Tel Aviv Says Goodbye to Notorious Drug and Prostitution Den

Despite its reputation, the neighbors of 1 Finn Street wax nostalgic after city's 'lowest spot' is demolished to make way for a new co-op building.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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1 Finn St. is demolished, August 17, 2015. The city government hopes to turn the area into a lively young neighborhood of merchants and artists.
1 Finn St. is demolished, August 17, 2015. The city government hopes to turn the area into a lively young neighborhood of merchants and artists.Credit: David Bachar
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

On the sidewalk in front of 1 Finn Street in Tel Aviv, across from the old central bus station, a colorful group of people gathered Tuesday, each with their stories and memories of the accursed building behind us. They had come to watch the last moments of “the lowest place in Tel Aviv,” as its denizens called the ugly, ramshackle hub of drug addicts and sex workers.

The fearsome power shovels showed the building no mercy. They bit into it powerfully again and again, hour after hour, until they brought it down completely. Through the earsplitting noise, suddenly the delicate sounds of a flute were heard. Michal, a flutist who recently returned to Israel after two years in Berlin, had decided that this was the right time and place to play “Ani Ve’ata Neshaneh et Ha’Olam (“You and I will change the world”), “Adon Haselikhot” and “Halikha Le’kaysariah” (better known as “Eli, Eli”).

In a last tribute to the prostitutes and junkies, those who had died here in recent years and those who were still alive, Michal kept playing even her flute was barely heard. She used to play for street people as part of a community arts project, she related. That was before the developers came with their bulldozers to change the character of the neighborhood, to save it from itself and profit from the sale of offices and apartments along the way.

Next to Michal stood a man who said he worked as a “debt collector” for the building’s landlord. “He had rooms here we would rent to drug addicts. The biggest traffickers and users were here. The landlord would tell me: “Go get money from room 7.”

Vered Lee wrote in Haaretz about the horrors of the building in 2007. “The prostitutes who work the area of the old station huddle outside the building, skeletal, their veins perforated, barely able to stand.... hangout of all the junkies and hookers in the vicinity of the Central Bus Station ... nonstop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ... More youngsters have been sucked into the circle of prostitution and addiction, and more and more dealers enter the building with empty bags and leave to spread their tidings in the city.”

1 Finn St. in 2010Credit: Nir Kafri

Two years later, the building changed its character and the addicts and prostitutes were replaced by refugees from Eritrea. Now it has been demolished. In the future, the new Tel Avivians will live there, the advance force for the city’s plan to turn the area into a lively young neighborhood of merchants and artists.

Rafi, the owner of a nearby restaurant, mumbles “nostalgia,” adding, “drug dealers, prostitutes, murder. My hands shake. We had good days and bad. But mostly good. Even when I’d go home after work,” demonstrating how he would drag his feet after a hard day at the restaurant, “15–16 hours a day. Everything fell on me. But a guy’s got to work,” he said.

The future owners of the new 1 Finn formed a purchasing group and hired HQ Architects to design and build a co-op with 54 small apartments and street-level stores. The photo illustrations on the firm’s website shows no trace of the building’s original surroundings. It shows a shiny new building, with international chains like H&M, Zara and Hugo Boss on the street level and fashionable young people, not the Erocenter peep show and other businesses that are nearby today.

“This neighborhood is spitting distance from central Tel Aviv and Rothschild Boulevard, but is currently viewed as a different world. We are trying to change that,” Eli Diga, the city architect who is responsible for the neighborhood, Neve Sha’anan, said Tuesday. He said the area was in flux, the current neglect “coexisting alongside the changes that are coming. Step by step, things are changing,” he promised.

Diga said that property developers had discovered Neve Sha’anan as one of the last rundown areas of Tel Aviv that still held economic potential for them. “They’re investing quite a bit here, 1 Finn is just one example.” The city has also stepped up its spending on infrastructure in the neighborhood.

But for now it takes considerable imagination to envision this neglected, dirty, disheartening place turning into a desirable neighborhood in a few years.

A photo illustration of the new 1 Finn St. Credit: HQ Architects

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