Prime property

Now home to a large student population, Rehavia is still a prestigious address.

Jerusalem rentals (photo credit: Marc israel Sellem)
Jerusalem rentals
(photo credit: Marc israel Sellem)
In the not so distant past, Rehavia was the most sought-after address in the capital.
Though it is no longer what it was during the British Mandate and up till the late 1960s, the neighborhood – which is still the site of the prime minister’s official residence – is considered one of the high-class residential areas in Jerusalem, with a distinctive central European accent.
When the British established their rule in Palestine, the Jewish Agency expected a large influx of middle-class Jews from Central Europe – namely Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. With the aim of creating suitable accommodation for these families, the agency planned a middle-class neighborhood with apartments that were more or less equal to those in Germany and in the successor states of the vast Hapsburg Empire, which disintegrated at the end of World War I.
The design of the new neighborhood was entrusted to German Jewish architect Richard Kaufmann. The main idea in his urban planning was the incorporation of Sir Ebenezer Howard’s concept of urban garden suburbs, which would emphasize the Zionist movement’s social ideals and emphasis on agriculture.
Howard was a British architect and town planner who pioneered the concept of bringing the garden into the city.
Work on planning and building Rehavia started in the early 1920s. At the time, Jerusalem was a small city, but Kaufmann was very forwardlooking, and he designed Rehavia as an urban garden suburb of a large bustling metropolis based on the Howardian “garden cities” in Britain and the US.
The central idea was of a series of residential apartment buildings that were not connected and were surrounded by their own gardens, in contrast to the rows of unseparated houses in European capitals that would stretch the length of whole streets.
Kaufmann designed Rehavia to be a quiet suburb within walking distance of the center of town, in the area of King George Avenue and Jaffa Road. By intentionally designing narrow roads that prevented easy access to traffic, and only allowing commerce on its bordering streets – Keren Kayemet Le’Israel, King George, Ussishkin, and later Aza streets – he enabled Rehavia to retain its tranquil, upper-class aura to this day.
Most of the area was built in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s: sturdy, solid stone houses, some in the Bauhaus style. The intention was to maintain the grounds as flowering gardens, but this was not always the case, since the system of condominiums did not make for “communal” gardens as residents do not always take responsibility for communal surroundings.
In its heyday, the area was home to many famous people, the cream of the intellectual and political elite, including former prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. The first official residence of the president was in Rehavia.
TODAY THE neighborhood is experiencing a change in population. It is still an expensive area in an excellent location, but as the older generation of original residents dies out, their old homes are rented out – many to overseas residents, and some to students.
Rent for the relatively run-down three-room apartments favored by students can be as low as NIS 4,500 a month, while a fancy four-room apartment can rent for as much as $4,000 a month.
In Rehavia, demand usually outstrips supply, and whatever comes onto the market sells relatively fast. The same goes for rentals.
The neighborhood is attractive to students with means because it is close to the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus and near the coffee shops and restaurants on Aza Street. For overseas residents, it is attractive because it is a leafy neighborhood near the center of the city.
But despite the growth of this temporary, floating population, Rehavia has considerable appeal as a residential area.
Supply there is limited because there are no empty plots. The only time new projects come about is when old buildings are torn down and new ones go up in their place. Not an easy thing to accomplish, since most of the buildings are marked for conservation.
A much better solution is to add on more apartments to existing buildings. Such apartments are very much in demand. The extra floors go onto buildings with historic facades, which are then restored. The public areas, such as the entrances, lobbies and stairwells, are upgraded, and the new apartments are designed to blend in with the period high ceilings and large rooms – but with modern appliances and technology.
The apartments fetch premium prices, from $10,000 to $12,000 a square meter, while penthouses built atop these old buildings can fetch from $15,000 to $20,000 a square meter.