“So very far away, but maybe it’s only yesterday”: Greece in Crisis, 1964, 2014.Posted: December 1, 2014
“The decision made at the last Board of Trustees meeting… was to appoint a committee… to make an immediate study and prompt report on the Admiral’s House which as you know the School for some time has had the opportunity to buy. Will you, as Chairman of the Committee of the Admiral’s House, be good enough to write immediately to Henry Robinson, asking him to request [of] Mr. Kyriakides that he make a careful report as to the desirability of the house, the possibility of obtaining it and an appraisal not only of the price which the School should be willing to pay for it, but also his estimate of the price the owners would accept, the best terms available, the cost of maintenance, the cost of repairs or changes the School would need to make, the use to be made of it by the School, the income which the School would expect to receive from it, and the estimated cost of taxes or any other expenses which would be involved by the School in the advent of its purchase” wrote on December 7, 1964, Ward Canaday, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) to Charles Morgan, Trustee of the School and one of its former directors (1936-1938), and chair of the Managing Committee (1950-1960).
The so-called Admiral’s House was built sometime between 1924 and 1931 at the corner of Souidias and Gennadiou streets. It does not appear in photos depicting the construction of the Gennadius Library but forms a noticeable addition to images from 1931 (along with two other houses that faced Souidias St.). One has the distinct impression that the Library had made the area around the School a more desirable place to live; however, by 1964 most of the houses in the neighborhood had been torn down and replaced by six-to-seven story apartment buildings (πολυκατοικίες). A law from 1929 allowed owners of old houses to exchange their property for a few apartments in a new building raised on their lot. This legislation led to the widespread destruction of houses in Athens and other Greek cities in the 1950s and 1960s, but is also credited with creating the Greek middle class in the process. In the pages of ΕΙΚΟΝΕΣ in 1964 (the Greek equivalent of PARIS MATCH magazine), it was not cash but apartment buildings that were advertized as lottery prizes.
From late 1964 until early 1966 when the Admiral’s House was finally demolished, several letters were exchanged between officers of the ASCSA in Athens and the Trustees in the United States. The purchase aimed at covering an increase in the residential needs of the ASCSA members in view of “an expanded Agora campaign” (the School was planning to re-open excavations in the Athenian Agora). Unfortunately, Henry Robinson, the director of the School, had to report that he had been unable to meet with the owners “[who] were not only disinterested in selling, they refuse to see me” (Robinson to Morgan, Feb. 23, 1965). He had learned that the owners of the Admiral’s House were well-off Greeks (by the name of Efstathiou) living in London, “not in need of money,” who wanted to erect an apartment building for themselves. Their situation was very different from that of the impoverished owners of houses bought by the school in the Agora in the 1920s. The Americans quickly realized that obtaining the Admiral’s house and converting it to small-unit apartments would cost them much more than they had anticipated. By 1963 the School’s need for additional space was also less apparent after Elizabeth Blegen’s decision to give the School her house on Ploutarchou 9. “Although I do not look forward to the eventuality, there will be available, at a distant future, the Blegen House. I would recommend that as a Director’s residence, which would free at least six more bedrooms in the main building and allow further space for the Library,” wrote Richard Howland, Chair of the Managing Committee, to Henry Robinson. Before the School had time to think about whether they really needed to annex the Admiral’s House, Robinson reported its demolition in early 1966. “It is regrettable that so tall a building is to go up across the street from us…” commented Robinson to Morgan (March 7, 1966).
The story about the Admiral’s House is not mentioned in the annual reports for those years or in Lucy Shoe Meritt’s second volume of the History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Instead, it is in the School’s administrative records that we learn both about this attempt to expand the School’s property across Gennadiou St. and also find a rare visual record of this neighborhood before and after WW II. Our photos of the Admiral’s House and adjacent houses should be added to MONUMENTA, a program, funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, that protects the architectural heritage of Athens and other Greek cities. In fact, it was Irene Gratzia’s incorporation of the ASCSA’s buildings into the MONUMENTA database that prompted me first to look at the file in our archives that concerns the Admiral’s House. [To find out more about MONUMENTA’s activities see: https://monumentakatagrafi.wordpress.com/about-the-program/%5D.
But what else was happening at the American School and in Greece fifty years ago? Henry Robinson in the Annual Report (hereafter AR) for 1963-1964 reports the death of King Paul of Greece. “He and Queen Frederika had on numerous occasions consented to attend the Open Meetings of our School; and they frequently permitted us to present the members of the School to them at receptions after the lectures.” But after the initial shock of King Paul’s death part of the country soon rejoiced over the wedding of the new King Constantine to Princess Anna Maria of Denmark in September of 1964. Leafing through ΕΙΚΟΝΕΣ, one sees pictures of the lavish wedding attended by European royalty and of the happy couple riding through the main streets of Athens in an open horse-drawn carriage.
1964 was also a period of political tension in Greece. The victory of the Union Center party (Ένωση Κέντρου) headed by George Papandreou in February of 1964 carried the promise (at least for a brief time) of internal political stability. The possibility of military confrontation between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus threatened the cohesion of NATO and America’s intervention in this local dispute resulted in a series of political demonstrations in Athens. Both the American School and the British School were guarded day and night. “The attitude of some of the Greeks toward the position of the United States on this issue is vocally hostile; newspapers normally moderate have taken a definite anti-American and anti-British tone” reported Robinson, hurrying, however, to assert that there was “no reason to fear for the lives or property of Americans or American institutions in Greece.” (For a thorough presentation of the political situation in Greece in the 1950s and 1960s, see Evanthis Hatzivassiliou, Greece and the Cold War: Frontline State 1952-1967, London 2006).
But in 1964 Greece was making headlines in the international news for more reasons than the Cypriot issue. Zorba the Greek, starring Antony Quinn, Alan Bates and Irene Papas, had just been released in movie theaters. Produced on a relatively small budget ($800,000) the movie was a smashing success in America where it earned 9 million dollars at the box office and won three academy awards.
Also in 1964 Corinna Tsopei became the first Greek to win the Miss Universe pageant. Not surprisingly, her victory was greeted with great enthusiasm in Greece, where even today the 70 year-old Ms. Tsopei is approached by the Greek newspapers to reminisce about her legendary victory and her “American life” that followed under the aegis of Spyros Skouras of the Twentieth Century Fox. Skouras was one of the most important Greeks in post-war America (http://www.protothema.gr/Stories/article/311477/h-uperohi-zoi-tis-korinas-tsopei/ ) and had a close connection with the ASCSA. He provided the processing expenses for Triumph Over Time, a film produced by the School in 1947, and from that time until his death in 1971, Skouras served on the Board of Trustees. In early 1965, just before the demolition of the Admiral’s House, Skouras met with the Efstathiou family in London in a final effort to persuade them to sell the house. In the same year, Skouras facilitated George Papandreou’s visit to the United States, when Papandreou was invited to discuss the Cypriot issue with President Lyndon Johnson. (The Spyros Skouras archive resides at Stanford University, in its Department of Special Collections and University Archives, http://findingaids.stanford.edu/xtf/view?docId=ead/mss/m0509.xml;query=;brand=default)
The new government of George Papandreou brought an avalanche of changes to the structure of the Archaeological Service by enacting a law which required the retirement of civil servants after 35 years of service, a move that reminds me of the recent forced retirement of many high-ranking Greek archaeologists. Ephors Christos and Semni Karouzou, Christos Makaronas, Irini Varoucha left precipitously (ASCSA AR 1964-65, p. 21). What actually saddened the School most, in the midst of all these changes, was the sudden death of the General Director of the Archaeological Service, Ioannis (John) Papademetriou, the excavator of the Sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron. Robinson described him “as a good friend and supporter of the foreign archaeologists in Greece, and a generous scholar…” (ASCSA AR 1963-64, p. 18).
The political instability that followed the loss of the elections by Konstantinos Karamanlis’s party in November of 1963 (Karamanlis and his party had been in power since 1955), the ascent of a new but weak party (the Union Center of Papandreou) in early 1964, and the death of John Papademetriou affected another major plan of the School, which had been previously approved by the trustees: the relocation of the village of Old Corinth (against the wishes of the local inhabitants). The new government of George Papandreou did not want to proceed with this plan and instead favored the establishment of restricted zones in the village that would limit development near the ancient remains. But Robinson was still hoping that the trustees would contribute to the expropriation of selected properties. “I expressed to Messrs. Crawford and Canaday last fall my hope that the Trustees might be willing… to assist the Greek Service of Antiquities in the proposed expropriations; we can hardly expect the Greek government to bear all the costs of acquiring this property and then allow the American School to have the archaeological exploitation of it” (Robinson in the ASCSA AR 1964-65, p. 43). The chaotic political conditions in Greece that led to the break-up of the Union Center’s party and the fall of the Papandreou government in July 1965 must not have encouraged the trustees of the School who refused to make any funds available for the expropriation of land in Corinth. Following the School’s decision, the Archaeological Service “decided that without the financial cooperation of the American School it was impractical for it to proceed with partial expropriation at its own expense. Thus the property restrictions have been abandoned and all areas of the village are now open to building” Robinson reported (ASCSA AR 1965-66, p. 46).
In the fall of 1964 Henry Robinson also worried about excavation permits for the summer of 1965. The Archaeological Council was prohibiting foreign schools to “even temporarily substitute one excavation for another of its three.” Instead, they were instructed to complete one excavation before introducing a new one. The American School had wanted to substitute Porto Cheli for Kea (which they did manage to do at the end).
The following year the School would have to worry about yet another problem, namely, the possibility that it would lose its status as a philanthropic institution and with it the duty and tax exemptions it had enjoyed since 1949 under Public Law 1286. The new government was promoting this change in order to fight tax minimization (ironically, fifty years later the Greek state still struggles with the same problem). Law 1286 exempted the School from paying duties on imported equipment and on fuel oil –provided that it did not charge tuition or room and board fees. If it did, it would lose its philanthropic status as Pierce College had.
In reading the annual reports from 1964 and 1965, I was also reminded that the School ran only one summer session until the late 1960s. The School did host, both in 1963 and 1964, a supplemental summer session exclusively for U.S. high school and junior college teachers. Organized by the Fulbright Foundation, the experiment was discontinued in 1965.
1964 also saw the creation of the much valued Friends of the Gennadius Library –the brainchild of Frank Walton– with the approval of the Trustees of the American School, and with Mimsy Miles McCredie serving as its Executive Secretary. By the spring of 1965, the Friends had amassed $26,400 (the equivalent of $200,000 today), the first real endowment for the Gennadius Library. In addition to the Friends, The Griffon, a newsletter addressed to the Friends which continues today, made its first appearance in the academic year 1964-65.
Despite the chaotic political conditions in Greece during the academic year 1964-65, which also affected the composition and actions of the Greek Archaeological Service, the annual reports of the various officers of the School convey a feeling of reserved confidence. Yet, the Trustees’ retreat from expropriating land in Corinth must have led to frustration and disappointment in certain School circles, especially when other constituencies were lobbying for a grand re-opening of the Agora excavations. In February 1966, the School received a grant of $1 million from the Ford Foundation to resume the Athenian Agora excavations, “the largest single grant in American archaeological history” (S. L. Dyson, Ancient Marbles to American Shores: Classical Archaeology in the United States, 1998, p. 259). America’s intellectual “cold wars” raged in the 1960s and the people masterminding them were keener on supporting Classical Athens, the place where the seeds of Western civilization had been sown, than Corinth. But that is another story for another occasion –coming soon to this blog.
- Note: The title quote comes from Zager and Evans’s hit song “In the year 2025,” which was released in 1969, but written in 1964.