Waldorf chain refurbishing Jerusalem's historic Palace HotelJerusalem's hotel scene is chiefly known for purveying character, but even our city's most luxurious hotels are arguably not on par with their peers in the hospitality metropolises of the world.
Bill Clinton stayed at the Hilton (now the David Citadel) when it first opened, but world leaders generally prefer the King David when they visit the City of Gold. This trend reached ludicrous proportions during last summer's Presidents' Conference, when it was reported that nearly every VIP in attendance had checked in at the King David, which is surely a remarkable beautiful facility but hardly a paradigm of excessive luxury.
Meanwhile, plans are moving forward for a local Four Seasons branch near Liberty Bell Park, and a super-upscale Mamilla hotel in that neighborhood's relatively new shopping disctrict. Moreover, construction of the Hilton-backed Waldorf-Astoria is in full swing at the site of the historic Palace Hotel on the corner of King David and Agron St., and only when it opens its doors in about a year will we know if a new standard in pampering has come to town.
The structure has been completely gutted, with the detailed outer walls, now a mere facade, serving as the only remnants of the original building for about a year now. Despite its decrepit appearance, the former Palace Hotel is one of Jerusalem’s most beautiful buildings, with numerous carvings designed as an amalgamation of Moorish, Roman and Arab architecture.
The old Palace Hotel, constructed in 1928-29 under the order of Jerusalem’s Supreme Muslim Council and supervised by the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem, was completed after just 11 months, by over 500 Arab workers, supervised by one Jewish engineer named Baruch Katinka. Since Katinka was secretly working for pre-state Jewish military organization the Hagana, the Palace was a tricky project to say the least. Upon opening, the hotel was the most luxurious in the Middle East, with elevators, a central heating system and even private bathrooms – practically unheard-of at the time.
Due to a hardcore rivalry, much deceit (during the excavation, it was revealed that the site was an old Muslim cemetery – the Mufti covered this up) and a dash of sabotage between the British-appointed Arab mayor and the Mufti, the hotel was destined to fail. Management of the hotel was handed over to a local corrupt hotelier, but it was eventually forced to close its doors once the King David opened down the block.
The British Mandate went on to use the building as military and administrative offices, and when the State of Israel was born in 1948, the Ministry of Trade took up residence. Then, six years ago, the building was abandoned, the government-caused void ironically filled by the community of addicts, homeless folk and squatters featured in David Grossman’s Someone to Run With.
About five years ago, the Reichmann magnates purchased the structure from the Israeli government, which should be ashamed for letting such a beautiful building fall into these depths of disrepair – not to mention that the sale reportedly went for a $20 million price tag, a paltry sum for historical value, central location and sheer property size such as this.
The Reichmanns closed a management deal with Hilton hotels, and together, they will be investing over $100 million in the development and branding of the refurbished hotel, destined to be the latest branch of the Waldorf-Astoria chain. The 220-room facility, due to open in 2014, should eventually house five additional floors, several restaurants, a swimming pool and hundreds of well-to-do tourists.
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