Jerusalem deconstructed

Some of the city's most interesting construction projects were never completed.

museum of tolerance 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
museum of tolerance 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Over the past three millennia Jerusalem has known its fair share of master builders, from Kings David, Solomon and Herod to Suleiman the Magnificent and mayor Teddy Kollek. But the city has also known a mirror-image legacy of monumental and municipal projects that were stillborn or abandoned. The Third Wall, intended to protect the city's northern flank, was never completed, allowing Titus to breach the Temple in 70 CE. Today Rehov Hahoma Hashlishit, a tiny street tucked between Highway 60 and Mea She'arim, preserves the unfinished rampart's unlucky memory. In 363 CE Julian the Apostate, Rome's last pagan emperor, visited Jerusalem on his way to battle Persia's Sassanid Empire. Touring the ruins of Herod's Temple, and in keeping with his efforts to foster religions other than Christianity, Julian ordered the Jewish shrine rebuilt. Though a cornerstone was laid, the Third Temple was not to be - the building project was abandoned following an earthquake and remains the quintessential expression of unbuilt Jerusalem. Another architectural natural disaster casualty is the steeple of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which collapsed in an earthquake in July 1927, and remains wrapped in scaffolding to this day. In 1538, according to legend, the Ottoman engineers who built the Old City's ramparts failed to include Mount Zion and were publicly hanged by Jaffa Gate; the two lied that they didn't know David's Tomb was a Muslim holy site. Over time, their names were forgotten but not their building blunder. Skipping ahead four centuries to the beginning of the British Mandate over Palestine, Sir Ronald Storrs - who in 1918 became military governor of Jerusalem and in 1921 civil governor of Jerusalem and Judea - commissioned Scottish town planner Sir Patrick Geddes to draw up a master plan for the city. Storrs's plan bears a vague resemblance to Pierre Charles L'Enfant's layout of Washington, DC - a diamond-shaped city with boulevards running at right angles. The only part of Storrs's plan implemented, however, was a series of garden suburbs, including Boneh Bayit (today Beit Hakerem), Janziria (now known as Rehavia) and Talpiot. Haj Amin al-Husseini, the newly appointed grand mufti of Jerusalem, had an equally illusory sense of grandeur. In 1923, as head of the Supreme Muslim Council, he commissioned ambitious plans to build al-Aksa University on the site of the deconsecrated Mamilla cemetery (today Independence Park). Al-Husseini envisioned a series of neo-Mamluk buildings for higher Islamic and secular education to counterbalance the newly established Hebrew University on remote Mount Scopus. The Aksa project was finally halted in the mid-1930s due to a lack of funds. The legacy of that failed project still reverberates: see the Museum of Tolerance below. Al-Husseini wasn't the only Arab leader in 20th-century Jerusalem whose plans came to naught. Having annexed the West Bank after the War of Independence, King Hussein of Jordan subsequently began building a palace at Tell al-Ful - the site of King Saul's fortress court at Gibeah (I Sam. 10:26, 11:14). Construction abruptly ended when the 1967 Six Day War broke out. Today all that remains of the palace is a rusting skeleton of decayed magnificence. Another source of architectural undoings over the centuries has been illicit dalliances. The prophet Nathan prevented King David from building the Temple because of his adulterous tryst with Batsheva (II Sam. 11). In 1987 US TV evangelist Jim Bakker's affair with a 19-year-old church secretary led to the unraveling of his ambitious Court of the Guard project, a serene meditation and prayer garden outside Damascus Gate. Plans - for which Bakker bilked millions from his naive followers - called for the construction of an east Jerusalem Central Bus Station on Rehov Hanevi'im. The dilapidated, and still in use, Jordanian-era depot is situated next to the Garden Tomb. Jerusalem architect and preservationist David Kroyanker is the author of dozens of books about the city's urban heritage including Dreamscapes: Unbuilt Jerusalem (1993). He curated an exhibit of the same name at the Citadel Museum about the planning and development of Jerusalem since 1967. The book and exhibit document the grandiose planning ideas after the Six Day War that sought to refashion Jerusalem. "Sometimes the unbuilt projects over the years are more interesting than the built ones," he says. "Many present creative thinking and visionary notions from unbridled imagination and fantasy. As far as most of them are concerned, it's very good that they were thrown into the garbage can of history." Following are descriptions of some of the city's contemporary architectural ghosts. Ein Kerem Cable Car Hailed as the solution to the traffic congestion in Ein Kerem's narrow streets, the proposed Ein Kerem cable car was planned to carry 800 passengers an hour from the Mount Herzl light rail station down to Ein Kerem. According to the JDA, this project is not being dealt with. Ring road Transportation engineers have dreamed of a capital beltway allowing traffic to flow west to Tel Aviv or east to the Dead Sea without driving through the city center. This bypass could also link Bethlehem to the south with Ramallah to the north in a future Palestinian state. While the north section called Highway 9 opened last year, the east section of this ring road, from East Talpiot to A-Tur, involving a series of tunnels and a bridge over the Kidron Valley, remains tied up with the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA). Plans for the western arm became moot last year when Mayor Uri Lupolianski withdrew his support for the Safdie plan for the development of west Jerusalem. The "Kosher" Har Nof Jerusalem Forest Promenade Planned to meet strict standards of Halacha observance, including a kosher lemehadrin eruv, low shrubbery and benches to avoid offending community standards of modesty, the Har Nof section of the Jerusalem Forest Promenade is one-third of a series of continuous promenades running along the forest's western edge from Har Nof to Ein Kerem. The promenade is designed to delineate and protect the forest from further encroachment as well as making it accessible to more people. Designed by world-renowned California landscape architect Lawrence Halprin (who designed the Haas Promenade in Talpiot) and Ram Eisenberg of the Tel Aviv firm GEO Architects, the Har Nof section was an outgrowth of a nine-year, grassroots community effort, spearheaded by Shomera Lesviva Tova (Guardians for a Good Environment), a non-profit organization founded in Har Nof that works for improving the quality of life in Jerusalem, along with the Jewish National Fund and the municipality. According to both Tamar Gindis, chair of the board of Shomera, and Naomi Tsur, director of urban communities for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), all that is holding up construction is funding, which the city has undertaken to obtain. But the municipal spokesman's office says that "there have been objections to the notion from local community leaders. They have expressed concerns that it may promote issues related to immodesty. The municipality is examining the issues raised and will make a balanced, just decision based on the concerns and needs of the local community." The entire promenade is estimated to cost between NIS 15 million to 20m., with the Har Nof section costing between NIS 8m. to 10m. There is no timetable for this project. IBA digital broadcast tower Last year MK Eitan Cabel, director of the Israel Broadcast Authority, announced plans for the IBA's ramshackle Romema headquarters, including a new neighborhood of luxury housing for haredim and a state-of-the-art broadcast center and digital broadcast tower. Plans include a huge communications antenna. So far Cabel has made no progress, perhaps in recognition that cable broadcasting has made such antennas redundant. Givat Hamatos Inaugurated in September 1992 as a 634-unit temporary caravan site to meet the housing needs of the massive influx of olim arriving at that time, Givat Hamatos was supposed to be turned into a residential neighborhood. The original plan called for approximately 1,800 residential units. Today, there are still 17 residential units left at the site and according to the municipal spokesman's office "the town planning scheme is still in the process of being formulated." The complex plan calls for the area to be subdivided into four subsections that would include housing for both the Jewish and non-Jewish population as well as public services. Only one subsection has been deposited for public objections, and this just recently. No date is available for the plan's completion. Beit Frumin The three-story Beit Frumin on King George Avenue was the provisional home of the Knesset from 1950 to 1966. After the parliament moved to its permanent premises, the Tourism Ministry took over the building, but it too moved into a new office complex in the Government Precinct. In 2004 the site was sold to a private contractor, Ilan Rejwan, for NIS 10 million. Rejwan planned to construct a 16-story residential and commercial building there. Following strong objections to the plan by the Council for the Restoration and Preservation of Historic Sites in Israel, MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), MK Ilan Shalgi (Shinui) and MK Nissan Slomiansky (National Religious Party) submitted three bills to convert Beit Frumin into a museum of the Knesset and center for teaching democracy and governance. (The Council was founded in 1984 as a branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.) In 2005 the Knesset vetoed the proposed high-rise. The Colony Hotel and the Four Seasons Hotel The Colony Hotel and the Four Seasons Hotel at the beginning of Rehov Emek Refaim would set a new height level for the low-rise German Colony. The Colony Hotel - which would have been built across from the Four Seasons beside the original Templar church on Bethlehem Road on the site of the Fiber Institute - was rejected last year by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee. More controversial is the Four Seasons Hotel - an ambitious mixed hotel and condominium project on the north side of Emek Refaim extending almost to the Liberty Bell Garden. A year ago the Jerusalem District Planning Commission's sub-committee for objections held what was supposed to be the committee's final hearing. But the meeting was adjourned after eight hours without all the submissions being heard. No new date has been set. Protesters are outraged by the project's scale and its attempt to mix residential and hotel zoning. Four Seasons spokesman Tami Sheinkman said, "The time has come that planners and City Hall staff understand the importance of promoting tourism in the city. The committee will need to choose between a project whose investment will benefit thousands of residents of the city and will provide employment for hundreds of workers, and between advancing the narrow interests of the opponents." Armon Hanatziv Hotels, Cable Car and Statue of Tolerance In addition to the Sela tower, also planned for this ridge were 13 high-rise hotels, a cable car and the Statue of Tolerance. Four hotels, with 1,650 rooms, including a 24-story building, were approved by the Local and Regional Planning Committees, but the plan was rejected by the National Planning Council in November 2005. The developers were told to cut the height of the buildings to no more than six stories and spread out the buildings to include more green areas between them. The revised plan has to be shown to the environmental group Sustainable Jerusalem before being submitted to the planning committees. The 1,700-meter cable car, which would connect Abu Tor to Jebl Mukaber and the hotels, was also designed by Shiloni. However, the proposed building of the cable car contradicted a promise by the city to the Goldman Foundation not to undertake this project, which the city made when the foundation donated the funds for the eastern third of the Haas Promenade. The plan was repealed by the Regional Planning Committee in November 2004. The Statue of Tolerance, a park and a 17-meter high monument between the promenade and Jebl Mukaber, did not go through the planning process properly and was fought and defeated over due process. Menora Precinct Art School Complex This plan calls for an arts center, made up of five art schools, a parking garage and commercial space, in the area of Bezalel, Ussishkin and Hagidem streets, on the site of the current Gerard Behar outdoor parking lot. The art schools are supposed to be in conjunction with the nearby Jerusalem Artists House and the architecture department of the Bezalel Academy. At present, according to the JDA, the plan for the five art schools is not operative. The project has the necessary permits but there is a problem of funding, which would run into the millions of dollars. For the time being, the JDA is concentrating on trying to advance the parking garage and the project's commercial aspects. Jerusalem Theater Complex This plan - which residents were informed of in a letter from then-mayor Ehud Olmert in 1996 - calls for a five-story, 600-car underground parking garage, with a plaza on the roof for outdoor events. Slated for construction on the site of the Jerusalem Theater's outdoor parking lot, the proposed theater complex angered neighbors because the original plan would have infringed on the last remaining wooded area in the neighborhood - the Moon Grove. Environmental groups succeeded in securing the status of the copse and the revised complex is going ahead. It has already been approved by the Local and Regional Planning Committees and should be ready for marketing by the ILA in the near future. Sela Observation Tower In 1997, engineer Uzi Sela and Jerusalem architect Jonathan Shiloni joined together for the purpose of designing, building and operating an educational, tourism-based observation tower in Jerusalem. Sela even founded a company for this purpose: Sela Observatory Jerusalem Ltd. The pair received approval for 3.5 dunams of land from the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) on the ridge road opposite the back of the Haas Promenade in Armon Hanatziv. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars designing and preparing a detailed city building plan for a 130-meter high observation tower, with an open observation deck and a restaurant. The plan was approved within 48 hours by the Local and Regional Planning Committees and deposited for public objections in October 2000. Led by the SPNI, 4,500 objections were filed, arguing that such a tower was incompatible with the landscape. While the plan was rejected by the National Planning Council in 2005, the site was approved for a tourist attraction, just not this tower. The council said that there should be a competition to decide what that project should be and that the judges should include members of the Local and Regional Planning Committees, the National Planning Council and the public. Sela recently held an international competition for alternative designs, in which 28 entries were received and four were selected. Of these, two were not economically viable. The remaining two, along with three additional designs, were presented to the Regional Planning Committee for approval. These designs include three observatory towers and two observatories that are not towers. The SPNI claims the competition did not meet the standards set out by the National Planning Council for judges and therefore refused to participate. In response, Sela said: "This is their [SPNI] mistake. They are not reading correctly the decision of the National Council, which conferred on me the task of presenting alternative proposals. I offered them to be part of the judging but they declined. The National Council said this project must be a landmark one that should take into consideration the observatory nature of this site." Museum of Tolerance A ground-breaking ceremony for architect Frank Gehry's glass and titanium $200-million Museum of Tolerance was held in June 2005. The Mamilla site - a deconsecrated medieval cemetery where mujahideen who fought the Crusaders are buried - quickly became the focus of a bitter court battle between the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and several Muslim groups opposed to the project. The project was ordered frozen by the Supreme Court in February 2006. The court gave former Chief Justice Meir Shamgar 30 days to mediate a solution between the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) and several Muslim groups over the use of the three-acre site on Rehov Hillel. Two years later that ongoing mediation has so far been fruitless. Meanwhile the SWC risks losing its pledged donations. Former Jerusalem deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti lambasted the project: "It is difficult to imagine a project so hallucinatory, so irrelevant, so foreign, so megalomaniac, as the Museum of Tolerance. The mere attempt to stick the term tolerance to a building so intolerant to its surroundings is ridiculous. Others have already referred to the extravagant arrogance expressed in the geometric forms that can't be any more dissonant to the environment in which it is planned to put this alien object." Itsho Gur, spokesman for the Moriah Development Company, which had removed some 250 skeletons from the site until ordered to stop by the High Court of Justice, has a different view. "Bones have been found in many places in Israel, and not just in Jerusalem," he says. "And solutions have been found. But here politics are involved."