Paris has l’Avenue des Champs-Élysées. London is proud of Oxford and Regent streets and Rome of Via Veneto. Gran Vía is the delight of Madrid and Friedrichstraße of Berlin. Which street is the pride of the capital of Israel? A tough question indeed. I would put my money on King David Street.
This is how my presentation to owners and Hilton executives started 30 years ago, as part of my role as head of public relations for Hilton Hotels in Israel. Construction for a new luxury hotel just started in the Mamilla district, footsteps from the Old City walls and Jaffa Gate. Hilton pulled out of its veteran hotel at the city entrance and since a new hotel was underway, a need arose to find a name to differentiate the old and new. “The Jerusalem Hilton on King David Street” was my suggestion for the obvious reason. This is apparently the most prestigious street in the capital.
My proposal was adopted unanimously and I felt that the new hotel was another step of turning this amazing street to the Gran Vía of the city.
“Man plans and God laughs,” my father used to joke. As usual he was right. Hilton pulled out of the hotel in 2001 in unfortunate circumstances after only three years of operation. Is the street in a better shape ever since?
King David Street came back to my mind just recently as US President Joe Biden had a schedule that included a voyage of approximately 400 meters from the King David Hotel, where he stayed with his entourage, to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where he held meetings with Prime Minister Yair Lapid. Was he impressed with the illustrious street, seen from the armor-plated limousine “The Beast”? One can only speculate.
It is a rather bizarre street, bearing in mind it is Jerusalem’s most prestigious lane. When it was just a dirt road in the Ottoman period, turning into an urban boulevard during the British Mandate, it offered something unique: a spectacular view to the east of the walls of Jerusalem and of Mount Zion on the other side of Ben Hinnom Valley. The British called the street “Julian’s Way.” The view was partly blocked toward the end of the 1920s.
What the street has
Famed architects designed two impressive buildings, the YMCA and the King David Hotel, at the top of the hill, facing each other, with the street passing between them. The road became one of the symbols of the British Mandate’s rule, when in 1938, the authorities decided to house British Government offices in the King David Hotel. Additional Mandatory governmental and administrative offices were built, sparsely scattered along the street. Being that the road connected the center of Jerusalem with the city’s train station and its amazing architectural gems in the southern neighborhoods – the German Colony, Baka, Abu Tor – it became extremely popular.
After the end of the mandate and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, a decision was made by city council to call Julian’s Way “King David Street.” While the hotel and the YMCA remain two of the most beautiful structures in the city, the rest of the older buildings today don’t look prestigious at all. Some of them house old dusty antique shops. Some empty galleries.
Relatively impressive new buildings dominate the northern part of the street – the new Hilton, now the impressive David Citadel Hotel and The Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, the main seminary for training rabbis, cantors, educators and communal workers in Reform Judaism.
The southern part remains an unbuilt open space, and on either side are gardens planted in the 1970s – the Bell Sparrow Garden and Bloomfield Garden. An amazing spacious “green lung” in the heart of the city, with the Old City walls and the magnificent scenery, including the breathless 1857 Montefiore Windmill.
The most prestigious and beautiful street in the capital of Israel offers a gas station, however not a single restaurant or a coffee shop. No shopping attractions. No public parking facility. People are not strolling to enjoy the moment and relax on the most prestigious street in Jerusalem. The sidewalks are empty. No chairs and tables for a snack with a pampering double espresso in a porcelain cup and a saucer are to be found. Some say it’s an uncomfortable hilly street to enjoy. Isn’t Gran Vía in Madrid steeper? Is Paris’s Champs-Élysées flat?
NIS 52 million was spent recently by the municipality for “an upgrade project including development of the street – preservation of existing, historic trees on the street, sidewalk restoration with placement of additional benched and decorative elements,” according to the official announcement. Walking along the approximately 400 meters part of the street Biden made from the King David to the Waldorf Astoria, people are not to be seen. And that’s hardly because of security restrictions, which were enforced during Biden’s visit.
Real estate along the street has become one of the most prestigious and expensive in the country. Most of the residences added along the street over the years bear names that commemorate King David and feed on the prestige of the name - Kfar David (the residential neighborhood of the Mamilla complex), King David Gardens, King David’s Courtyard, King’s Crown David and the Mishkenot Melech David, and appeal mainly to affluent tourists and wealthy English-speaking foreigners. Not to the locals unfortunately.
The most prestigious and beautiful street in the capital of Israel is mainly viewed from a public transportation window or while driving in a traffic jam to and from the downtown area. A much longer version of Biden’s experience. Regrettably a street with just a view from a window.
The writer is the Travel Flash Tips publisher.