Beit Ticho’s new-old look

Doorways and windows have been lovingly and deftly renovated or replaced, and the original styles of the grilles over the windows have been refashioned.

Beit Ticho, 150 years old and as charming as ever (photo credit: Courtesy)
Beit Ticho, 150 years old and as charming as ever
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With all the constructional upheavals this city has endured in recent years, at times it seemed like Jerusalem was one big building site. It has also been difficult to discern some of the architectural gems that have survived the inexorable march of time and progress, as high-rise apartment blocks and office buildings have sprung up in and around the center of town.
A few years back, ahead of a story I did on the House from Within event, the then head of the Swedish Theological Institute on Hanevi’im Street bemoaned the fact that new apartment buildings going up across the road had blocked his view of the sunset. Those buildings also surround Beit Ticho but somehow do nothing to detract from its charm.
Beit Ticho, which has served as the Israel Museum’s extramural offshoot in downtown Jerusalem since 1984, was closed for business last year so that the restorers and renovators could work their magic on the 150-year-old structure. Last Thursday, the slightly longer than planned refurbishing project was officially announced done and dusted. Following a grand reopening event the previous evening, Beit Ticho is now ready to welcome the public back through its inviting and aesthetically endearing portal.
Timna Seligman, curator of the rejuvenated premises, was more than a little busy when I popped round to the museum to see how things were progressing and get a handle on the whole renewal venture, just a couple of days before the resumption of – enhanced – normal service.
My personal tour of the place was intermittently interrupted by phone calls to the curator about all manner of pressing preliminaries, while staff members and contractors consulted Seligman on various logistics, such as where to place the donor plaque.
Stop-start continuum notwithstanding, it was a fascinating visit, and it is safe to say that the long wait to get another glimpse of Beit Ticho’s antique furnishings and collections of Judaica and other period treasures has been well worth it.
The changes that have taken place near the downtown spot have had a telling bearing on the logistical arrangements around the historic dwelling which, says Seligman, were not entirely unwelcome.
“There used to be a car park at the front of the house, but the municipality turned it into a little grassy public area, so suddenly we had this lovely access route to the original main entrance of the house,” she says, Indeed, the stroll up from Harav Agan Street, which runs parallel to Jaffa Road, provides a pleasingly verdant introduction to the aesthetic joys that await the visitor at the splendidly made-over house that once served as the residence of feted ophthalmologist Dr. Abraham Ticho and his artist wife, Anna.
The house was constructed by a wealthy Arab, Aga Rashid Nashashibi, around 1864. Polish-born antiquities dealer Moses Wilhelm Shapira, who converted to Christianity, lived there with his family between 1873 and 1883. In 1924 the Tichos took over the house, which was one of the first buildings to be constructed outside the Old City walls. Dr. Ticho was stabbed and seriously wounded during the 1929 Arab riots outside his eye clinic near Damascus Gate. He eventually recovered and subsequently installed his new clinic on the first floor of his home, serving all Jerusalemites, regardless of socioeconomic standing, until his death in 1960.
“They did a lot of socializing and held soirees,” says Seligman, as we pass by a couple of comfortable-looking armchairs that exude an elegant aura.
“This was an important part of the social scene in Jerusalem back then,” she explains.
A-lister guests at the Ticho residence included Nobel Prize laureate author S.Y. Agnon, philosopher Martin Buber and Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold.
Visitors to the new-look museum will immediately note that the restaurant has moved upstairs, wherein awaits a spectacular discovery.
“We saw that the vaulted ceilings of the library area seemed to be in good condition – they were painted over in white – but we wanted to make sure that they were completely safe, that the plaster underneath the paint was okay,” says Seligman.
Under the supervision of restoration architect Amir Freundlich, the examination duly took place, and a surprise was in store.
“They suddenly saw blue,” continues Seligman. “There was something beneath the plaster.”
The nether stratum is now on full display and can be enjoyed by diners at the restaurant. And it makes for impressive viewing, with the faded remains of delicate ornate patterns of blue and yellow fetchingly overseeing the diners.
“Amir did a wonderful job on the building,” notes Seligman.
There was another surprising find in store.
“We discovered the cistern,” says Seligman.
“And it is in good condition.”
Before getting down to the NIS 10 million makeover business, Freundlich conducted in-depth research on the history of the building, which included checking out the previous upgrade work carried out by David Kroyanker in the early 1980s. Freundlich made every effort to retain the original character of the building.
“Look at these vaulted ceilings,” says Seligman as we stroll through the entrance area. “You can see the original rings up there still.”
Indeed one can.
“We wanted to keep the lines and design of the house as visible as possible,” she continues. “That’s why the walls are in white, and we tried to keep the lines clean. And we have a central air conditioning system, which also controls the humidity and is a proper museum standard control system. All the wiring runs under the floors, so it doesn’t damage the appearance of the building.”
Doorways and windows have been lovingly and deftly renovated or replaced, and the original styles of the grilles over the windows have been refashioned. There is also a sense of space in the house, none-too-generous proportions notwithstanding.
The museum now provides full access for the disabled, and an elevator accesses the restaurant on the top floor and the gallery on the mezzanine. The art gallery is currently hosting the opening show of the new chapter of the former Ticho residence, Nirit Pereg’s “Right to Clean.”
It’s good to have Beit Ticho back, and in such resplendent form.