All change here for key destinations

Tel Aviv is far from stationary, says Ann Goldberg. At a former railway site, it’s all go

November 9, 2010

To preserve in its original state or to renovate, revamp and use today - that is the enduring question for Tel Aviv planners, faced with historic sites.

So much of historic importance happened in what is now called The Hall of Independence, in Rothschild Boulevard, that it just had to be retained the way it was. Originally the building was just "lot number 43" on the sand dunes of Ahuzat Bayit, where a new Jewish neighbourhood was about to be built outside Jaffa. This lot fell to Meir Dizengoff and his wife, founder and later Mayor of Tel Aviv, who bequeathed his home to the city to be used as an art museum.

Fast forward to Friday May 14, 1948. The British were about pull-out and the future leaders of the country were embroiled in an argument about whether or not to declare our independence now. It was a historic never-to-return moment -but there was a lot of pressure from America not to anger our Arab neighbours by declaring our statehood and thereby cause an invasion .

The leaders, especially David Ben Gurion, realised that whatever happened, the Arabs were going to attack - they were already attacking - so they decided: at least let us be in our own official sovereign state, governing our own policies and with our own official army to fight for our existence.

The correct place for this historic declaration to be officially made was Jerusalem. But Jerusalem was under siege - and it was Friday afternoon so everything had to be arranged before Shabbat.

This building, the Tel Aviv Art Museum, was ideal, because the main large exhibition room was partly below ground and therefore less of a security risk in the case of an aerial bombardment, if word got out of what was about to happen.

The Tachana transformed

The Tachana transformed

Once the decision to go ahead was made, everything was arranged in a great hurry and in secret. Chairs were borrowed from local café, loudspeakers from nearby music shops and a carpet from another shop, while a local carpenter hastily put together a stage. This is how and where the State of Israel was declared. No pomp. Short ceremony. The stage, its furniture and the background still remain as they did that day.

In contrast, the old Jaffa Railway station, while extremely busy and important for travellers in its heyday, held no intrinsic historic importance that warranted its being turned entirely into a museum. In fact the site was left neglected and desolate for more than 50 years until its potential finally came to be appreciated. Maybe it had something to do with its proximity to the beautifully renovated and restored Neve Zedek neighbourhood, which is the cultural centre of Tel Aviv today. Maybe it is because of the newly revamped IDF Museum, almost next door, or because it is opposite one of the most popular sections of Tel Aviv's beach.

Whatever the reason, about 10 years ago, work started to reclaim and rebuild this area and turn it into a thriving cultural and leisure area known simply as The Tachana (Hebrew for station).

The station buildings were meticulously and painstakingly restored and renovated, leaving their exterior and much of the interior intact.

An old train carriage, which has been turned into a museum, stands in a place of honour in the complex reminding everyone of the origins of this popular modern attraction. There are already assorted restaurants and cafés here, alongside upscale clothes, jewellery and antique shops, as well as a specialist toy outlet and bookshops.

Some 22 buildings were restored, looking far more attractive now than they ever did, but still maintaining their architectural and historical integrity.

The complex is already well worth a visit and there is plenty to do and see, but as every day passes more and more of the buildings are being populated and shops opened and there are further plans for regular children's entertainment, festivals, markets and changing exhibitions.

Last updated: 3:21pm, November 9 2010