Neighborhood Watch: The new Rehavia

The historic center of west Jerusalem comes into vogue.

Hatzar Hanevi’im (photo credit: Courtesy V Point)
Hatzar Hanevi’im
(photo credit: Courtesy V Point)
The area around what is known as the Russian Compound and the vast complex of the Jerusalem Municipality is more of a commercial and governmental area, and less residential.
But now the historic center of west Jerusalem – the area around the eastern part of Jaffa Road – has become fashionable, and luxury apartment buildings are going up in many parts of the area.
This particular district of Jerusalem is rich with architectural gems of the late 19th century and early 20th century. This means that many of the new residential developments incorporate restored historic buildings. These buildings are two stories at the most but with very high ceilings, and they are usually converted to high-end shops or art galleries.
In the not-so-distant past, the relatively small number of residences in the area were inhabited by low-income families. Now, the original inhabitants are being slowly squeezed out and the new residents are mostly well-heeled families, either local or from overseas.
Overseas buyers usually do not use their apartments on a year-round basis, as for them it is a second, holiday home, and they usually come during summer break or the High Holy Days.
The area in question is roughly bordered by the old municipal building near the end of the eastern section of Jaffa Road in the east; Davidka Square in the west; Hanevi’im Street in the north; and King George Avenue in the south.
This is the stretch that can be called the center of Jerusalem, because ever since the city expanded beyond its walls, it has been the residential, commercial and administrative center of the capital.
The area has a very checkered history.
Its heyday was during the 1920s and 1930s, at the high-water mark of the British Mandate administration in Palestine. Then it was the commercial center of Jerusalem, and many of the rich and beautiful had apartments in the area.
All that changed in 1948.
The city was divided and that part of the city – or more to the point, its northeastern area, what is now Musrara – as well as the southeastern part, including the old municipal building and the historic Barclays Bank Building, became border country, the cease-fire line. These were considered dangerous areas.
And they quickly degenerated into slums.
Musrara is a case in point. Affluent Christian residents of Jerusalem fleeing the cramped conditions in the city within the old Turkish walls in the 1880s founded several new suburbs, one of which was Musrara.
This trend of building neighborhoods outside the city walls by Christians, and to a much lesser extent by Jews, in the second half of the 19th century started after the Turkish authorities completed a comprehensive campaign to root out the the inherent sense of insecurity that existed outside the city walls. Needless to say, up until the late 19th century, the city gates were closed at night and those who ventured beyond the safety of the walls at night – but also by day – did so at their peril.
Before the War of Independence, the area was inhabited mainly by affluent families, and many shops in the area catered to the needs of the moneyed middle class. All that changed with the advent of the war. The area that is now Mamilla and David’s Village first became derelict and was then used to house new immigrants in the abandoned houses and businesses. Once one of the centerpieces of the city, it soon degenerated into a large slum.
Musrara did not have an easy time. Due to its proximity to the new border, the residents were exposed to daily attacks from Jordanian snipers stationed along the border, who did their utmost to disrupt their lives.
This became a daily routine until the Six Day War in 1967 reunited the city.
Now the area has come full circle and is fast becoming one of the most expensive and high-end districts of Jerusalem.
Developers are vying to get hold of whatever land becomes available and prices are going through the roof.
The trend started in the late 1980s, when the Jerusalem Municipality decided to turn back the clock and enacted bylaws meant to restore the area to its former glory. The laws prohibited tearing down existing houses and adding floors or annexes. At first it was slow going, but now, whenever land becomes available or an old building is offered for sale, it is immediately snapped up.
One of the building projects indicative of the type of development in the area is Hatzar Hanevi’im. It is the brainchild of the Africa-Israel Residences development company, one of the leading companies of its kind in Israel.
Eyal Haham, vice president of marketing and sales for Africa- Israel, explained to In Jerusalem why the company decided to build Hatzar Hanevi’im and why the area is so much in demand.
“In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this. Overseas buyers are an important element in the Jerusalem luxury-housing segment of the market, and prefer central locations. Furthermore, most of these buyers are religious, which is one of the reasons they buy property in what is to them the Holy City of Jerusalem.
For them, being within reasonable walking distance from the Great Synagogue and the Western Wall is very important.”
Demand is brisk and since supply is limited due to the shortage of building space, prices are set to rise in the long term.
Hatzar Hanevi’im is a multi-entrance, eight-story building with 146 units. The complex includes an old one-story building with a 600-meter façade. Its exterior has been painstakingly restored and its interior has been converted into luxurious business premises.
Prices in the areas are steep: NIS 30,000 to NIS 35,000 per square meter, which means that a 100-sq.m. apartment will cost upward of NIS 3 million.
Not cheap.
Despite hefty prices, Alex Loski, an independent real-estate broker who operates in the area, told IJ: “Demand is brisk. There is a lot of interest on the part of foreign buyers and this interest eventually translates into increased demand. There is also increased demand from local buyers, who are fully aware that the area is the new Rehavia – the premium real estate area in Jerusalem – and consequently prices will rise.”