New lease on life for old theater

The city of Drama made a great improvement to the facilities of its Short Film Festival when it handed over the recently refurbished building of the old Olympia Cinema to the organizers. Located near the center of town, the Olympia is now a gem of design which embellishes the urban landscape and, as of this year, is both the main venue for the festival and an example of Drama’s urban architecture in the interwar years. The Olympia operated as a movie theater from the 1930s up until the mid-1980s. It was left to fall into disrepair until 1991 when it was purchased by the Municipality of Drama from the Jewish community of Drama and included in the third Community Support Framework restoration fund. Its restoration was a huge task meticulously done and cost a total of 2.5 million euros. The interior was remodeled to serve as both a cinema and theater, while the exterior was returned to its original 1920s look. The Olympia building was constructed in the ’20s by the then-flourishing Jewish community in Drama. Its architectural style reveals influences of the Vienna school with discreet references to Jugendstil (Austrian art nouveau) and a touch of late Classicism in the facade’s pillars, thus reflecting the close cultural and commercial ties of the Jewish communities in the Balkans with Central Europe. What makes the Olympia building so significant is that it is one of the few reminders left in Macedonia of the boom in urban culture the region experienced during the interwar years. Cities such as Drama, Serres, Kavala and Xanthi went through a period of robust development between 1910-1940, attracting both Greeks and Jews of wealthy backgrounds to their growing commercial centers. The contribution of the Jewish community to the cultural and financial growth of these cities was pivotal, and today, after the destruction of many monuments (private and public buildings, synagogues and cemeteries), very few traces of the Jewish presence are left. Those which have survived doubly carry the weight of history. The Olympia building also stands in stark contrast to the innumerable tasteless buildings which have been erected in modern times and it reflects the course urban redevelopment could take given proper attention. The municipal authorities are now considering turning the Olympia into a much-needed commercial movie theater to complement the existing Asteria Cinema. This move draws attention to the development of cinemas in cities other than Athens and Thessaloniki. The construction of movie theaters – which has already begun to take off especially thanks to the spread of multiplexes – could be the key to further cultural and financial development in many cities. A movie theater with modern facilities and new releases quickly becomes a hub for like-minded cinemagoers who will, in the future, become more involved in the development of their city. Today, the Olympia building symbolizes something greater and more complex than the restoration of an historic building: It reflects the possibilities of real development for many urban areas of Greece.