By Ian McConnell
THE owner of a landmark Glasgow restaurant in a B-listed former tram station building is embarking on restoration works costing more than £100,000, while hoping to realise his dream of installing a recreated 1920s carriage next to the bistro.
Marco Giannasi, who owns the Battlefield Rest on the city’s south side with wife Yellena, highlighted the fact that he had been forced by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic to use up reserve capital that had before the crisis struck been earmarked for the restoration works.
He expressed relief that he had, amid the latest lockdown, become eligible for a one-off Scottish Government grant of £25,000, having struggled previously to obtain sufficient support because of rateable value considerations.
Mr Giannasi highlighted the importance of this “lifejacket” funding to his business, and to enabling him to proceed with the planned replacement of the wooden balustrades and canopies, having previously secured grant support for the restoration project from Glasgow City Heritage Trust.
The architect on the project, which aims to restore these elements to their form when the tram station was constructed in 1914 with the balconies covered with zinc, is Fiona Sinclair.
Mr Giannasi highlighted plans for Paul Hodgkiss Designs, a business on the south side of Glasgow, to begin work on the project in mid-March.
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With the development of the former Victoria Hospital site now well under way, Mr Giannasi has also dusted off his plans to instal a tram next to the restaurant, incorporating an original 1920s chassis. This plan may be boosted by the possibility of a section of road on one side of the triangular traffic island site occupied by the restaurant being closed to vehicles, and pedestrianised.
Mr Giannasi said of this road section: “It has never been used much in the past – only for the buses.”
He noted it was on the bus route used previously to service ScottishPower, when it had sizeable offices at Cathcart.
Noting he was making inquiries about what might happen to this road with the Victoria site development, he added: “At the moment I am waiting for the architect to get back. It [the pedestrianisation]has to happen. I can’t see keeping this road, with all the new development. They want to reduce the traffic – be more eco-friendly, more cycling routes to Queen’s Park. I think it is the logical way forward, to just close the road.”
He noted the old tram tracks were still under the road.
Mr Giannasi highlighted the possibility of securing a 1920s tram chassis. He said he had talked with Mr Hodgkiss, a customer of the restaurant, about recreating a tram carriage employing the same materials that would have been used when the vehicle was built.
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The restaurant owner noted the recreated carriage could be used as a space for afternoon teas, during which the history of the trams and of Glasgow could be told, possibly through theatre. Mr Giannasi noted this could ultimately become a tourist attraction, bringing groups of visitors to the site.
He emphasised he was pursuing the tram project not for commercial reasons but to create a “legacy”.
Mr Giannasi said: “That was my dream and then the pandemic arrived, so it was a bit of a handbrake on.”
He added: “It is not for commercial gain out of it. It is just a wee thing I think could be a legacy for the future – a nice tram that would be part of the heritage in the area as well.”
Mr Giannasi flagged the fact he had wanted to do the tram project “for years”. He said: “With anything in life, if you just give up halfway through you don’t know the answer. You just keep going until it happens. It could happen, fingers crossed.”
Referring to the restoration work on the restaurant, amid the fall-out from the pandemic, he declared: “The new version of the [balustrade]columns is more slender and it will give more of a look to the building. I thought I would never be able to do it. I have got to do it because it is for everyone. You can’t just let the building rot.”
He expressed his thanks to Glasgow City Heritage Trust for having been “very supportive” of the project. He also flagged the importance of a Bank of Scotland coronavirus “bounce-back” loan.
He expressed his happiness that the project was being undertaken by fellow southsider Mr Hodgkiss. Mr Giannasi said: “There is no good getting companies that don’t have understanding what it is all about – community.”
The restaurant is currently closed to sit-in diners, as a result of the latest lockdown, but is offering a takeaway service at weekends.
Mr Giannasi said: “Takeaway has been, I think, a success.”
Noting this had involved a “completely new way of working”, he added: “It is a good exercise for us. I think out of the bad, gloomy pandemic, we should be coming out a wee bit stronger and better.”