23 April 2016

Bauhaus cinema architecture in Haifa (1935)

I imagine that in the early days of the British Mandate for Palestine (later Israel), people went to the cinema in whatever temporary facilities were available. Perhaps it did not matter at a time when only silent films were being made; but after talkies arrived in 1931, the cinemas needed to be purpose-built. In any case, from the beginning of the silent film era, almost the only films being made in Israel were newsreels. Feature films in those days were imported from abroad and then dubbed in Hebrew.

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
opened 1935

In summary, at least 25 former Bauhaus graduates emigrated to British Mandated Palestine, the architects amongst them offering a new vision for blocks of residential flats, businesses and public buildings.

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

Thankfully the Haifa City Museum, opened in 2000, celebrates the city’s rich cinematic past. By taking every object that survived when Armon was demolished, the Museum allows visitors to be taken back to the age of the silver screen. Shem Tov Sasson found old film reels, ticket stubs, blueprints of Haifa’s early movie-houses, letters, show times, invitations, posters and photos of Hollywood’s stars like Gregory Peck, James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. He sat in the small mock-up theatre (a curtained-off area of the museum’s first floor), watching old Israeli advertisements and trailers from classic films.


9News said...

Melbourne’s Palace Theatre has been in operation since 1860. Originally known as the Douglas Theatre, it was destroyed by fire in 1911 and then later reopened in 1912. For over the past hundred years it has been a Melbourne city staple, having being utilised as a theatre, cinema and more recently as a live performance venue for a variety of musical acts.

In a move set to spark controversy, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) finally approved an application to demolish Melbourne’s historic Palace Theatre. While VCAT admitted there had has been “significant public opposition” in the form of more than 1000 objections to the demolition, they said Jinshan’s decision to preserve the Palace’s façade from the ground level up was adequate.

9news, 22/4/2016

Student of History said...

In your lectures I can remember Bauhaus buildings all over Tel Aviv, but not much in Haifa. So they lost a historic treasure pulling Armon down.

Hels said...


good grief, have VCAT learned nothing from Haifa's experience and other cities? Melbourne's Palace Theatre was sold to a developer who said he wanted a major hotel and apartment development on the site as far back as 2012. Could we not have used the last 4 years to preserve our city's history, instead of destroying it?

Hels said...


Hadar HaCarmel was the Haifa suburb with the most Bauhaus buildings. Bauhaus buildings can also be seen in Haifa’s Ahuza, Neve Sha’anan and Ziv suburbs. But they are not protected buildings, as in Tel Aviv; developers in Haifa seen to be able to demolish or alter historic buildings as they please.

It may not just be legislation that is missing. It may be the passion. Yekkes said a significant amount of Bauhaus buildings, with balconies, glazed stairwells and the occasion curve, are highly valued in Tel Aviv but unacknowledged in Haifa.


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, When developers want a commercially valuable site, often their first step is to tear down historically valuable buildings, whether officially so designated or not. Then they can claim that the building was not "landmarked" and that there was no effort to save it.

If there is any protest, then they go to Stage 2, in which they claim a) the building was too deteriorated to be saved (almost never true), and b) they are going to preserve or incorporate "parts" of it, such as columns or a facade.

As you say, a generally prevailing attitude is needed to save architectural heritage.

Hels said...


yes! Developers always feel they have an urgent reason to pull down a old building eg the new building will be more modern; the old building was too deteriorated; the new building will make more money etc etc.

So developers cannot be allowed to make their own decisions about the destruction of historical sites. Only an independent state body, responsible for preserving and upgrading historical buildings, can stand up to the developers and be free of their influence.

Mandy Southgate said...

It's heartbreaking the buildings we have lost to ugliness and modernity. Then again, there was a time when Art Deco was considered very dreary and old fashioned. I certainly didn't appreciate it in my youth until I began to be interested in the era itself.

Hels said...


I agree. Not every style was loved at the time it dominated a city's architecture, or even since. I, for example, disliked International Modernist architecture. But when the Festival of Britain facilities on South Bank were pulled down in late 1951, it was a total tragedy. From a vitally important exhibition that saved Britain from post-WW2 poverty and misery, only Royal Festival Hall remained.


Nowadays I would say that the building to be protected must be a] a good example of an important era of architecture in a particular city, whether we moderns like that architectural style or not. Or b] A site of great historical importance to the city or nation.