Historic villa goes under the hammer

THESSALONIKI – A listed building that was closely identified with Thessaloniki’s term as Cultural Capital of Europe in 1997 is on sale for 3.5 million euros, seven years after Greece paid to refurbish it. But other listed mansions from the golden age of architecture between the two world wars have not been as lucky as the Ahmet Kapatzi villa, which is owned by the Greek Red Cross. Most of them are crumbling to the ground. Despite calls from the authorities to save the neoclassical buildings along Vassilissis Olgas Avenue and the Egnatia Highway, it seems there is no money for repairs, nor is there any likelihood that these buildings can be included in the 2007-2013 development programs. The Greek Red Cross put the Ahmet Kapatzi villa up for sale because the building cost too much to maintain. Local residents, however, are up in arms. Early this month, Agapios Sahinis, who heads the local municipal group «Thessaloniki Now,» occupied the building and urged parliamentary deputies, the culture minister and the prefect of Thessaloniki to stop the sale. Sahinis also wrote to the mayor to ask for an emergency session of the municipal council to decide on the expropriation of the building, claiming the Red Cross had «no moral right to sell a building granted to it by the Greek state.» Andreas Martinis, the director of the Greek Red Cross, reserved comment pending a visit to Thessaloniki scheduled for this week, but according to sources he has asked for the resignations of the Thessaloniki branch board members because they had not made him aware of the building’s importance. The old Kapatzi villa was built in the early 20th century in the Kamidye («Towers») district and granted to the Red Cross in 1967. It has housed the nursing college (1939), the Red Cross health mission (1947-54), NATO services (1954-73) and then Red Cross services. The Environment and Public Works Ministry undertook to repair earthquake damage to the building, which was to house the Cultural Capital of Europe Organization in 1997. At the moment, the Thessaloniki Town Planning Organization is renting it for 8,500 euros a month. The sale of the building is in its final phase as bids are due by July 21. This villa has Art Nouveau, neo-Gothic and neo-Arab influences. Other unique architectural treasures on Vassilissis Olgas include the renovated buildings of the Villa Bianca, the National Bank’s cultural center, the Folklore Museum, the Municipal Art Gallery and the Melissa Mansion. But another five historic buildings there are extremely dilapidated. They include the building at 25 Gravias, built in 1911, a branch of the First Boys’ High School at 5 Vas. Olgas (the former Modiano mansion), the pre-1890 Chateau mon Bonheur, and the building at number 26, which until the 1878 earthquake housed the Italian Consulate. The Culture Ministry was supposed to buy the building, which is owned by Italy, but the sale fell through. The 1890 Siagas mansion at No.13 is in relatively good condition, thanks to its owners’ efforts.

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