“Houses from Within” Returns to Jerusalem With More Trains

by Brian on October 30, 2012

in In the News,Just For Fun

The annual “Houses from Within” weekend is one of my favorite Jerusalem adventures. The event opens tens of normally private homes and institutions to the public. Dwellings owned by artists like successful sculptor Giora Segal, who renovated a small house in Motza (not technically in Jerusalem) built on top of a Second Temple period cave, or authors such as Haim Hazaz, whose Talbieh apartment has been preserved exactly as it was when he wrote there between 1961-1973, are all on display for those who can are ready to brave the crowds.

Yes, Houses from Within has become so popular that Disneyland-like lines stretching for over an hour are not uncommon among the top traveled sites. Institutions such as a tour of the still under construction Palace Hotel or the Hansen Hospital, a former facility for local lepers, require advance booking – online reservations opened one week before the event and were booked by the time we even opened the computer that morning. Others, like the Convent of the St. Charles Borremeo Sisters in the German Colony, were handing out numbers; by 9:00 AM, all but the last tour at 11:30 AM was full.

Jody and I are big fans of the more offbeat openings. A year ago, we toured one of the tunnels where the fast train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (and back) is being built. This year, we continued our train theme and joined a crowd of several hundred who came to the old Jerusalem Train Station to hear about its process of renovation from the project’s preservationist architect, Moshe Shapira.

The restoration of the train station stands to be one of the most impressive new additions to Jerusalem’s burgeoning cultural scene. The station has a fascinating history, one that parallels the development of Jerusalem, starting in 1892 when construction started on a “twin” to the terminus in Jaffa. In fact, the train preceded the station – the materials for its building came from the coast on the train itself, and as new construction technologies became available (for example, concrete), that reached the train station in Jerusalem by rail.

The train and its station have seen different owners (Turks, Brits, Israelis), derailings, bombs, fire and, most recently, neglect. The train stopped running in 1998 (the track is still in use but ends at Malcha) and became a dilapidated shell of its self, filled with graffiti and garbage.

But with the incredibly successful opening of the new “train track park” – a walking/cycling path along the route of the tracks from the old train station all the way to Malcha – the station stood out like an angry bird.

Shapira was also one of the architects behind the transformation of the Jaffa train station into a chic dining and art complex. Its twin in Jerusalem looks to receive the same treatment. The plans call for several upscale restaurants, food booths for pizza and faster food, a pub, a 160-square meter art gallery, a bike shop, a depot for Segway tours, and more. The tagline is “a meeting place between culture and food.” Some of it will be open on Shabbat and all will be immediately accessible from the train track park.

Its planners are calling it part of Jerusalem’s “Cultural Mile” which stretches from the Jerusalem Theater to the Khan and then on to the Cinemateque and the also-being-built Sherover Cultural Center in Abu Tor. If it all works out (and looking at the loving care that has been put into the work so far, I am optimistic), it will quickly become a must-visit stop on the tourist track – as the train track park already has, attracting hundreds of visitors on weekends, locals and out-of-towners alike.

For me, it will be a joy to step foot inside the train station again. I used to ride the train in the mid-1980s and even worked on a film crew that shot in the station; we decked it up to look like a World War 2-era station in Russia for an educational movie on bar mitzva.

Houses from Within is part of the larger Open House Worldwide which also includes an event in Tel Aviv. The next one will be in May 2013. Mark your calendars!

I wrote about the train station and more yesterday on Israelity.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: