Stroma Square, Holon, 1950's - Alon Ron
Stroma Square is slated for preservation under Holon's new plan for protecting heritage sites. Photo by Alon Ron
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Holon History Museum
Stroma Square, Holon, in the 1950's. Photo by Holon History Museum

On the sand dunes in the southern part of Holon once stood a neighborhood called Moledet. Ninety families who had immigrated to Palestine from Yemen built their homes there in 1934. The neighborhood was home to a synagogue, ritual bath and water tower. Weapons caches were concealed in many homes, as the Haganah held training maneuvers in the area.

The inhabitants of Moledet lived modestly. Surrounded by sand dunes, their living conditions were isolated and difficult. Over time, the neighborhood was abandoned, and all that remains of it today are the water tower and some garbage-strewn ruins of stone houses.

Future generations will never get to see the Moledet neighborhood, but other heritage sites in Holon are slated for protection from the dueling dangers of development and neglect.

This week, the regional planning committee for the district of Tel Aviv approved the filing of a site preservation plan drawn up by the city of Holon in cooperation with Mandel & Mandel Architects. The list contains 18 sites throughout the city from various eras. After Tel Aviv, Holon's preservation plan is only the second one in the Dan Region to be completed and validated. Among the sites slated for preservation are Derech Habitachon ("The Safe Road" ), the water towers in Moledet and Azor, Hosmasa (a building that served the Haganah ), the Pillbox Post, Stroma Square, the Mansbach health clinic, the Hameshakem building, the Agrobank neighborhood and Bialik and Shenkar schools.

Derech Habitachon - paved during the War of Independence - led from Tel Aviv to Rishon Letzion, where it forked toward Jerusalem and the Negev. The road bypassed the Abu Kabir neighborhood and the town of Yazur in an attempt to provide safe passage for civilians, combatants, equipment, food and ammunition to the eastern and southern parts of the country. Remnants of the road still exist. Most of it is covered in asphalt, while parts are covered in sand. Sharp-eyed observers can spot a row of old barrels along the roadside intended to keep the sand from sliding.

Today, few people use this route, which leads to a slaughterhouse on the border between Holon and Rishon Letzion. But Smadar Spector-Danon, the director of Holon's history museum, frequents it.

"Everyone knows the Burma Road," she said, referring to the bypass road built between Kibbutz Hulda and Jerusalem during the 1948 Siege of Jerusalem. "Why do they know it? Because it was preserved, because people talk about it, because people tour it."

"Preservation is not just the physical preservation," Spector-Danon said. "It is also the education that goes along with that. I take children and adults to this road. We walk it, talk about it. All of our work is intended to preserve this in people's consciousness."

Spector-Danon welcomes the municipality's preservation plan, but she also feels somewhat disappointed about its limitations. She looks at the ruins of the Moledet neighborhood around the corner, and imagines the beautiful site that could have stood among the dunes. Alongside the ruins is the old water tower, which served the Haganah and which is also on the preservation list.

Fragments of history that can still be saved

In another part of the city, the Kiryat Sharet neighborhood, she waxes nostalgic.

"We used to walk here on the sands. Now everything is built up," she recollects as she stands amid a large group of new residential buildings. In the heart of this neighborhood, another remnant of The Safe Road was preserved, after a fight.

She does not decry merely what is lost already, but she also worries about those fragments of history that can still be saved. The preservation list is missing sites of great importance, according to Spector-Danon. She would be happy if the list included Holon's first movie theaters, Migdal and Armon, the Hartzfeld home, the city's first swimming pool, the general store that today serves the Yad Sarah organization, the first firehouse and the Ben Yehuda library.

Tamar Tochler, the Tel Aviv district director for the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, also would like to see a longer list. However, she recognizes the difficulties that a local authority faces in approving this kind of plan.

"The moment you declare the building, you also expose the local authority to lawsuits," she said. "If, for example, you inherited a house on Stroma Square and now they inform you that it's slated for preservation and you were planning to add things to it, somebody is going to have to give some thought to that. This is why local authorities generally refrain, if they can, from declaring private buildings for preservation."

"Holon isn't like Tel Aviv in terms of the beauty of houses for preservation," adds Pnina Kol, city architect for Holon. "It was a sort of suburb of Tel Aviv, a bedroom city. There isn't really an inventory of private buildings for preservation. What exists primarily are public buildings." The list may be brief, but it provides a complete picture of the historical, cultural, and architectural heritage of the city, according to Kol. Either way, Tochler said, they're headed in the right direction.

A much broader potential

"If previously they made do with selecting two or three sites and turning them into a museum, today they understand that preservation has a much broader potential," she said. "It doesn't include only residential buildings. It also encompasses water towers, agricultural facilities, fences, historic roads, and flora - all kinds of elements that have importance in the community's heritage." Gila Oron, who is in charge of the Tel Aviv district at the Interior Ministry and who heads the regional planning committee, agrees.

"The preservation plan that was approved in Tel Aviv suddenly prompted a great revolution in seeing how beneficial preservation is," Oron said.

"At first they were very afraid of preservation and claimed that it's harmful. Preservation costs are expensive. You can't do all sorts of add-on construction, and you have to go through special committees. But ultimately the property, once it has been preserved, increases in value far more than what was invested to preserve it. Today they are less afraid of it."

Other cities in Israel are currently in the process of drawing up preservation plans. In the center of the country, for example, the municipalities of Ra'anana, Herzliya, Ramat Gan and Kiryat Ono are compiling lists of sites within their jurisdictions.

"A people has to preserve its heritage, its ideology, the milestones in its history the way every enlightened country does," Oron said.

"Houses are preserved in Paris, Barcelona and New York," she points out, "and now it's our turn."But, she adds, "this doesn't mean that because of preservation we stop renewing. Preservation has to be a part of the renewal process. Along with the new buildings, we must not forget the past."