Neighbors Fear U.K. Envoy's Home Will Become High-rises

Embassy announced plans last week to sell building on Simtat Hama'alot Street, which has been in continuous use by top British diplomats since the 1950s and is fondly remembered by members of the Anglo-Israeli community.

News that the British ambassador's residence in Ramat Gan will be vacated and the building sold off has elicited protests from neighbors, who fear the historic property will be replaced by high-rise apartments, altering the character of the neighborhood.

The embassy announced plans last week to sell the building on Simtat Hama'alot Street, which has been in continuous use by top British diplomats since the 1950s and is fondly remembered by members of the Anglo-Israeli community who have attended cultural events and charitable functions there over the years.

Neighborhood residents in front of the residence in Ramat Gan - Moti Milrod
Moti Milrod

"We request that they not leave scorched earth behind," said Prof. Lior Klein, 52, who has been next-door neighbor of British ambassadors to Israel for the last 25 years. "If these three dunams that they're sitting on are turned into high-density housing, then the historic heart of Ramat Gan is lost."

Earlier this week the embassy told TheMarker that the residence no longer fits the needs of Ambassador Matthew Gould. Generations of guests at the embassy's frequent events have complained of difficult access and scarce parking.

For Brits living in Israel, the home represented a familiar piece of the old country in their own backyard, and some say they regret it will be sold. "I, for one, will be very sad," said Brenda Katten, former chair of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association. "For those of us coming from England, it's very much a connection between England and Israel, because one felt that one was in a part of England, in this environment."

Katten, who moved to Israel 13 years ago after living in the U.K. for over five decades, described an interior design that would transport her to back to Britannia, and archetypal English gardens that were wondrous to walk through.

The United Kingdom's connection to the neighborhood actually precedes the acquisition of the ambassador's residence. During World War I, a British artillery division was stationed atop the same hill where the property sits. Twenty years later, with an eye to establishing a leafy new town, the British Regional governor, Robert Edward Harold Crosby, officiated at the inauguration of a park on that peak in 1937.

Neighborhood resident and retired engineer Eli Zeichner recalls moving to the neighborhood as a young boy, before the state of Israel was even declared. Zeichner says that the first home to be built on the property belonged to an American family, the Liebermans, who sold it to a Russian family, the Hirschbergs. Before the British government purchased the property in the 1950s and extensively renovated it, the Hirschbergs operated a bed and breakfast there.

Zeichner and other neighbors have initiated an effort to have the property designated a historic site, thereby staving off any attemps to extensively redevelop the nearly three-dunam plot. They are attempting to draft the British embassy in their efforts, as they did when they kept an area park from being turned into a parking lot.

Gould declined to be interviewed for this article and the spokesperson for the British embassy did not respond to questions from Anglo File by press time.

Neighbors say the site's zoning allows for four units at a maximum of two stories each, but some expressed worry that business interests wanting to build at higher densities would get favors from city officials. "We cannot depend upon the local political leadership to protect us," said Klein.

Adrian Blumenthal, CEO of real estate firm Inter Israel, which is helping the embassy find a buyer for the house, doesn't see cause for anxiety among the neighbors.

"I'm sure that however many units are built, I don't believe that whoever buys it would want to build something out of character," he said.