The luxurious neighborhood of the city's first residents, which has become a dubious area, is currently making a comeback with new, positive vibes. A variety of restaurants and unique shops await you in Gan HaHashmal neighborhood. Follow this DIY tour to uncover the stories behind the stylish building and allow yourselves to be drawn to the history that makes this place so special
Tel Aviv DIY tour || Gan HaHashmal
In a nutshell: A luxury neighborhood turned into a slum is now being rediscovered as the most electrifying place in Tel Aviv
Duration: Up to 2 hours | Level of difficulty: easy route, leveled terrain, complete accessibility
We begin our walk at the bus stop on Mikve Israel Street. The no. 5 bus that goes through here, perhaps the most popular bus in Tel Aviv, will take you directly from the city's center to our starting point. Take a few steps to the West (against oncoming traffic in the street) and you will reach a building marked "Jacobson's Building".
Jacobson's Building was built in the 1930’s, a time when the businesses of one Zalman Jacobson, an enthusiastic Zionist and businessman, were flourishing. With enough money in his pockets he was able to purchase a large plot of land, upon which he built a large building that included apartments, offices, and shops. The building was designed in the International Style, popularly known as Bauhaus (the name of the German design school in which the architectural style was developed). It is characterized by simplicity, that is, it includes no decorations, sculptures or designed moldings. Its aesthetics consist of clean lines and an asymmetrical shape.
The architects who designed buildings in the International Style planned their buildings to be functional – “a machine to live in”. The windows along the staircase were designed to provide natural light and ventilation. The long balconies were planned such that they would be shaded throughout the entire day. In 1930’s Tel Aviv – a Mediterranean city with no air conditioners – the functionality of the International Style was very appropriate.
In 2003, UNESCO – the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – designated the White City of Tel Aviv as a World Heritage Site. It is one of the largest and most diverse collections of International Style buildings that is still preserved to this day. Unlike European cities, that adopted the International Style only at a later phase of their development, Tel Aviv is such a young city that the nucleus of the city was built when the International Style was on the rise.
We continue our stroll down Levontin Street (in the same direction as traffic in the street) and stop in front of the house on 16 Levontin Street. Notice the stylish buildings on either of its sides. In the 1920’s, the most common architectural style in Tel Aviv was Eclecticism, named for being a collection – that is, an assortment of different styles. The majority of Jewish immigrants who settled in the Middle East originated from Europe. Just as they themselves were a combination of East and West, so were their buildings. Eclecticism combined oriental elements, such as arched windows, with Western elements, such as Neoclassical pillars.
The house on 16 Levontin Street was owned by the Abushedid family, one of the most respected Jewish families in the Land of Israel. One of the daughters of the family, Leah Abushedid, was known as the most beautiful woman in the Jewish community at the time. She had many suitors, the most famous of whom was Itamar Ben Avi. He published the love poems he wrote for her in the newspaper owned by his father, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, celebrated to this day as the driving force behind the revival and modernization of the Hebrew language.
The Abushedid family did not take kindly to the suitor, who was of a lower social status. However, Leah persisted and notified her family that she would not agree to marry any other man. Meanwhile, the young suitor’s poems were growing gloomy. In one of them, Itamar Ben Avi described the gun he would use if he could not be united with his beloved. Finally, their union was approved, even though the Abushedid family insisted on an engagement period of two whole years, in order to test Ben Avi’s commitment.
Alongside the Abushedid house, there is a pedestrian path called Shvil HaOr ("the Path of Light"). We will be walking up this path to HaHashmal Street and to our next stop: The first power plant in the Land of Israel. On the corner of Shvil HaOr and HaHashmal Street, we will find the blue sign placed by The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, which marks this historic location.
This place used to be an orchard, one of the orchards in which oranges were grown before being exported through the Jaffa Port to Europe and America. The oranges were branded as Jaffa Oranges, a trademark that exists to this day (even though the oranges are no longer grown in the vicinity of Jaffe, nor are they shipped through the Jaffa Port ). In the 1920’s, the orchard was purchased by entrepreneur Pinhas Rutenberg, who wished to build a power plant in Israel. The first customers of the Electrical Company were the first couple of Tel Aviv – Meir Dizengoff, the first Mayor of Tel-Aviv, and his wife, Zina Dizengoff.
Since the Electrical Company settled here, the street we are standing on was named the HaHashmal Street ("Electricity Street"), and the entire neighborhood was dubbed the Gan HaHashmal ("Electricity Garden"). To this very day, the management headquarters of the Israel Electric Corporation is based here.
We turn right and walk on HaHashmal Street (in the same direction as traffic), until we spot on our left the water tower on 12 HaHashmal Street. It stands right next to the remains of an ancient well which was used in the past to water the orchards now long gone.
We continue on HaHashmal Street to the corner of Barzilai Street, and stop to look at the blue house located at 10 HaHashmal Street. This house was originally built in 1925 by the architect Dov Thschudnovski, who started out as a construction worker in Israel. At one point, the construction engineer of a building at which he was working showed him the blueprints. Thschudnovski pointed out a minor flaw he found in the construction plans. On the very next day, he was offered a position as an engineer. He soon set out on his own as a contractor and architect, and the house we are currently facing was one of his very first projects.
We walk across the street to the garden located at the center of the neighborhood, officially named Hasharon Garden. The garden was inaugurated in the 1920’s and is the oldest public garden in Tel Aviv that still serves as such. It is the neighborhood’s "green lung". Here, we can take a short break to recap the huge transformation of Gan HaHashmal neighborhood. It began as a prestigious neighborhood for wealthy businessmen who filled it with luxurious buildings. But over the years, the buildings slowly crumbled down, and the apartments in the neighborhood were no longer as attractive as before. Metal workshops and car garages were opened in the neglected buildings. In the 1960’s, numerous buildings within the neighborhood were demolished and turned into parking lots. There was also a plan to bulldoze the garden in which we are currently standing, and turn it into a highrise building with an underground parking lot.
One of the reasons that this garden was supposed to be demolished was that the neighborhood had turned into a hotbed for prostitution. By the 1990’s, the garden became infamous also for being a meet-up spot for homosexuals at a time that even Tel Aviv was unaccustomed to openly gay men. Gan HaHashmal neighborhood began its makeover in the early 21st century. The old workshops made way to designer shops, the crumbling buildings underwent restoration and preservation constructions, and new businesses flocked to the area, making it one of the most hipster neighborhoods in the world today.
We cross over to the other side of the garden, in order to reach the building on 5 Levontin Street, which was designed in the Art Deco style. The prototype for the Art Deco architecture style is the Empire State Building in New York. This architectural style was inspired by rapid industrialization in the early 20th century, creating new combinations of building materials (such as glass and steel). The design language glorifies the mechanical reproduction processes of the hyper-industrial era, with geometrical aesthetics made up of straight lines rising upwards.
This building was established by the Pardes (in Hebrew: “Orchard”) Association as its main office building, after having established itself as the leading cooperative of the Jewish orange growers in the Land of Israel. The orange growing industry in pre-state Israel was much like today's Israeli high-tech industry – the most important economic branch and a source of pride. Most of the oranges were sent abroad in special wooden boxes, each orange wrapped in specially designed silk paper, celebrating the "Jaffa Oranges" brand.
We continue down Levontin Street (in the same direction as traffic), up to the corner of Allenby Street, and turn left towards a five-point intersection. There used to be a town square here, which was called HaMoshavot Square. We walk up to the plaza between Begin Road and HaHashmal Street, where we find a cylindrical advertising column, displaying historical pictures from the first days of the square – a kind of miniature outdoor museum. From this point, horse-driven carriages - and later, buses - traveled to the Jewish colonies that flourished in the Land of Israel in the beginning of the 20th century. Even today, we can see dozens of buses here, zooming across this busy intersection.
We return to the calmness of Gan HaHashmal neighborhood, walking on HaHashmal Street. Stop in front of the International Style building on 7 HaHashmal Street. A decade after planning his first house in the neighborhood (the blue house that we've seen earlier on 10 HaHashmal Street), the architect Dov Thschudnovski built the house that we are now facing. Few meters apart, two buildings designed by the same architect who made the giant leap from the 1920’s Eclectic Style to the 1930’s International Style.
Take a closer look at the rounded corner of the building – this is one of the unique characteristics of the International Style in Tel Aviv. Many Jews who arrived to the city in the 1930’s were refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. They came here on boats, and in a way, they built “boats on the land”. The International Style wished to be universal, international, border-crossing. And what is the man-made object that is the most international, the most symbolic of border crossing? The rounded balconies give the building the resembles of a boat, fitting the ideological backdrop of the architectural style and the turbulent live events of the people who built them.
Cross the garden once again to reach the corner of Levontin Street and Barzilai Street. Continue on Barzilai Street (in the same direction as traffic) passing by new businesses, which were recently opened in the neighborhood, alongside older businesses, some of which have been here for decades. On the corner of Mikve Israel Street, we can see the work site of Allenby Station - a subway station that is being dug here as part of the first underground railway line in Israel, expected to open in late 2021.
We turn right on Mikve Israel Street, and then left to Levontin Street. Near the starting point of our tour, we reach Abraham Hostel. This building used to be a telephone exchange center and was converted in recent years to a backpackers' hostel. Enter the building and go upstairs to the first floor, where you'll find the Hostel's unique dining room. You can also go up to the Hostel's roof, and finish the tour with an overview of the light-rail work site and the amazing skyline of Tel-Aviv.
What should you know? One can find a wide variety of businesses in Gan HaHashmal neighborhood – from hipster cafés to fancy restaurants, from a shoemaker's stand to designer shops. It is preferable to take this tour during the day, although you can also see the unique buildings in the evening street lights. There is a supermarket at the corner of Barzilai Street and HaHashmal Street, where you can buy some groceries and have a picnic at the garden in the center of the neighborhood.
Activities with children – all kinds of activities related to the neighborhood's story can be prepared in advance. For example, in the context of the orange growing industry in Israel, you can bring some oranges, papers, and marker pens, and recreate the branding of Jaffa Oranges. The children can draw the famous logo or redesign it. Another idea for an activity is a game of "find the differences" between the buildings on 7 and 10 HaHashmal Street – two buildings that are prototypes of the dominant architectural style of their era, which are very close to each other, so the children can run around between them (just pay attention that they don't cross the street) and locate the stylistic differences between them by themselves.
Sponsored by the Gan HaHashmal business association