The Pagoda House
Hidden in the small King Albert Square in the heart of the Tel Aviv’s Lev Ha’ir district, the Pagoda House is hard to miss. Perched on the fork of Nahmani and Montefiore streets, this massive eclectic-style building was designed in 1924 by Alexander Levy and combines oriental and western motifs. It is currently owned by a Swedish magnate Robert Weil who is now once again revamping it.
The Pagoda House was the first private residence in the city to have an elevator, and it seems it’s been the envy of everyone in the city ever since. It’s a great place to start your walking tour and there’s a local kosher bakery on the corner called Ben Ami where you can grab a quick snack. If you want a fancy breakfast, to start your day head to The Norman, located further up the street.
HESEG House (aka: The Russian Embassy House or The Levin House)
Located on 46 Rothschild Boulevard, The Russian Embassy House is—you guessed it—the former home of the Russian embassy in Israel. Also of the eclectic style, this city icon was built in 1924 by Yehuda Magidovitch, one of Israel’s most prolific architects, for the wealthy Levin family.
It soon became the Soviet Union’s mission in Tel Aviv, but fraught relations between the two countries eventually led it to be sold to Sotheby’s, the British auction house, and throughout the 90s it served as its showroom, earning it the name the Sotheby’s House. A decade ago, the house changed owners once again, being sold for a whopping 35 million shekels (US$9,610,968) to two Jewish philanthropists who now run their foundation from the exquisite structure.
The Great Synagogue, 110 Alenbi Street
Completed in 1926, Tel Aviv’s Great Synagogue is also the architectural brainchild of Yehuda Magidovitch and is considered an early example of how he peppered his eclectic style buildings with Art Deco themes. This storied building’s cornerstone was laid in 1913 but was only completed after the First World War with the help of donations from the wealthy Rothschild family. It boasts a beautiful dome and magnificent stained glass windows replicating some of those destroyed in European synagogues during the Holocaust.
The building’s outer facade was done by architect Ze’ev Rechter at the end of the 1930s as part of a masterplan to build an Italian-style plaza around the building.
Today, the area surrounding the synagogue is among the hippest in Tel Aviv, with a number of great bars and restaurants—all named after places in Egypt, as the street is called Mount Sinai after the desert peninsula where the Jewish people were said to have received the Ten Commandments—giving the local secular hotspot a light biblical twist.
The Port Sa’id, on its western side, is a super hip restaurant by Tel Aviv’s star chef Eyal Shani, and is the place to try contemporary Tel Aviv cuisine. The Santa Caterina, to the north, is a fantastic restaurant offering a great new twist on the local kitchen. In terms of bars, at night, the Otzar is the ideal place for a drink and dance.
A seven minute walk down the bustling Allenby St., heading west to Bialik St., a cove of architectural gems await. At the end of the picturesque cobblestone street lays the epicenter of the Bialik Square complex—Tel Aviv’s first town hall. The Beit Ha’ir, as well as the adjacent structures, are part of UNESCO’s White City world heritage sites and are a prime example of Tel Aviv’s unique take on the international style, with a mix of Bauhaus architecture and local motifs. Initially destined to be a hotel, Beit Ha’ir was designed by Moshe Cherner.
Right next door is the short-lived home of Israel’s national poet, Haim Nahman Bialik. The Bialik House sits along the eponymous street and square and the great poet had the strange honor of living in a house and street that were named after him—with both bearing his name from the onset. Despite the best efforts by the municipality, the Hebrew wordsmith hated living in the city as the house became a site of pilgrimage for fans, and he quickly converted it to a cultural center and moved to the neighboring city of Ramat Gan, though city hall denied it for years.
Built in 1925 by Joseph Minor, a student of Alexander Baerwald (who is best known for designing the Technion University campus in Haifa), the building is considered a classic example of the Hebrew style of architecture. Its interior is inspired by the arts and crafts movement and the structure also includes a tower, exquisite outdoor terraces, domes, pointed-arch windows and extensive tilework replicating the designs of Ze’ev Raban—an architectural trailblazer who studied at the Bezalel school, which forms the bedrock of Israel’s art and design scene.
On the other side of the Bialek Square lies Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus Museum—not to be confused with the Bauhaus Center on Dizengoff. This museum sits on the ground floor of a classic international style building erected in 1934. Entrance to the museum is free, and it’s well worth a visit, but beware: it’s open only twice a week, on Wednesdays (11 a.m-5 p.m) and Fridays (10 a.m-2 p.m).
Rubin Museum (Reuven House)
Also in the local Hebrew style, the Rubin House is the former residence of one Israel’s most famous early artists, Reuven Rubin. He was a Romanian-born painter who and leader of the first generation of Israeli artists to graduate from Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, and spearheaded the Eretz Yisrael artistic style. The museum came about after Rubin himself signed an agreement in 1974 with the mayor at the time, shortly before he died, bequeathing his home. It’s a great way to see how art and architecture can mesh in this truly cultural city.
If you’re hungry head to the Cafe Bialek for lunch or grab a falafel at the amazing Johnny’s Falafel on Tchernichovski St.