A reel special hotel

The one-of-a-kind Hotel Cinema in Tel Aviv combines nostalgia and modern innovation to offer guests a unique experience.

cinema hotel 88 298 (photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
cinema hotel 88 298
(photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
You won't find Laurel and Hardy up to their slapstick antics in many hotel lobbies - but then again Hotel Cinema in Tel Aviv has to live up to its name. The 1930s sleek, rounded stone Bauhaus-style building stands out above the trees lining Dizengoff Circle. Against a blue sky, the white, balcony-lined four-storey building shows off the architectural flowing elegance of what was once a center of celluloid entertainment. Entering the hotel lobby evokes the bright light, reel-to-reel atmosphere of an old movie house. A massive film projector from days of old and film canisters almost the size of bicycle wheels stand in grandeur to one side of the reception desk - which in the days when the projector worked was the cinema's confectionery counter. This explains why guests receive a bag of popcorn when booking into what was one of the first theaters built in the burgeoning city of Tel Aviv in the 1930s. The brown leather armchairs and sofas in the lobby are also reminiscent of days long gone, even though they are new. Top that off with an authentic - even rusty around the edges - street sign from that period proclaiming Zina Circus in English and Kikar Zina in Hebrew (before the circle was renamed after the city's first mayor, Meir Dizengoff) on the wall alongside a gigantic photograph of the building and busy street outside in its early period, when the 1930s "White City" atmosphere began to take shape. A well-worn stairway leads up to the balconies of the floors above, topped by a marvelous round ceiling with an enormous brass light-fitting gleaming down. The fact that Laurel and Hardy are prancing around on the screen above the exit area elevators only adds to the effect. A board full of long-unused electrical levers and a pulley from the original cinema days are mounted on the wall opposite the elevators. Photographs and text about the building, the owners and the events that went on within the Esther cinema-theater are also on display. The upper floors feature posters and other memorabilia of bygone days when the cinema was screening the latest and greatest movies. Even the rooms have you thinking you've entered a classic movie set, the canvas-backed directors' chairs invoking Alfred Hitchcock or some equally famous director. Small spotlight lamps and soft furnishings matching the time and quality of yesteryear's cinemas complete the picture. I would not have been surprised if the gentleman showing me around had suddenly leapt forward with a clap-board and called out a scene number, or someone yelled "Cut!" from beyond - like the black-and-white-tiled bathroom, for instance. Recently renovated into a boutique hotel, Hotel Cinema boasts 80 rooms, some with views directly over Dizengoff Circle, a beehive of activity most times of the day and evening. Designed by one of Israel's most prolific architects, Yehuda Magidovitch who originated from the Ukraine, the building was inherited by Dani Goldsmith from his grandparents, Moses and Esther Nathaniel, and is the only former cinema in Israel that has been converted into a hotel. Credit should be paid to Magidovitch - a visionary who did not always see eye-to-eye with city elders - who also designed one of the most opulent buildings to be found in early 1920s Tel Aviv known as "The Casino." Although not a gambling house, the Casino café-restaurant on Rehov Allenby close to the port area was constructed to boost the fledgling nightlife of the city-in-making. It was a group of immigrants from the Ukraine who commissioned landsman Magidovitch to design the building. Having heard that a railroad was due to be constructed close to the seashore, linking the eastern part of the city with Jaffa and Lod, the entrepreneurial newcomers saw a lucrative future with a center for entertainment so close to the railway. The Casino café-restaurant, which opened in l922, was an instant hit - except with the neighbors who complained about having their view of the sea blocked and inconvenience of traffic. In l938 an order was given by city officialdom, and without ado the building was destroyed. Magidovitch, who had been the chief engineer of Tel Aviv from l920-1930, was born in Uman in 1886, and made aliya in l919. After leaving his city post he created his own company, designing and constructing scores of buildings in the city before he died in l961, leaving a visual legacy the likes of the Esther Cinema - now Hotel Cinema - to be admired for generations to come.