Tourist tip #217 / The Old Russian Embassy
A stunning building at the corner of Rothschild Boulevard and Shadal street has a colorful, fascinating past.
The point where Rothschild Boulevard meets Shadal Street is perhaps best known as the site of Max Brenner, the Israeli chocolatier known for the Hug Mug and all sorts of sinful sweets. But on the other side of the boulevard is a stunning building with a rich history that will put even Max Brenner's Snowies (hazelnut praline in white chocolate over pistachios) to shame.
The Levine House, as it was first called, was built in 1924 on a small hill off of Rothschild. The urban villa, designed by Yehuda Magidovich, Tel Aviv's first city engineer and the man responsible for the Great Synagogue on Allenby Street, soon earned the nickname "the Castle" for its grand arches, elegant facade and dramatic turret. It had a mechanical roof that, legend has it, either helped facilitate the transport of large pieces of furniture or allowed the religious residents to construct a sukkah during the autumn harvest holiday.
When the State of Israel was founded, the place became the Embassy of the Soviet Union, which, compared to the massive slab of a building on Hayarkon Street that is the current U.S. Embassy, should make the Americans rather jealous. But in 1953, members of Lehi, the militant Zionist group, threw a bomb at the embassy to protest the persecution of Soviet Jewry. Unsurprisingly, diplomatic relations deteriorated as a result because the Soviet Union suspected that the Israeli government was also behind the attack.
In 1995, the property was bought by the developer Akirov, who was given permission to build the 26-story Elrov Tower behind the house in exchange for renovating it, a model of development/restoration that has been successfully employed elsewhere across the city.
Until 2006, the venerable property, shrouded in tropical foliage, played a role in the development of art in Israel, serving as the offices, showroom and auction house of Sotheby's. It was subsequently sold to philanthropists and renamed the Heseg House; it now hosts a variety of charitable events.
So next time you’re at Max Brenner enjoying your Happy Springs (caramelized almonds wrapped in a hazelnut crunch dipped in cocoa powder), pay a little extra attention to that mysteriously beautiful building across the way.