One of the four majestic mansions that Heinrich Schliemann built on Panepistimiou street, in the heart of Athens, in the late 19th century, is set to undergo a 36 million euro renovation to convert it into a luxury hotel. However, some people are concerned about the historic movie theater housed in the same building.
Designed by acclaimed German architect Ernst Ziller, one of the most prominent representatives of Greek neoclassical architecture, the emblematic building of 7.115 sq.m. was leased by the Greek state to Mitsis Hotels for 35 years with a possible ten year extension, the company confirmed on Friday.
The mansion comprises a ground floor and mezzanine, plus four storeys above ground level, as well as a later building in its patio which houses the 829 sq.m. historical Ideal movie theater.
Preservation of the historical movie theatre in downtown Athens
Despite the promising renovation plans for the Schliemann-Mela mansion, as it is known, campaigners have raised concerns over the preservation of Ideal movie theatre, which is housed in the building that the hotel chain has been leasing from the Greek state.
They argue that the historical movie theatre, founded in 1921 and maintained to the highest standards, should continue its operation as one of the last strongholds for cinema culture in the heart of Athens.
A plea by the unions of Greek film producers and directors to the Ministry of Culture and Sports for the preservation of the use of the venue as a movie theatre was turned down. The Ministry responded that the venue is not listed as a monument or building of historical importance, and sent the case dossier to the Ministry of Energy and Environment to decide instead.
Hotel chain promises to expand the use of Cinema
In a statement issued of Friday, Mitsis Hotels promised that the company would expand the use of the cinema, combining it “with that of a theatre and conference center ” and revealed that its operation would be assigned “to an international company in the field of entertainment, which will increase both its aesthetics and infrastructure as well as its visibility.”
Hence, campaigners who were initially skeptical about the lack of guarantees for the preservation of Ideal specifically as a movie theater, are now also worried about the prospect of an international company, known for promoting independent filmmakers, taking over the screening venue.
Petition to preserve historic movie theatres in downtown Athens
Aside from Ideal, campaigners are also calling for the rescue of two other historic cinemas on Panepistimiou Street in Athens, Astor and Irida, which are also housed in buildings that belong to the Greek state, and could be soon auctioned off for lease like the Schiemann-Mela mansion.
An online petition calls for the characterization of the use of the buildings as preserved – a request which is in line with a January report from the Ministry of Energy and Environment.
Free screenings were scheduled for Sunday, April 2, from 6 p.m. local time, inside and outside the three movie theatres, in an effort to raise awareness on their rescue and make the case about cinema culture in the Greek capital.