Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Northwest Living Taste Now & Then

Russian Refuge
Werner Leggenhager took his photograph of the Moscow Restaurant at 763 Lakeview Blvd. E. in the mid-1950s. He looked west from the boulevard. For reasons of safety (mine), I photographed the contemporary view looking east across Eastlake Avenue toward the freeway overpass that replaced much of Lakeview Boulevard and destroyed the restaurant.

FOR MORE THAN 35 years the Moscow Restaurant was a fixture for the Russian-American community that settled in the Cascade and Eastlake corridor on the western slope of Capitol Hill. In 1923 it opened to the aromas of borsht, beef stroganoff, jellied pigs' feet, Turkish coffee and Russian pancakes.

In 1923 and 1924 a tide of White Russians who had fought the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Russian revolution landed on the West Coast of the United States. Among them was Prince Riza Kuli Mirza, who painted a fresco of a Russian winter on a wall in the restaurant. Jacob Elshin, another soldier artist connected with the Imperial Russian Guard, designed the fanciful exterior as a candy house from a popular Russian fairy tale.

Elshin soon opened a studio by producing hand-painted greeting cards, stage scenery, religious icons and an occasional oil painting.

In the late 1930s while Elshin was painting murals commissioned by the Works Progress Administration for libraries in Renton and the University District, the original owners of the restaurant sold it to Nicholas and Marie Gorn. In 1958 Seattle Times columnist John Reddin visited the restaurant to share in the Gorns' plight: the coming Seattle freeway.

Nicholas Gorn asked, "How can we ever replace this atmosphere which is so vital to our business?" Of course, they could not. By the time Gorn and Elshin lost their candy house to the freeway, the artist was one of the better-known painters in Seattle.

Note: The restored murals that Jacob Elshin painted for West Seattle High School are on exhibit at the Museum of History & Industry. Then they will be reinstalled at the school.

Paul Dorpat's two-hour videotape on Seattle's early history, "Seattle Chronicle," is $29.95 from Tartu Publications, P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145.

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