Unknown St Petersburg: 1920s Workers’ Township

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

About a month ago there was an excursion round one of the workers’ districts of St Petersburg near Yelizarovskaya metro station. This is one of the places in the city where you feel quite estranged, particularly if you get there after spending some time in the center.  The unknown St Petersburg slowly enrolls in front of you, revealing its unpolished side. I’m taking you on a walking tour in the 1920s workers’ township.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Yelizarovskaya metro is to the East of all major sights, close to the banks of Neva where the road led to Shlisselburg and Arkhangelsk. Once there used to be several villages, the names of which gave way to various Soviet names and thus very little remains of them. Here it was easier and quicker for big ships to moor. They would bring raw materials and stuff to the factories that were constructed here in the 19th century: metal and steel works, shipbuilding, porcelain factory, etc.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the workers’ movement grew and became quite a menace to the state. You can imagine that this district – along with the one located on the opposite side of the city – received a lot of ‘attention’ from the Soviet propaganda – in terms of commemorating this or that pre-October revolution event with a plate or a curious statue, And this district also got itself one of the earliest statues of Lenin – and one of the most true-to-life representations.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

But we are talking here about the people who for the first time in their life got a decent home. Before they were housed in insalubrious dwellings provided by the factory (which also cost them almost all their wages), mostly in wooden barracks with rooms crowded up to the ceiling. There workers would come from work – and sleep on one bench – in shifts… So imagine what a magical sight these semi-detached housed would appear to the workers’ families in the 1920s! Not all of the workers’ villages constructed in those early Soviet times are in perfect shape now, but this particular township is very well looked-after (at least from the outside).

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

You see, the modernist architecture, just some 20-25 years younger than that of the avant-garde period when these houses appeared, looks much better now. Well, they did have money back then at the beginning of the 20th century, whereas the architects of the young Soviet Russia were obliged to use cheap silicate bricks and sometimes even to re-use old bricks from other buildings!

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

This is the Palevsky zhilmassiv or Palevsky residential area, called so after a German merchant who used to own these places. There was a village called Smolenskoye here (since then the church disappeared but the Soviet roof-covered market replaced the village’s market place). The houses were built in 1925-28 by Rybin and Zazersky. This was not the first zhilmassiv of Leningrad, but one of the first. The city needed more housing – badly, immediately. Individually built houses just wouldn’t suffice anymore. And this is how Leningrad got its first tipovoy zhilmassiv (built after a typical project) which, contrary to the completely faceless high rises of the 1970s and beyond – had at least some… soul.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Palevsky zhilmassiv is one of the few garden-cities of Russia with every apartment having a separate entrance and a doormat🙂 It’s a really atypical sight in the city which the Soviet era has left with so many typical buildings, particularly on the outskirts! In Russia you either live in a village in your own – often wooden – house or you live in a flat. And here my mind just started boggling: am I in the UK by chance? Each family having their own door and a mail box? Wow!

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

It felt really weird inside these green yards. People habitually walk though them on their way from the metro station to the avenue while I kept thinking how very… out-of-St Petersburg-like it all look. Folk selling old books and stuff right along the paths leading to /from the metro, linen hanging on the string, flowers in pots outside. Not your typical St Petersburg for sure! They say there used to be fountains and statues of pionery. They say that each ‘block’ of houses has its own plan and appearance. But they also say that there was no bathrooms at first (sad irony – there wasn’t a single factory back then to make baths!) and that most of the inner walls and floors are wooden.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Oh those low-rise houses which occupied a lot of space and gave too much, superfluously much, living space to the workers in the city where on average you would get just 6 m2 per capita! Well, you got the idea, they were destined to leave the stage. This zhilmassiv idea would later turn first into 5-storey khruschevka in the 1950s and then into high-rises all identical to each other, as seen in the hit Ironiya Sudby movie. But wait, first there was also a factory school built in 1932-33 which looks like an airplane when seen from above! You don’t get it when you stand close to it but, well, you just have to believe it🙂 And also in the same district there are these weird pseudo-Roman pseudo-what? houses which were built here after the War in 1945-49 by Levinson:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

No comment.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

When I got to these houses I was really dizzy with all the architectural items of that day to make any comments.)

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Cause there was also this:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

and right underneath it this:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

and also this apparently still operating cafe-bar:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

… the sign says it belongs to a Spec. Olymp. Comm-tee🙂

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

 This is a 1926-28 reel factory – built in a shape of a reel of course. There was also a house built for machinery engineers with balconies decorated in a sort of… tractor wheels. And an ex-culture center turned into a permanent book and pirate CDs and stuff fair. When I first got there years ago I was wondering why the hell the stands are all in tiers with chandeliers hanging at equal intervals and the floor is slanting…

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Well, the answer is quite simple – you’re actually treading the amphitheater and the stage! Built in 1926-27 this constrictivist ‘house of culture for textile workers” got revamped in 1956 to conform with the new official style, the Stalin’s neo-classicism. Now it’s still called House of culture (named after Lenin’s wife Krupskaya), aka Krupa but not every one would even think to turn their eyes from the school text books and look above…

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Or to the staircase railing which ends up in hammer and sickle. The Soviet realm has left its traces everywhere…

Will definitely take you to other unknown places in St Petersburg!

G.

2 responses to this post.

  1. просто круто!

    Reply

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