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Athens Apartments Still Standing

September 2, 2000

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ The wrecking ball has seemed poised over a group of simple 1930s apartments for decades, but residents _ descendants of refugees for whom the structures were designed _ are determined to preserve their homes.

City planners call the cream-colored cement and plaster apartments, neglected and peeling, an anachronistic eyesore. They would like to tear down the eight three-story buildings on the northern edge of central Athens and build a park.

For residents of the 228 small apartments, the careworn complex is home. Preservations look past the decay and see architectural gems that should be cherished.

But in Athens, more famous for ancient monuments such as the Acropolis and the Parthenon, some see little value in the refugee apartments. As preparations for the 2004 Olympics inspire urban planners to smooth out Athens’ many rough edges, authorities seem to be getting serious about eliminating them.

After nearly 20 years of aborted threats to raze the buildings, the owners have received letters from the state-owned property agency telling them they have until Tuesday to negotiate a sale price for their apartments. If they do not, they could be forced out.

Residents promise not to go quietly.

``My roots are here,″ said Eleni Papavassiliou, 63, who lives in the same one-bedroom apartment where she was raised. ``We will fight.″

Residents believe the state will offer $27,000 to $40,000 for the tiny apartments. Papavassiliou said they will not negotiate.

Preservations appear to be on their side. Architects and landmarks experts say the buildings are a rare example of the modernist style of the 1930s: elegant but functional, with hospitable amenities such as individual balconies and sunny windows free of obstructions.

``They are the only examples (in Athens) of communal living built in the modern movement ... It is a piece of history of the city,″ said Annie Vrihea, an architecture professor at the Athens Polytechnic University. Her students have drawn up ideas on restoring and improving the buildings.

The apartments, off now-busy Alexandras Avenue, were built between 1934 and 1936 for refugees from modern-day Turkey.

In the early 1920s, more than a million impoverished and homeless ethnic Greeks fled Asia Minor after the invading Greek army was defeated. Many sought refuge in Athens; most of the apartments’ current residents are their descendants.

They claim they resisted investing money in the apartments because of the constant threat of demolition.

``For 20 years they keep telling you that they will tear them down. Who wants to spend the money to fix the outside? We’ve lived with unbelievable hardship all these years,″ said Papavassiliou, whose parents had fled Asia Minor.

Architects at the Culture Ministry say the buildings could be deemed ``preservable″ because of their historic and architectural significance. The designation must be approved by the Central Council of Modern Monuments and the culture minister.

Urban planners suggest the site be turned into a park, sorely needed in congested and smog-choked Athens.

``It is one of the spots where we can create green,″ said Epaminondas Kremidas, who works at the Organization of Athens, a state agency involved in urban planning and renewal projects.

Kremidas said some housing and other structures must be sacrificed as Athens makes room for more parks. Residents of the Alexandras Avenue apartments say the state should look elsewhere.

``They will not win,″ vowed Chrysoula Harizan, 63, the daughter of refugees.

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