German Colony Cinema Once Again Under Threat of Closure

Building's receivers predict it will be hard for the city to hold its ground against a developer who insists on using the space for other purposes.

The veteran Smadar movie house in Jerusalem's German Colony is once again in danger of being shut down. A tender will be issued tomorrow for the sale of the building.

Although the municipality has declared that whoever buys the structure must maintain the historic cinema, the building's receivers predict it will be hard for the city to hold its ground against a developer who insists on using the space for other purposes.

The Smadar Cinema is one of Jerusalem's most well-known and beloved institutions. It was opened 80 years ago by British Mandate authorities and has operated continuously ever since in the same building.

About 18 months ago, it came to light that the daughters of the late owner, Aryeh Chechik, had quarreled and decided to sell the building in order to divide their inheritance. An unprecedented public struggle to save the movie house ensued, aimed at turning the Smadar into a cooperative venture.

At the same time, elected city officials began to take measures to prevent the cinema from closing as well. The city council preservation committee, and later the building and planning commission, declared that if the building was sold, it must continue to be used as a movie theater.

But the property was not sold in the end, due to the death of one of the inheritors, Nava Chechik. On Sunday, Jerusalem District Court Judge Yitzhak Shimoni authorized a request filed by the structure's receivers, attorneys Reuven Yehoshua and Yoram Aviram, to renew the sale process, in light of the fact that Nava Chechik's daughter has now legally inherited her mother's share.

Yehoshua and Aviram intend to advertise the sale in newspapers tomorrow. According to the law, they are not authorized to deliberate on the nature of the offers, but are obligated to accept the highest bidder.

Residents of the German Colony are worried that the neighborhood's high property costs and the potential for erecting luxury housing will lead to the cinema being sold to real estate developers, who will then shut the theater down.

Sources in the Jerusalem municipality, however, expressed confidence yesterday that the movie house will remain open.

"We made a decision not to allow the building to be altered, and at the same time we are advancing a plan to ensure that a cinema will continue to operate on the site," deputy mayor and chairman of the municipal planning commission Kobi Kahlon said. "It's important that any developer looking to purchase the building know in advance that this is where the municipality stands."

"The Smadar is an asset, the only movie house in the center of town and a symbol," added Yosef Aflalo, a member of the city council. "The hall is full every day, and it is also open on Fridays and Saturdays. I'm sure that if it's in danger of being shut down, residents will volunteer and we'll continue the struggle."

Nonetheless, the building's receivers fail to be impressed by the city's determination.

"No one can dictate the function of a piece of private property," attorney Reuven Yehoshua said. "It is clear that [the city] cannot reduce the value of the property without paying compensation. If the municipality wants to preserve the cinema, it will have to pay a lot in compensation."

"The community fought for the movie house before and it will fight for it again," Shaike El-Ami, director of the Ginot Ha'ir Community Council and one of the leaders of the initial campaign to save Smadar, said yesterday.

Smadar Theater - Maya  Levin / Jini
Archive: Maya Levin / Jini