In the center of the new edition of the special project “Legends of Voronezh” is the building of the Voronezh State Puppet Theater named after V.A. Volkhovsky at 50, Revolution Avenue. It was erected at an accelerated pace and kept in secret from Moscow. The building was built in the spirit of eclecticism, with elongated arched windows, in which many see the influence of the Venetian style. But as soon as you go around the theater, the echoes of the Stalinist Empire style are exposed, with a portico and columns.

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The fact is that the building hides within itself a post-war building - the Recreation Center of Educators built in the 1940s on the foundation of a pre-revolutionary gymnasium.

The gymnasium

Before the war, there was no square on Revolution Avenue near the Puppet Theater so familiar to Voronezh residents - there were residential buildings here. But the bombing on June 13, 1942, destroyed them and exposed the building that was previously hidden - the former building of the pre-revolutionary Second Male Gymnasium.

As a local historian and guide Yelena Ustinova told, before the revolution, the owner of the annex in which the gymnasium had been located was a rich merchant Dmitry Samofalov - he leased the building to the city. From the side of Bolshaya Dvoryanskaya Sreet, one could get here only through a low stone tunnel cut through in the neighboring house. He had led through today’s Lord shop (52/54, Revolution Avenue).

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Among the students of the gymnasium was a son of a priest, future Voronezh poet, prose writer and artist Vladimir Korablinov. And during the First World War, the gymnasium sheltered a Lithuanian high school student, future revolutionary and poet Julius Janonis who had evacuated from the Baltic States to Voronezh.

«Life was in full swing»

After the October Revolution, the Third Soviet Labor School was housed in the building of the gymnasium. When the former gymnasium building was being restored, its walls were preserved and built up. And so the two-storey building was created, which later became the Students' Club, then - the House of Educators, and even later - the House of Amateur Art Activities of the Trade Unions.

- In the 1950s, during the Khrushchev thaw, everyone wanted to live an active life. Here was the famous ensemble “Yunost”("Youth"), the choir of Vadim Izhogin. Life was in full swing. The hall was packed to capacity, - director of the Shut Puppet Theater Vladimir Safonov recalls.

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A special operation for children

The history of the Voronezh Puppet Theater began in 1925 within the walls of the Voronezh State University. The “Theater of Puppets” designed to criticize the shortcomings of university life was founded by Professor Nikolai Bezzubtsev.

In the 1970s, puppeteers sheltered in the offices of the Yunost Film Theatre, and their performances took place on the stage of the cinema hall.

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The main director was Igor Lukin who had long dreamed of separate premises. When the building of the Puppet Theater n.a. S.V. Obraztsov opened on the Garden Ring in Moscow, Igor Lukin convinced the Voronezh authorities of the need to build a Voronezh puppet theater. The idea was appreciated by First Secretary of the City Committee of the Party (basically, the town mayor) Vladimir Anishchev.

The history of the construction deserves a separate story. In the early 1980s, in the USSR there was a government ban on the construction of social and cultural facilities. Even the already started construction projects were frozen. But Voronezh went against Moscow’s will - the Regional Committee of the Party and the control bodies decided to turn a blind eye to the government ban.

Allocation of budget money for the construction was out of the question. The Secretary of the City Committee decided that the theater for children had to be built using the people’s construction method, at the expense of the city’s enterprises.

The construction began in 1982 and took three years. The first thing that was done was the demolishing of unauthorized garages. But the owner of one of them filed a complaint to the Central Committee of the CPSU about Vladimir Anishchev accusing him of violating the decision of the Central Committee. An instructor arrived from the Party Control Committee in Voronezh. To hide the "traces of crime", a performance was staged at the construction site on the night before the arrival of the auditor, but it was not a theatrical one.

- Trucks and automobile cranes had been drawn from all enterprises with plates to cover the foundation. Fortunately, by the morning the plates were already covered with snow. Vladimir Anischev told the controller from Moscow that no one was going to build anything here – they had just demolished several garages to make a public garden and a tennis court, - Vladimir Safonov told.

Two in one

During the course of the construction of the Puppet Theatre, two buildings were joined - the House of Trade Unions (standing on the foundation of the old gymnasium) and a residential building next to it. Tenants, many of whom were high-ranking citizens, had to be evicted.

- Vladimir Anishchev invited the residents and asked them: “Do you have a party membership card? The decision is made". The person came home, consulted with relatives and made the right decision, - Vladimir Safonov told.

The technical part of the theater was located in the apartment building. The walls of the house remained, but the floors were dismantled.

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The foyer on the ground floor (the entrance to it was closed by a stained glass window, which was made by Tatyana Nikitina) and four columns have remained in the Puppet Theater from the heritage of the Soviet and partly pre-revolutionary past. The legacy of the House of Trade Unions is the auditorium.

To the right of the entrance, a “bastion” was erected, in which the impressive premises of carpentry and property-room were located. This part was built on, strengthening the foundation. On the back facade, the constructors left an Empire-style portico - it was a part of the House of Trade Unions.

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Architect Valentin Frolov recalls: because of the reconstruction, the marks of the floors were changing. So the architects had to make numerous steps that interconnected the old buildings and the new extensions.

The creators of the Puppet Theater were planning to free two more buildings for a children's cafe and a puppet museum. The little viewers were to get into the Puppet Museum through the balustrade attached to building number 52. Four apartments were planned to be bought specifically for it. But the idea is not implemented - the balustrade is now bumped into the nearby apartment building.

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The impact of medieval France

The project of the Puppet Theater was a collective one. A group of Voronezh architects and artists led by Nikolai Topoev took part in its creation.

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His co-authors were architect Valentin Frolov, design engineers Vladimir Shchekalev, Stanislav Puchkov (who died during construction), and interior design and painting artist Vladimir Klepinin.

- It all started with a competition which involved five projects. The project of Nikolai Samuilovich Topoev included a folded, castellated roof, which can now be seen in the theater. He was inspired by samples of ancient French castles and abbeys. But he didn’t have a colonnade - it came from another project that was developed by architect Stanislav Gilev, artist Alexei Smirnov and me. In the end, we combined several versions of the project - Valentine Frolov told.

Following the results of the competition, Nikolay Topoev, Valentin Frolov and Vladimir Klepinin developed a sketch an then a working draft of the theater. They had to work in emergency mode.

– In the evening they made sheets with drawings, and in the morning they were carried to the construction site so that the construction would not be delayed, - architect Valentin Frolov explained.

At the same time, they were designing the interiors of the theater. Everything - from furniture, stairs with small children's steps to lamps and design of children's toilets - was exclusively made.

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- No unified structures were used in the construction of the theater - everything was done individually. Some things in the interior were created by ceramist, and some things were made at factories. It was a busy time, seven days a week, - Valentin Frolov recalls.

Artists Zoya and Nikolay Suvorkov, Vladimir Klepinin, Lyudmila Nikitina worked on the lamps and the design of the doors to the auditorium with ceramic tiles with non-repeating patterns. According to the concept, the decoration in the theater was supposed to be fairytale, with stained glass windows and crystal chandeliers. But Voronezh could not afford the semi-precious material. So the city authorities agreed with the management of an image tube-manufacturing plant, and pseudo-crystal products based on the Voronezh technology appeared in the fairy-tale palace./p>

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For the creation of the winter garden, famous Baltic pines which had previously been frozen using a special technology were brought to Voronezh from Latvia. It's been 34 years, and from afar it still looks that the trees are alive.

- Baltic masters preserved the pines in such a way that they are still covered in green needles. At first, they were curly-headed, but the kids had plucked them off, - Vladimir Safonov said.

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The turrets of red glass gave the building a fairytale touch. According to the architect’s idea, the light on the third floor, where the winter garden is located, had to be constantly on. But life didn’t match the concept.

- The turrets released sent off a condensate that started to drip. The ceiling started to get wet as well. Over time, the roof of the theater began to leak, and it had to be sealed. The light does not come in since then, - Valentin Frolov explained.

Today, it is impossible to get inside the turrets - they are walled up.

The theater building is faced with limestone, but marble was used for the interior decoration. The rest of the Puppet Theatre was practically built from scrap materials. For example, the columns designed in accordance with the project and supporting a semicircular rotunda at the entrance to the theater were made of common asbestos pipes painted with white paint.

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The entire creative team that worked on the creation of the theater building was awarded the State Prize of the RSFSR named after N.K. Krupskaya.

In front of the entrance

According to Vladimir Safonov, when Vladimir Anishchev saw the new theater and the landscaped area next to it, he noted that asphalt was inappropriate here.

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The city authorities agreed with Pavlovskgranit, and the square was covered with pieces of granite, which has remained to this day.

The clock, the fountain, fairytale sculptures on the semi-circular rotunda above the entrance to the theater and in the courtyard were created by sculptors Ivan Dikunov and Elsa Pak. When creating the lamp-supporting figures on the roof, the sculptors were inspired by old table lamps./p>

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The theater’s landmark is the fountain that used to be decorated the bronze Thumbelina (the work of Ivan Dikunov and Elsa Pak). But metal hunters had attempted to steal it three times - just as Bim’s ear.

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Since then, Thumbelina which weighs 250 kg was relocated inside the theater. Now it is temporarily stored in not the most suitable place - under the service ladder.

Photo – Anastasia Sarma

The fountain has not worked for many years: according to Vladimir Safonov, it is supposed to be serviced not by the theater, but by waterworks specialists.

– Water comes there through the city’s water supply system. To launch the fountain, it must be connected to technical water, – the theater director explained.


Other sculptures have also been damaged by non-ferrous metal hunters. Over time, a goldfish covered with thin gold leaf disappeared from the pedestal in the courtyard. Since then, the old man has been talking to a wave instead of the fish. The same fate befell the gilded rose, which the Little Prince had held above the entrance to the theater.

- Non-ferrous metal hunters are not afraid to climb onto the roof. I asked Maxim Dikunov to restore the rose. But after three months, the story repeated itself with the restored flower, - Vladimir Safonov complains.

The broken-down clocks and mechanical toys

The clock was supposed to be the highlight of the theater - like the one on the S.V. Obraztsov Puppet Theater in Moscow. Originally, the clock was supposed to appear on the “fortress” in front of the service entrance to the theater, but in the end, it was transferred to the end wall of the apartment building №52. Four columns with three mechanical puppet figures, which were supposed to work synchronously with the clock, were installed on the "fortress" between the pylons.

- When creating puppets, we focused on the lunar calendar. Every hour a cuckoo was cuckooing, and an animal from the Chinese calendar “rode out” of the house: a rooster, a dog, a pig, a monkey, and so on. And at 12 o'clock they were supposed to "go out to the audience" at the same time - it would be a circus parade (the solemn entry of artists onto the circus stage), –sculptor Ivan Dikunov said.

The author admits: it’s a shame that the mechanism was removed from the wall. But, according to the director of the Puppet Theater, the clockwork animals were never destined to work. It was assumed that the complex with the fairytale animals would be synchronized with the clock. But nobody succeeded in implementing this beautiful idea. Vladimir Safonov - a mechanical engineer himself - emphasizes: the animals had never worked.

- How can something work with no mechanism inside? When we opened the doors of the “cabinets”, we saw that there was not even a hint of a mechanism. The figures were simply placed inside, and the doors were closed. In 20 years, I haven’t managed to find a person who would finalize them, – the theater director assured.

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However, architect Valentin Frolov recalls that at the opening of the Puppet Theater, the figurines came out of their houses, but ... faltered.

- For some time they stood open, but then they were removed. They tried to repair it, but Anishchev had left for Moscow by that time, and the enthusiasm of the Voronezh authorities gradually died out: the main thing — the theater — was done. After that, no one went into details.

The clocks themselves were manufactured at the Communications Research Institute. But since the Institute had never worked with clocks, they failed to create a reliable mechanism. Inside the puck with an arrow there is cuckoo sits which almost no one has seen either - the clock worked for two or three months and broke.

- The idea to hang the clock on one wall and the toys on the other was wrong. The clock had to be initially made together with them. If the toys were built into the dial each indicating its own hour, it would be spectacular, - Vladimir Safonov thinks.

The boxes for the little animals were removed from the wall for security reasons. Over the years, the supports of the houses to which they were attached, rusted. The columns ended with metal spiers, and one fell directly above the service entrance.

- Thank God, no one was hurt. One spire weighs 7 kg. Therefore, we decided to cut them off during the next facade repairs, - Vladimir Safonov explained.

For more than 30 years, the clock had never worked properly. Although the visiting card of the city – the clock with buffoon - is included in the Puppet Theater complex, they don’t belong to the theater itself. In fact, they have no owner at all.

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- If we take the clock under our care, then the tenants of the building on which they hang will bill us for rent. They are proprietors. In addition, there is no clockmaker on the theater staff, - the director of the cultural institution explained.

The city clockmaker Anatoly Strukov can wind up the clock at the theater. But this requires the will of the city authorities because the specialist cannot work for free.