Saving Historic Jerusalem - Stone Construction, Masonry by Numbers

Copyright 2006 by Morris Rosenthal - - contact info

The Serial Tourist's Guide to Living in Jerusalem

Questions? Comments?

Copyright 2006 by Morris Rosenthal

All Rights Reserved

The house in this picture is being reconstructed in the center of a new luxury housing complex across from the Yafo Gate. It's as large example of the stone numbering system that allows historical buildings to be taken down and reassembled. I suppose you could use the same system to create "historical house kits" direct from the stone-cutter. I've seen the numbers going up on buildings and walls all over town for years, and it a sure sign that the building hasn't got long to live in its current incarnation. In one instance on Yafo, you now have a beautiful long wall with multiple true arched doorways separating the passerby from a parking lot, and that appears to be the final state of the thing. However, it is nice when you see an Jerusalem architect take into consideration the history or a place and the look of the neighborhood, and try to integrate them into a new building which has been necessitated by economics. Often, you'll see a three or four unit apartment building replace a single family, but at least they can use the original stones for the first floor, or a front facade.
The picture to the right shows a long wall laid out on the ground. The number of window openings indicates that it was the wall of a building rather than an exterior courtyard wall, as these are also very common in Jerusalem. The staging area here is just a few hundred yards from the Old City, in the back of a recently constructed luxury housing project. I wonder if the buildings that were demolished for that project are the ones that are being laid out like jig-saw puzzles here.The stones aren't treated like archeological treasures, the guy in the picture is flipping one up and out of the way after the truck ran up against it trying to back through towards the camera. I'm less enthused about taking stone walls and resurrecting them to keep the dog in some rich guy's yard in the country, but I suppose in America, the super-rich of the last century tried to clean out Europe of all the old castles they could buy and bring to the West Coast. It makes for a somewhat incongruous view, the latest luxury housing backing on a sort of a house graveyard.
In some instances, I've seen the exterior stones of the front wall of a house numbered and then braced in place while the old house is complete demolished behind them. They even bring in heavy equipment to excavate new foundations and maybe room for a two car, under the house garage. The question is left, why painstakingly number all the stones if you're going to wire tie them off to a welded steel framework that really doesn't look like it's going anywhere. I don't know if it's a surplus of caution on the part of the home renovators, or if an Israel public safety inspector (something I have yet to see) came along after the fact and told the contractor that with a public sidewalk right next to the wall, the usual methods weren't going to cut it. It may also be the construction engineer who made the decision, since they seem to be the ones who are liable for things that go wrong with construction jobs. What really fascinates me about this temporary staging is that it's all welded! Every junction you see (and don't forget there's a corresponding steel post on the curb side as well) is welded on at least on surface.
Another interesting fact about old stone houses in Jerusalem is that if you snoop around a bit, you'll start noticing that some are abandoned. This house is in the middle of the upscale Jewish neighborhood in Rechavia, and I'd guess the small plot of land it stands on without the house is worth at least $500,000. Yet, somebody went to the trouble of bricking the whole thing up with cinder blocks and leaving it to the elements. Even if the house was condemned for safety reasons, you'd think they'd just tear it down and sell out to a developer. I suspect that kooky Israelis or whacky foreigners are responsible. If an Israeli owned the house and somehow the neighbors were able to block development (rarely seems to happen) it would be a rich man's revenge to say, "The hell with you then. I'll let it rot, and you'll have to look at it." As an investment, while letting it rot isn't bringing in any income, the land appreciation in the good neighborhoods has been a safe bet for the last sixty or so years, so the owners wouldn't necessarily be making any sacrifice. Another guess is that some of these properties sit vacant because legal disputes to inheritances.
Right next to the million dollar stone pile shown above, there's a companion house, also blocked up. This one is a larger structure and the separate apartments that were once on the second floor bear witness with their relatively recent steel security doors that the place hasn't been abandoned for long, However, in Jerusalem as in America, you can't walk away from a property and assume it will take care of itself. Roofs fail, water damage ensues, vegetation grows up through the cracks. The stone foundation to the left has begin to break apart, and you can just see the start of a crack in the concrete wall above it. Not surprisingly, this building is adorned with the sign shown below, warning no admittance due to a danger of collapse. Again, this is (was) easily a million dollar building in a prime neighborhood, so how can it stand empty? I think whacky foreigners who buy or invest in Israel and then get disgusted with the politics or the way of doing business are also responsible for some of the discarded properties around town. I've been collecting some shots of abandoned commercial buildings, when I have enough for a page, I'll link it here.

Hebrew Kindle eBooks

Foner Books Home | Serial Tourist's Guide to Jerusalem | Contact