One of Tel Aviv’s Oldest Buildings Is Going Back to the Future

Using 21st century technology, a century-old home was dismantled so it could be integrated into a 21-story high-rise.

Henya Melichson

A historic building taken off the streets of Tel Aviv six years ago is set to make a comeback as part of a 21st century 21-floor high-rise.

The Adler house, built between 1910 and 1911, became one of the first homes in Ahuzat Bayit, out of which Tel Aviv was born. Its owner, the teacher and author Yishai Adler, built it on 26 Ahad Ha'am Street, the last plot distributed in the legendary lottery held in 1909 by the founders of the future Tel Aviv.

Throughout the century, it housed the famous pharmacy belonging to Gershon Shor, which eventually became part of the first pharmacy chain in Israel – Shor Tabatchnik. Another famous tenant in the building was the author and painter Esther Yoselevich Slepian (whose pen name was Ira Jan), Haim Nahman Bialik’s lover.

But six years ago, the building disappeared from the street. Headlines in some newspapers protested the demolition of yet another historic monument to enrich the contractors who planned to build a new building there. In recent months, they turned out to be wrong.

In a unique conservation operation, the first of its kind in Israel, the building was dismantled into dozens of pieces, packed up and housed in a warehouse dozens of kilometers from its original location. Excavations were carried out by the contractor, Acro Real Estate, to build the skeleton of a new luxury high-rise.  The old historic building will be integrated in the lower floors of the new, 21-story structure.

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“This is a very complex situation of connecting the old and the new,” says conservation architect Shir Raphael-Netzer of the firm of Orit Milbauer-Eyal, which is in charge of the project. In recent months the old walls have begun to be placed back in their original positions.

“The beauty is to preserve the old and the new, and have an encounter between them. It creates a great deal of interest,” Raphael-Netzer says.

Conservation contractor Amir Gilad, of the firm of Avner Gilad, says the project may sound simple, but it is actually “a very complex logistical process, which included closing traffic lanes, special transport and use of complex cranes to restore the walls to their place.”

As often happens in old buildings in Tel Aviv,  wall and ceiling paintings from the turn of the 20th century were found. A team of conservationists from Studio Tchelet documented them prior to their restoration. “There are wonderful paintings, from the period of Ahuzat Bayit,”  Shay Farkash one of the owners of Studio Tchelet, says.

David Bachar

Eli Shaltiel, another of Studio Tchelet’s owners, used a rare technique he learned in Italy to peel the old paintings from the wall.

“We pulled off the original plaster with the wall painting. If not for this technique, we would have had to bid these paintings goodbye,” Shaltiel says.

After the paintings were removed from the wall they were taken to the studio where they will be restored and later reattached to the walls of the original building.

“We’ve tried this technique in other buildings in the city,” Shaltiel says. “We saved many paintings thanks to it. The result is amazing,” he adds.

Farkash found another interesting item at the building site: a cabinet from the Dabora Pharmacy, which also operated in the building.

“Inside there were still medicines and pills, including the name of the pharmacist,” he says.

Not far from there, in places where other historic buildings once stood, conservationists have already tried new technologies to move the complete structures to build new buildings. That was the case for the Litvinsky House, which was detached from its place and remained suspended in air while foundations were built below it. That is happening now in another historic structure, which once housed the famous Elkonin Hotel on Lilienblum Street.
“This is an engineering feat of the first degree,” the architect, Meira Mor, says. “At the moment the entire historic building is standing in the air, above the ground, and we are digging under it.”

In Tel Aviv’s Sarona Templer compound, entire buildings more than 100 years old were also moved to allow development of the area for the new business, commercial, and residential area.

At the tower going up over the historic Adler house, the project is described as an “extraordinary jewel connecting the city’s past, present and future.” A few more months, when reconstruction is complete, will show whether this slogan has met the test of reality.