Deep roots 292013

Jabotinsky Street is as notable for its lush foliage as for its rich history.

Jabotinsky street (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Jabotinsky street
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
When was the last time you took a good look at the trees on your street? Never? Yet imagine your neighborhood without them; no matter how magnificent the houses, it would still look sterile and bare.
In the past, our “Street Strolls” have focused almost exclusively on buildings, whether they hosted historic events, housed important figures or were of unusual architectural interest. This week’s walk up Jabotinsky Street has us looking at foliage as well – specifically, the nettle trees that line the road and bestow an extra dimension to the beautiful buildings.
Jabotinsky Street stretches from Keren Hayesod Street, just above Liberty Bell Garden, to Hanassi Street. Why this particular byway is named for Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who lived elsewhere and was eventually caught by the British in the center of town, I cannot say. But no matter the rationale, as one of the most active figures in Zionist history, Jabotinsky certainly deserves to have a street named after him.
In April 1920, Arabs rioted in Jerusalem. Fortunately, together with others, Jabotinsky, a World War I veteran, had already begun to organize a Jewish self-defense league in Palestine called the Hagana – and “only” six Jews were killed in the city.
Afterwards, Jabotinsky was arrested by the British for leading the Jewish defensive forces in Jerusalem and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Not long afterwards, Jabotinsky was released; five years later he founded the Revisionist Movement, the political arm associated with the militant Irgun.
Jabotinsky Street is located in the prestigious neighborhood of Talbiyeh. The first dwellings went up in the mid-1920s, mainly built by affluent Christian Arabs on land purchased from the Greek Orthodox Church. Interestingly, the odd-numbered houses (on the left as you ascend) are nearly a century old, while most of the even-numbered houses were built by Jews after the establishment of the state, in an entirely different style.
Begin your stroll with the sprawling structure at the bottom of the road, from Nos. 3 to 11 Jabotinsky Street. Completed in 1983, what started out as the Laromme Hotel is today the very popular Inbal.
The hotel’s original design called for 20 stories and several residential towers; instead, as the result of public pressure, a new plan was prepared and the revised version has fewer stories, fits in very well with its surroundings and hasn’t a single tower. It is even constructed around a central courtyard, typical of early Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Now’s the time to peer all the way up the street and view the nettle trees that line the road (and a few olive trees that are offshoots of the olive groves that stood here before Talbiyeh was founded).
Endemic to Israel, nettle trees are strong and hardy with a smooth, gray bark. At this time of year they sport tiny dark purple berries that are very popular with birds. When the trees were planted, there were no sidewalks on either side of the road – only dirt – and very few vehicles, so they were able to thrive and grow.
The nettles, which are deciduous trees, have already begun shedding their leaves. Indeed, by the time you read this you may be walking on masses of yellow leaves that cover the sidewalks.
Nettle trees will flank you on your stroll all the way up to the traffic circle. Although the British planted a variety of trees that they had brought from faraway lands, Talbiyeh ended up with two local species: nettle, and the carob that they planted from the corner of Jabotinsky Street all the way down Marcus Street.
On the next corner, the stunning apartment building at No. 13 dates back to the late 1920s and was designed as a two-story dwelling by wealthy and prolific architect George Shiber. Two more floors were added in the 1990s, along with an old-fashioned lamp and an ironwork gate that can be seen from the Jabotinsky Street entrance.
The edifice next door, at No. 15, was also designed by Shiber.
One of several that he built and rented out, it has two interesting features: smooth, rounded columns holding up the balconies and an artistic stone fence that surrounds the entire rooftop.
Feast your eyes on the delicate ironwork on the gate and above the inner entrance to No. 23 Jabotinsky. Then cross the street, to Nos. 22 and 24. Here, three elongated, four-story buildings form a tiny neighborhood of their own. Bordered on three sides by Sokolow, Jabotinsky and Shalom Aleichem streets, it was founded in the 1950s by veterans of the Hagana on land acquired from the Greek Orthodox Church. Apartments were small, with only two and a half rooms each, and there were 13 entrances. Walk inside for a sight of the large, serene courtyard in the center.
Continue up the street a few meters until you are across from No.
27. This interesting 1920s building housed the Spanish Consulate for almost half a century. All kinds of people and institutions have been in and out of the structure, including the Jewish Agency, a British army store and, today, the Consulate of the Republic of Poland.
The most interesting features are the windows, each designed in a different style, with bright blue shutters. Cross the street and walk to the entrance for a look at what appear to be original floor tiles inside and out.
NOW MOVE on to No. 29, which has an elegant arched entrance and palm trees in the yard. Then continue up the street to the corner, the site of a flourishing carob tree. Just past the last house on Jabotinsky (No. 39), the restored house at No. 1 Marcus is a delight to behold. Today it serves as headquarters for the wonderfully social-minded CRB Foundation established by Canadian philanthropist Charles Bronfman. Bronfman, who has advanced all kinds of Jewish causes, co-founded the enormously successful Birthright program.
You have reached Orde Wingate Square, once the most beautiful of its kind in the city and a meeting point for three unusually lovely byways: Balfour, Jabotinsky and Marcus streets.
Although the square was renamed for Orde Wingate, the fundamentalist Christian and British officer whose highly trained Jewish “night squads” broke the back of Arab terrorism in Palestine in 1938, Jerusalemites stubbornly persist in calling it by its original name, Salameh Square. The name was no accident: three of the four houses around the square were built by the same entrepreneur, Constantine Salameh, and effectively dictated its creation.
Salameh was a Christian Arab who dealt in real estate, maintained close connections with the Jews and made a fortune supplying the British army with fruits and vegetables. Although he rented out two of his handsome buildings, he made the third one (the most luxurious) his home. One of Jerusalem’s most imposing structures, the three-story dwelling is surrounded by a landscaped garden.
The architect of this gem was Marcel Favier, who was sent to Jerusalem to rebuild the French consulate after its destruction in the earthquake of 1927. Both buildings feature a symmetrical facade and straight, neo-classical lines.
Salameh lived here with his wife, four children and two dogs, but near the very end of the British Mandate he entrusted his house keys to the Belgian consul and left the country (as did many of Talbiyeh’s other Arab residents). The enterprising Salameh continued to prosper and lived abroad until the age of 103, while the Belgians continue to occupy the villa and meticulously preserve every last detail.
Directly across from the home of the CRB Foundation, the strangely-shaped Salameh-built apartment house at No. 21 Balfour hugs the street at a diagonal. Designed by Hungarianborn Zoltan Hermet, it is a masterpiece hidden by tall trees and lush gardens. Carefully navigate crossing the street, then pass through the gate for a good view of this stunning construction, which features a vertical window on the stairway to provide light, two entrances, and striking balconies.
Now continue on to the Belgian Consulate/ Salameh’s Villa to get a better look at the building, then find the vehicular entrance, at No. 22 Balfour, to see it from another angle. Here, tall Washingtonia palm trees, a symbol of fertility in some cultures, stand guard.
Back on Jabotinsky, you can study Salameh’s three-story edifice across the road, at No. 2 Marcus. A fascinating combination of straight and rounded lines and originally only two stories high, the unusual dwelling has a stone chimney – one of the first in the city and providing the opportunity for a fireplace on every floor. Note the Bauhaus (International) influence in the balconies, one atop the other, and the tall, narrow glass window the length of the stairwell.
Further on Jabotinsky, to your left, stands the Van Leer Institute and Israel Academy of Arts and Science, where the country’s intelligentsia carries out a variety of projects. Popular lecture series, open to the public (and free) include talks on the Weekly Torah portion with a different theme each year. This year’s series focuses on social justice.
The large structure on your right, at No. 44, is Yad Harav Nissim. Built in the 1940s as an apartment complex, it wound up, instead, as the Salvia Hotel. In May 1947 a few UNSCOP (United Nations Special Commission on Palestine) delegates spent several months at the Salvia while discussing the future of the region. They were in Israel (and some were even at Haifa Port) when the ill-fated Exodus 1947 refugee ship attempted to enter and Holocaust survivors were sent back to Europe. Several delegates admitted that the tragic event had influenced their thinking.
Foreign journalists frequented the hotel lobby, along with British Intelligence and Hagana... some of whom were girls who danced with the British in an attempt to ferret out information.
Sephardi chief rabbi Yitzhak Nissim bought the building in 1958 and turned it into a yeshiva.
Keep going to reach a wrought-iron gate and, inside, a strange-looking guard post once manned by British solders.
This is the St. Antonio Monastery, designed in 1936 by Italian architect Antonio Barlucci as a Franciscan school for Arab girls.
When World War II broke out three years later, the British confiscated the Italian-owned building as enemy property. The second floor became their Supreme Military Tribunal; the British fortified the building and stuck machine guns out the window to protect them from terrorists. It was here that members of the underground Hagana, Stern Group and Irgun were tried – and some were sentenced to death.
According to journalist Gavriel Tzafroni, reporters knew that a prisoner was going to die as soon as they walked into the courtroom, for the judges’ hats would be on the table. Afterwards, the judges put on their hats and read out the sentence.
Across the street, the President’s Residence is situated on the edge of Jabotinsky Street at No. 3 Hanassi (the president) Street. Sometime during the presidency of Zalman Shazar (1963 to 1973), plans were presented to the government for approval. It is said that Knesset member Yitzhak Navon argued against the proposal, declaring that the house did not provide children with a place to play. Indeed, when Navon became president in 1978, the residence had to be transformed into a house suitable for his progeny.