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CNN Today

Prominent Americans Working to Restore Russian Country Estates

Aired July 24, 2000 - 2:54 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: America's rich and famous often retreat to their summer homes on Martha's Vineyard or the Hamptons. In Russia, the well-heeled escape to the country outside Moscow. But after decades of Soviet neglect, the mansions need repair, and now members of two prominent American families are helping with restorations.

Here's CNN's Steve Harrigan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVE HARRIGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Few tourists ever make it out of Moscow into the Russian countryside, where the once grand estates of the nobility are falling apart. That's something this group of Americans, which includes a Roosevelt and an Eisenhower, is trying to change.

PRISCILLA ROOSEVELT, AMERICAN FRIENDS OF THE RUSSIAN COUNTRY ESTATE: In other countries, some large houses have been used as small hotels or they've been turned into country clubs, conference centers, some things that are perhaps a little bit in the future for Russia, not right now.

HARRIGAN: What you get right now at the home of playwright Anton Chekhov is a song about cherries, a scene from the author of "The Cherry Orchard," and fresh cherries for an entrance fee of less than a dollar.

SUSAN EISENHOWER, AMERICAN FRIENDS OF THE RUSSIAN COUNTRY ESTATE: The needs are great, of course, especially in the area of marketing of the properties, and also saving very specific treasures that may require some financial assistance.

HARRIGAN: Like the theater at Arkhangelskoye. Original sets from the Italian designer Gonzago (ph), now on the list of the world's 100 most endangered historic sites. The group of Americans has raised $200,000 for Russian country estates. The director says he needs 2 million.

VLADIMIR DLUGACH, DIRECTOR, ARKHANGELSKOYE ESTATE (through translator): This place hasn't seen a carpenter, nothing, in 200 years.

HARRIGAN: Writer Leo Tolstoy's house near the city of Tula is in better shape, in part due to the entrepreneurial skills of his great- grandson.

VLADIMIR TOLSTOY, DIRECTOR, LEO TOLSTOY ESTATE (through translator): In the contemporary world, just the name of a great man is not enough of a draw. It has to be marketed, which is a very big job. That's what we do here at Yasnaya Polyana.

HARRIGAN: It's not clear how the author of "War and Peace" would have felt about marketing his name. Tolstoy is buried on the grounds of the estate, per his instructions, in an unmarked grave.

Steve Harrigan, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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