Invasion of the Bar Snatchers

Marathon has fallen to the UA, but its Sixth Street neighbors aren't fleeing yet.

In late summer, 2,491 years ago, Darius' bulging Persian force, its power surging with a quick victory at Eretria, was poised to take Greece. The Persians moved down to the plain of Marathon, 26 miles from Athens, and outnumbered the Greeks 2-1. What's more, the fierce Spartans would be absent, sidelined by a religious observance.

Herodotus would not likely have called it an upset when the strategic deployment of the well-equipped Greeks smashed the Persian invasion. The numbers, even if Herodotus is accused of exaggeration, were staggering: 6,400 Persian dead to 192 Greeks.

So great was the victory that the famous tragedian Aeschylus listed his participation in the battle for his epitaph rather than his accomplishments as a dramatist. "The glorious grove of Marathon," wrote Aeschylus, "can tell of his valor--as can the long-haired Persian--who well remembers it."

There is no playwright for Tucson's Marathon, one of the city's earliest full-service Greek restaurants. Nor is there a Pheidippides to run the news that Marathon Restaurant, for the first time in 27 years, has slipped from Greek hands.

The University of Arizona, spurned for several years by Marathon's founder, the late Georgios Delfakis, and more recently by two of his three children, has finally taken the property, 1130 E. Sixth St. The purchase is the second for the UA on the block shared by Marathon. For the neighbors, it signals the inevitable: eventual buyouts by the UA.

Held back for the last time on February 7, when a Pima County Superior Court judge granted one of Georgios Delfakis' sons the right to buy the run-down restaurant from the estate, the UA simply waited. The wait was abbreviated. Judge Clark Munger gave Panayiotis (Peter) Delfakis until May 8 to come up with the $425,000 that was his winning bid during the court-run auction.

Panayiotis Delfakis and his lawyer, Robert St. Clair, told Munger during the court proceedings that they had a signed commitment from a lender. Neither Munger nor the attorney for the estate, William Wissler, demanded to see the loan letter. Discounting his one-third share, Panayiotis Delfakis needed to come up with $283,333 to be paid to the other beneficiaries of the estate, brother Alexandre and sister Catherine.

Within a few weeks, the money was becoming elusive. And on March 14, Marathon--a 9,300-square-foot building with a 4,700-square-foot parking lot-- fell to the UA for $415,000, according to documents in the Pima County Recorder's Office. The UA used its non-profit fundraising and real estate holding corporation, the UA Foundation, to acquire the restaurant.

That was the UA's top bid during the brief auction in February and was a 12-percent increase from the UA's initial offer--after the June 5 death of Georgios Delfakis--of $365,000. An appraisal done for the UA put the value of the Marathon property and equipment at $323,600. The property has been valued, for tax purposes for the last year, by the county Assessor's Office at only $133,000.

Georgios Delfakis had rebuffed UA offers that he had said topped $600,000. He died at age 58, nearly 40 years after he left the Greek village to which he planned to return upon retirement. He collapsed while chasing a woman who had thrown a rock at his van as he drove home on North Euclid Avenue.

His sons argued, at least in court, over the future of the restaurant. That may have been part of the plan. Alexandre Delfakis, whose position as the estate's personal representative was challenged by his brother, phoned a Weekly editor in response to a February 22 story on the court battle and bidding. "Did it ever occur to you," Alexandre asked, that he and his brother were driving up the price?

The split from the UA Foundation's cash for the three heirs--$138,333 each--will be reduced by fees for four lawyers, including the three that Panayiotis Delfakis used, a 2.5-percent real estate commission, and $5,759 in property taxes that includes $185 in interest for a past-due portion.

Marathon is bare. The family stripped the fixtures and a wall mural. An office before it became a restaurant, Marathon will serve as a spot for math tutoring as well as a community planning room, said Joel Valdez, UA senior vice president for business affairs.

East of Marathon, operators of El Cubanito restaurant lease a former Circle K that the UA acquired from the UA Foundation in 1999. On the north side of the street, the UA snapped up properties that will hold a multi-level parking garage.

Gerlinde Sheppard, a partner in Sunrise Silkscreen, will celebrate her 25th anniversary on East Sixth Street this August. That includes 15 years in the building, once the Eagle Bakery, next to Marathon. She is not surprised by the UA encroachment, although she has had scarce communication with university officials.

She and others on the block don't cling to what sparse announcements the UA does make. Hearing those communiqués is much like scanning through a UA catalogue, Sheppard says, "subject to change."

Friendly and good-humored, Sheppard walks the maple floors of Sunrise Silkscreen with nostalgia. She says she can imagine girls in poodle skirts at the roller rink that it once was and guys with smokes rolled up in their sleeves. The evidence remains, with some cigarette burns in the floor.

Next door is the Rhino Pub, a multi-room bar with what is arguably the best jukebox selection of classic rock in Tucson.

Glenn Murphy, a restaurant and bar operator who runs Backstage at the top of Tanque Verde Road's restaurant row, has signed a 10-year lease for Rhino.

Work is underway for a restyling of the bar, which will have a new name and will be ready for a "relaunch," he says, with more food at the start of the fall semester at the UA.

"The place has been left to its own for the last few years, but it is a great location and it is good for the area. I look for the UA to buy the whole block eventually, but I'm not worried about that now. I'm in it for the long haul," Murphy says.

Murphy's landlord, Lon Wirtz, also has Bargain Basement Bikes behind and to the side of Rhino Pub. He was in Mexico and unavailable to comment for this article.

Ralph Phillips' Fair Wheel Bikes is another longstanding commercial enterprise on East Sixth as is the adjoining Coin-Op Laundry.

Like Sheppard, Phillips says that although the UA's intentions to take the block are old and well known, he rarely hears from UA officials.

"Not even a Christmas card," Phillips says. "You tell Peter (UA President Peter Likins) my phone line is always open."

Valdez says the UA will need the next block west as well. It has varied commercial interests, including Zachary's Pizza, a survivor of previous UA expansion on Sixth Street's north side; Faxman, a fax machine repair shop that was displaced from a downtown location by county construction a decade ago; a plasma donor operation; a travel agency; a cell phone store; and UA Liquors.

The UA could march south another four blocks through a neighborhood that has plenty of student housing if a plan to swap property with the Tucson Unified School District is approved.

UA officials are growing weary of TUSD delays in accepting a proposal that involves transfer of TUSD headquarters at 1010 E. 10th St. for the former Tucson Electric Power Co.'s headquarters on West Sixth near Main Street. Part of TUSD's reluctance is the cost of asbestos abatement at the TEP building, as well as how the building was stripped, including much of the wiring, when the utility moved out.

Back on East Sixth at Sunrise Silkscreen, Sheppard does not waste many of the days at her busy operation worrying about the UA, other than holding a desire to be treated fairly.

"What will happen," she says, "will happen."

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