How Moscow gave facelift to its streets 100 years ago

How Moscow gave facelift to its streets 100 years ago
One hundred years ago, full-scale road construction works in Moscow were already in top gear, ranging from replacing old pavement on an entire street to building water drains and public gardens. By 1916, the city revamp that had lasted many years prior was over. Throughout that final year, 30 squares, streets and lanes were redeveloped, although, for comparison, the figure for 1913 exceeded 60.

On 16 May, 1916, Moscow City Council delivered a report to the Finance Commission and the Commission for City Improvement at the Moscow City Duma, seeking their approval of its plans to renovate pavement across the city, pave streets that had until then remained unpaved and build water drains. The list cannot be described as inordinately lengthy. However, the commissions concluded that “currently, it is impossible to address these issues on a more or less wide scale because of severe city budget constraints”[1] caused by the beginning of the First World War. Before the war began, Moscow was carrying out massive road renovations, using allocations from the municipal budget and private investments. In 1917, this work was suspended and was only resumed in the 1920s.

Gazetnny Pereulok. Date: earlier than 1917. Courtesy of the Moscow Main Archive Directorate

100 years ago

In 1916, 19 streets were slated for complete resurfacing: Mytny Pereulok (currently, the Zaryadye territory), Khrustalny Pereulok, Georgiyevsky Pereulok, Kolpachny Pereulok, Podkolokolnikov (current name is Podkolokolny) Pereulok, Svinyinsky (Pevchesky) Pereulok, Khitrovsky Pereulok, Khitrovskaya Square, Bolshoi Tryokhgorny Pereulok, 1st Tverskoi-Yamskoi Pereulok, 2nd Tverskoi-Yamskoi Pereulok, 3rd Tverskoi-Yamskoi Pereulok (now part of Chayanova Street), 4th Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street, 1st Bryansky Pereulok, Vargunikhina Gora (now an area neighbouring the Smolenskaya Embankment), 6th Rostovsky Pereulok, Zhitnaya Street, Malaya Yakimanka Street and Degtyarny Pereulok.

Overall, over 56,000 square metres of pavement were renovated. The last time this work was carried out in Georgiyevsky Pereulok was in 1903 and in Khrustalny Pereulok 11 years ago.

Eleven streets were to be paved for the first time: Chechersky Pereulok (now part of Dobroslobodskaya Street), 2nd Glebovsky Pereulok (in the Bogorodsky District), Panteleyevskaya Street, the Glebovskaya Embankment (in the Bogorodsky District), the market square in Matrosskaya Tishina (now a public garden outside Moscow Technology University), Verkhny Sarsky Pereulok (now the odd-numbered side of Sarinsky Pereulok), 1st Sorokosvyatsky Pereulok (now part of Novospassky Proyezd), 2nd Sorokosvyatsky Pereulok (now 2nd Dinamovsky Pereulok), Novosushchyovskaya Street, Pogodinskaya Street and Maly Savvinsky Pereulok.

In all, almost 20,000 square metres of streets were paved for the first time.

When working on the list of streets, members of the commissions spoke about the need to make sure that the new pavement was properly guarded. Apparently, they were much concerned about lack of coordination with enterprises responsible for building the sewage and water piping systems.

Estimates of the cost of work were attached to the report of Moscow City Council. On average, the replacement cost of one square sazhen (2.34 metres) of old pavement totalled 11 roubles 50 kopecks and the laying of one square sazhen of new pavement was listed as 22 roubles 22 kopecks.

Road work in Gorky Street. Date: 1938. Courtesy of the Moscow Main Archive Directorate

Living in style

Of course, the situation was different before the war. Much effort was invested in improving the city and its lighting and extending the lighting gas supply network.

In 1912, the city government allocated funds to replace the pavement on 27 streets and pave 34 streets for the first time; the figures for 1913 were 39 and 15, respectively; and the figures for 1914, when road improvement work started to scale down, the figures dropped further to 15 and 12.

In addition, work to upgrade Moscow’s streets with an asphalt surface was continuing. In pre-war years, asphalt was laid on Petrovka Street, Stoleshnikov Pereulok and Kalashny Pereulok. On some roads, asphalt covering had already worn out by this time and the road had to be resurfaced.

Along with ongoing road work, parks and public gardens were being created in Moscow: Devichye Polye, Vorobyovy Gory, Voskresensky Public Garden, a public garden in Stariye Triumfalniye Vorota Square (all in 1912), a public garden in Sadovaya-Samotyochnaya Street and a boulevard in the Leningradskoye Motorway (both in 1913) and public gardens in Kudrinskaya and Yelokhovskaya squares (both in 1914). Trees were planted along the streets.

Lubyanskaya Square. Date: 1920s. Courtesy of the Moscow Main Archive Directorate

Trees were planted along the following streets and lanes: maple ashes were planted along Malaya Dmitrovka Street, 1st Brestskaya Street, 2nd Brestskaya Street, Verkhnyaya Krasnoselskaya Street, Nizhnyaya Krasnoselskaya Street and Novoselenskaya Street; elms along 9th Sokolnichya Street and 10th Sokolnichya Street; linden trees along Kuznetskaya Street, 4th Rogozhskaya Street and Alexandro-Nevskaya Street; ash trees in Shabolovsky Pereulok, Bolshaya Bakhrushinskaya Street, Kolodezniye streets, Pokrovsko-Dvortsovaya Street, Bolshoi Bakhrushinsky Pereulok and around Stromynskaya Square; poplars in Pustaya Street, Staroslobodskaya Street, Staroslobodsky Pereulok, Sokolnichy Pereulok, Pesochny Pereulok and Malo-Pokrovsky Pereulok.”[2]

Borrowed funds were used to build bridges, improve squares and embankments and divert rivers through pipes and culverts.

The appearance of trams in Moscow was most welcome as trams helped carry out a significant amount of work to improve the city. However, already at that time it was widely believed that neither the pace of work nor the funds allocated for the projects were adequate.

According to economists’ estimates at the time, the renovation of the city’s road infrastructure would have taken over 35 years to complete, even if expenses for road repairs and maintenance had been kept at their maximum.

Teatralny Proyezd. Photograph by V. Sobolev. Date: 24 December, 1954. Courtesy of the Moscow Main Archive Directorate

Thirty-five years on, already in Soviet times, Moscow had five million square metres of asphalt surface, 300,000 square metres of roads laid with stone blocks and paved mosaic and over seven million square metres of cobbled pavement.

Archive documents by courtesy of the Moscow Main Archive Directorate

[1] The Moscow Central State Archive. Collection 179. List 12. File 88. Page 8.

[2] The Moscow Central State Archive. Collection 179. List 21. File 2937. Page 104.