Elstein's Art Center Preserves the Old With the New

Lily Elstein is not wasting any time. After purchasing the former Mivtahim Inn in Zichron Yaakov in January, she is already fulfilling her promise to convert the building into an arts center.

Esther Zandberg
Esther Zandberg
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Esther Zandberg
Esther Zandberg

Lily Elstein is not wasting any time. After purchasing the former Mivtahim Inn in Zichron Yaakov in January, she is already fulfilling her promise to convert the building into an arts center. The opening concert of the center will be held this Friday in the building's auditorium - which has not yet been renovated - and will be accompanied by an exhibition of contemporary Israeli art.

The opening concert will feature the Israeli Chamber Orchestra playing Bach's "Great Mass," along with the Budapest Academic Choir and soloists, conducted by John Nelson. The exhibition showcases video and still works from the Doron Sabag Collection, on loan for the event, and some of Elstein's own private collection, which includes creations by Sigalit Landau, Hila Lulu Lin, Michal Rovner and Uri Katzenstein.

The event will be held in conjunction with the Zichron Yaakov local council in the presence of Mayor Eli Abutbul, who warmly welcomed Elstein's initiative and who is helping to bring it to fruition. Tickets to the concert are on sale to the public in Haifa, and, pending advanced booking, there will be a shuttle from Tel Aviv. Prior to the concert a reception will be held in the gardens surrounding the building.

The auditorium has been given a minor face-lift in honor of the event. Renovations of the building itself, slated for preservation, have not yet begun and an architect has not even been appointed. Nitzan Inbar Projects Management will handle the project, including construction on the grounds of the building.

"The architects will have to display sensitivity to this beautiful place," says Elstein, "and know how to blend the old with the new and understand my ideas. Everything has to be done thoughtfully and with respect to this place."

The former inn, which stands on a ridge facing the sea, is one of the most beautiful architectural works in Israel and earned its planner, architect Yaakov Rechter, the Israel Prize for Architecture. Built for the Mivtahim Fund of the Histadrut Labor Federation in 1968, its popularity and prestige waned as Israeli vacation habits changed. Attempts to operate the building as a hotel for the general public failed, and about a year ago the building was put up for sale by tender.

The inn's grounds cover 110 dunams (27.5 acres) and include open areas and natural forests, some of which have been declared a national park. The building houses 8,500 square meters (91,800 square feet) of rooms and halls. The tender aroused considerable interest among Israel's large construction companies, which would have liked to build a residential neighborhood on the site. The starting price of the property was $10 million.

The awarding of the tender was delayed due to Abutbul's objections to any construction that would mar the forested areas and the building, which the Zichron Yaakov city council designated for preservation. Elstein agreed without hesitation to the construction restrictions, and purchased the site for $20 million - double the initial tender price. The Rasco construction company, which had participated in the tender, tried to prevent the purchase, but its petition was denied by the High Court of Justice.

Elstein is the widow of Yoel Moshe Elstein, the son of Yitzhak Elstein, one of the founders of Teva Pharmaceuticals. She is an art collector and a member of the board at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and contributes to its operations. She also sits on the boards of various other cultural institutions. Elstein was born in Zichron Yaakov and has a sentimental connection to this town. Her plans for the arts center compound include the construction of other buildings but she has promised to preserve the inn and its character.

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