Confectionery kings and art patrons: the past and the future of the Potaposvky Pereulok mansion

Confectionery kings and art patrons: the past and the future of the Potaposvky Pereulok mansion
The Guriev Palace was home to merchants, art patrons, and confectionery kings. Prominent physician Sergei Botkin and historian Vladimir Guerrier were educated in the building. Here numerous owners over the centuries have expanded rooms, built annexes, refinished interiors, and let flats. This mansion has seen much and has a lot more to tell following its restoration. But it is yet unclear who will win that right.

The tender to sell the Guriev mansion will be held in late March. This monument of architecture is located at 6/1 Potaposvky Pereulok, but its origins date back to the late 17th century. The successful bidder will not only have to renovate the building and restore its facades, but will also to have keep its interior planning intact.

Documents classify it as a city mansion and give it a long official name that includes the names of such well-known Russian figures as Botkin and Guerrier (mentioned above) and economist Ivan Babst. All of them were either students or lecturers at the time the mansion housed an educational institution. But it is hardly a surprise that there are many more people associated with the building: since its construction in the 17th century, it has had many owners, including the merchant Guriev brothers, merchant Pyotr Zolotaryov, art patron Vasily Kokorev and the confectionery kings, the Abrikosovs. Each new owner would plan and refinish the place to better suit his needs, each contributing to the diversity of the building’s artistic style. This story started 300 years ago with a one-storey stone building, which in Russian was traditionally called a palace.

The beginning

Mikhail and Ivan Guriev were major fish traders. In mid-17th century they founded a fort on the Yaik River, which became one of the most important Russian strongholds. It is here that they started their fishing company, for which they were permitted to do business in Moscow and received the highest merchant rank of gosti, literally “guests.” This title exempted them from paying duties, levies and city taxes, and granted them the right to travel abroad freely on trade business.

“The Guriev merchant’s courtyard: a palace stands there, half of it sod-roofed and the other half batten-roofed; it has a high tented upper-storey covered with batten.” Neighbourhood inspection testimonial, 1688

At that time, only the richest people with connections to power, like government officials, could build stone mansions. The Gurievs broke the tradition by using stone in the construction of their own ‘palace’ in Potapovsky Pereulok, which was earlier known as Bolshoi Uspensky Pereulok. This decision by the merchant brothers has left for posterity a beautiful example of 17th-century civil architecture.

“There are few 17th-century buildings left in the older part of the city. There are virtually no buildings that once were home to ordinary people, at least to merchants who were not considered part of the aristocracy. The Guriev palace is therefore of great significance, presenting us today with the opportunity to find out more about how our ancestors lived,” says Filipp Smirnov, a Moscow history researcher and editor-in-chief of Moskovskoye Naslediye (Moscow Heritage) magazine.

The L-shaped one-storey building occupied the entire width of its plot, and had a high semi-basement. Its lateral side faced Bolshoi Uspensky Pereulok, and a large courtyard with an entrance separated it from Maly Uspensky Pereulok (now—Sverchkov Pereulok).

A motley crew of owners

In 1728, Mikhail Guriev’s grandson Alexei Guriev sold the mansion to Rodion Koshelev, an equerry of the imperial palace. The new owner then built a stone annex in the courtyard, and remade the facades according to the architectural style in fashion at the time. The windows now had decorative Barocco-style casings and were separated by semicolumns. The walls were rusticated.

The Koshelev family owned the mansion until the 1780s when they sold it to the merchant, Mikhail Kolosov. He was responsible for adding a few annexes along the side street and in the courtyard. A few years later, he, to one of the owners of Doughty, Knauf & Co. 

The next owner was Pyotr Zolotaryov, a merchant from the city of Kaluga, who bought the house in 1821. For three generations, his family owned the mansions, letting half of it to mainly members of the noble class and foreigners. At that time, the building was also home to various educational institutions. The first one of them, Madam Schreider’s finishing school, opened in 1823 to teach its female students of mainly noble descent scripture, grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic, and other subjects. Tuition was 800 roubles a year. In 1835, Andrei Bruleau, a teacher at the Moscow Cadet Corps, opened his boarding school there. Ten years later, the school was replaced with that of Ludwig Ennes. Lecturers who taught there were Moscow University graduates, including historian and folklore expert Alexander Afanasiev, mathematician Avgust Davydov, and economist Ivan Babst. Students included such names as Sergei Botkin, who would go on to become a well-known physician, and historian Vladimir Guerrier.

“The private school was considered the best in all of Moscow, and rightly so as the curriculum was organised perfectly thanks to Ennes’ adept recruitment of young specialists who had just completed their course at Moscow University.” From Nikolai Belogolovy’s ‘Sergei Botkin, His Life, and Medical Activities’.

In the halls on the main floors of the building stucco mouldings of the walls and the ceiling, lavishly decorated portals, doors, mosaic parquet, window hardware and even a framed mirror remain to this day. History, however, has neither revealed the dates of this interior’s finishing nor its author. It is known for a fact that another storey was built atop the mansion in 1845. It is possible the interior setting described above dates from that time, or from later period, when the building was once again sold in 1870 to art patron Vasily Kokorev. A public figure with a rich art collection, Kokorev was at the time on the brink of financial ruin. He let the mansion to better his financial position, but in the process also added another storey to the part of the house along the side street. It was Kokorev who built the beautiful arch that still leads inside the courtyard today.

In 1881 the merchant Abrikosov family, who were Russia’s biggest confectionery producers, purchased the mansion. They owned a famous factory now known as Babayevskaya. The family was also well-known for their many efforts to raise the level of obstetric care in Russia. Agrippina Abrikosova, who herself was the mother of 22 children, used her own money to build a maternity ward for 120 patients.

The large Abrikosov family occupied two spacious apartments on the first and second floors in the older part of the house, letting the remainder. The first-storey 12-room apartment that the Abrikosovs lived in was breath taking in its use of elegant moulding, which ranged from gilded, mosaic parquet to carved doors and marbled windowsills.

The 1917 revolution led to the mansion’s nationalisation after which its apartments were turned into communal flats. Two more upper storeys were built in the 1930s using materials of very poor quality. During the entire Soviet era the mansion would be used to accommodate communal flats and offices.

A fire

The elegantly furnished Abrikosov apartment was maintained in good shape for quite a long time, until the top storey, added in the Soviet era, caught fire in the early hours of 18 December prompting the fire squad to completely inundate the entire building, including the Abrikosov dwelling.

Urgent renovation could have saved the stucco moulding, parquets and wall paintings, but it was never launched. What is worse, the building nearly lost its conservation status because several experts claimed the fire had destroyed all of the historical interiors.

A new beginning

The more than 300-year-old building may now see a new beginning. Its new owner will be required to make a sizable investment into its renovation, but the mansion is worth it.

According to tender documentation, the 4,466.8 square metre building is not under any restrictions and there are no third-party claims against it. The new owner will have to design a renovation plan and to complete the reconstruction efforts within five years. But first, several conditions must be met: the owner is to maintain the planning, the decorative and architectural solutions of the facades including the rustic pilasters, arches, window trims, cornices and balconies; and, he must also preserve the colour scheme of the facades and the white stone stair.

The applications deadline for submitting tender documentation is 23 March, with the actual bidding taking place on 29 March.