King David shines

The venerable landmark celebrates its 75th anniversary.

king david hotel bomb 88 (photo credit: )
king david hotel bomb 88
(photo credit: )
This week in Jerusalem, the King David Hotel is kicking off its 75th anniversary with a six-month-long public exhibition displaying the history of the hotel. The exhibition will chronicle the King David from its inception in January 1931 until today. The exhibition is divided into four sections. Celebrities from Clinton to Sadat and Maddona to Schwarzenegger are just a few of the icons that are the subject of the hotel's VIP display. The VIP photo section has been set up in chronological order for visitors to "walk through history" from one side of the hotel to the other. The second section, titled "King David as a milestone for peace," includes video clips and documentation of talks surrounding peace agreements and international events. The hotel has witnessed several diplomatic milestones, such as meetings between Sadat and Begin, and Rabin and King Adbullah. Another section, entitled, "King David as an architecture and design icon," displays photos dating back to the evening the hotel was opened. It will depict the special architectural facets of the rooms, halls and restaurants, as well as the Jerusalem landscape as seen from windows and balconies. The last section focuses on the hotel as a territorial landmark, with video clips taken from the Jewish archives and documentation from the British Mandate period. The lobby of the hotel will be set up like a museum, with interesting items such as old phones once used by guests in the 1930s. Among the many artifacts on display from the history of the hotel are guestbooks from the past seven decades, one of which is open to a page signed by David Ben-Gurion. Micky Federmann, chairman of Dan Hotels Corporation, spoke on Monday at a press conference about the hotel's historical significance. "The King David is embedded in the history of Israel - in the days before and after the establishment of the State of Israel." In 1929, the Mosseris, a family of Egyptian Jewish bankers, sought to build a luxury hotel in Jerusalem. They purchased the 4.5 acre site from the Greek Orthodox Church for approximately $150,000. When the King David opened its doors, the food served was transported overnight from Cairo to Jerusalem. The hotel's opening coincided with a drastic reduction in tourism caused by international economic depression and the unstable political situation in Palestine. When the 1936 Arab revolt let by the Mufti of Jerusalem broke out, the British Army leased the top floor of the hotel as an emergency headquarters, followed by the entire south wing which became the military and administrative center of British rule in Palestine until May 1948. In July 1946 a bomb planted by the Jewish underground group the Irgun in the basement kitchen of the La Regence restaurant tore the British headquarters apart killing 91 people. The hotel was closed immediately and the building became a British fortress until the end of the Mandate two years later. On May 14, 1948, a final gathering of British officials lowered the Union Jack and vacated the building for the International Red Cross, who planned to use the King David as a sanctuary for women and children. Federmann admitted that times were not always grand for the "crown jewel" of the Dan Hotel chain. "From 1948 to 1967, the hotel had trouble attracting guests due to its proximity to the border. Diplomats and dignitaries would visit Jerusalem for the day and return to Tel Aviv to sleep," he said. Forty years later, the hotel houses some of Israel's most distinguished visitors - the King David was home this week for British Prime Minister Tony Blair during his talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.