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Komarovo: Northern Tsarskoye Selo for St. Petersburg
December 2, 2014 00:56


Unlike the neighboring Repino and Solnechnoe bursting with animation, their trendy discos, luxurious restaurants, rapid cottage construction, Komarovo seems to be quiet and old-fashioned: wooden houses with verandas prevail, no Amazons or playboys on snowmobiles. This area is famous in another way: Komarovo is a kind of northern Tsarskoye Selo for St. Petersburg.

The nearest Finland began to become a fashionable summer resort place in 1870, after the construction of the railway to Vyborg. Speaking by the words of Osip Mandelstam, “prerevolutionary Petersburg breathed Finland, from Vladimir Solovyev to Blok, sprinkling its sand on its hands and rubbing its granite forehead with light Finnish snow, in their severe delirium hearing the bells of small Finnish horses”. Terijoki (Zelenogorsk), Kuokkala (Repino), Ollila (Solnechnoe), Rayvola (Roshchino) were inhabited by the capital professors, writers and other representatives of “free professions”. Kellomäki (“bell mountain” in Finnish), the modern Komarovo, emerged only in 1901 with the opening of the train platform of the same name. The place became popular very quickly, and 10,000 locals and  residents of St. Petersburg lived here on their vacations in 800 cottages in the summer season in 1914.

Once Finland became independent in 1918, Kuokkala grew empty. 200 cottages were disassembled and transported to Järvenpää near Helsinki, the population decreased by 7 times in 1940. Since 1944 the village once again and for all became a Russian territory.

By this time the Stalin system of the state apparatus began to resemble a pre-revolutionary Russian system, Lenin's idea of social equality was forgotten. The privileged professional groups included scientists and artists with high status: academicians, winners of Stalin Prize in literature and art. The set of preferences they received for unquestioning loyalty and service, beyond the huge salaries in the poor country, fees, one-time payments, included cars like “ZIS” or “Pobeda” with drivers, vouchers to Sochi sanatoriums, free “Stalin” apartments in “specialists’ houses” and finally, cottages in high-status villages.

The land plots ranging from 0.5 to 1 ha in size, “Finnish standard houses” with electricity, water and drainage systems, landscaping at the expense of Treasury. The plumbing was exported from Germany, the houses - from Finland in compensation for reparations. New Academic village was named in honor of the recently deceased president of the academy, the botanist Vladimir Komarov.

The cottages of academicians are located along Kurortnaya Street over the cliff over the sea. Not far from this place the Creative Houses were build – special hotels with boarding for actors, writers, composers; a few kilometers away from here, at the station of Repino – the ones for filmmakers, architects and journalists. The staff cottages of the officials of the Leningrad Executive Committee and the House of the Old Bolsheviks, the cottages of Nikolai Cherkasov, Dmitri Shostakovich, Joseph Heifitz , Vera Ketlinskaya, Yuri German fit into the overall context of the caste.

The owners of Komarovo cottages lived brightly in 1950s, like the heroes of the films of that time by Grigoriy Aleksandrov and Ivan Pyryev. The drivers delivered cans of crabs and caviar from “Eliseevsky” store, game and Armenian cognacs, Georgian wines, merengues and eclairs from “Sever”. The house-maids served dinners with many courses to the garden tables. Neighbors visited each other every day, on birthdays, Soviet holidays, premieres of plays, advance copies of novels. They made barbecue, grew roses, played charades, staged amateurs’ performances, entertained themselves with Finnish sleigh in winter and bicycles in summer (all sleighs and bicycles were well-made, trophy ones). But even then, especially after the death of Stalin, the signs of future withering were perceived in Komarovo civilization. The party officials enjoyed their staff cottages: in case of transfer to Moscow or to remote places, as well as in case of arrest (commonplace for Leningrad then) – the cottage and the apartment were transferred to another official: from the promotion reserve.

The academic cottages were given to private property: their owners, mainly old people, left them to their widows and children. The postwar elite began to die, the heirs inherited cottages, but not the status. The offsprings of academicians were an integral part of the Leningrad “golden youth”: hep cats, car enthusiasts, fans of mountain skiing and the restaurant “Vostochnyi”, winter swimming, ballet dancers and models.

Athenian nights were organized in cottages, feasts replaced work; sinecures inherited from parents did not require everyday service. Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong sounded from “Grundigs”, Komarovo became a local Cape Code. The hierarchy of values changed.  It turned out that the main people in the village were not union secretaries, not aging specialists in Lenin's role in the development of Soviet literature.

Anna Akhmatova, Nathan Altman, Evgenii Schwartz lived on the far end of the village, on the other side of the railroad tracks. The list of people renting cottages here included Joseph Brodsky, the young stars of Leningrad prose, rising stars of theatre and ballet. After the death of Anna Akhmatova and her burial at the local cemetery the new hierarchy of values has become particularly clear. New “Literary Catwalk” appeared near the poet persecuted during her life, where the eternal victims lay  side by side with those who earned their cottages and cars by control and harassment.

The population of Kurortnaya Street inevitably changed; the time came when money and connections became more important than academic titles. Cherry Orchard acquired new owners, as lovely and meaningless as Ranevskaiy and Gaev. The cottages grew shabby, the number of celebrities decreased. Meanwhile, the new Lopakhins didn’t hurry to replace the descendants of Stalin aristocracy: the acquisition of land in the academic village was still difficult, cottages had to be bought for money.

But the reputation of Komarovo based on its past glory still had a magnetic effect. Especially because it still hosted the residences of the governor and the metropolitan, the cottage of the Nobel Prize winner Zhores Alferov. The charm of the past glory, the air saturated with fir-tree needles and nostalgia will attract money and a new aristocracy to this village. Everything will resume its natural course.

The Decree of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR “On the construction of cottages for the members of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR” was issued on October 14, 1945.  The decree ordered to build 25 cottages near Leningrad to “transfer them to personal property of the full members of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR free of charge”.


Author: Anna Dorozhkina

Tags: Komarovo St. Petersburg parks    

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