Turn on an old circuit breaker and leap into the past: What Gorky Park ‘old-timers’ have to offer

Turn on an old circuit breaker and leap into the past: What Gorky Park ‘old-timers’ have to offer
Gorky Park turns 89 years old today. It looks surprisingly young for this respectable old age – it has Wi-Fi, bike lanes and rentals, new recreation areas, dance floors and beaches. But there is always history standing nearby – pavilions and statues that recall the first years of the park.


Join the urban pace,

Enter the park

Of span and mass!

(Vladimir Mayakovsky “What is a Park?” 1928)

“Human streams pour over alleys, pavilions, exhibitions and play fields. It is an endless human sea. We have received a recreation area which will become a valuable cultural oasis in a couple of years.” These are lines from a Moskovsky Den newspaper article about Gorky Park written on 14 August, 1928. The park had opened two days before, on 12 August. Over 100,000 people visited on opening day. The park had athletic fields, radio parlours and lounges, restaurants and snack bars. Visitors could take part in quizzes and borrow books to read while sitting in comfortable wicker chairs.

The next year, when Betty Glan, the park director, gave a tour for writer H.G. Wells, he said looking at the Muscovites’ faces, “You are not just a park director, you are the director of a factory that makes happy people.”

Today the park named after the famous writer Maxim Gorky continues to do its best to live up to this noble mission. It has an environmental club and coworking, and athletic fields for many kinds of sports. It also organises fairs and festivals. Gorky Park has commemorated its 89-year history by restoring pavilions, recreating landscape designs and bringing back lost statues. Those statues from the first years of the park have a story to tell.

Leap from a virtual tower

In the 1930s, one of the most popular entertainments with young people in Moscow was a 38-metre parachute tower – not a ride for the faint of heart. In those years, aviation had captivated the Soviet people’s imagination, and such towers appeared in every corner of the country. One of the most well-known parachute towers is now the site of a statue of a ballet dancer.

On the top landing of the tower, a brave soul was strapped into a dummy parachute and then slid down a taught rope attached to a metal frame on top of the tower. There was a backup plan for those who suddenly changed their minds – a ride on a rubber mat down the slides spiralling around the tower.

The tower is not there any more, but Gorky Park offers a virtual recreation of the experience.

Become the park’s chief electrician

One can also feel the vibes of the past in the former switchboard room which is the 793 Electric Panorama museum now. The building with a vaulted ceiling was constructed after the war. At present the refurbished substation, which was designated No. 793, offers information about the lighting of the park, and visitors are allowed to try and turn on the old circuit breaker.

The walls of the switchboard room are lined with Soviet safety posters and black-and-white pictures of park emblems, such as a statue of a girl with an oar, a Ferris wheel and a rose garden with a fountain. They also show archival footage with landscapes of the park flooded by lights at night.

Take in the scents in the rose garden

The rose garden with fountain was created in the 1930s according to a design by architect Alexander Vlasov. During the war, an anti-aircraft battery was located there. Flowers were not a priority, and they wilted and were killed by frost. After World War II, roses scented the air again there and a new open-work fountain was made. It has survived to this day. The rose garden was restored in 2013 when rotundas, lattice arches and garden benches returned to their places.

See the pavilion where the “What? Where? When?” quiz show is filmed

The experts of the “What? Where? When?” club have been getting together at Prince Nikita Trubetskoy’s hunting lodge since 1990. It is the oldest building in the Neskuchny Garden and the only one on the prince’s estate that has survived until today.

In Prince Trubetskoy’s time the stone lodge was used to keep hunting guns and gunpowder, servants lived there and kennels were nearby. During Soviet times, it was the site of the Samovarnik tearoom, and now the famous aria “What Is Our Life? A Game!” can be heard there when the popular TV quiz show is filmed.

Admire “The Bather”

A multi-step fountain descending to the Moskva River embankment appeared in Gorky Park in 1937. Its name is “The Bather.” However, the statue of a female athlete getting ready to dive into the water appeared at the top of the descent later, in 1952. At the bottom there are two more statues of boys holding carps. They have changed over time, swapped out their fish and even disappeared from the pedestals. In 2013, the statues were returned to their places before City Day.

Visit the WC – an architectural monument

The public toilet built in 1933 as part of the architect Alexander Vlasov’s design is an unusual monument of the socialist realism period. The design was based on the idea of unity between building and environment. An earth mound was made around the building and the roof was covered with turf. There were two sections in the toilet, with washrooms and antechambers and rounded toilets with glass ceilings.

In 2015, restorers recreated the interior decoration in the neo-classical style dating back to the late 1930s. They made benches for the toilet rooms and recreated the geometrical design on the floor. Now the rooms feature washbasins like the ones from 1935 and a suspended wooden ceiling with glass panels.