Art Deco Gem Victim of Acropolis Museum

The Associated Press
Thursday, September 13, 2007; 8:30 PM

ATHENS, Greece -- Greece's culture minister has angered architects and conservationists by clearing the way for the demolition of a landmark art deco building to improve the view from the new Acropolis museum.

George Voulgarakis revoked his ministry's protection of the 1930s building, saying that tearing it down would "allow an unimpeded view of the Acropolis" from the new museum. He also argued that excavating the site could "reveal antiquities whose existence is considered highly likely."

The building's defenders have launched an international e-mail campaign to save it, accusing the government of sacrificing Greece's modern treasures to showcase its ancient history. Residents vowed to challenge Wednesday's decision in court.

"You have hundreds of people both in Greece and all over the world who ... appreciate the coexistence of early 20th century architecture and this urban environment opposite the rock of the Acropolis and the Parthenon," said architect Nikos Rousseas, whose office is in the building.

The four-story building, with its pink marbled facade, stands about 300 yards from the Acropolis on a carefully landscaped pedestrian street facing the ancient citadel's southern slopes. A mosaic of Oedipus and the Sphinx adorn the top story, and marble statues of women in traditional dress flank the wrought-iron door. It was designed by Greek architect Vassilis Kouremenos, a Paris-trained friend of Pablo Picasso.

Rousseas argued the art deco building serves as a link between the ancient and modern, softening the impact of the large glass and concrete museum. "The mere existence of this building screens off the otherwise huge, monumental volume of the 21st century museum," he said.

A neighboring building is also set to be demolished. It's owned by composer Vangelis Papathanassiou, who won an Academy Award for creating the score for "Chariots of Fire."

The dispute over the two structures is overshadowing the opening of the $179 million Acropolis museum, planned for early 2008 after a delay of more than two decades.

Greece hopes the new museum will eventually display the Elgin Marbles _ a collection of sculptures removed from the Parthenon in the early 19th century and currently housed in London's British Museum. The British Museum has refused Greece's request to return the sculptures, but a space awaits them in a gallery on the top floor of the new museum.

Greece's Ministry of Public Works must still remove the buildings from its own list of protected structures, although it was unlikely to refuse after the Culture Ministry's decision.

But residents have not given up hope.

"We are certain that, with broad popular support and the verdict of our justice system, (the art deco building) will continue to embellish our city for many years to come," residents said in a statement on a blog devoted to the building's salvation.

© 2007 The Associated Press