Neighborhood Watch: Old world in the new city

During the past decade, immigrants from the US and Europe have invested heavily in Baka, further upgrading what was already a desirable area.

Baka neighborhood Jerusalem 521 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimsk)
Baka neighborhood Jerusalem 521
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimsk)
Baka, one of Jerusalem’s more upscale neighborhoods, contains some of the most interesting architecture in the capital. Located in the southern part of the city, Baka is bounded by Talpiot to the south, Mekor Haim to the west, the Greek and German colonies to the northwest and Abu Tor to the east.
The neighborhood’s official name is Geulim, but very few people call it that, preferring its original name, Baka, which means valley in Arabic. The neighborhood was founded in the early 1920s by upper-middle-class Muslims and Christians, who bought land in the valley and built some of the most attractive residences in Jerusalem.
Following the War of Independence in 1948, Baka wound up on the Israeli side of the cease-fire line.
Consequently, as was the case with other Arab villages that wound up on Israeli territory, the neighborhood was emptied of its inhabitants, and soon inhabited by a flood of new immigrants, in Baka’s case mainly from North Africa.
The Jerusalem railway station, built at the edge of the neighborhood in the 19th century, made it a very central location. The station, a historic building in its own right, was in use until 1998. While it was in service it was one of the main gateways to the capital, a transport link with the coastal regions.
Today Baka is home to both religious and secular residents. There are some 10 synagogues in the neighborhood, catering to various streams of Judaism. It is also popular with English- and French-speaking immigrants.
From an architectural perspective, Baka is unique.
The original inhabitants built in a grand style, and many of these old homes remain and have been recently renovated and expanded.
Some of the larger mansions from the Mandate period were subdivided into smaller apartments and became multi-family buildings with lovely gardens and balconies. These properties feature higher-thanaverage ceiling heights and unusual, decorative entrances. Many also have arched windows, and some even have water cisterns.
The professional middle class soon spotted the potential of this neighborhood and, particularly during the 1970s, began to move in, renovating and updating the magnificent homes.
During the past decade, immigrants from the US and Europe – France in particular – have invested heavily in the neighborhood, further upgrading what was already a highly desirable area. Today Beit Lehem Road bustles with life and is lined with shops, designer stores, cafés, restaurants and more. Recently a beautiful pedestrian park and bike trail was built over the old railroad tracks, serving as a dividing line between Baka and the German Colony.
From a real-estate perspective Baka has become a favorite among foreign and local buyers. Currently over half the buyers are foreigners who have either come to live here or are buying vacation homes.
These buyers are looking for unique properties with old-world charm, and are willing to pay for them.
Prices in Baka range from NIS 1.6 million for a three-room apartment to NIS 2.4m. for a four-room apartment. The larger penthouses and garden apartments can cost as much as NIS 4m. to NIS 6m.
There are also a number of buildings on some of the smaller side streets that were built in the ’50s to house an influx of new immigrants. These apartments are small, and the buildings have no elevators and no parking. Nevertheless, there is demand for these apartments as starter homes for young married couples.
Prices can start as low as NIS 1.2m. for a three-room dwelling. Incidentally, most of these apartments can be enlarged by adding an extra room.
Many young families are willing to take these older buildings and renovate them, as this allows them to live in a well-to-do neighborhood with excellent schools, relatively close to the city center, for very little money.
• A 72-sq.m. three-room apartment on Shimon Street sold for NIS 1.74 million.
• A 106-sq.m. four-room apartment on Yehuda Street sold for NIS 1.9m.
• A 150-sq.m. six-room house on Levi Street, fully renovated with a large, well-kept garden, was sold for NIS 7m.
• A 54-sq.m. three-room apartment on Rivka Street sold for NIS 1.4m.
• A 90-sq.m. four-room apartment on Beit Lehem Street sold for NIS 1.25m.
• A 97-sq.m. four-room apartment on Kibbutz Galuyot Street sold for NIS 1.575m.