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Tel Aviv's Trendy Dizengoff Street: Where It All Began

Tel Aviv's Trendy Dizengoff Street: Where It All Began

Picture of Serena Carsley-Mann
Updated: 20 October 2016
Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street is one of the city’s coolest hangouts, but it hasn’t always been so popular. We explore the history of the city’s most well-known boulevard.

Dizengoff Street was founded on May 4, 1934. Its special significance was honored by the decision to name the street after the first and beloved mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, who held the position of mayor from 1911 until his death in 1936. At first he objected, and after being begged, he agreed to accept the honor of having the street named after him. Meir Dizengoff is known as having encouraged cultural and bohemian life in Israel in many ways. He saw the future in a way that made it real, and pointed Tel Aviv in that direction. His vision focused on the city’s newness, modernity, and its separation from the Diaspora. His name was also commemorated on a street sign of Netanya, however the street in Tel Aviv is what gained national fame.

At the start of Tel Aviv’s development, there were no significant focal points in the city. In 1934, there was an architectural competition for designing a square, to be named after mayor Dizengoff’s wife, Zina Dizengoff. The winner of the competition was Genia Averburch. The square, at the confluence of six streets, casts a flowing movement of circles that show how Tel Aviv is “the city that doesn’t stop.” It was part of the original urban plan of Tel Aviv by Sir Patrick Geddes, a Scottish city planner. There was an initial idea to build a parking lot; however, this never happened, and instead a roundabout was built around the square, consisting of a garden with a fountain and seating area surrounding it. The circular plaza became a main point of interest in Tel Aviv and a landmark of Tel Aviv’s ‘white city.

Bauhaus Cinema Hotel
Bauhaus Cinema Hotel | Courtesy of Juliana de Albuquerque

By the time Tel Aviv celebrated its 50th anniversary, Dizengoff was seen as its main street, and was comparable to New York’s popular shopping area, Fifth Avenue. Dizengoff Street became an integral part of Tel Aviv, and a key term of popular Israeli culture. The two names, Tel Aviv and Dizengoff became a part of each other, gaining the reputation of being “Tel Aviv’s main and stately showcase.” It aspired to be on par with cities such as New York, London, Paris, or Rome and was associated with terms such as pleasure, entertainment, fun, and consumption. It was the first Hebrew city that was viewed as the vision of modernity and prosperity. However, this went against the ‘old pioneering tradition’ that still existed in Zionist rhetoric.

From the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s, Dizengoff Street was reputed as the most glamorous street of Israel. Through the combination of fancy shop windows and famous cafés, Dizengoff Street was full of glamour and fame, and was the street of all ‘beautiful things.’ These were the years considered to be Dizengoff’s ‘boom,’ with regard to the openings of prestigious shops and luxury businesses.

With the arrival of many German Jews in Tel Aviv in the 1930s came the start of a central European-style coffee shop culture. Café Kassit was the first of its kind, located at 117 Dizengoff. Coffee shops such as Kassit were frequented by poets and artists and became famous meeting spots for the cultural elite. It was a gathering place for the old, serious, literary bohemia and was most notably frequented by Nathan Alterman, a well-known Israeli poet and journalist.

Dizengoff Square
Dizengoff Square | Courtesy of Pia Staigmueller

In the 1960s, it was Israel’s ultimate shopping center and leisure destination. There were two significant contributions to this development. Firstly, the opening of the passage Dizengoff shopping center, and secondly, the opening of the Ha’Mashbir La’Tzharkan, a department store located next to Dizengoff circus. In 1963, Dizengoff Street was referred to as the Street of Fashion. It had the reputation of being up to date with the latest fashions in London and Paris; however, the attempt to be on par with these other cities failed – the issue of concern was that the rest of Israel was far behind Dizengoff Street. The rise of Dizengoff Street as a shopping area and pastime depicted the changes that Israeli society was undergoing at the time.

Sitting in cafés and watching people go by, as well as window-shopping, were typical experiences of Dizengoff Street. These experiences were unique to Dizengoff Street, to the extent that a term was actually coined for it: ‘Le’Hizdangeff’, meaning to ‘do’ Dizengoff Street. The new verb emphasized the notion that Dizengoff is in fact an activity, and is one that is unique to the location. The term ‘Le-HizDangeff’ expresses experiencing the 3km-long street. It depicts that Dizengoff Street is more than a commercial place, but one that bears emotion. It is said have been a similar to European boulevard, however it served the needs of Israel at the time.

In 1980, the Dizengoff Center, designed by Yitzkak Yashar, opened and was the first mall in Israel. This ‘city within a city’ was designed to serve as ‘an unprecedented concentration of commerce and enjoyment, entertainment and tourism.’

Dizengoff Center
Dizengoff Center | © Talmoryair/WikiCommons

In 2000, Dizengoff Street was reputed to be in decline. An observer noted, ‘There were people on the street, but their was far from that of a “multitude,’’ or ‘‘sea of people.’’ There were ‘‘people in the street’’, so to say, more or less, and their stern and businesslike walking indicated that they weren’t doing Le’hizdangeff, as they used to say in the glorious days of the street, but doing their business and then going elsewhere, where they probably would feel more comfortable. The multitude stayed home. Dizengoff Street embodies how a street can become part of a city’s collective memory.

Kikar Dizengoff
Kikar Dizengoff | © idobi/Wikicommons

Throughout the years, Dizengoff Street has both risen and fallen. However, in recent years, it has regained its reputation as one of the most vibrant places in Israel, and is the number one Tel Aviv street to visit.