The Facade Shell
In Jerusalem there is an interesting construction project underway. The city plans to build a new hotel, a Waldorf-Astoria, inside the husk of the former Jerusalem Palace hotel on the corner of King David and Agron St. The new hotel will boast 220 rooms and 30 residential apartments, and will give the King David Hotel a run for its money in terms of popularity among visiting dignitaries. They essentially ripped out the guts of the old building, leaving nothing but the facade.
The old Palace Hotel, constructed in 1928-29 under the order of Jerusalem’s Supreme Muslim Council and supervised by the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem, was completed after just 11 months, by over 500 Arab workers, supervised by one Jewish engineer named Baruch Katinka. Since Katinka was secretly working for pre-state Jewish military organization the Hagana, the Palace was a tricky project to say the least. Upon opening, the hotel was the most luxurious in the Middle East, with elevators, a central heating system and even private bathrooms – practically unheard-of at the time.
Due to a hardcore rivalry, much deceit (during the excavation, it was revealed that the site was an old Muslim cemetery – the Mufti covered this up) and a dash of sabotage between the British-appointed Arab mayor and the Mufti, the hotel was destined to fail. Management of the hotel was handed over to a local corrupt hotelier, but it was eventually forced to close its doors once the King David opened down the block.
The British Mandate went on to use the building as military and administrative offices, and when the State of Israel was born in 1948, the Ministry of Trade took up residence. Then, five years ago, the building was abandoned, the government-caused void ironically filled by the community of addicts, homeless folk and squatters featured in David Grossman’s Someone to Run With.
About three years ago, the Reichman magnates purchased the structure from the Israeli government, which should be ashamed for letting such a beautiful building fall into these depths of disrepair – not to mention that the sale reportedly went for a $20 million price tag, a paltry sum for historical value, central location and sheer property size such as this.
The Reichmans closed a management deal with Hilton hotels, and together, they will be investing over $100 million in the development and branding of the refurbished hotel, destined to be the latest branch of the Waldorf-Astoria chain. The 220-room facility, due to open in 2010, should eventually house five additional floors, several restaurants, a swimming pool and hundreds of well-to-do tourists.