Moussia 17: San Francisco, 1918

The caption on this picture, dated 1918, reads: “With love – remember – Moussenka”. In 1919, Moussia would use duplicates of this original for publicity in the world of the theatre.

Until now, being in the position of having access to many personal archives and Internet sources, I have been able to tell the the story of Moussia and Vladimir without recourse to invention or supposition. My story simply follows the facts and the chronology and that is what it should do. This should also apply to the three-year period we are about to enter, 1918-1920. However, the personal archives are almost silent about this particular period, apart from a number of intriguing pictures. Apparently, this period was too painful for the two to leave notes or tell others about it.

Many photographs I show belonged to Moussia. I found them on my research path, as if they were  autumn leaves, scattered by the wind in different directions, into  different archives.

Vladimir and Moussia also emerge as characters in books that have been written in the period 1920-2005, but most of those books are inventions and it is very difficult to separate fact from fiction in them. On my part, I am finding new snippets of surprising evidence every day, by patiently consulting many sources on the Internet, including some in Russia.

Against this confusing background, I shall first present a series of  facts, many of which seem, at first sight, to be  in conflict with each other but of course they are not. Facts are facts. Moussia and Vladimir are not there anymore to help us, so we will have to make do with what we have. Hereafter, we are going to try to find a coherent pattern in what we know. Yes, we, because I hope that you, my readers, will put on your thinking caps.

As I continue my research, I have my thinking cap on all the time and I have come to the conclusion that:

We can only make sense of what happened to our protagonists if we see them against the entire historical backcloth: The two Revolutions of 1917,  the flight of Kerensky from Russia in May/June 1918 and his political and personal behaviour  during his first few years in Paris and London; the murder of the Czar and his family on 17 July 1918; and the Civil War between the Reds and the Whites, 1918-1921. All these developments played a role in the decisions and movements of Vladimir and Moussia. It has become clear to me that at the beginning of  that period, both saw their absence from Russia as a temporary one.  In 1918 and still in 1919, they hoped and believed they would be back in their home country very soon.

During the First World War, the United States Government  held various draft registrations. The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second was held was held from 5 June 1918 onwards, to register those who attained the age of 21 after 5 June 1917 and those who had entered the country since then. Supplemental registrations were held  in August and September, when the age range was widened to 18-45 years. Vladimir was registered on 11 June, 1918 and his draft card offers some very interesting facts ( I have not been able to get a clearer image):


What do we learn? On 11 June 1918, Vladimir and his wife lived at the posh Stanford Court Apartments in San Francisco. His profession is ‘Engineer’ and his work address is 160, Spear Street. He gets exemption from the draft, no doubt because he is an “Alien”.

The Stanford Court Apartments House as it was in 1918 (the picture taken in the 1960s?). In recent years, the building has been refurbished and converted into a hotel.

In the period 27 August – 29 November 1918, the Acting Consul George Romanovsky, often seen in the company of Moussia and Vladimir earlier that year, is frequently visited by an FBI agent, E.B. Oulashin. I have found eight of his visiting reports, now declassified. It is clear from these reports that at that time, Romanovsky was an informant of the FBI, keeping an eye on Bolshevik infiltrators in the San Francisco scene, including trade unions (I shall return to these reports in future articles). The FBI agent does not trust him and suspects he will change allegiance very easily if and when required.

In his report on a visit to Romanovsky on 16 November 1918, he writes: “Subject is quite like a barometer, showing when his chances as Consul are rising and falling. For instance, after a visit of of Prince Lvov here, he locked himself in a private room and became very exclusive towards visitors.” To my utter amazement and, I am sure, yours also, he continues in the very next paragraph with:

“I have found that Romanovsky was a partner in business with a Russian engineer, Baranovsky, 160 Spear Street. One Aivajogula was another partner in that business, which is a garage and taxicab business. I went to this place, but found out that Baranovsky had sold it out and gone East about two weeks ago. Now the attitude of the Russian Consul is clearer than before. He is telling everybody that there is no use trying to do any business with Russia now, as all economical aid will be a matter for the action of the United States Government. It is altogether probable that when Baranovsky went East he had gotten information through Romanovsky and is trying to get into some Russian American Commission.”

Garage and taxicab business? Already in June 1918, at the time of the draft card? What was the need for that, at that early stage when Vladimir lived in luxury? Maybe this firm was a front? Would he have created it to employ the men who accompanied him on his trip to the United States, supposing that there is truth in the Honolulu Star-Tribune’s report of 26 December 1917 (see Article 15) that he had servants with him? Gone East? Russian-American Commission?

At that time, the Russian Ambassador in Washington was Boris Bakhmeteff, appointed by Kerensky and still recognized  as such by the American Government. Boris was  nine years older than Vladimir, both were civil engineers from the prestigious St. Petersburg School of Civil Engineering and Transportatation. He had been in the United States before, studying hydraulics, becoming a professor at his alma mater thereafter,  and must have been Vladimir’s teacher in the subjects of theoretical mechanics and general and advanced hydraulics. In 1915-1916, Boris had served as Chief Plenipotentiary of the Central War Industrial Committee to the United States. After the March 1917 Revolution, he became Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade of the Provisional Government. In April 1917, he was appointed head of the Extraordinary Russian Commission and  Russian Ambassador to the United States, representing Kerensky’s Government. He had arrived in the United States in June 1917. After 1922, when the United States no longer recognised his position, he became a professor at Columbia University and a very famous one indeed in his field. I remember that I saw his name in my text books on Advanced Hydraulics when I was a civil engineering student. What an extraordinary coincidence between three civil engineers! For further information I refer you to my source on .

In the near future, I will certainly contact the Columbia Archives  which he initiated.

Vladimir may have made a business trip going East in November 1918, but he did not leave San Francisco for good. Before the end of that year, he and Moussia had moved into a two-storey appartment house at 2600, Vallejo Street, on Russian Hill in San Francisco. At the same time, at the same address but on the other floor, another couple moved in, Michal and Ariadna Roumanov. They had arrived in San Francisco in June 1918,  from  Russia via Tokyo. In the meantime, Moussia had started to spend time in her former profession, that of  actress, see the picture above.

Thus, the scene is now set for going into 1919.

2600 Vallejo Street, Russian Hill, San Francisco

From the 1918/19 Crocker-Langley Address Directory of San Francisco

(to be continued)

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