The three selling points of Lev Ha'ir

An elegant residential complex rises high in the heart of Tel Aviv.

living room lev 298 (photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
living room lev 298
(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
Each of the 168 apartments in the luxury Rova Lev Ha'ir complex has its own climate-controlled wine cellar with enough space for about 50 bottles. Now, that's upmarket. Indeed, the 10,000 square meter gated community in the space once occupied by the Tel Aviv Hadassah Hospital is unblushingly billed and aggressively marketed as a "luxury living project in the heart of Tel Aviv." Designed by highly regarded architect Ada Carmi-Melamed, Lev Ha'ir sits between Mazeh/Yavne and Balfour streets with entrances on both, controlled by cardkeys, each with its own individual code. A 26-story central tower swoops skyward, and the seven-story apartment block nestled around it is separated by paved walkways and ramps that may one day be softened by flowering vines trellised above them. Amenities include a swimming pool, spa and a raised formal garden that has a smashing view along Rehov Yavneh and is romantically lit at night. Nonetheless, there's not much green around. The apartments have from two to five rooms and range in size from 80 to 200 square meters. About 10 have a price tag of under $500,000. Most of the sea-view apartments go for more than $1 million, and the rest range in-between. Because the tower fa ade is fan shaped, the apartments on it are also fan shaped, making for - should the residents so choose - innovative interior decorating to complement the breathtaking view of the coast line. But the real appeal of Lev Ha'ir for Judith and Albert Green (not their real names) is its location. "It's very central," says Albert Green. "We can walk everywhere or take a bus." And central it is. Mazeh, Balfour, Nahmani and Montefiore are a few of the streets that make up Old Tel Aviv with its winding roads, turn-of-the-century to Bauhaus architecture, and definitive personality. The area has been gentrifying steadily over the past couple of decades, and many of Tel Aviv's better restaurants are located there. The Mann Auditorium, Habimah Theater, Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center and leading museums are all within walking distance. Two minutes down Rehov Mazeh, Rehov Allenby bustles - "that street is wild," Green laughs - and beyond it are the Carmel market, the alleyways of Neveh Tzedek and arguably Tel Aviv's loveliest urban space, the Suzanne Dellal Dance Center. Green, a retired physician with the UK's National Health Service, and Judith, a retired social worker, hail from a small town in the north of England. They had visited Israel many times in the past, even though they have no family or friends here, and on their retirement they decided to immigrate, arriving in May 2004. "We had settled on Tel Aviv even before we left England," relates Green. "Everybody told us to go where the Anglos are, like Ra'anana, but we said to ourselves, 'If Israel, then Israelis and the mix that this country is.'" Nonetheless, when they came to Israel for four months in the winter of 2002-03, they looked at complexes in Netanya and Herzliya, as well as Tel Aviv. They returned with a shortlist in the fall of 2003 before making their final choice. "We have nice neighbors. We'd just moved in and knew nobody, and they invited us for Rosh Hashana," Green uses the Hebrew word proudly, adding that he and Judith attend ulpan three times a week. Their 126 square meter three-room apartment is "very light, and a good size for two people," says Judith. "We're still settling in. We had a breakfast bar put in and are very pleased with the service we received." The Greens are fairly typical of the Diaspora Jews who decide to buy into the project, says sales manager Mimi Oz. They represent some 20% of the purchasers. About 65% are Israelis with children, mostly self-employed, often Tel Avivians who seek exclusivity within the city. Ten percent are Israelis working abroad who want a place to come back to for weekends and vacations, and the remaining five percent are elderly. Deciding whether or not to purchase depends on the individual, says Oz. "One Israeli couple made up their minds in six days, while another purchaser procrastinated for a year. Most take between two to three months and, like the Greens, buy because of the location, the neighborhood and the amenities." To date, 101 apartment have been sold. The three most important factors in real estate are location, location, location goes the clich , and Lev Ha'ir seems to have it on all three counts "because one of the first things a promoter needs is a nose to smell out where the market is going," says Lev Ha'ir marketing manager Lisa Schichrur. She attributes such a nose to property developer Eliezer Fishman, head of the Fishman Group whose project this is, together with subsidiary Oneal Construction. When the heart of Old Tel Aviv became the target for conservation in the late Eighties, "the idea for Lev Ha'ir was born. We bought the ground around 1993. One of the biggest selling points is that the complex is already in an existing neighborhood," says Schichrur. Sofia Santo, deputy head of the municipal planning department, was in charge when Lev Ha'ir got the go-ahead. Unlike regulations in the US, Santo points out, "In Israel, zoning and city planning go hand in hand, which allows for seeming discrepancies such as the presence in a low-rise area of the multi-story Lev Ha'ir." "In Tel Aviv we look at big parcels [of land], that is one dunam (about 1/4 acre) or more, as an independent entity and try to assess their positive or negative impact on the area. In the case of Lev Ha'ir, the Hadassah Hospital land was already such an entity. It was a city hospital in the middle of a residential area," explains Santo. Hadassah Hospital Tel Aviv first opened on Rehov Nahalat Binyamin in 1918, moving to the Rehov Balfour location in 1926. In 1931, the Hadassah medical organization transferred responsibility for the hospital to the Tel Aviv municipality. The hospital served the city faithfully despite declining revenues and budget allocations due to the opening in 1961 of Ichilov Hospital. In 1973, Hadassah was renamed for former Tel Aviv mayor Israel Rokah and in 1980, together with the Kiryah maternity hospital, was incorporated into Ichilov under the name of the Sourasky Medical Center. The changes notwithstanding, the hospital foundered and finally closed in 1992. "The first plan [for Lev Ha'ir] allowed for a central tower of nine to 11 floors, but when the acreage was sold to a private investor, he suggested a different concept - that of the landmark tower to catch the eye in a level area," says Santo. And so it was. The plans for the tower were modified several times until the city "got the vistas we wanted for it," Santo says. And up on the 26th floor, a resident can watch the sunset and savor the bouquet of a bottle brought from his very own cellar. Desirable neighbor A beautifully renovated building at 7-9 Mazeh is an added bonus for Lev Ha'ir, even if the municipality doesn't quite know what to do with it. The twinned house was built by Yosef Berlin during the 1920s by Berlin for himself and his engineer Richard Passovsky. The building is important, says architect Naor Mimar "because it was Berlin's home and it reflects his architectural style, which was quite unique. He used exposed brick within a neo-classical framework." Restoring it presented an enormous challenge, as the original bricks had been plastered over "and we had to expose them brick by brick," recounts Mimar.