The series of descriptions of historic buildings in Moscow owned by HSE concludes with this account of what was once School Number 135 in Maly Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok. This was considered an exemplary institution, and the finest teachers in the region taught there. Of course, the schoolchildren’s behavior was not always exemplary – and one incident even forced the Headmaster to resign.
Number 4 is near Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok. The word ‘Gnezdniki’ means nothing today to the average person on the street, and academics have not got to the bottom of what it means and where it came from. The vast Gnezdnikov settlement was located near the walls of the White city, and has been known about since the 16th century. Its residents made arrows, which is where it takes its name from, as a certain number of arrows were referred to as a ‘gnezdo’ or ‘nest’. Today, historians believe this was the origin of the word ‘gnezdniki’.
Each settlement had its own church, and this one was dedicated to the Annunciation of Our Lady, and had two chapels – Dmitry Solunsky and Nikolai Chudotvorets. Over time, Muscovites started to call it Nikolai Chudotvorets in Gnezdniki. The church was situated on the corner of what are now the Bolshoi and Maly Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok, where building number 4 is located.
The first mentions of a, possibly wooden, church date back to 1625. In 1627, it was re-built in stone. A century later, the building had fallen into disrepair, and the church needed to be re-built. A bell-tower was built on the old stone walls, with the church alongside.The new church was an outstanding example of Moscow Baroque: it had one dome, was built to an octagon-quadrangle design, and was richly decorated. In the mid 18th century, the stone refectory was added.
The church was unharmed in the fire of 1812, but the French looted it. After they retreated from the city, the church was re-consecrated.
In the first third of the 19th century, a clergy house appeared near the church, and that is all that has survived to today. By that point, the craftsmen had long abandoned the area, and Moscow gentry had populated these alleys – stone buildings replacing wooden ones.
Technical advancement also had an impact – in 1902 the city government considered the first draft project for a metro system. Several proposals were made, including those submitted by E. K. Knorre and P. I. Balinsky, which involved demolishing numerous listed buildings – both churches and public buildings, including the churches of Nikolai in Gnezdniki. The project was not approved, and was another 33 years before a metro system was built in Moscow.
Another modern development, photography, had a quite different purpose – conservation. In the early 20th century, photographic city views of Moscow, in particular in panorama, were all the rage. The first tall building, the Nirnsee Building, Bolshoi Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok, was a stone’s throw from the church, and was inevitably a draw for photographers. Photographs taken from this building give us a valuable historical view of the city as it was in the early 20th century. One shows the Gnezdniki area and the church of St. Nikolai Chudotvorets (miracle-worker).
In 1930 the 18th century church, bell tower, refectory and other church buildings were destroyed. By a miracle, the clergy house on Leontiev Pereulok was preserved.
In the 1930s, Moscow was in desperate need of new schools. For the first time, a uniform syllabus was created – for the entire learning process, and new schools were also built. From 1932, schools were built across the country to a new standardized design, of 2-4 floors, catering to 280, 400, and 800 pupils, in line with demand. During the pre-war five-year-plan in Moscow, a record number of educational establishments were built: 390.
One of the best architects responsible for these standardized designs was Konstantin Ivanovich Dzhus. He was tasked with not only ensuring the building is as comfortable as possible, but also at minimum expense. He found an ideal solution, focusing on the inverted U shape (shaped like the Russian letter P), actively using the ends of the building, with two side entrances. Until 1940, this was the main approach taken to school architecture.
In the mid 1930s, construction work began on a new school, built to this standardized design, on the corner of Maly and Bolshoi Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok, where the church had stood. Construction work was completed in 1940.
The compact, four-floor building resembled an inverted letter L (the Russian letter G), with two lines at each end. The two projections, with two potential entrances, were on two separate streets: Bolshoi Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok and Leontievskiy Pereulok, but the Leontievskiy Pereulok entrance was the less important of the two.
The school’s main distinctive feature is the molding on the upper part of the projections’ smooth surface. Executed in the style of an open book lying on two crossed sickles and framed with ears of corn. This element is reminiscent of the national emblem, but here it is not a state emblem, but a school emblem, designed to demonstrate the importance of what takes place within those walls.
The building’s interior, with its high ceilings, large classrooms and airy corridors benefiting from extensive natural lighting, was more than suited to its function. The school also boasted three specialized lab rooms, for physics, chemistry and biology. The school canteen was on the second floor, along with a sports hall and assembly hall. One of the classrooms housed a library. The only thing missing was a workshop for labor lessons. The first floor, with walls covered in pictures from Russian folk tales, and Pushkin’s stories, (Golden Cockerel, Golden Fish, Kolobok etc), was where the first years studied. Senior classes mainly used the fourth floor, where the halls were decorated with plaster casts of ancient statues, such as ‘boy extracting a thorn’, and a bust of Voltaire.
The two staircases remain in their original condition, situated in the projections. The floor is, as was common in school buildings of the 1930s-1940s, executed in mosaic comprising clean geometric forms made of shards of granite, placed into a concrete mixture, and painted. The staircases, like the halls, were decorated with sculptures. In the corners stood plaster cast busts of Roman warriors and philosophers.
In 1945, Boris Sukhodrev, a legendary Soviet figure, enrolled in the school, entering year five. He had moved with his parents from London, where they worked in the Soviet Embassy. For about 40 years he was the personal interpreter for the heads of state – Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1999, Sukhodrev published the book ‘My Language, My Friend’ in which he shared his recollections of childhood – including of the time he spent at School Number 135. ‘For purely practical, regional reasons, the nearest school was 135 boys’ middle school on Maly Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok. That is where my mum took me. The first thing that struck me about the Moscow school was the strict instruction to shave our heads. A complete buzz cut. That was routine in boys’ schools in those years and I took it badly. I protested, saying that I won’t go to school at all, but eventually realized the pointlessness of that protest’ and all my hair was shaved off triumphantly at the prestigious hairdresser’s in the National hotel.’
During the war, boy’s heads were shaved to reduce the risk of lice and typhus spreading. His classmates remember that Sukhodrev was absent from class for the first few weeks after enrolling, as he was hoping to find a school that wouldn’t make him shave his head. He failed – and returned to class.
Before 1917, the school was split into boys’ and girls’ sections. The Soviet Union immediately did away with that principle, arguing that there should be equality between the sexes. With the start of the war (Great Patriotic War, Second World War), this changed. First the decision was made that sexual equality had been achieved over the Soviet Union’s 25 years of existence, and second that there was now the need to introduce special military education for boys.
From September 1, 1943, schools across the country, where possible – i.e. in major cities – introduced gender segregation. The Maly Gnezdnikovsky Pereulok school became a boys’ school. Under order of the People’s Commisariat for Enlightenment, the directors of the boys and girls schools had to be male and female, respectively.
After the war, under Stalin, the problem of segregated education was again on the agenda. Financial and economic difficulties meant that it was no longer viable to have separate schooling everywhere, and it had also failed to live up to expectations. So, from September 1, 1954, joint schooling was re-adopted nationwide.
From 1943 to 1954, School Number 135 was for boys only. It’s first director was Fedor Fedorovich Roshchin. Thanks to his efforts, the school achieved the status of a model school immediately. He worked to find highly qualified teaching staff, many of whom were regional resource specialists. As 1953 graduate, and academic at the Metrology Academy Yury Bregadze recalls ‘we came to a school that was like a palace. And that is down to its director, Fedor Roshchin. For us, children of the early war years, who hadn’t seen much beautiful in life, simply being in a building where each floor had antique statues and exotic plants, was a real shock. All the furniture was new. The physics, chemistry and biology labs had all the necessary equipment. The teachers were not only highly qualified, they were excellent educators.’
The first graduates of the school remember the war veteran, wounded in one leg, Vikror Yakovlevich Sherapov, with gratitude. He taught Russian literature and language. As Yury Bregadze recalled: ‘I remember how Viktor Yakovlevich was trying to explain the difference to us between a real book and light reading. We so liked that word, that we used it as his nickname. He taught us to read poems in a calm voice, without bellowing. Discussing the question, about why there has not yet been any definitive novel about the Second World War. Viktor Yakovlevich said that it was not yet time, giving the example of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Piece, which was written decades after the 1812-1814 war. He also recommended we read Viktor Nekrasov’s ‘In the Trenches of Stalingrad’.
Viktor Yakovlevich also organized drama and theatrical activities, under him the schoolchildren put on plays by Gogol, Gorky, and Chekhov. Girls from the neighboring School Number 100 were invited to play female parts. Theatrical concerts and dances were held to celebrate holidays. Boys were taught ballroom dancing.
Mathematics teacher Petr Nikolaevich Smaragdov was an excellent educator. The writer Leonid Volkov, who graduated from School Number 135 just after the Second World War recalled: ‘Mathematics teacher Petr Nikolaevich Smaragdov was unique. He never shouted, was calm and polite… and ruthless.’ In Soviet schools, getting bad marks or being excluded from school was not acceptable, and neither influential parents nor the school management had any influence over a polite teacher. Those who failed at math were doomed. This ruthless teacher, who had all the mannerisms of a lowly servant, set us a task one day. It was related to the recent elections. Using the same, mathematical, intonation, Petr Nikolayevich named several numbers, and the crude falsification was suddenly apparent to all of us – now skilled in math. Who could have expected that from a strict teacher like him? But more interestingly, no one reported him, no matter how offended they were. And that was something you could be tried under the 58th for. No surprise then, that at the leavers’ prom – Petr Nikolaevich Smaradgov was the most popular teacher.
One of those ‘doomed’ due to their inability at math was Boris Bryansky, who was excluded from the school by P. N. Smaragdov. After continuing his studies in a school for young workers, B.A. Bryansky became a poet and songwriter, whose songs proved hugely successful as sung by famous Soviet singers – Utesov, Shulzhenko, Kristalinskaya, Pyekha, Ots and others.
The Dudinkovs were outstanding teachers. Georgy Semenovich taught physics, Vera Mikhailovna – biology. They were real enthusiasts, who gathered a group of boys and organized interesting and educational activities for them. It was thanks to them, and with their active involvement, that the students planted a garden around the school. And the building’s basement (a former bomb shelter), was where Georgy Semenovich had his workshop. If a student did well at his subject, physics, then Dudnikov let him work on the various projects that were underway in that basement, instead of attending regular classes. The children built models of excavators and hydro-electric power plants based on the Kyubishev HPP. There could be half a class of them, with just the slower kids left in regular lessons, who benefited from what was virtually one-on-one teaching.
This basement, that was so inspirational for so many, became the scene of a tragedy. In 1950, two older pupils found a fuse and brought it into school. After classes were over, and the teachers and director had left, they went down into the basement workshop and tried to take it apart. There was an explosion. One boy had his hand ripped off, and fragments lodged in the other’s spine. Roshchin was dismissed, but the students were not punished, they both went on to graduate from the school.
There were also humorous antics at the school – the best way to interrupt a test was to throw all the ink-wells out of the window. The building’s façade would be covered in ink, the parents would be called in, but the test would not go ahead.
In 1950 a group of students in class 8B decided to publish their own journal, which was edited and designed by Evgeny Dudnikov. It was called Begemot (Hippapotamus), was written by hand, and contained articles on topical issues as well as numerous caricatures and illustrations. It was distributed in secret, but was once discovered by 8B’s class head Fetinya Alexeevna Pukhova, who confiscated it. Perhaps it was thanks to this that the offending edition survives to this day, which was handed back to the former students years later.
One of the first editions featured the literary figure, poet, translator and Samizdat writer, member of the Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights in the USSR Anatoly Alexandrovich Yakobson. Professor of Physics and Mathematics, Mikhail Vladimirovich Fok graduated from the senior years at School Number 135.
By the late 1970s, that part of Moscow had changed considerably – as had its residents. Many of those who had lived in communal flats had been resettled, and many of the buildings were re-designated for administrative and government purposes. The number of school-age children resident there dwindled, and in 1979 the decision was taken to close School Number 135, and instead use the building for courses offered by the State Film Committee, which was located nearby, at Maly Gnezdnikovsky 7. They were then replaced by economic studies run by the USSR’s State Planning Committee, which existed there until 1994, when the building was handed over to HSE.
The news site editors would like to thank the following graduates of School Number 135 for their help providing photographs, sharing their memories and developing this content:
Yury Tsekhansky (engineer, chemical-process engineer, chief engineer at the Chemical Industry Ministry’s installation and start-up complex, has prepared over 30 chemical enterprises for launch in Russia, Europe and the United States);
Valery Shumilov (employee at the Communications Research Institute, Colonel in the KGB (Retired);
Yury Bregadze (Honored academic of the Russian Federation, Professor, Doctor of Engineering Sciences, Member of the Metrology Academy, for many years headed the Department for the Measurement of Ionizing Radiation, he oversaw the creation of a series of standards to measure radiation dosage; in 1968 he took part in the clean-up operation following the accident at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, headed the Operational Group for State Committee for Standardization and Metrology at the Government Commission, awarded the Order of Courage);
Henry Norman (Professor at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Department Head at the Joint Institute for High Temperatures at the Russian Academy of Sciences, one of the founders of mathematical modeling in physics, and co-author, with A.A. Yakobson, of their recollections of School Number 135:http://www.antho.net/library/yacobson/about/henry-norman-foreword.html);
Yury Bryansky (Doctor of Engineering Sciences, Professor, author of several books about mechanical engineering);
Viktor Klarov (before the 1990s, headed the trade advertisement bureau at Moscow City Executive Committee, responsible for the comprehensive design of all retail outlets across Moscow and the placement of street advertising.)
Centre for Health Policy, Banking Institute, Graduate School of Management, Institute of Professional Education and Retraining.