The one-of-a-kind Hotel Cinema in Tel Aviv combines nostalgia and modern innovation to offer guests a unique experience.
By LYDIA AISENBERG
You won't find Laurel and Hardy up to their slapstick antics in manyhotel lobbies - but then again Hotel Cinema in Tel Aviv has to live upto its name.The 1930s sleek, rounded stone Bauhaus-style building stands out abovethe trees lining Dizengoff Circle. Against a blue sky, the white,balcony-lined four-storey building shows off the architectural flowingelegance of what was once a center of celluloid entertainment.Entering the hotel lobby evokes the bright light, reel-to-reelatmosphere of an old movie house. A massive film projector from days ofold and film canisters almost the size of bicycle wheels stand ingrandeur to one side of the reception desk - which in the days when theprojector worked was the cinema's confectionery counter.This explains why guests receive a bag of popcorn when booking intowhat was one of the first theaters built in the burgeoning city of TelAviv in the 1930s.The brown leather armchairs and sofas in the lobby are also reminiscentof days long gone, even though they are new. Top that off with anauthentic - even rusty around the edges - street sign from that periodproclaiming Zina Circus in English and Kikar Zina in Hebrew (before thecircle was renamed after the city's first mayor, Meir Dizengoff) on thewall alongside a gigantic photograph of the building and busy streetoutside in its early period, when the 1930s 'White City' atmospherebegan to take shape. A well-worn stairway leads up to the balconies ofthe floors above, topped by a marvelous round ceiling with an enormousbrass light-fitting gleaming down.The fact that Laurel and Hardy are prancing around on the screen abovethe exit area elevators only adds to the effect. A board full oflong-unused electrical levers and a pulley from the original cinemadays are mounted on the wall opposite the elevators. Photographs andtext about the building, the owners and the events that went on withinthe Esther cinema-theater are also on display. The upper floors featureposters and other memorabilia of bygone days when the cinema wasscreening the latest and greatest movies.Even the rooms have you thinking you've entered a classic movie set,the canvas-backed directors' chairs invoking Alfred Hitchcock or someequally famous director. Small spotlight lamps and soft furnishingsmatching the time and quality of yesteryear's cinemas complete thepicture.AdvertisementI would not have been surprised if the gentleman showing me around hadsuddenly leapt forward with a clap-board and called out a scene number,or someone yelled 'Cut!' from beyond - like the black-and-white-tiledbathroom, for instance.Recently renovated into a boutique hotel, Hotel Cinema boasts 80 rooms,some with views directly over Dizengoff Circle, a beehive of activitymost times of the day and evening.Designed by one of Israel's most prolific architects, YehudaMagidovitch who originated from the Ukraine, the building was inheritedby Dani Goldsmith from his grandparents, Moses and Esther Nathaniel,and is the only former cinema in Israel that has been converted into ahotel.Credit should be paid to Magidovitch - a visionary who did not alwayssee eye-to-eye with city elders - who also designed one of the mostopulent buildings to be found in early 1920s Tel Aviv known as 'TheCasino.' Although not a gambling house, the Casino cafe-restaurant onRehov Allenby close to the port area was constructed to boost thefledgling nightlife of the city-in-making. It was a group of immigrantsfrom the Ukraine who commissioned landsman Magidovitch to design thebuilding. Having heard that a railroad was due to be constructed closeto the seashore, linking the eastern part of the city with Jaffa andLod, the entrepreneurial newcomers saw a lucrative future with a centerfor entertainment so close to the railway.The Casino cafe-restaurant, which opened in l922, was an instant hit -except with the neighbors who complained about having their view of thesea blocked and inconvenience of traffic. In l938 an order was given bycity officialdom, and without ado the building was destroyed.Magidovitch, who had been the chief engineer of Tel Aviv froml920-1930, was born in Uman in 1886, and made aliya in l919. Afterleaving his city post he created his own company, designing andconstructing scores of buildings in the city before he died in l961,leaving a visual legacy the likes of the Esther Cinema - now HotelCinema - to be admired for generations to come.
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