Neighborhood Watch: A return to its former glory

Jaffa Road's face-lift has had a positive effect on the real-estate scene.

Jaffa Road Jerusalem 521  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jaffa Road Jerusalem 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jaffa Road has the distinction of being one of the oldest thoroughfares in the city and one that has retained its name for hundreds of years. Jaffa Road is the route to the west, the route to the plains and the port of Jaffa.
The street starts at Jaffa Gate in the Old City and continues to the entrance to Route 1, the modern Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.
For centuries Jaffa Road was an unpaved road, like all roads in Ottoman Palestine. When Jerusalem began to spread its wings – that is, to emerge from the walled precincts of the Old City – the route to Jaffa adjacent to Jaffa Gate became an urban thoroughfare, and in 1861 a few kilometers of the street were paved.
Today, Jaffa Road is not only the oldest street in Jerusalem but it is also the longest. It just about bisects the city on an east-to-west axis.
It is also one of the most central streets in Jerusalem. In its heyday, it was the commercial center of the capital. With the advent of the shopping malls, the street lost much of its commercial importance, and up to a few years ago it was in a process of decline. But even at its nadir, it was lined with shops, businesses and restaurants. Perhaps these establishments didn’t do as much business as before, but many survived.
Major landmarks along Jaffa Road are the classical City Hall compound; the central post office built by the British in the monumental British Imperial style of the late 19th and early 20th century; the colorful Mahaneh Yehuda market; and the central bus station.
Jaffa Road is the center of downtown Jerusalem. It is intersected by such main arteries as King George Avenue, Straus Street and Ben-Yehuda Street.
Jaffa Road was also the center of developing Jerusalem. From the time it became part of the urban network of streets, it was a focal point of the 19thcentury expansion outside the Old City walls. All the new neighborhoods beyond the walls, and some of the most important public institutions such as the 19th-century structure of the Shaare Zedek hospital, were built along its axis.
Today the street is mainly commercial, but most of Jerusalem’s modern palatial residences were located there, some of which remain to this day.
When the British occupied Palestine and established the Mandatory regime, they made Jerusalem the capital of the new Mandate, and Jaffa Road became an important part of their organization. They built the central post office, the city hall building and the Barclays Bank regional head office. They also took over the buildings of the Russian Compound as part of their administrative complex.
The reunification of Jerusalem after the Six Day War started the decline of the street due to the massive outward expansion of the city. The decline intensified with the development of shopping centers in the new outlying suburbs, as well as the construction of large shopping malls.
The commercial decline of the street worried the municipality, and city hall has started to address some of the problems of the street. Jaffa Road has become a major route of the new light rail, which will shorten the time it takes to get from the suburbs to downtown Jerusalem.
Private cars are now prohibited from driving along the downtown section of Jaffa Road, and this ban is the crux of an ambitious urban plan to convert the central part of Jaffa Road into a pedestrian-only area. Connected with the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall, it will create a large pedestrian corridor from the Old City up to King George Avenue. This area is served by the light rail, which will bring shoppers from all over Jerusalem.
These are ambitious plans, and they are affecting real estate not only on Jaffa Road but also in the vicinity.
The municipality is subsidizing students willing to live in the area, thereby increasing the profitability of investing in rentable real estate.
Because of the new developments on Jaffa Road, many developers have begun buying up older buildings on the side streets such as Rav Kook and Hanevi’im.
Alyssa Friedland, broker/owner of RE/MAX Vision, told In Jerusalem that the developers “have begun building luxury apartment complexes catering to foreign buyers (mostly religious) who want to live in the city center. These projects have facilities such as spas, gyms and pools, attracting affluent vacation home buyers. Prices for these properties range from $6,000 to $8,000 per square meter and come with parking spaces and storage rooms.”
She adds that many investors bought smaller apartments on Jaffa Road knowing that the price of the property would appreciate considerably once the light rail began running. In the meantime, they renovated them slightly and leased them as offices or student apartments while waiting for the prices to appreciate.
Raphi Bloch, a RE/MAX Vision agent who specializes in the city center, sold a small three-room (50- square-meter) apartment to an investor four years ago for $150,000. The owner can now sell it for as much as $260,000.
With the sleek new look of the city center, Jaffa Road is once again becoming a popular place for restaurants, leisure shopping and family outings. The city center, with its old-world charm, modern light rail and wide sidewalks is becoming a favorite shopping and entertainment area for Israelis and tourists alike. And this bears favorably on the real-estate scene in the area.