The Decaying Remnants of Once-hot Tel Aviv Night Spots

Haaretz takes a look at the institutions that defined Tel Aviv's nightlife in the past, and what is left of them today.

Sasha Eidelman / Griffin aerial photographer

Dolphinarium

Some cities have white elephants. What Tel Aviv's boardwalk has is a gray dolphin.

The Dolphinarium, a beachside entertainment complex that once housed an aquarium and two movie theaters but has been closed since 1985, once had the vibe of a provincial Coney Island.

It was a place where girls with Farrah Fawcett haircuts would get dolphins to leap in the air before the shocked eyes of thousands of people. Children came to see sharks swim or to watch Disney movies in the distinctive semi-oval building designed by architect Nahum Zolotov.

Now, though, it is perhaps best known as the site of a particularly deadly terrorist attack that killed 21 teenagers at the entrance to the Dolphinarium nightclub in June 2001.

There is a nightclub operating in the former site of a popular aquarium and there's a store renting out electric bicycles, but overall it looks like something left over from Pompeii's final days. Hundreds of uprooted chairs are sinking in the rainwater that has collected in the otherwise dry pool in which the dolphins used to do their schtick. Exposed electrical wires hang above rows of empty seats. At the entrance to one of two disused theaters, someone has stacked several dozen snorkels.

The crumbling complex is slated for demolition, to make way for a link between the northern and southern sections of Tel Aviv's boardwalk.

Cinerama

The round, domed circus-like Cinerama building was inaugurated in Tel Aviv's Yad Eliahu neighborhood as a movie theater in 1966, becoming the only theater to screen movies with three projectors onto a giant concave screen.

It shut down around 1970 and remained empty until 1986, when it was converted into a disco. Two years later it became a concert hall, then a convention center and finally a big TV studio, which hosted beauty pageants and the Eurovision Song Contest qualifying competition. It has been abandoned for several years, though, and homeless people sleep on its steps.

On the other hand, a building doesn't really have to do much to become a landmark. Maybe it's enough for drivers to have said to one another for years "Turn left at the Cinerama."

The Cinerama is scheduled to be torn down and replaced by a 45-story office and residential tower, with stores on the bottom floor. Perhaps that just illustrates Tel Aviv's Second Law of Thermodynamics: A theater can become a luxury office or residential building, but luxury buildings don't turn into theaters.

Mograbi Theater

"They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot," Joni Mitchell sang. But, well, you don't need to bring in an architect or get building permits for a parking lot. All you've got to do is rake in the money.

The historic Mograbi Theater in downtown Tel Aviv combined the stage and the silver screen.

The top floor of the building, on the corner of Allenby, Pinsker and Ben-Yehuda streets, had a movie theater with a roof open to the skies to offer relief from the summer heat in pre-air-conditioning Tel Aviv. On the first floor was an auditorium that served Israel's first theater companies: Hamatateh, Haohel, Habima and Cameri.

It was irrevocably damaged by fire in 1986 and demolished three years later. It had two large halls and was designed in the late 1930s by architect Joseph Berlin and built by Jacob Mograbi.

It has been nearly 30 years since there has been no Mograbi Theater in the square named after the theater. The developers are pressuring the city to expand their building rights – they want to reproduce the theater and add a five-story hotel with an apartment tower above it – but the city is not giving in just yet. After all, it's easiest to just keep paradise paved.

Atarim Square

Atarim Square, near Eliezer Peri Street on Tel Aviv's coast, was built in the 1970s and was briefly a trendy area that enjoyed a period of glamour.

The upper level of the public plaza, designed in the brutalist style, once hosted a distinctive circular nightclub called Coliseum. Now it's a strip club called the Pussycat.

The rest of the area, also known as Namir Square, is empty: three levels of empty stores, bird droppings and urine. It's so vacant there's not even graffiti here.

In fact, the former mayor of Tel Aviv once said he hoped a Scud missile would fall on Atarim Square. Every attempt to renovate the site has ended in disaster.

Ussishkin Arena

When a bulldozer sunk its iron teeth into Ussishkin Arena in July 2007, the home of the Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball team did not go unmourned.

"I am going to my destruction sad and bleeding, but knowing you did all you could to leave me whole," read one verse of a poem recited as fans dressed in Hapoel red gathered that day to witness the demolition.

It is said that the stadium was replaced with a park. But that's not true. Nothing has been built there, although it's true that grass has been planted.

The grass that used to be Ussishkin Arena is empty. No one sits on it, though there is one bench there. But this is no longer a place where anyone gets benched.