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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 15 June 2019
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 15 JUNE 2019 15 ARCHITECTURE ourne’s iconic Capitol Theatre but Lucas was the stand out. He owned three of them. I mean, can you imagine? The Town Hall Cafe alone could seat over 600 people." And if this sounds already remarkable for someone who came to Australia as a penniless migrant in his 20's, wait until you hear the rest. On top of being a game-changer, the Greek businessman was a trailblazer within the Greek Community of Melbourne, which he helped establish in 1897, before going on to serve three terms as president. Not forgetting his humble beginnings, he made generous donations to charities and eagerly assisted those in need. In 1916, along with a group of fellow Ithacan entrepreneurs, he cofounded the Ithacan Philanthropic Society, to support compatriots back at the island and newcomers from Greece, while later on he was appointed Honorary Consul General of Greece in Sydney (1923-1926) and Melbourne (1931 -1946). Despite his contributions, Lucas wasn't spared the xenophobic attitudes prevalent in Australia at the time. Zable's novel Sea of Many Returns, where Lucas features as a character, sheds light to the sentiment of the era. In 1915, his Vienna Cafe was targeted by a group of drunken soldiers for bearing 'the name of the enemy'. They damaged the premises and threatened patrons but Lucas was not discouraged. In what was his first collaboration with the Griffins, he hired the Chicago husband and wife architects to remodel the business, which was reopened in 1916 as the Australia Cafe. "They created this extraordinary place which is regarded by some as the beginning of modernistic architecture in Australia," says Zable, who has included a detailed description of what the cafe looked like in his book. But the best was yet to come. Under the direction of Lucas, the Griffins pulled down his Town Hall cafe to build the Capitol Theatre in its place. The legendary Cafe Australia (formerly Vienna), Lucas’ fine dining restaurant in Collins Street, was designed by architect Walter Burley Griffin. 'ONE OF THE BEST STORIES OF MULTICULTURALISM' The Greek Australian entrepreneur provided the space for the architectural duo to unleash their talent and experiment. The result? A multi-storey building hailed as one of the earliest examples of art deco architecture. Notably, one of the most spectacular features was the geometric illuminated ceiling of the theatre auditorium with the capacity to seat more than 2,000 patrons. "It was amazing to walk into a cinema like this designed to resemble a crystallised cave, with over 4,000 lights flashing different colours," Zable says. "They must have thought, 'We'll make this the greatest cinema and theatre in the Southern hemisphere', which I think it was. "We're looking at the vision brought by an immigrant and the willingness to create daring projects, to take the risk. I think that's a big part of the story." The ambitious plan came into fruition in 1924, with 8 November marking the opening night, which Zable has recreated in his novel based on research and complemented with imagination. "The opening screening was Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, a very famous film that was made at the time with epic biblical scenes. "It was a silent film era, so the film would show while an orchestra was playing, and with 2,000 people attending it must have been an amazing night," he describes. "It's a wonderful thing for a novelist to imagine." According to Zable, the tale behind the beginnings of the Capitol Theatre is one of the best stories of multiculturalism. "It shows why immigration is so vital for the countries that take in immigrants, because they bring with them a lot of daring and new ideas and energy, they don't take things for granted ... I think that cultures thrive through diversity, countries benefit from diversity. "At the heart of this story is the partnership between the Ithacan immigrant who grew up in a distant mountain village, a village boy who comes to the distant city of Melbourne and worked his way up with the Griffins architects who came from Chicago. So what you have here is an example of what happens when people cross cultural boundaries and work together circulate ideas that lead to things like ... the Capitol Theatre."
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