Track and Field

The new entertainment center at the old railway station, scheduled to open in April 2013, will place a special emphasis on food and sports.

Old Jerusalem Train Station 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Old Jerusalem Train Station 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Fourteen years after its closure and abandonment, the old train station in Jerusalem – a landmark building dating back to the Ottoman Empire – will be brought back to life.
It will not be a railway station anymore, but the old compound will become an art and entertainment center.
Avi Murdoch, a Jerusalemite and successful entrepreneur, sounded almost like a child showing off his new toy to visitors as he gave this reporter a tour of the old compound recently. For those who still remember what the station looked like when it was still in service, the changes inside are tremendous. From outside, on Remez Street leading from Hebron Road to the Khan Theater, the old building looks more like a total ruin than anything else; but once one passes over the threshold, it is amazing. Side by side, one can see the remains of this historic building’s former glory and the first signs of the large-scale renovations.
In April 2013 the large wooden doors of the station (completely restored according to the strict instructions of the experts supervising the project) are slated to open, revealing a large modern facility for the city’s residents and visitors to enjoy.
In September 1892, the first train arrived in the Holy City and stopped at the newly built Jerusalem station. Among the dignitaries at the station’s inauguration (Jews, Arabs and Turks) was Eliezer Ben- Yehuda, who determined that the new machine would no longer be called an iron horse but a “rakevet.”
Today, the First Station, as the project is called, is adding a new stone to the Cultural Mile in the southeastern part of the city, which extends from the Jerusalem Theater, through the Zappa Club, the Cinematheque (Israel Film Archive), the Khan Theater, Sultan’s Pool and soon the Sherover Center in Talpiot as well. Its location will also enable tourists staying at one of the hotels nearby – such as the Inbal, the Dan Boutique, the King David and the King Solomon – to walk from their hotel to the First Station. The station will focus on two aspects of leisure activities – food and sports.
The restored building will house several restaurants, coffee shops and bars, mostly high-quality chef restaurants.
The opposite side, which had been a large empty field, will have small eateries. In between, on the reconstructed tracks, reasonably priced crafts and souvenirs will be sold from old railway coaches.
“The basic concept is to offer a variety of products at various prices,” says Murdoch. “We want it to suit both the well-to-do and the less affluent visitors.
Everyone will have the choice between a high-quality and relatively expensive chef restaurant and a more simple venue for a pizza or the like, so and it will all work out of the same compound.”
So what exactly will the First Station offer visitors? “First and foremost, it will serve as a bridge between Jerusalem of the past and the city of tomorrow,” says Murdoch. “It is located in the heart of the city. It offers arts and leisure that is open and accessible for all and, I dare say, it will change many of the residents’ leisure habits because it’s so open and so easy to reach. There is no need to go inside to some enclosed place. It is a totally new concept.”
Among the list of activities and events scheduled, there is an emphasis on facilities for nonprofessional sports such as bike riding and stores to purchase anything you might need to become a good rider. There are Segway tour departure points, as well as spots for street theater, fairs and the like.
One of the most interesting aspects of the project is the special attention to art, which, again is accessible to all. Ofer Berkovitch, a former city council member for Hitorerut B’yerushalayim, is in charge of the artistic and cultural aspects of the project. He says that besides the restaurants and cafes, he wants the place to be a central cultural venue. In addition to small galleries and spots for outdoor artistic events and leisure, one of the largest spaces inside the old passenger hall will be a public art gallery.
The gallery will present new exhibitions four or five times a year. Each exhibition will be done in collaboration with one of the art high schools (Jerusalem has the largest number of art high schools in the country) so as to have residents become more familiar with the students’ work.
“Not every resident here will take the trouble to go to Mount Scopus to visit Bezalel’s end-of-year exhibition,” he explains. “So we will bring the exhibitions here so that the works of the students studying here will become accessible for all.”
In between, the gallery will enable young local artists to exhibit their works, giving them an opportunity to display their work to prospective art aficionados.
The whole project was initiated by the Jerusalem Development Authority as a tender to entrepreneurs.
The land belongs Israel Railways, and Murdoch, who won the tender a year ago, has the franchise for it. Murdoch and his two associates, Assaf Hamo and Erez Navon, have invested NIS 15 million in the project. They seem confident that they will make a large profit on their investment, as this project seems to be on the right track to becoming a local success story. •