More than two years ago, the Hatachana shopping and restaurant complex opened in south Tel Aviv in the buildings of the old Jaffa railway station, whose tracks used to lead to Jerusalem. After its launch, the station, which had been abandoned and neglected for decades and which underwent comprehensive renovation, became a polished and stylish compound that attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors in its first months. The success of the new complex, known simply as “Hatachana” (The Station), is controversial: Supporters say it is a unique and attractive project that offers a flourishing economic model on the seam between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, while its detractors argue that Hatachana has an inauthentic, elitist feel.
The Templer, Ottoman and Mandatory buildings of the Jaffa railway station have already grown accustomed to the sight of locals and tourists browsing displays of designer jewelry at Hatachana, but at the other end of the former track stands the Jaffa station’s deprived twin – the old train station in Jerusalem.
Ever since 1998, the year the last train clattered out, the terminal between the Hebron Road and the Bethlehem Road, not too far from the Cinematheque, has been largely abandoned. In 2005, the railway station in the Malha neighborhood became the final destination of the train to Jerusalem.
However, the old Jerusalem station – which this year celebrates its 120th birthday – is now taking on a new appearance, albeit with little fanfare. It emerges that this coming April, Jerusalem will have a station complex of its own. In Jerusalem argot, the site is called “the first station” and it is destined to serve as a cultural, culinary and historical complex – the first of its kind in the city. Though, as in its Tel Aviv counterpart, there will be passenger cars that go nowhere, an “authentic” train engine and a 4,000-square-meter area covered in wooden decking, the developers are promising it will not be like Hatachana.
This weekend – as part of the annual “Houses from Within” event in which all kinds of usually locked-up Jerusalem buildings throw their doors open to the public – the complex will be open for visits and tours during which the station’s history, and the plans for its future, will be presented.
Stretching the ‘Cultural Mile’
A decade ago, a residential plan was developed for the Jerusalem station site, to the south of the original Ottoman station building, but it was not implemented. Five years went by until the Jerusalem Development Authority approached Israel Railways, which owns the site, with a proposal to convert it into a cultural and leisure complex. “This is a national preservation site that has been neglected for years,” says the development authority’s deputy CEO Anat Tzur. “It was not fitting, neither from a historical perspective, nor of course for a capital city, for such a special place to look like that.”