The focus of the new issue of the special Legends of Voronezh project is the Zemskov tenement building at 7, Revolution Avenue. Motorists pass it by when going down Kommunarov Street. The building with turrets is a striking example of the Russian style, and the names of its residents and their guests can be found on Wikipedia. These are prominent people of the 20th century - architect Vyacheslav Gayn, revolutionary Julius Janonis, rector of the Agricultural Institute Boris Keller, writer Andrei Platonov, actor Leonid Vivien and inventor Alexander Chizhevsky.

"Boring lecturer" and the son-in-law of the house’s owner

At the beginning of the 19th century, this corner of Voronezh was the outskirts, and the land on which the house now stands belonged to the gendarmerie department, which was located at 76, Sacco and Vanzetti Street. Kommunarov Street itself used to be called the Gendarme Mountain in old times. It was passed by "blue uniforms" on their way to the service. Their territory stretched from Bolshaya Devichenskaya (as Sacco and Vanzetti Street was called before the revolution) to Bolshaya Dvoryanskaya (which is currently Revolution Avenue). On the gendarme territory, there was a large courtyard, stables and barracks.

In the middle of the XIX century, a land plot on the gendarmerie territory was bought by a peasant Avdotya Zemskova. Her son Matvey, a graduate of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, built a magnificent house in the Russian style using his own design - with turrets, a spire on the roof, and beautiful stucco decoration. The terrain has created the "secret" of the building: it is two-storey from the facade side, with a basement extending into the ground, and three-story - from the courtyard side.


Before the war, the house was even more beautiful than it is now. On the facade, there were two porches with carved canopies.

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The large two-entrance building was ideally suited for arranging a tenement house, as its owners did. They leased apartments, rooms, and even corners, which were usually rented by poor students.



– What is a tenement house? This is a profitable investment in real estate. In the late XIX – early XX centuries, people were not used to owning property in cities. Everyone lived in rented apartments. I often hear: "Poor Bunin lived in exile in a rented apartment." He wasn’t “poor” – it was customary back then, – guide Olga Rudeva said.


Historian Alexander Akinshin pointed out a funny historical mistake – for many years, local historians considered Vyacheslav Gayn to be the building’s architect and thought that the period of the monument's creation dated back to the beginning of the 20th century. The thing is that Gayn married the daughter of Matvey Zemskov, Anna. But before that, he used to rent an apartment on the top floor.


You can see his brainchild opposite of the Zemskovs' house – the red-brick building of the Peter the Great Mechanics and Technology School, built in the Russian style and better known as the Pentagon (8, Revolution Avenue). The dormitory of the school, also built in accordance with Gayn’ design, has not remained.


Gayn is the creator of the Kazan Church located in Otrozhka (79, Suvorova Street) and the of A. V. Shpolsky Technical School (currently Secondary School № 11 at 60, Volodarsky Street). He became the first Voronezh restorer-architect. His design was used to restore the former appearance of the house of Governor Potapov and the house where poet Ivan Nikitin had lived (19, Nikitinskaya Street).

Voronezh mathematician, poet and musician Nikolai Romanov, an employee of physiologist Ivan Pavlov, left unflattering memories of architect Gayn in his essay “The Story of a Search”. Gayn read lectures on the "building materials course" at the Voronezh Practical Institute, where the future mathematician had studied.

“Gayn was extremely boring at reading his lectures. (...) It was he who at one of his lectures claimed that the polar star had a feature of always being above your head no matter where you went. In response to my remark that it was not true, Gayn called me a heretic. But my patience became exhausted when, at one of his lectures, he, sluggishly stretchy and very broadly, as usual, began to talk about various methods of preparing industrial clay. From this lecture, we learned that among the many methods of preparing building clay, there was also one in which oily liquid clay was placed in a small basin and mashed by a barefoot worker standing in the basin and rhythmically shifting from one foot to another. Listening to the teacher’s story, I distinctly imagined the whole picture: oily liquid clay, squishing under the worker’s bare feet, is squeezed between his toes in thin worm-shaped formations - and this vivid image, combined with the rector’s boring, clay-like voice, was so lively that I almost felt sick.”

From the memoirs of Nikolai Romanov

Julius the revolutionary

At the turn of the XIX-XX centuries, the Vivien family, from which actor and theatrical figure Leonid Vivien (1887-1966) originated, lived in the Zemskovs’ house.

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The rooms of the ground floor with windows facing the Gendarme Mountain were occupied by the Dyakov family. High school student Vasily Dyakov, together with his friend Boris Ippa, organized an underground Bolshevik circle here. Its regular was a young Lithuanian gymnasium student and poet Julius Janonis, who arrived in Voronezh in 1915 along with other refugees from the Baltic States occupied by the troops of Germany under the Kaiser.

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Julius, a fair-haired and lean young man who spoke with an accent, was a pupil of the private Lithuanian Martynas Yčas gymnasium from the town of Šiauliai. Despite his young age, he already had experience in revolutionary work. Vasily Dyakov’s sister, Evgenia Vladimirovna, later recalled that Voronezh peers called Julius «Yuly».

“Since 1913, Vasya and his inseparable friend Boris Ippa began bringing their friends to our house: gymnasium students and realists. They locked themselves in the room. They read something, argued about something. Sometimes they argued very noisily, even screamed. When they came out into the dining room, they were hoarse. Mom gave them tea, fed them sandwiches. I was one and a half years older than Vasya. He tried to drag me into the circle. “Zhenya, you’re a thinking girl, why don’t you join us?” Having assumed my most frivolous look, I laughed it off: “I can’t live without pineapple in champagne. And in prison, it seems, they are not being served.”

From the memoirs of Voronezh writer Olga Kretova, the book “On the Roads of Life”

The same book quotes the words of Lithuanian actress Nelė Vosyliūtė, a pupil of the Yčas girl gymnasium, who also evacuated. According to her recollections, Lithuanian educational institutions, especially women's ones, were like a state in a state in Voronezh, with a rigorous, almost monastic living rules. Girls were forced to pray eight times a day, weren’t given warm clothes until the very frosts.

The owner of the gymnasium, Martynas Yčas, was a member of the State Duma and lived in St. Petersburg. Instead, the educational institutions were governed by the head of the refugee committee, priest Olšauskis, known for his love affairs. According to Vosyliūtė, in Voronezh, he had lovers among schoolgirls in addition to the main concubine. Later, while living in Lithuania, Olšauskis was a defendant in two criminal cases - he drowned his son and strangled his mistress. But his punishment was soft – church repentance.

As for Julius Janonis, he wrote revolutionary poems in Voronezh. Conspiratorial manuscript magazine “Atžalos” (“Shoots”) was published under his leadership. In early 1916, Julius left for Petrograd, where he campaigned among the proletariat. The poet was arrested twice. In prison, the 21-year-old young man fell ill with tuberculosis. His suffering was so strong that in 1917 he threw himself under a train. The fate of his Voronezh friends in the underground circle was tragic as well. As noted by Voronezh bibliographer, book scholar, and writer Oleg Lasunsky, in the 1930s, Vasily Dyakov and Boris Ippa were executed by Chekists.

Joker Platonov and cosmos philosopher Chizhevsky

In the 1920s, the family of Boris Keller, a botany professor from the Agricultural Institute, lived in the right wing of the Zemskovs' house. He later became a great scientist – he moved to Moscow, became a full member of the USSR Academy of Sciences and studied the flora of steppes, semi-deserts and deserts.


His son, Vladimir Keller, graduated from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Voronezh State University and taught political economy at the provincial party school, but, having moved to Moscow, became known as a literary critic. He signed his articles with a pseudonym – Vladimir Alexandrov. The main subject of his research was the work of poet Alexander Tvardovsky. Keller Jr. became the discoverer of the early work of his friend Andrei Platonov. He published a literary article in the Voronezh magazine “Zori” on Andrei Platonov’s poetry collection, “Golubaya Glubina” (The Blue Depth).

Oleg Lasunsky noted that Andrei Platonov often came to the Kellers on his old bike. He used to joke around with his friend: he pressed the bell button and immediately sat on his bicycle’s saddle. When the owners opened the door, the writer rode the bicycle into the huge hallway.

Among the famous residents of the Zemskovs' house was inventor Alexander Chizhevsky, who had created a unique air ionizer, which was later named "the Chizhevsky chandelier." This scientist and cosmos philosopher is called Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th century. When he was young, he was fond of astronomy, he was an artist and a poet. It was he who became the founder of bioastronautics and heliobiology.

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From tenement building to hotel

After the revolution, the former tenement house was turned into a communal apartment building. During the war, the monument was damaged and was later restored in 1947-1948. Post-war architects almost managed to return the house to its former luxurious look. The only lost elements were the two entrances with porches on the main facade.


– This building is beautiful. It’s good that the cupola-turrets were restored after the war. When I was a child, I thought that when I’d come inside the building, I would see luxury – antique furniture and mirrors. And when my dream finally came true – I was visiting here – I was disappointed. It was an ordinary apartment, furnished with shop furniture, – Olga Rudeva recalls.

Nowadays, the former Zemskov’s house looks ill-kept.


The property is privately owned. The owner lives in Moscow, and house is being looked after by young manager Grigory Litvinov. According to him, from 2007 to 2009, the owner drove out the residents of eight communal apartments. As a result, people who used to live in the rooms received separate one- and two-room apartments. The empty monument soon became a haven for homeless people who lived on stairwells.


In order to prevent uninvited guests from entering, the owner had to put grates on the ground floor.

The first floor of the building is non-residential – it is rented by offices. The second and third floors are occupied by tenants, just as before the revolution. This is temporary – the owner is planning to turn the former tenement building into a three-star hotel. The repairs are currently in full swing here. In some places in the entrance hallway, one can see pieces of the old days – for example, century-old radiators and Monier arches (ceilings with arched arches on steel beams) on the third floor.


– Initially, we wanted to make a hostel here, but we gave up on this idea: the load on the building would be too heavy. We decided to make a hotel with rooms, – Grigory Litvinov told.


In 2011, when Voronezh became 425 years old, the Zemskovs' house was overhauled: the roof was redone, and the building was painted bright blue. But the repairs did not last long: according to Grigory, a year later the plaster and stucco became covered in cracked.

– The quality of the repairs was disgusting – the whole facade of the house was ruined. Instead of restoring the historic stucco molding from gypsum, they made a new one from foam. It is covered with cracks and falls off. After such repairs, the house lost its beauty, – Grigory Litvinov complained.


The manager says that he asked officials to carry out warranty repairs, replace the stucco molding, but has not received a response yet.