In 1932, the Edison Theater was constructed atop a vacant tract in the
spacious Zichron Moshe neighborhood, a residential quarter famous for its
enlightened population. Named after the American genius credited with inventing
the first movie projector, the Edison was one of the first of its kind in
Jerusalem - and by far the fanciest.
Yes Montand and other noted performers appeared on its stage as did the
pre-state Philharmonic Orchestra, and ceremonies and festivals were conducted in
the elaborate hall and outside.
In later years, violent demonstrations took place as the neighborhood changed
and haredi factions attempted to prevent ticket sales on the Sabbath.
The Edison Theater was located at Rehov Yeshayahu 14, but it was demolished
in 2005 and all that remains of it is a gigantic hole, where foundations are
being laid for a large apartment complex.
Nearly 4,000 structures in new Jerusalem (outside the Old City walls) have
been designated worthy of preservation. Several hundred such structures have
already disappeared from the Jerusalem scene, and even if slated for
preservation, are frequently looted or become so dilapidated that they cannot
As a result, watchdog organizations like the Council for the Preservation of
Historic Sites and Residents for the Preservation of Jerusalem are constantly
on their toes.
Many a Jerusalem landmark has gone the way of the Edison Theater, carrying
with it piece after piece of our historic legacy, and others still have been
Take the Steimatzky bookstore and coffee shop at the Mamilla Mall, situated
in a house that once belonged to a family named Stern. When Theodor Herzl came
to Israel in 1898 to meet with Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and ask for his help,
he stayed with his good friends the Sterns.
Since the historic house was situated on a street in the old Mamilla
neighborhood, precisely where construction was about to begin on the new mall,
it was taken apart stone by stone and reconstructed at its present site.
One of the Stern descendants told me that it makes her groan every time she
walks through the mall and sees each brick on the house colored with the number
it was given so that it could be properly replaced.
Not only is it out of place, but the house looks silly, she says.
Other methods of ’preservation’ are even more ridiculous. The once
splendiferous structure at Rehov Agron 30 is slated to become a Waldorf-Astoria
in 2010. Called the Palace Hotel when completed in 1929, the grandiose structure
was the brainchild of the Supreme Muslim Council and meant to counter Jewish
expansion outside the Old City walls.
Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini put out a tender for construction. It
was taken up by an Arab contractor and two Jewish architects: Chaim
Weizmann’s brother-in-law Tuvia Donia and Hagana member Baruch Katinka.
Considering that the mufti visited daily and that most of the laborers were
Arabs, it is astounding that the hotel walls contained two built-in hiding
places for Jewish-held weapons.
Forbidden by the British to bear arms of any kind, the Jews had no choice but
to prepare secret caches for weapons that they could use in self-defense. Called
sliks, these hideaways were located all over the country; the two at the Palace
Hotel were designed by Katinka.
When the British Peel Commission came to Jerusalem in 1936 to discuss the
’Palestine problem,’ they held a number of their meetings at the fabulous Palace
Hotel. Incredibly, Katinka managed to plant microphones in some of the electric
wires so that the Jews could keep abreast of current events.
Built in medieval Spanish style, the Palace Hotel was an architectural
delight. Four stories high, it boasted graceful staircases and intricately
grilled railings, shiny marble floors and magnificent columns.
But in preparation for the new Waldorf-Astoria the insides were completely
torn down. Today all that is left of this splendid structure is the facade -
a strange way to preserve a historic site.
Yet another historical structure that was demolished is Alliance, the first
Jewish trade school in Jerusalem, founded in 1882 by the Paris-based Alliance
Israelite Universelle (Kiah).
Except for the academic Lemel School, Alliance was the only modern
educational facility in Jerusalem. It was especially important because it taught
useful professions when so many Jerusalemites were still living off hand-outs
from abroad. One of the school’s most famous teachers was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda,
who took the position only after it was agreed that he could teach
In 1970, the historic Alliance and its lovely gardens were razed and replaced
by the tall, ugly Clal Center on the corner of Rehov Kiah and Jaffa Road. All
that remains of Alliance today is its decorative iron gate, rarely noticed
by passersby and not even in its original spot.
Indeed, if it weren’t for an enormous mural just up the street (in the
Mahaneh Yehuda market parking lot), the building would be forgotten.
Fortunately, the mural features a marvelous painting of the complex, together
with its large garden and photographs of teachers and students.
AS MORE realtors and contractors get permission to build in 19th and early
20th century areas like the German Colony, on Rehov Hanevi’im, the Bukharan
Quarter and along Jaffa Road, the danger of losing architectural and historic
gems becomes ever more real.
Among other historic sites on the preservation list are the Kaminitz Hotel,
Navon Bey’s mansion and the Pasha’s Villa — located between Rehov Hanevi’im and
Jaffa Road — and the Schneller Compound on Rehov Malchei Yisrael.
The Kaminitz Hotel was built in 1878 by German banker Paul Bergheim, and was
meant to be a luxurious family home. But Bergheim, who established
Jerusalem’s first bank and helped create the foundation for Jerusalem’s modern
commerce, went bankrupt.
In 1883 Eliezer Kaminitz, the son of a hotelier who owned a famous guesthouse
in the Old City, took over the house and turned it into a five-star hotel.
Besides adding onto the building and planting a lush garden, Kaminitz prepared
a special driveway for carriages, which led off Jaffa Road. Baron Edmund
de Rothschild was one of his early lodgers.
The Kaminitz Hotel is accessible through an opening at 68 Jaffa Road. While
you can still see how beautiful it was in the past, the interior of what was
once the most elegant establishment in the holy city is now truly a mess.
The house of Navon Bey features an impressive mixture of Eastern and Western
architecture. This once magnificent 19th-century edifice is accessed from a
grungy parking lot at Rehov Hanevi’im 59.
The first to inhabit this mansion was entrepreneur Yoseph Navon, honored with
the title ’bey’ by the Turks. It was Navon who initiated Israel’s first
railroad, which began running from Jaffa to Jerusalem in 1892.
Designed as a pyramid, the villa boasted a long first floor, a shorter second
story and a gabled roof with a tiny rounded window and four turrets. In its
prime, it was surrounded by spectacular gardens with flowerbeds, fruit trees and
woodlands. There were even a stable and carriage house out back.
Since Navon’s family left the house in 1917, it has changed hands umpteen
times — even becoming an elegant English Tearoom in the 1990s. Today the
shutters are rusted and the back of this once sumptuous edifice is a
The Pasha’s Villa, a third formerly superb building, is located at Rehov
Hanevi’im 61, near the house of Navon Bey. Built at the end of the 19th century
by the Greek Orthodox Church, it was rented out to the Turkish governors
During receptions, the Turkish military orchestra played concerts in the
fabulous garden. Later the building was bought by Menahem Banin, a wealthy
Jewish merchant from Aden. At the moment, it is hard to imagine how this rundown
structure could have been a governor’s mansion.
THE SCHNELLER Compound’s story begins with Father Johann Ludwig Schneller, a
devout Lutheran missionary, who came to Jerusalem at the age of 34, intent
on serving the local population. He bought a plot of land on what is today Rehov
Malchei Yisrael in 1855, five years before Sir Moses Montefiore founded the
first Jewish neighborhood outside the Old City walls, when there was nothing but
wilderness in all directions.
Although the property was several kilometers away from the safety of the Old
City, Schneller bravely began building a beautiful house for his family. But
after several attacks by marauders, they were forced to move inside the
A few years later the Turks erected outposts along Jaffa Road between
Jerusalem and the port city of Jaffa. Armed guards on horseback patrolled the
entire road, and since Schneller’s home was nearby, the family returned.
That same year, Lebanese Druze massacred 10,000 Maronite Christians in
Lebanon and Syria. Schneller rushed up North, and came home with nine orphaned
boys. From this small nucleus of unfortunate youngsters sprang the largest
Protestant educational facility in the Middle East.
By the end of 1861 there were nearly 40 boys in what became known as the
Syrian Orphanage. As the years went by, Schneller bought up more land and
constructed additional stunning buildings, including the first red brick
structure in Jerusalem. The orphanage began accepting girls in the late 1860s,
and built a magnificent dormitory for blind children.
Donations poured in from European Christians, who also sent useful items like
clothes and blankets. All kinds of activities and vital services went on at the
orphanage, which ran a clinic, printing press, laundry, bakery and school.
Schneller was unwavering in his efforts to make sure the children he cared for
would become productive members of society; by the time they were sent out into
the world at 18, all of them had learned a useful trade.
At the onset of World War II, the British shut down the orphanage and threw
its German teachers out of the country. The British then took over the compound,
known as the Schneller Barracks, and added several watchtowers and huts.
During the War of Independence Schneller became the Hagana’s home base for
Jerusalem-area campaigns. Today Schneller is where you take your soldier when
he or she is home on leave and needs a doctor.
But the army is clearing out in less than two months, and the compound -
whose green onion-shaped tower is a Jerusalem landmark — will be left
A municipal spokeswoman reports that the city is working with the Interior
Ministry and the army to safeguard Schneller from vandalism after it is vacated
and adds that the ministry and army are responsible for the
The spokeswoman also notes that there are no plans afoot to demolish the
Kaminitz Hotel, Navon Bey’s mansion and the Pasha’s Villa, and that the city
is gathering information about them to decide their level of preservation.