Historic Columbia unit listed

The recent news that the historic Columbia Records pressing and recording facility, which has remained defunct for nearly two decades, was officially placed on the country’s heritage list pleasantly surprised music fans who have remained dedicated to old-school popular Greek music and its extensive history. The decision, reached last week by the Modern-Era Monuments Council, a division of the Culture Ministry, essentially paves the way for the establishment of a museum focused on Greek discography, as has been the wish of Makis Matsas, son of the late recording industry executive Minos Matsas. The prospective museum is expected to feature an extensive archive of Greek music history from the previous century, while showcasing legendary figures such as Markos Vamvakaris, Vassilis Tsitsanis, Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis, Stavros Xarhakos, Poly Panou and Stelios Kazantzidis. The council’s decision to preserve the historic music facility applies to the oldest of the facility’s eight buildings on 1.25 hectares of land. The rest, all built after 1950, will be demolished. Besides the one building – which measures 1,000 square meters – to be preserved, the old facility’s entrance gate was also listed. The plot’s ownership is equally divided between the local municipality and Makis Matsas, who purchased his 50 percent share several years ago. Construction of the Columbia facility got under way in 1929. It began operating a year later and remained active until 1990, when it was finally shut down. The building itself actually lacks architectural significance but carries immense musical history. The records of generations of legendary artists were recorded and pressed here. For years, Makis Matsas had campaigned for the old facility’s preservation, while also submitting an official request to the state for wider utilization of its remains. The late founder’s son envisages a multi-complex facility including concert and drama halls. In its decision, the Modern-Era Monuments Council specifies that any future utilization of the old facility must be relevant to its past. In more recent years, frustration had built up amid aficionados of older popular Greek music over the abandoned building’s unclear future and its deteriorating condition. «Just a couple of ruined vinyl record presses remain today. The machines were sold by the [label’s] English [executives] in 1990, when Columbia was shut down,» said Makis Matsas. Around this time, the CD format made its dynamic entry into the phonographic market to essentially render the old analog format obsolete. Production of vinyl records, however, has not died out completely. In some countries, production has been sustained at modest levels. Makis Matsas said that priceless archives of the old facility, such as original master tapes of recordings, had been put aside and were being preserved. The facility’s arrival early last century enabled domestic pressings of vinyl records. Prior to that, recordings of Greek artists were pressed abroad. Columbia’s Studio 3 ranks as one of the country’s most prolific along with Polysound, run by Yiannis Smyrnaiou. Columbia was a vertically integrated production facility. Besides recordings and pressings, other activities that took place at the unit included printing album covers, developing film, and packaging. The building’s preservation rates as absolutely essential for historical reasons. But political interest is necessary to ensure the project’s realization. Until now, Alekos Alavanos, leader of the Coalition of the Left party, was the only party chief to have publicly expressed interest in the issue.

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