The founding president of the Society, Mr Antony J J Lucas (1862- 1946) migrated to Australia in 1886 at the age of 24. As an orphaned son of a village priest and as a penniless migrant, he was always driven to succeed. Following a succession of small retail businesses in the Swanston Street area, in 1894, with his Australian born wife, Margaret Wilson, Lucas opened the landmark, Town Hall Café on the site of the present Capitol Theatre. The Town Hall Café offered the Melbourne public an unprecedented level of appointment, service and up-market catering and quickly became a resounding success.
Lucas developed other notable city restaurants including the Paris Café in 1904. In 1908, he purchased the Vienna Café in Collins St, a Melbourne institution since the 1890s known previously as Café Gunsler, where he had worked as a waiter. By the first decade of the century, Antony Lucas and ‘fine dining’ had become synonymous.
In 1916, in the midst of World War 1, using avant garde American architect, Walter Burley Griffin, Lucas rebuilt the Vienna Café and renamed it the Café Australia. The new café was a success and endorsed by the enthusiastic patronage of Melbourne’s elite.
In the early 1920s, Lucas formed a joint venture to redevelop the site of the Town Hall Café and again engaged Walter Burley Griffin to design a new cinema and office complex directly opposite the Melbourne Town Hall.
Opened in 1924, the Capitol Theatre and Capitol House venture was another great success and the theatre became an icon of cinematic experience in Melbourne.
Lucas embraced Melbourne as his home and Australia as a land of opportunity. However, he never forgot his humble heritage, and worked towards establishing and fostering religious and multicultural institutions for the benefit of the wider Greek Australian community in early twentieth century Melbourne.
Lucas was a joint founder of the Greek Community of Melbourne in 1897 and its second president, serving three terms as president in 1906–1916, 1918–1921 and 1922–1923.
With the accumulation of great wealth, Lucas regularly provided for those less fortunate and made generous donations to many charitable institutions both overseas and in Australia. In 1944, he made a generous donation to the bombed child victims of London matched with a contribution to the Greek Government for similar purposes. These donations were formally acknowledged by personal letters of thanks from the Prime Ministers of both countries. Annually, on his birthday, Lucas donated 100 guineas to the Lord Mayor’s Fund for Melbourne hospitals. Lucas served as Honorary Consul General of Greece in Australia in 1923–1926 and in Melbourne from 1931 until his passing in 1946.
Lucas was instrumental in setting the scene of what was Melbourne in the early twentieth century. His smart establishments became the hub of Melbourne society of that era and gave Melbourne a sophistication and class that is still enjoyed today.