Simos, Filaertos and Alekos Sikiaridis returned to Athens from a trip to New York back in the early 1930s full of new ideas about show business and the new, ultra-modern palaces of entertainment that were rapidly changing American cities. These ideas – and the brothers’ entrepreneurial spirit – eventually resulted in the Rex venue in downtown Athens, a building hailed as a slice of New York in the Greek capital.
Now, 80 years after its January 22, 1937 inauguration, the Rex is indelibly linked to the country’s entertainment history and is still an active force thanks to the Greek National Theater. Back in the day, the construction of such a large venue raised eyebrows: It had the Rex cinema on the ground floor, the 1,400-seat Kotopouli Theater right above it and, at the basement level, the 700-seat Sineak movie theater.
For architecture duo Vassilis Kassandras and Leonidas Bonis – who had earlier worked together on a huge complex for the military fund on Panepistimiou Street that is now home to the Attica department store, among other businesses – being assigned the Rex project represented a windfall.
The project cost a lot of money for the time and, according to Elizabeth Sikiaridi, an architect who has studied her family’s history extensively, the brothers were able to raise the cash from their textile import-export business in Beirut. She says that their decision to go ahead with the investment was probably also influenced by Spyros Skouras, a Greek who was a major film producer in the United States and was looking for new venues to show films. “The Sikiaridis brothers later turned the Rex cinema over to Skouras,” says the architect.
The Sikiaridis family was known for its innovative ideas (it had founded a co-ed school in Beirut in 1950) and the Rex was something completely new for the Greek capital – even the mere fact that smoking was not allowed inside the theaters was controversial.
The family also established a medical clinic at 5 Feidiou Street at the back of the Rex. “The two buildings have always been joined by an internal door. Even now, the Feidiou building serves as the entrance for the National Theater’s cast and crew,” says Sikiaridi. Back in the day, the clinic was used to test children suspected of having tuberculosis and seeking treatment at a foundation created by the family in the northern suburb of Maroussi.