Bat Galim beach: Fading beauty
Photo: Gili Sofer
Can Bat Galim be saved?
Haifa's Bat Galim neighborhood is closer to the sea than anywhere else in Israel, but possibly not for long

Bat Galim could have been one of "the places" in Haifa to go to, if city officials had wanted, and would do there what they did to the city's German Colony.


Bat Galim would also probably do well if they would just put an end to the criminal negligence that has afflicted the area over the years, and if they would finally do away with the 20-year old threat to build a marina there.


The truth is that it's hard to walk around this old neighborhood without feeling that something is out of place. On the one hand, its one of the few residential areas in Israel where the homes are built right up to the shoreline. Closer even to the water than the hotels in Tel Aviv. It even has its own train station. And if that's not enough, it is truly a charming place.


Bat Galim was settled in the 1920s by the local middle class that wanted a garden community outside

of the city. The neighborhood was designed by architect Ricarrd Kauffman, originally with one-story homes of the Bauhaus style. There are still some houses from the 20's and 30's, and the elegant international style stands out in contrast to the ugly public housing apartments that went up later.


On the other hand, the neighborhood is in an advanced state of disrepair. It's not exactly a slum, but it isn't Denya or Ahuza either (upscale Haifa neighborhoods).


Concrete monsters


Bat Galim boulevard leads to the Bat Galim boardwalk. On Dekalim Boulevard, which overlooks the sea, a host of old, interesting buildings catches your eye. They are all fronted by a long avenue of Washingtona palm trees reminiscent of some of the Baron de Rothschild settlements around Israel. At the top of the Boulevard sits Dolphin, a local eatery that is considered to be quite good. But the street doesn't end at the sea, rather the view and the beach are blocked by a crumbling skeleton: "The Casino."


Oh, there's never been gambling here, but during the British Mandate period, Bat Galim was Haifa's entertainment center. There was a popular cafe and many of the British officers and the city's elite, along with the city's ladies who liked British officers, would come here to play.


"There are still a few 60 year-old blondes walking around," jokes Gedde Young, son of an old Bat Galim family that prefers to stay in the neighborhood and fight for its future, despite the fact that he could afford to move elsewhere.


The rest of the building's story is somewhat less amusing. For years it stood hardily until a few years ago they decided to fix it up. Instead of renovating it the contractor was allowed to destroy it and then rebuild it. He indeed destroyed the building, and along with it the Olympic-sized swimming pool that still filled up with sea water in 1935. He poured a cement skeleton in the shape of the old building, and then went bankrupt.


Israelis will remember the casino from the stories of Yehoshua Kenaz, for example. "At this point," wrote Yoram Meltzer in his blog, "people who love Bat Galim and who still feel nostalgic for its better days, will have to suffice with a concrete shell of a building that stands as a hollow monument to those heady days before the country was born."


Another white elephant rests at the other end of the promenade, abandoned and rotting, which just adds to the sad air of the boardwalk. It would be hard to recommend a visit there, if there weren't something

else to do right nearby. The cable car to Stella Maris, Eliahu's Cave, the Immigrants museum and the

maritime museum.


There are countless numbers of decaying houses by the boardwalk, which are too valuable to demolish, but too expensive to restore, so their owners sealed them off with cinderblocks, so that they wouldn't

have to pay municipal taxes on them. Hard to believe, but that's what it is here, abandoned villas by the sea.  


Listening to the neighborhood association fighting to preserve the place; their complaints about how it's falling apart, how the mayor promised there'd be no marina, but then reneged and so on, I suddenly realize what's going to happen.


I look out in front of me, where the waves are breaking on the beach, and there will be a road there.  Where the surfers wait for their next break in the waves, there will be three tall apartment buildings. They called it a marina, now they call it the Riviera, but it all comes down to usurping the sea. In the meantime,

they are usurping the neighborhood.


פרסום ראשון: 09.07.05, 10:53
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