The family’s gold thread factory caused quite a stir in the 1870s when it became the first Russian company to mechanise production. This improved end-product quality. Flattening machine tools, a steam hammer and other brand-new devices partially replaced manual labour.

Mayor Nikolai Alexeyev

Nikolai Alexeyev, the great-grandson of the thread factory’s founder, became one of the most famous family members. When he was 18 years old, his father appointed him the factory’s assistant manager. The young man won a reputation for himself. He delved into even the most difficult matters and addressed hard tasks in order to gain experience. He knew that he might head the company one day.

Nikolai Alexeyev

However, Alexeyev’s career did not end here. At the age of 25, he became a member of the Moscow City Duma (Legislature), and he was elected City Manager (Mayor) when he was 32 years old. He served three terms in this capacity. The people of Moscow loved him for his work ethic. Nikolai Alexeyev often roamed the city with a notebook in hand and jotted down high-priority tasks. Anyone could approach him to report a problem or greet Alexeyev, who heard out everyone.

A skilled politician, he accomplished a lot for the city and helped build medical clinics and educational institutions. Construction of the local sewage system was launched on his initiative, and the city’s water supply system was also renovated. Alexeyev oversaw the construction of pumping stations that brought water taps into every home. He personally financed the construction of water towers near Krestovskaya Zastava, which did not survive to this day. He is also credited with the city’s first asphalt roads.

The case of the brazen merchant

The establishment of the Alexeyev Mental Hospital No. 1 is particularly interesting. It was named after Russian psychiatrist Pyotr Kashchenko in Soviet times. Alexeyev was the first to donate money to the expensive project and urged well-to-do Moscow merchants to follow his example. He even invited them to a reception to discuss the venture. When the conversation was well underway, one of the merchants grinned at the city manager and said: “Bow low to me in front of everyone, and I will give you one million roubles.” Everyone fell silent, watching what was about to follow.

Alexeyev kept cool while responding to this insolence. Without saying a word, he bowed to the merchant. All the other guests looked surprised, expecting the brazen man to be kicked out at once. And the amazed arrogant merchant who did not believe his eyes donated the sum in question at once.

Alexeyev’s act made him even more popular among all other merchants and all those who learned about this incident. People began to say that only those who really care about the city and its residents can forget about their pride. Consequently, the merchant who wanted to humiliate Alexeyev boosted his reputation to new heights.

Tretyakov Gallery, Alexander Garden and more

Nikolai Alexeyev, who adored art, also proved to be a patron of the arts. He helped open the Tretyakov Gallery; his wife was the niece of Sergei Tretyakov, who owned the Gallery. Alexeyev ordered the construction of a merchant club building on Malaya Dmitrovka Street, which now houses the Mark Zakharov Lenkom Theatre, as well as the Polytechnic Museum on Novaya Square. He also told contractors to complete the History Museum and to build the Moscow City Duma on what was Revolyutsii (Revolution) Square during the Soviet period. It is hard to list all the projects that he helped implement. Moreover, Alexeyev helped build the Upper Trading Rows, now the State Department Store (GUM), on Red Square.

Alexeyev also focused on the rundown and unobtrusive Alexander Garden that no one apparently needed. He decided to turn the garden into a popular leisure area.

Nikolai Alexeyev was killed by a mentally disturbed man on 9 March 1893. All his fortune went to his wife, Alexandra. After becoming CEO of the shareholding company Vladimir Alexeyev, she made one of the largest charity donations in Moscow’s history to honour her husband’s memory. The money was used to complete the Alexeyev Mental Hospital and an orphanage.

Alexeyev was not the only city manager in the family’s history. Alexander, his Welsh uncle, held this position from January 1840 through October 1841.

The very same Stanislavsky

Konstantin Stanislavsky, the famous theatre reformer, stage director, actor and teacher, is also an Alexeyev. He took the stage name, by which he is known to the world, only in 1885 at age 22. He was motivated by the desire to avoid “bringing disgrace” on his family with too passionate an infatuation with theatre. The young man loved stage art since childhood, when his family would put on home performances. However, his first job was not on stage but at his father’s wire thread factory. The theatre seemed to fade into the background as just a youthful hobby.

But it was in the workshop that his innovative talent shone for the first time. He took the factory job in the early 1880s. After a few years, he travelled to Germany and France to see how European factories were functioning. Upon his return home, he declared that the most profitable business would be one associated with electricity. Why not produce electric cables instead of thin wire thread?

Soon the factory (Stanislavsky was one of its directors) merged with a firm owned by their next of kin to form a joint-stock company, Alexeyev, Vishnyakov & Shamshin. In the early 1900s, they launched the manufacture of copper mill products and established a section to produce isolated conductors for low-voltage currents. Somewhat later, the company spawned copper-mill and cable factories. But Stanislavsky was not fully satisfied and built a new cable shop.

Konstantin Stanislavsky. 1936. Moscow Main Archives

Between factory and theatre

It was still several years before the creation of the Moscow Art Theatre. In 1894, Konstantin Stanislavsky continued to perform on the stage of the Moscow Fine Arts and Literature Society. At his factory, he established a choir and a reading room for ordinary workers, where public readings were often organised. A year later, an amateur theatre opened there. Stanislavsky explained that the theatre would be good for the industry, because it took workers off the bottle.

Eager to take their minds off the daily routine, workers were delighted both to attend and participate in productions. The theatre became so popular that several years later a separate building had to be built for it, with Stanislavsky acting as a sponsor. In the meantime, orders were pouring in and the factory needed additional production areas. The other directors urged him to give up the theatre premises, and he let them have the ground floor.

Managed by Stanislavsky, the family business became one of the best cable manufacturers in the country. He served on the board of directors until 1917. Later the factory was nationalised, and it was given a new name, Elektroprovod (Electric Wire.)

But the former proprietor was unconcerned, focusing instead on theatre. At that time, he lived in a house with an attic and a pediment decorated with sculptured griffons in Karetny Ryad Street. Formerly it was owned by the coach manufacturer Alexander Markov. Stanislavsky’s next home was a 17th-century mansion in Leontievsky Pereulok, which now houses the Konstantin Stanislavsky Memorial Museum.

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