'The new place to be'

Mixing past and present, renovators try to turn Jaffa's old train station into the new 'it' place.

Jaffa train station 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy, Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality)
Jaffa train station 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy, Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality)
The old Jaffa train station, located between Jaffa, Neveh Tzedek and the sea, is getting new life. The station, the first in Israel (then Palestine), went into operation on September 26th, 1892, when train service began between Jaffa and Jerusalem. Until then, there was only one way to transport heavy loads between the two cities - on a camel or by horseback. The train station was operational until the War of Independence in 1948, after which it was abandoned and left to disrepair. When Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai first took notice of the area five years ago, it was, according to Eli Ginsburg, head of the firm representing the city of Tel Aviv in the project, "a jungle." The municipality saw the potential of the old station, and invited firms to submit bids to lead its renewal. The winning bid was put forward by a group comprised of the Florentin and Vitania firms, who want to bring the area to life while still holding on to its history - a juxtaposition of old and new. When Avi Mordoch, head of Florentin, first saw the site, he was shocked. "I asked myself, how can it be that a place like this is in this sort of condition?" Mordoch had already successfully completed a similar project, renovating the old train station area in his hometown of Jerusalem. "Mayor [Uri Lupolianski] asked me: Will people come? It opened, and the whole city came." The group's vision for the Tahana (station) is a unique place for culture, entertainment and leisure that will attract visitors from Tel Aviv and around the country. Mordoch says that they expect the Tahana to be such a hit that, even when people arrive in Tel Aviv for a single day visit, "there isn't a chance that they won't [visit] here." From the beginning, keeping as much of the original station intact as possible - through often-intense restoration work - has been a priority. According to Eyal Ziv, the conservation architect of the project, restoration work that keeps the memory of the history intact is different from renovation. He also admits that it hasn't been an easy process. "We could open a school of restoration here," he says. The complex is made up of two parts: the buildings of the old train station, and the Templer-style buildings of the Wieland family's building materials company and residence, which were built at the beginning of the 20th century. Between the buildings are open spaces, and the original iron train tracks are still intact. Every piece of the Tahana has history, and its past is being incorporated into the new complex. A destroyed house will become a bistro. An old factory in the Wieland section will become a place for concept stores. There are two WWI-era train cars on the old tracks which visitors will be able to enter, and much of the complex is shaded by 130-year-old eucalyptus trees. The Tahana will feature cafes and restaurants, a 'lifestyle' section, an area for live musical performances and space for children's activities. Retail will be in the form of smaller 'concept' stores. "It's not a shopping mall," explains Mordoch. Larger companies are expected to open branches, but the focus will be on the companies' history and journey through time. Indeed, those behind the project have specific criteria for the businesses that will open in the new Tahana. They need to exemplify a journey through time, a juxtaposition of past and present, like the station itself; they need to work both day and night, around the clock; there must be a connection between cultural and commercial; they need to be both creative and sensual; and they must be engaging, even enchanting. Between a third and half of the future commerce area is already in advanced stages of negotiation with businesses. Among those planning on renting space are Bank Leumi and the cosmetics chain Ahava. One of the main features of the Tahana is open spaces. Standing in the middle of a courtyard, Mordoch makes an important observation. "We are in the middle of Tel Aviv, but it's quiet. You can hear the birds. There's a breeze." He says that because of the site's proximity to the sea, there is almost always a pleasant breeze. Mordoch adds that the planned piazzas will give the Tahana an almost European feeling. Though Tel Aviv is full of sidewalk cafés, the quiet and calm of the Tahana stands in sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of Dizengoff and Ibn Gvirol. "People [are] amazed by the atmosphere," he says. "We want to bring people back out to the squares." There have already been several events at the Tahana, and feedback has been good so far. The site will be opening in two stages, with the buildings of the old station opening in the next few months and the Wieland section opening in 2010. Mordoch says that in a city like Tel Aviv, there is always a new "it" place. He is sure that "this is the new place to be in Tel Aviv."