Eleven prime ministers – from David Ben-Gurion to Ariel Sharon – held their Tel Aviv meetings in the Prime Minister’s Residence in the Kirya compound in Tel Aviv. The Templer structure, on whose table Golda Meir pounded during the Yom Kippur War and within whose walls Yitzhak Rabin approved the Entebbe operation, is a piece of local history.
This week, after two years of planning and work, its restoration is complete, and it was opened for a special press tour on Wednesday. The building will eventually be open to the public.
“We were careful to be true to the original, and to preserve the exterior, the interior and the spirit of the house,” said architect Esti Spector, the project’s preservation director, during the tour. Among the original items that were returned to the building after they’d been taken out decades ago is the armchair that Ben-Gurion used.
About 30 years ago, during maintenance work on the building, the armchair was transferred to the Defense Ministry’s Museums Unit. “Recently they returned it in excellent shape,” Spector said.
In addition, the library and some of the books on the shelves were preserved in the building, among them a book with a dedication by Nehemia Argov, Ben-Gurion’s military adjutant.
You can see signs of use on the large table where cabinet meetings were held and on some of the chairs on which the ministers and other invited guests sat. “You can see the scratches on their armrests,” Spector said.
The historical documentation used by the architect of the conservation project, Dror Soller, was prepared by architect Dr. Sherry Mark. “Ben-Gurion’s request from 1948, that the Prime Minister’s Residence be included in the future planning of the Kirya, was answered 70 years later,” she said.
The house, which was magnificent for the period, has two floors and an attic. It was built in 1930 as the residence of the Aberlas, a Templer family in the village of Sharona. In 1939 the family left the home and it was later nationalized by the British. When the British Mandate ended, the commander of the Hagana’s Kiryati Brigade, Michael Ben-Gal, settled in the house.
After the state was declared, once it was decided that the cabinet would sit temporarily in the Kirya, the house was designated as the location of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Until the end of Sharon’s tenure, prime ministers used this structure as their Tel Aviv office. It subsequently served various branches of the Defense Ministry and now it will be a museum. “It was chilling to hear what decisions were made here,” concluded Brig. Gen. Orly Stern of the Defense Ministry’s Engineering and Construction Department, who managed the preservation project.
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