Old Tel Aviv in 3D at the Shalom Towers

An exhibit in Migdal Shalom presents a vivid sampling of Tel Aviv's visual history.

tel aviv exhibit 88.298 (photo credit: )
tel aviv exhibit 88.298
(photo credit: )
Sometimes it's a challenge for out-of-towners to see Tel Aviv's redeeming qualities through the smog, traffic and unabashed hedonism. But the multi-faceted exhibition now showing in the lobby and second floor of Migdal Shalom presents Tel Aviv's visual history so vividly that even committed nature lovers might be seduced. Walking into the building, the viewer is immediately struck by Shimon Korbman's black and white photographs of Tel Aviv celebrations and leisure moments from 1919 to 1936 (from the Eretz Yisrael Museum collection). Most of the images were shot in the "Little Tel Aviv" area in which Migdal Shalom is situated and highlight the surprisingly urbane life people built in Tel Aviv. Gentlemen in ties and ladies in head scarves are photographed enjoying the sunshine on Sderot Rothschild. Contemporary beach lovers will especially enjoy a picture from 1925 of a carefree couple riding a bicycle along the water's edge, as well as an image of a nursery school class on an outing to the sea. The young teacher's smile glows from beneath her straw hat, while the toddlers around her play in the sand. Photographs of young men on the beach suggest that the youth of Tel Aviv haven't changed much; in one, three fellows from the rear stare over a fence boldly marked (in Hebrew and English) "strictly forbidden for men to pass the boundary to the women's section." Just past Korbman's photographs are models of pre-Bauhaus Tel Aviv circa 1910. One presents the layout of the streets and buildings from Yehuda HaLevi to Achad Ha'am Streets. While the names and location of the streets haven't changed, the pictures illustrate that back then, space existed between red-roofed houses in a town that resembled a European village more than it did a Mediterranean metropolis. A model of the eighth private home in Tel Aviv, built in 1910 at Rehov Ahad Ha'am 24, is basically a historical dollhouse, allowing viewers to imagine entertaining in the spacious living room or watching passersby from the outdoor porch. The house is full of elegant details, such as a wood-burning stove in the bathroom to pipe hot water directly to the shower. The viewer moves forward in time by riding up the escalator. Past a hallway covered in municipal documents from 1908-1935, there is another whole exhibition, Living on the Sands, dedicated to the architecture - and architects - of Tel Aviv. UNESCO (the United Nations cultural branch) recently declared the city a World Heritage Site, but not everybody understands why. On the second story of the exhibit, the first thing a visitor encounters is a giant scale model of the entire White City as it looks today, complete with skyscrapers, highways and plenty of Bauhaus architecture. A short text explains why UNESCO considers Tel Aviv an important cultural monument, emphasizing how the city's architecture is intrinsically linked to its atmosphere of "optimism and lightness, openness and creativity." One of the best sections is the group of photographs of 11 modern architecture structures in the center of Tel Aviv, accompanied by a virtual tour of each building on a flat screen television. It's a clever and effective way to allow viewers to go beyond the buildings' flat facades for a better sense of how the architects took advantage of the available sea breeze and sunshine. For each of these buildings, there are well-written blurbs in English, including the addresses of each so that visitors can find the actual structures themselves. Rounding out the multimedia experience, an excellent video presentation incorporates interviews with prominent Tel Aviv architects and original footage from the first half of the twentieth century. The architects discuss Tel Aviv and the Modern Movement from a global perspective, and help illuminate why the city plays such an important role in the history of architecture. These architects seem to think Tel Aviv is still an exciting place to work, but the vintage footage might make some people nostalgic for the days when the White City was still white. A beautiful segment on the inauguration of Dizengoff Square shows dozens of children dancing around the fountain, with the fresh, clean-lined buildings shining in the background. Long before the Dizengoff Center Mall was built and the square was vaulted to accommodate automobile traffic, this was architect Genia Auerbach's original vision for Kikar Dizengoff. Visitors to the Migdal Shalom exhibition may end up seeing Tel Aviv in a whole new light. Migdal Shalom, Rehov Achad Ha'am 9. Open Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m - noon. Entrance is free. Telephone: (03) 510-0337, (03) 517-7304.