In 1931, local businessman Moshe Greidinger opened his first cinema in Haifa. By 1935 Greidinger was already building his second, Armon Theatre. He commissioned the architect Shmuel Rozov to build a large Bauhaus-style building with 1,800 seats on HaNeviim St in Haifa. On opening night in 1935, his Armon Theatre showed The Merry Widow, an Oscar-winning musical comedy.
The timing could not have been better. When The Bauhaus School of Design was forced to close in Berlin in 1933, staff and students escaped as best they could. In addition to the four architects who already lived British Mandated Palestine before travelling to Germany to study at Bauhaus (Shlomo Bernstein, Munio Gitai-Weinraub, Shmuel Mestechkin and Arieh Sharon), quite a few Bauhaus graduates or Bauhaus-influenced architects and artists emigrated to Israel in 1933: Erich Mendelsohn, Richard Kaufmann, Genia Averbuch, Mordechai Ardon, Isaac Rapoport and others. It would not surprise me at all if Shmuel Rozov had studied architecture at Bauhaus or worked with an architect who had.
Armon Theatre, Haifa
Watching films in the Armon Cinema must have been a very pleasant experience. On hot Israeli summer nights, some clever architect designed an electrified sliding roof that could open above the heads of those sitting in the balcony. Can we know, at a distance of 80 years, whether the Armon was well patronised? It would appear so. Due to the large British presence during the Mandate, Haifa’s cinemas serviced young British soldiers far from home, local Arab workers and lonely Jewish immigrants by their thousands. By the 1930s there were at least six cinemas in Haifa!
Its size and location in the heart of the city's entertainment centre made the Armon Cinema a broadly-based cultural institution. As the city lacked other suitable halls, this cinema regularly hosted performances of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israeli Opera. All the stars came! Films from the legendary directors Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Lumet were seen at this very theatre, during their stays in Haifa! [Lumet's parents, Baruch and Eugenia Lumet, had been experienced members of the Yiddish theatre in Poland]. Alexis Weissenberg’s piano recital with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1950 included Debussy, Bach, Mozart and Liszt. Leonard Bernstein conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1950. Violinist Yehudi Menuhin played there in 1952. Violinist Jascha Heifetz played in afternoon recitals in 1953.
The building apparently also served as a venue for excitable crowds waiting for election night results to be announced.
The Armon was closed in 1987, long after tv arrived in Israeli lounge rooms. But how could the City Council have allowed a private company pull the building down? It had been the focal point of Hebrew culture and entertainment in the city, the site where Israeli and overseas stars brought films, music and opera to the locals. And although Bauhaus architecture in Israel was not yet included under Heritage Protection in 1987, here was a special building! It represented the special taste that a generation of young Jewish architects brought to British Mandated Palestine, once they fled Germany in 1933. Did the City have absolutely no other site available, on which to build the 20 storey, modernist Armon Tower???
Haifa City Museum, opened in 2000