Tel Aviv's Forgotten Architect

Yehuda Magidovich is no household name. But as the man who designed some 500 buildings in Tel Aviv, perhaps he should be.

Anyone who strolls the streets of Tel Aviv can easily find buildings designed by architect Yehuda Magidovich. Between 1920 and 1950, he designed 500 buildings in the city. Some of them, like the "Russian Embassy" and the "Ginosar Hotel" on Rothschild Street, were recently renovated and preserved, and draw glances from intrigued passersby. Others, such as the Nordau Hotel on Gruzenberg Street, still impress onlookers despite their rundown facades. Then there are those, like Beit Haknesset Hagadol,the synagogue on Allenby Street, that have been covered by cement or soot and are crying out for somebody to restore their magic. Yet if you have never heard the name Magidovich, that should be no cause for shame. The first municipal engineer, who designed some of Tel Aviv's most alluring buildings, passed away in 1961. In the 50 years that have gone by since then, the Tel Aviv Municipality has not found cause to commemorate him by naming a street, square or garden in his honor. His name has been forgotten, though the buildings pay tribute to his work.

Municipality officials explain that Magidovich's name cannot be officially honored unless some party makes a formal request. The family hesitated to take such an initiative. "Out of modesty, we never turned to the municipality," recalls Ruthie, a granddaughter, aged 65.

Daniel Tchetchik

Three years ago, ahead of Tel Aviv's centennial celebrations, she decided to change course, and recruited her husband Dr. Yoav Hatzrony, to the campaign. They turned to the municipality asking that this "miscarriage be corrected," as they put it. Seven months of silence passed, "and then a letter came announcing that a way of memorializing Magidovich has been found, and that we would be informed of the locale in the future," Hatzrony says.

His curiosity piqued, Hatzrony surfed municipality Internet sites, perused municipality committee meeting minutes, and eventually uncovered the mystery: "Magidovich will be memorialized in a square in Neve Sharett," he discovered. A visit to this site left the couple speechless. "We circled round the address three times before we realized we were in the right spot. The 'square' is a tiny, six meter, traffic island," Hatzrony says.

Peeved, Ruthie, the granddaughter, wrote another letter to the municipality, protesting the "memorial for my grandfather at such a pathetic 'square.'" She explained: "If the municipality believes that a small traffic island on the city's eastern margins, which it calls a 'square,' is a worthy locale for this memorial, then it is, in the best case, guilty of obtuse ignorance in terms of its failure to understand the work of Magidovich in the building of Tel Aviv. This locale gravely offends his name, his family and myself. It is wrong to correct a miscarriage that lasted many years by creating something that is yet more disgraceful."

Attorney Haviva Avi-Guy, municipal council member and chairperson of the municipality's names committee, is dumbfounded by this sequence of events. "The family did not submit a request for dozens of years, and today there are virtually no streets left to name in Tel Aviv," she says. "The square we proposed is the gateway to the high tech area, Kiryat Atidim. Nearby we memorialized people such as Mossad head Isser Harel. Such a memorial is dignified and respectful; not many people win such tributes."

In recent years, Hatzrony has devoted himself to making the public more aware of Magidovich's work. He offers free guided tours of buildings designed by Tel Aviv's first municipal engineer. "The very fact that we have to fight to commemorate his work is unjust," he explains. "We ourselves and the municipality made a mistake, but the time has come to rectify that."

When will Magidovich win suitable commemoration? The family has submitted a request to the municipality asking that a square be named in the architect's honor in an area where many of his buildings are located, such as Nahalat Binyamin Street. "A sign with his name ought to be put there; that's all," says Hatzrony. Avi-Guy, for her part, suggests that the family wait for a new neighborhood to be built in two years, in the northern part of the city, "where a street can be named in his honor."