Rehavia

Rehavia at one time was the most sought after area in Jerusalem. Although these days there are much posher areas, when one mentions Rehavia, it immediately conjures an aura of exclusivity and gracious living. It is not what it was during the British Mandate and up till the late sixties, but it is still considered as one of the high-class residential areas in Jerusalem with a distinctive central European accent.

The official residence of the Prime Minister is still located in Rehavia and the neighborhood is still a coveted address.

When the British established their rule in Palestine, the Jewish agency believed that a large influx of Jews from Europe was to be expected. Consequently it was thought imperative to create suitable accommodation in Jerusalem for the expected influx of middle class families from Central Europe, namely Germany, Austria, Chekoslovakia and Hungary. They therefore planned a middle class neighborhood with apartments which were more or less equal to what middle class families were accustomed to in Germany and in the successor states of the vast Hapsburg Empire which disintegrated at the end of the first world war.

The the new neighborhood was built on land purchased from the Greek Orthodox Church which was, and still, is the largest single proprietor of land in Jerusalem. The planning was entrusted to a famous German Jewish architect, Richard Kaufmann by name.  The main idea in his urban planning was the incorporation of the concept promoted by noted British urban architect, Sir Ebenezer Howard, of the urban garden suburbs. This was meant to emphasize the social ideals and the emphasis on agriculture of the Zionist movement.

Howard was a British architect and town planner who pioneered the idea of bringing the garden into the city.  Work on planning and building Rehavia started in the early 1920’s. Jerusalem, in those days was  a small city, but Kaufman was very forward-looking and he designed Rehavia as an urban garden suburb of a large bustling metropolis city, based on the Howardian “garden cities” in Britain and the USA.

The central idea was of a series of residential apartment buildings which were not connected to each other, but a sort of residential island in the midst of a sea of green (e.g their own garden). This style is in contrast to the rows of houses in European capitals stretching the length of whole streets and not separated from each other.

Rehavia, as designed by Kaufman, was to be a quiet suburb situated within walking distance of the center of the city then as now in the area of King George V and Jaffa Streets. By intentionally designing narrow roads which prevented easy access to traffic, and allowing commerce to take place only on its bordering streets (i.e. Keren Kayemet, King George, Ussishkin, and later Aza streets), Rehavia has maintained it’s tranquil upper-class aura to this day.

Most of the area was built in the twenties thirties and forties; sturdy, solid stone houses, some of them built in the Bauhaus style. It was intended that the grounds/gardens would be maintained as nice flowery gardens, but this was not always so. Local co-dominion culture did not encourage communal maintenance of gardens and shared areas.

In its heyday, Rehavia was home to many famous people. The cream of the intellectual and political elite of those times, including David Ben-Gurion, and Golda Meir, were Rehavia residents. The first official residence of the President of the State of Israel was in Rehavia.

Despite having lost some of its former glory, Rehavia is still very much IN. Currently, the real estate scene is dominated by the fact that the original owners have either moved elsewhere or are no longer with us, and their homes are being either rented out or torn down to build new modern apartment buildings. The area is also undergoing a change in the make up of the population. In its heyday, it was populated by liberal, middle-class central Europeans, mostly Germans. These days, many observant affluent Anglos are purchasing properties and renovating them as single-family homes.

Thanks to the preservation and antiquities department of the municipality of Jerusalem, who are responsible for building policy, these older properties have maintained their old-world charm and ambience. One of the reasons attracting new people to Rehavia is the high density of religious institutions and synagogues throughout the neighborhood. Another reason for overseas residents is that Rehavia is seen as a leafy, verdant neighborhood near the center of the city.

The brisk demand from affluent religious families is reflected in prices, and although it is not the most expensive area in Jerusalem, real estate prices are still higher than many other areas. The apartments fetch premium prices from US $10,000 – 12,000 per square meter, while penthouses built atop these old apartment buildings can fetch from US$ 15,000 – 20,000 per square meter.
Consequently while not being the number one neighborhood in Jerusalem it is still considered a very prestigious area with vast  appeal as a residential area.

Supply of new housing in Rehavia is limited because there are no empty plots of land to build on. The only way new projects get started is when old buildings are torn down and new ones built in their place. This is not an easy thing to do since most of the buildings are listed for historic preservation. A more common solution is the adding more floors to existing apartment buildings and adding more apartments. These new units are very much in demand. The extra floors are added on buildings with historic facades. These facades are then restored, the building’s public areas (e.g. entrance lobby, stairwell) are upgraded, and the new apartments are built to blend with the style of the existing building (e.g. high ceilings, large rooms, etc. but with all modern appliances and technology). In Rehavia, demand usually outstrips supply, and whatever comes onto the market is sold relatively fast. The same goes for apartments offered for rent.

Rehavia is also attractive to students with means because it is close to the University campus at Givaat Ram, and near the bohemian coffee shops and restaurants on Gaza Street.

Rentals for an average three-room, run-down apartment favored by students, can rent for as little as NIS 4,500 a month, while a fancy four-room apartment, the type favored by overseas students, can rent for as much as US$ 4,000 per month.

Recent Real Estate Transactions in Rehavia:

A three-room, third-floor (67 sqm) apartment was sold for NIS 2.18 million.

A five-room, third-floor (123 sqm) apartment was sold NIS 3.93 million.

A five-room, ground-floor (138 sqm) apartment with private garden was sold for NIS 4.15 million.