Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha's old dining hall is once again a central meeting place - though to a much more dubious crowd. The building, left near the center of Petah Tikva after the kibbutz decamped for greener pastures, has become a crumbling home to bands of roving youngsters. The net result is that the one-time architectural gem is crumbling, it's windows smashed, floors ripped out and graffiti lining its walls.

The city now owns the building, along with other areas of the historic kibbutz, and is planning on restoring and preserving as part of the municipal museum complex, but nothing has happened yet.

Instead, the city temporarily gave the site to a private association, which demolished part of the building illegally.

The dining hall is one of the outstanding early works of architect Arieh Sharon, who died in 1984. Sharon designed it in the mid-1930s, not long after returning from his studies at the Bauhaus School in Germany.

The members of the 10-year-old kibbutz had decided to invest in the construction of its first public building and turned to Sharon and Shmuel Bikeles, another prominent architect active in kibbutzim, and asked each of them to propose a plan.

Sharon, whose proposal was accepted, designed a building made up of a series of white boxes embracing a central space, without columns and with space for 400 diners.

At the entrance Sharon put up a covered lobby with columns, a kind of modernist interpretation of ancient Greek building.

The dialogue the building conducts with the landscape around it is fascinating. It was erected on a hill and part of it follows the slope down.

Nearly all the members of the kibbutz were actively involved in the building of the dining hall, giving it some of their workdays.

The building served as the center of the young kibbutz geographically and also socially and culturally.

"It filled all the functions - an eating place, a gathering place for kibbutz meetings, performances, holidays and of course the Passover seder," recalled Yael Shoham, a former member of the kibbutz. "Everyone who was anyone came to us to perform, Habimah Theater actors, Haohel actors. In the summer we'd stretch a length of cloth between two columns and project movies."

The building was considered one of the most impressive dining halls in the kibbutz movement and eventually was immortalized on an Israel Post Office stamp.

Shoham, who now lives at Kfar Ma'as, was born in 1939, the year the dining hall was inaugurated.

Today she is one of the leaders of the movement to rescue it.

"I remember we'd go into the dining hall through two entry halls," she said. "On one side there was a place for washing hands and the large bulletin board with the work assignments. The other entry hall served as a kind of small newspaper room. The only radio on the kibbutz was there. There we heard the Declaration of Independence on the 29th of November and we started to dance outside. During World War II they hung a large map of the world there and moved the thumbtacks - of the Nazis and the Allies - according to the reports on the radio."

In one of the historical pictures she has kept all these years, her mother, who worked as a nanny, is visible along with the kindergarteners and another two nannies. In the background, of course, stands the iconic dining hall.

"We always had our picture taken with it in the background," she recalled. "We were very proud of it."

Kids in the hall

By the early 1950s Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha had grown into one of the largest kibbutzim in the country with about 900 members.

The schism in the Kibbutz Movement in 1952 broke the kibbutz in two. As part of the preparations for the split there was even a brick wall built down the center of the dining hall, separating the supporters of the different movements.

With Petah Tikva rapidly expanding, members decided to abandon the original locale and establish two new kibbutzim east of the city: Givat Hashlosha adjacent to the Yarkon River headwaters, and Kibbutz Einat near Rosh Ha'ayin. The lands of the kibbutz were sold to the Tel Aviv Municipality, part for operating a home for the elderly and another part for operating a youth hostel. When the home for the elderly shut down several years later, the Petah Tikva municipality took possession of the site.

The current chapter in the life of the dining hall began in 2004, when Petah Tikva decided to allocate the building to the private religious association Darkei Noam for a new school. In March of 2007, representatives of the association razed about a third of the building, without having received a building permit or confirmation of the allocation from the Interior Ministry.

They planned to build a three-story gym facility opposite the main facade, which would block any connection with the street and damage the original landscape planning.

The degenerating state of the dining hall sounded the alarm among former members of the kibbutz. Shoham and her friends set up an action committee and began an energetic public campaign to rescue it. They enlisted Adam, Teva V'Din: Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, and contacted the interior minister with a demand that he intervene.

The fight for the building received extensive coverage in the local and national press. In the end the allocation of the property was revoked but nothing happened to improve the building.

A source at Petah Tikva city hall said it's not certain Darkei Noam or another institution won't still get control of the site.

"Ultimately this is a political decision," the source said.

The Kibbutz Movement has yet to formulate a preservation list in hundreds of locales.

When the Kibbutz Movement itself is not pushing for preservation of its architectural assets it is no wonder the Petah Tikva municipality is in no hurry to devote itself to the task.

And while the building is on the municipality's preservation list, in the absence of an official building plan regularizing its status, its future is still only a recommendation.

Most kibbutzim are not located in the center of cities and thus the dining hall's issues are unique. Precisely for that reason, it is hard to understand the procrastination surrounding its preservation.

Petah Tikva could have had a unique agrarian asset that would attract people to the town. Just look at the renewal process now underway at the German Colony on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, which is a unique merging of urban and rural.

Monika Cohen, director of the site preservation department at the Petah Tikva municipality, admits that dealing with the preservation of the dining hall has been dragging on for too long.

"This place should not get be given to a private association. That would be an injustice and a pity," she said.

She added that preservation of the dining hall also has to include the unique landscape surrounding it. At a later stage Cohen plans to preserve the rest of the public buildings of the kibbutz as well.

The city responded that it had taken action to clean up the area around the building and hopes to do more. "The proposed renovation plan includes the rebuilding of the kitchen in the northern wing that was demolished in a building violation by the association to which the parcel had been allocated. This allocation has been revoked by the Interior Ministry. About a month ago the director general of the municipality toured the site and we hope the plan will be approved soon," the city said.