Jerusalem is home to some of the world’s most historic, iconic and majestic
structures. From the Old City, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Mount of Olives and Yad
Vashem to world-class hotels and restaurants, the capital has never lacked for
architectural wonder and grandeur.
One of the city’s most breathtaking
landmarks includes the former Palace Hotel – a stone’s throw from the Old City,
situated on 0.6 hectares (about 1.5 acres) of coveted land – which was acquired
by the famous Reichmann family of Toronto for over $30 million in
For roughly seven years, the complex, which is still largely
quarantined from sight by metal barriers, has been in the process of being
converted into a Waldorf- Astoria hotel (now a Hilton luxury brand), featuring
an adjacent, ultra-luxury, 10-story private residence.
became available after the Regency Group decided to put it up for sale,” says
Joseph Reichmann, a softspoken, Orthodox, second-generation member of the Jewish
dynasty, who is spearheading the massive renovation.
“My family took it
as an opportunity to develop something beautiful.”
Indeed, designed by
the renowned Turkish architect Nahas Bey, with a mixture of Greco-Roman,
Renaissance, Gothic, Romanesque and Mameluke elements, the original Palace
Hotel, which resembles an ornate coliseum, opened its doors in 1929 to great
Situated in one of Jerusalem’s prime locations – at the
intersection of King David breathtaking views of the Western Wall and Independence Park, the hotel is
“This is one of the most beautiful architectural
buildings anywhere in Israel, certainly in Jerusalem,” Reichmann
“And the combination of the residential building with the hotel and
tower on top of it creates an exceptional property.”
So exceptional, in
fact, that the Reichmann family – which had never ventured into the hotel
business – jumped at the opportunity to own the property when it went up for
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says.
REICHMANN family is most notable for the construction of the First Canadian
Place in Toronto, World Financial Center in Battery Park, New York, and Canary
Wharf in London.
The Canary Wharf project drew international headlines
and forced the family to file for bankruptcy in 1992, shortly after its opening,
due to the collapse of London’s commercial property market.
Reichmanns successfully regrouped years later, creating another
multibillion-dollar firm, and bought back a large stake in the now prosperous
Canary Wharf (which the family subsequently sold), while reacquiring and
developing a number of other international properties.
Joseph, a nephew of the group of brothers who conceived and launched the family
business from Toronto decades ago, his uncles could not resist the opportunity
to own part of the city they so love.
“We are doing it because it’s in
Jerusalem,” he says. “It’s that simple.”
Still, Reichmann concedes that
the process of receiving the necessary permits and general approval from the
city to buy and renovate the property was fraught with work and bureaucracy –
and a very specific demand to painstakingly maintain the ornate beauty of the
edifice’s celebrated exterior and famous grand circular staircase.
city and Israel Lands Authority, together with the Jerusalem Development
Company, asked us to recreate the historic Palace Hotel, and at the same time to
turn the former tax building – which didn’t have any historical significance –
into a residential project. It was a very long, intensive process,” Reichmann
says from his office adjacent to the enormous construction site, which has been
gutted, excavated and renovated.
He says he is planning the
Waldorf-Astoria Jerusalem’s much-anticipated unveiling for early next
Why he and his family submitted to the obvious agita of such a
complex and timeconsuming undertaking becomes understandable when light is shed
upon the Reichmann family’s history, which may be as intriguing as the structure
ORIGINALLY FROM a small town in Hungary called Beled, near the
Austrian border, the paternal side of Reichmann’s family settled in
In 1938 they fled to Paris to avoid Nazi persecution. The
following year, when it became clear that they would also have to flee France,
the Reichmanns sought refuge in Tangiers, Morocco, where Joseph was born in
However, the maternal side of his family was not as
“In 1944 my mother’s family was deported from Beled to
Auschwitz,” Reichmann says. “That year, similar to this year, 17 Tamuz [fast
day] was on a Shabbat when they arrived in Auschwitz.
By the afternoon,
apart from a few survivors, all of the family and townspeople had been
“The majority of her family was killed, but my mother [Esti],
who was 17 at the time, along with a few of her young cousins, survived the
concentration camps,” Reichmann says. “In 1945, after the liberation, they
joined my father’s family in Tangiers, and one year later my mother married my
In 1955, the Orthodox family finally emigrated from Morocco to
The five Reichmann brothers were Joseph’s father, Edward, the
eldest; Louis, who moved to Montreal; and Albert, Paul and Ralph, who moved to
Shortly thereafter, the industrious and ambitious brothers went
on to create two successful businesses, including floor coverings and real
The rest, as they say, is history.
Indeed, the Reichmann
family went on to become one of the wealthiest in Canada, with a net worth of
over $1 billion.
JOSEPH REICHMANN, a yeshiva-educated Jerusalem resident
who moved to Israel with his parents from Montreal in 1968, was charged by his
Canadian uncles with leading the massive renovation and development of the
The hotel will have 224 standard rooms and suites, luxurious
public spaces and amenities including two restaurants, a beautiful atrium, a
grand ballroom and 15 conference rooms.
The residential units, situated
in a tower adjacent to the hotel, will feature a private lobby with elevators,
serving only 30 units. Residents will enjoy use of all of the hotel’s services,
including a luxury health spa.
“It’s going to be exceptional,” says
Reichmann. “Can I say ‘unparalleled?’” Beginning in 2007, Reichmann’s team
started demolishing the old building and gutting it, with the exception of the
façade, which has been maintained.
They then excavated the site, going
down some 15 meters (three floors) to create a parking lot, conference rooms and
a grand ballroom.
The hotel now has enough space for 150 cars for
residents and guests, an elegant, world-class banquet hall for corporate and
private events, and more than a dozen state-of-the-art conference rooms – all
below ground level.
“Space in Jerusalem is in very short supply,”
Reichmann notes. “So we had to dig deep to get more of it.”
completely new building,” he adds. “The rooms are now between 40 and 45 square
meters each, whereas they were much smaller before. The deal was as long as we
maintained the exterior and main staircase, we had freedom to recreate the
Reichmann contracted Feigin Architects, one of Israel’s
premier architectural firms, and employed roughly 350 workmen, who labor from 7
a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week.
The hotel and residential building will
share the Waldorf moniker. They are in the final stages of development and will
be managed by Waldorf-Astoria, under the Hilton brand.
Asked what will
distinguish the Waldorf- Astoria Jerusalem from its renowned, nearby competitors
– the David Citadel, Mamilla and King David hotels – Reichmann smiles,
deflecting any notion of competitiveness.
“They’re not competitors,
they’re colleagues,” he says. “There is enough business for all of
Still, he adds that he hired an Istanbul- based interior design firm
to immaculately decorate the entire hotel, and notes that the Waldorf will
feature uncommon space and elegance. “Our internal room and public spaces will
be very spacious and very classical,” he says. “Our interior design is
traditional and elegant – from the furnishings to the decor to the coloring. And
I think that the service will be exceptional.”
The starting price for a
residential unit is $4 million, and goes up to $6.5m. for the larger units.
Reichmann, who says the residential tower has reached 60 percent occupancy,
notes that while several Israeli buyers have acquired apartments, the majority
of the owners are foreigners.
As for the hotel, he says: “We expect
international visitors to the city who want to have the opportunity to stay at
the Waldorf-Astoria Jerusalem – Christian groups, Russian groups, French groups
– whoever can afford it can stay.”
Reichmann compares the property to the
legendary Plaza Hotel in New York City, noting that the convergence of upscale
hotels featuring private residences is a relatively new, but popular,
“Conrad Hilton purchased the Waldorf- Astoria in New York in
1945, and in 2007 the Hilton group took the name and launched a luxury brand,” explains
Reichmann. “Now there are 25 Waldorf- Astorias around the world, some with
residential units. Independent property owners are buying and building the
properties, with Hilton managing them.”
Asked if he has had the
opportunity to meet the most famous Hilton of all – Paris – Reichmann, a modest
and erudite man, demurred: “I think we run in different circles.”
meantime, he says he is confident his family’s venture will positively
contribute to Jerusalem’s well-being. “This project will cause a lot of the
well-to-do-people around the world to stay longer in the city, strengthen its
economy and maintain its beauty,” he says.
“My family and I are very much
looking forward to opening the Waldorf-Astoria Jerusalem to the world. It is the
opportunity of a lifetime.”