Art Deco Gem in Athens Faces Demolition

The Associated Press
Thursday, August 2, 2007; 5:05 AM

ATHENS, Greece -- A reflection of the Parthenon shimmers from the windows of Greece's new Acropolis Museum in a convergence of antiquity and modern architecture.

But from inside the glass and concrete museum, the view of the Parthenon is ruined by two buildings, and a plan to demolish them has opened a fierce debate about sacrificing Greece's modern treasures to showcase its ancient history.

One of the two buildings is 1930s Art Deco gem designated a monument in its own right. The other is owned by Oscar-winning composer Vangelis Papathanassiou of "Chariots of Fire" fame.

With its pink marbled exterior, the Art Deco building is the most eye-catching along the leafy road leading to the Acropolis entrance. A mosaic of Oedipus and the Sphinx adorn the top story, and marble statues of women in traditional dress flank the wrought iron door.

But a visitor looking out from the new museum _ scheduled to open in early 2008 _ would see only the rear of the two buildings _ plain and charmless facades.

Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis announced in May that the two buildings would be torn down. Two months later, Greece's archaeological council voted to revoke the Art Deco structure's protection from demolition and its status as a monument.

Residents and architects were outraged. They have started an Internet campaign to save both buildings and have received e-mails of support from around the world.

"Let's be more open-minded. Greece is not just antiquities," said architect Nikos Rousseas, whose office is on the ground floor of the Art Deco building.

The new museum "is not the one to judge what part of history is important and what is not," he said. "We can't do things like that at the expense of other monuments and works of art."

Defenders of the two buildings _ No. 17 and No. 19 Dionyssiou Areopagitou St. _ are urging Voulgarakis not to sign the archaeological council's recommendation to demolish them. Rousseas has posted information on the Art Deco building outside its front door, along with an appeal to visitors to help by writing to the culture minister.

The Culture Ministry said it would comment later on the controversy.

The Art Deco building, No. 17, was built by Vassilis Kouremenos, a graduate of Paris' Ecole des Beaux Arts and reportedly a friend of Pablo Picasso.

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