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Gorky Street Loses Name as Muscovites Reach for Past

July 29, 1990|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Gorky Street, Moscow's main thoroughfare that in pre-revolutionary days was known for its fashionable shops, luxurious hotels and the homes of the wealthiest aristocrats, is being given back its old name, Tverskaya Street.

The decision by the Moscow City Council to restore the street's old name follows similar moves throughout the Soviet Union, as if such changes could return the country to the point where its revolution went wrong.

"Tverskaya Is Back!" the government newspaper Izvestia trumpeted in announcing the decision. Nostalgically, almost rhapsodically, it recalled that "Tverskaya was known for its best houses, hotels and shops before the revolution" until it was rebuilt as "a living classic of socialist realism" under the dictator Josef Stalin.

It was on Tverskaya that the city's first trams ran, the first movie theater opened and the first electric lamps were installed, the newspaper recalled, implying that little good or progressive has happened since. Most of the post-revolutionary buildings are massive, characterless structures reflecting the personalities of those who built them.

The street, once narrow and twisting but now broad and straight--as if that somehow proved the superiority of socialism--was renamed in 1932 for Maxim Gorky, the Russian writer and revolutionary beloved by both Stalin and V. I. Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state.

After coming to power in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the Communist Party decided to mark the break with czarist Russia by renaming towns, streets, factories and other institutions after Communist heroes.

The decision of the Moscow City Council, which has its headquarters on Tverskaya, to restore the name of such a prominent street is an equally symbolic return to national and cultural roots.

In a similar move, the Soviet navy renamed the Riga, one of its most modern aircraft carriers, as the Varyag after a ship from the pre-revolutionary Russian navy whose crew was known for its bravery. Riga is the capital of Latvia, which is seeking independence from the Soviet Union.

Since coming to power five years ago, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev has encouraged this return to the country's old Russian names, as if seeking inspiration for the future from a romantic reach back into the past.

Tverskaya had been so named because it ran up from Red Square toward Tver, an ancient town 160 miles to the north.

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