Downtown Triangle (Jerusalem)
The Downtown Triangle (Hebrew: המשולש, Hameshulash, lit. "The Triangle") is a central commercial and entertainment district in Jerusalem, Israel. Measuring 29,000 square metres (310,000 sq ft), the area is bounded by Jaffa Road on the north, King George Street on the west, and Ben Yehuda Street on the southeast. Its vertices are the intersections of Jaffa Road and King George Street, King George and Ben Yehuda Streets, and Ben Yehuda Street and Jaffa Road (the latter known as Zion Square).
From the mid-1940s through the 1960s, the Triangle was the commercial and cultural heart of Jerusalem, with many upscale shops and restaurants operated by German-Jewish immigrant businessmen that appealed to an affluent clientele. Following the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 and the expansion of the city away from the downtown core, the commercial viability of the Triangle declined. The area was revitalized by the conversion of Ben Yehuda Street and the interior streets of the Triangle to an open-air pedestrian mall in 1982. Over the next two decades, outdoor cafes and souvenir shops moved in, cementing the reputation of the Triangle as a popular shopping and entertainment venue for tourists and young Israelis.
Before the British Mandatory government began in 1917, the only commercial district in Jerusalem existed on Jaffa Road. Stores along this thoroughfare, which extended westward from Jaffa Gate and the Old City Walls, were situated in one-story buildings and were not developed according to any plan. The new Mandatory government drew up a master town plan that called for the creation of modern commercial centers. The first commercial center to be built was the Downtown Triangle, although it was intended to play a secondary role to the other planned commercial development in the Mamilla area, closer to the Old City walls. However, the Mamilla development did not garner as much interest as the Triangle.
The land on which the commercial center lies had been purchased by the Jewish Colonization Association from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which began selling off some of its holdings in Jerusalem after World War I. The British developed the field into a triangular district bordered by Jaffa Road, Ben Yehuda Street (constructed by the British in 1922) and King George Street (constructed by the British in 1924). Lots were sold to large companies and cooperatives as well as private businesses. Other streets adjacent to the Triangle – Shlomzion Hamalka, Mamilla, Agron, and King David Streets – were zoned for commercial and residential occupancy.
According to Jerusalem architectural historian David Kroyanker, the heyday of the Downtown Triangle lasted from the early 1930s to the 1970s. Many stores and restaurants were opened by German Jewish immigrants who sought to recreate a European ambience in the city center. Their upscale boutiques, coffeehouses, delicatessens, and exclusive restaurants were frequented by senior Mandate officials and wealthy, English-speaking tourists. Unlike Israeli stores that sold all kinds of unrelated products under one roof, the Europeans introduced boutiques that featured only one item, such as gloves or ties. Some shops offered unique extras, such as coffeehouses that included an orchestra and dance floor, and a bookstore with a second-floor library.
The European immigrant-owned bookstores fueled the demand for detective fiction, historical reading, and periodicals from Germany and England. Steimatzky, which opened its first bookstore on Jaffa Road in the Triangle in 1925, identified the growing taste for imported newspapers and magazines and bought the franchises for many of them. The European immigrants also created a market for cold cuts and cheeses, with three competing delicatessens on King George and Ben Yehuda Streets. For many years, the Triangle was also the only place where Jerusalem residents could purchase clothing, shoes, furniture, and household goods.
At its peak, the district was home to 14 cinemas screening the newest Hollywood fare. Located in close proximity to one another, the cinemas would attract both adults and youth, who would afterwards patronize the coffeehouses and restaurants. The Downtown Triangle was the cultural heart of the city and the place "to see and be seen".
The cosmopolitan flavor of the Triangle extended to its buildings. The Sansur building, for example, has an "eclectic" design that combines "neo-Renaissance and classicist elements". Approximately 15 buildings in the Triangle were designed by architect Reuven Avraham Rabinowitz, who often added a row of roughly dressed stone to the facade to demarcate each story.
Decline and rebirth
Following the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the city embarked on significant expansion. Large commercial centers were opened in the new, outlying neighborhoods of Talpiot, Givat Shaul, and Malha, drawing customers away from the city center. Government offices began moving out as well, precipitating the economic decline of the Downtown Triangle in the 1970s. The clientele of the upscale European boutiques had also aged, and the neighborhoods adjacent to downtown became occupied by poor and Haredi Jews who did not patronize the Triangle. The elegant shops gave way to hummus restaurants, dollar stores, and money changers. The advent of television precipitated the closure of most of the Triangle's cinemas.
In 1982, the city attempted to revitalize the downtown district by closing Ben Yehuda Street and the Triangle's interior streets (Luncz, Dorot Rishonim, Yavetz, Ben Hillel, and HaHistadrut Streets) to traffic, and converting the entire area to an open-air pedestrian mall. Though taxi companies demonstrated against the renovation and merchants claimed it would fail, the idea proved successful. Outdoor cafes, pizzerias, and fast-food restaurants moved into the Triangle, alongside "souvenir, jewelry and Judaica stores" appealing to the tourist trade. Street musicians, street artists, political promoters, and tables manned by Chabad and Breslov Hasidim add to the lively nature of the mall. The pedestrian mall restored the Triangle's reputation as the "heart" of the city, although the formerly upscale, European tone was replaced by a more populist image. The introduction of the Jerusalem Light Rail in December 2011 further increased local and visitor traffic: estimates show that 36,000 pedestrians per day visited the Triangle in April 2012, up from 16,000 per day in April 2004. The mall is especially busy on Saturday nights, as eateries that have closed for Shabbat reopen and the streets are crowded with young Israelis from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Due to its large concentration of visitors and entertainment venues, Ben Yehuda Street has been the target of numerous attacks by suicide bombers. Beginning in the late 1990s, the pedestrian mall also became noted for hosting a growing presence of at-risk and homeless youth. Three youth centers – Hameshulash, Hezroni's Squat, and The Zone – operate in the vicinity of Zion Square.
- Atara Cafe (7 Ben Yehuda Street), operated from 1938 to 1996 (it was replaced first by a Burger King and, in 2013, by De Masa Cafe). The European-style coffeehouse was a favorite of Mandate officers, pre-state paramilitary groups, and Israeli politicians, journalists, and bohemians.
- Fink's Bar, at the corner of King George and HaHistadrut Streets, operated from 1936 to 2006 (it is now a Ne'eman Bakery). The intimate, exclusive restaurant was one of the most prestigious dining addresses in Jerusalem.
- Freimann & Bein (50 Jaffa Road) was the first luxury shoe store in Israel. Founded by German-Jewish immigrants, it imported quality leather shoes from Europe and attracted a clientele of British officers and Arab sheikhs. The store was established in the Generali Building on Jaffa Road in 1934 and moved to its present location in 1947.
- Hamashbir Lazarchan, a seven-story, 5,000 square metres (54,000 sq ft) department store that opened at Zion Square in 2011, is the largest department store in Israel. Originally established in 1947 across the street from its current location, the store occupied another vertex of the Downtown Triangle, at King George and Ben Yehuda Streets, from 1970 to 2010.
- Khalifa Shoes (44 Jaffa Road), founded in 1954, is a Jewish family-owned business specializing in Israeli-made shoes and sandals.
- Sansur Building, erected in 1929, was commissioned by and named for a Christian Arab merchant from Bethlehem. The three-story office and commercial building, which straddles the corners of Jaffa Road, Ben Yehuda Street, and Luncz Street, originally housed Cafe Europe, a popular spot for Jews, Arabs, and British in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1947-48 it housed the Jerusalem Emergency Committee.
- Jerusalem Hostel (44 Jaffa Road), formerly the Tel Aviv Hotel which was founded in 1926. From one of the balconies, Menachem Begin announced the dissolution of the Irgun and the sign-up of his soldiers with the Israel Defense Forces on 3 August 1948.
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