Hello Haifa

A HALL NEW WORLD

The City Hall building celebrates 75 years to its establishment

During its first decades, Haifa Municipality resided in various rented buildings, but the growth of the municipal system and the expansion of its activity, aimed to fulfill the needs of the ever-growing population, made it necessary to have all its departments under one roof, if only for efficiency's sake.

In the late 1920s Shabtai Levy, who was council member at the time, came up with the notion that "the center of municipal life should be re

located from the downtown area to the vicinity of Hadar HaCarmel".

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In 1931, during his second term of office (1927-1940), Mayor Hassan Shukri began a long negotiation with the government to purchase the 5-dunam plot next to the court's plot. In August 1932, the city council decided to allot 2,500 Israeli Liras for purchasing the plot, and they sealed the deal in 1934. The city council chose Jewish architect Benjamin Chaikin for the job. Two years later Chaikin finished the plans, estimating the building costs will reach 51,000 Liras (in effect the costs came to 66,000), which required a loan from the government. Only near the end of 1940 did the High Commissioner approve the desired loan. Alas, Shukri did not live to see his dream come true: he passed away a few days later.

The construction began in February 1941, lasted 16 months, and eventually it was Shukri's successor, Shabtai Levy, who consecrated the Hall on Monday, June 29 1942. Notables of the city, The British High Commissioner and dignitaries representing the various congregations attended the ceremony. Levy also suggested renaming the street of the building after the late mayor, "So that his name will be forever associated with the building". 

The City Hall is a monumental building of some 6500 square meters and more than one hundred rooms over four stories. Built in a modern style, with straight lines and no flashy features, it is considered one of the most beautiful structures built in Israel during the British Mandate. Facing the spectacular view of the Mediterranean, it stood on the borderline between downtown's Arab neighborhoods and the Jewish Hadar HaCarmel neighborhood, serving as a symbol of unity, and allowing the residents of the city easy access to municipal services.

Architect Benjamin Chaikin (1883-1950) was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, into a family of prestigious rabbinical background. However, raised and educated in England, he studied at the Sheffield School of Art, and later at the Architectural Association School. In 1920, he settled in Jerusalem, where he opened an architecture firm.

 A HALL NEW WORLD

In addition to his work with renowned colleagues Patrick Geddes and Frank Mears, he repaired the Chemistry Institute in the Hebrew University after the 1927 earthquake and built its amphitheater, co-planned King David Hotel and the power station on Bethlehem Road in Jerusalem, and designed many other buildings in Israel. His style was eclectic, though relatively minimalistic, combining modern architecture and the International Style with oriental motifs, prominently the arch. At the time, the arch at above entrance to the City Hall—created by artist Israel Rubinstein, a stone-cutting expert—was one of the highest of its kind in the country.

The construction took 472 days, for which the Jewish and Arab construction workers received 15-thousand Israeli Liras. The exterior of the building was clad with stones from Mount Carmel, brought from quarries from around Tira village, and the interior with fired bricks manufactured by Na'aman. Marble paved the halls and stairwells, and the doors were made partly of wood from Turkey. The walls of the mayor's chamber and part of the conference hall were lined with walnut.

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City Council Hall. Photo: Reuven Cohen

These days, the 75 years old structure still serves as the main administrative building, where the mayor, vice mayors, the city council, the director general, secretary general, city treasurer and various other officials still sit. It stands is in the municipal complex with other offices that offer a wide array of services to the residents of Haifa.

The main building has several places of gathering, including the City Council Hall—recently upgraded and renovated with attention to its original character—where special events and meetings with dignitaries from Israel and from abroad take place.

Here's to the next 75 fruitful years! 

* Material taken from the article written for the Haifa History Society by Dr. Tamir Goren, senior lecturer at the Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at the Bar-Ilan University