01 January 2019

An amazing World Fair in Tel Aviv 1934

Organised by the Trade and Industry Co, through a private init­iat­ive of three businessmen, a small Tel Aviv Fair did attract attention in the 1920s. It all began at the Zionist Club on Rothschild Boul­evard and then trav­el­led to sev­eral schools, to sell locally manufactured goods to local cust­om­ers. When they realised they were on to something special, the Trade and Industry Co came up with the idea of establishing a major trade show a la Barcelona.

But it was the hugely suc­cessful 1929 Barcelona World Fair that pro­moted a massive, international effort. After Barcelona finished, large advert­ising campaigns were launched in Europe that invited business own­ers to come to Tel Aviv. The response was satisfy­ing and continued growing.

By late 1932, the Tel Aviv Municipality understood they needed to build a proper home for a World Fair. The British Mandate authorit­ies were enthusias­tic and alloc­ated 25 acres on the very attractive Yarkon Penin­sula at the far end of Tel Aviv. And they extended assistance to the project.

The Levant Fair was planned as the largest public event ever held during the British Mandate period. Beautiful, white Bauhaus buildings, built by German architects who had emigrated in 1933, were beginning to define the city.

The Italian pavilion

 British pavilion

  Gal­ina Coffee House

The Norwegian pavilion

Romanian pavilion
Credit for the photos: Levant World Fair in Tel Aviv.

Two of the most prominent architects in the country, Arieh Elhanani and Richard Kaufmann, were chosen to design the new World Fair com­plex. Kauf­mann was in charge of the urban master-plan and Elhanani designed some buildings and the outdoor scul­p­tures. The fair­grounds also feat­ured modern street lamps, benches, well-tended gardens and a main entrance square, Plumer Square.

This Levant Fair was the best model of a white, utopian city with a modernist palace, square, axes and Bauhaus flats. Note the Produce of the Land Palace with its original ship-like facade that became a source of local pride; it was the largest and most important structure of the Levant Fair. Designed by Richard Kaufmann in 1934, it too was in the In­ter­national or Bauhaus Style. The interior space soared to a height of 3 storeys, with an observation tower situated on one side and an apse on the other. Next to the entrance of the sparkling white fac­ade stretched a large public plaza with Arieh Elhanani’s sculpture.

Manuf­acturers and consumers flooded into Israel and many exhib­ited their wares in national pavilions – Britain, Soviet Union, Lebanon, Poland, Bulgaria, France, Cyprus, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Romania, Czechos­lov­akia etc. The best architects from Israel were recruited to build the pavilions. Each architect was resp­on­sible for design­ing one of the participating countries’ building, giving each pav­ilion a unique look, within the overall plan. Britain and its col­on­ies had an entire cluster of pavilions, designed by the respected architect, Yosef NeufeldGenia Averbuch, Aryeh Sharon and others provided Tel Aviv with one of the widest coll­ections of Bauhaus Style architecture. 

The ceremony marking the laying of the cornerstone was held in the presence of the British High Commissioners Herbert Samuel, Herbert Plumer, John Chancellor & Arthur Wauchope, plus Tel Aviv mayor Meir Dizengoff and the Arab mayors of Jaffa and Jerus­alem. The new fair covered 10 dunams and housed 1,225 exhib­itors, including 821 for­eign companies from 23 countries. Emerging nations in the Orient were particularly welcomed.  And Gal­ina Coffee House, built in the International or Bauhaus Style, was hugely popular.

Opening day crowds

So holding an occasional Fair seemed plausible in this growing city of Tel Aviv and another Levant Fair was held in 1936. 30 countries took part, drawing c600,000 visitors in the 6 weeks it was open.

Now it was possible to combine commercial promotion with en­t­ertainment and culture; the Tel Aviv Municipality was quick to grasp the importance of the Levant Fair as a strong attraction in pre-State Israel and in the Diaspora. The first concert of the Palestine Philharm­on­ic Orchestra started its concert tour in Dec 1936, led by the greatest conductor in Europe, Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957). Golda Meir, David Ben Gurion and every other communal figure in Palestine were at the first concert, held in the Italian Pavilion.

Those were imp­res­sive numb­ers given that the Arab Revolt was about to begin, shut­ting down Jaffa port. But the fair's organisers suffered financial losses and after the 1936 Fair closed, it stayed closed till after the state was established.

However the spaces were later put to good use. During the Jaffa dock workers’ strike, the Brit­ish Government approved the construction of a jetty on the Tel Aviv seashore, on a beach just south of the Levant Fair-grounds. Pavilions in the fair grounds were initially used as temporary st­or­age space for the Tel Aviv port, built in 1938. Later, they were appropriated for British Army use, and after 1948, for the Israel Defence Forces.

World Fair facilities all over the world were accidentally or intentionally torn down, except for Melbourne's. Even in Tel Aviv, the pavilions fell apart and the works of art moved. So the Levant Fair project was re-launched in June 2013 at the orig­inal location, now offering restaur­ants, shopping, exhibits, sports activities, playgrounds for children, and performances at the amphitheatre.



We Travel said...

Good to see you, Helen. I heard you retired and assumed the blog would end as well.

You mentioned that the very grand Exhibition Building still stands in Melbourne and is used regularly. But all we have seen in other cities are bits and pieces left over from very successful World Fairs. Hope Tel Aviv survived.

Joseph said...

My favourite World Fair relic was the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco built in 1915. But perhaps the building is no longer the original.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, If I needed another hobby, I would collect World Fair memorabilia. As you state, these fairs embodied major currents evolving in the world, as well as fine arts and popular culture. If people missed the Tel Aviv Fair, they could console themselves with the Great Lakes Exhibition of 1936, in Cleveland, with its Art Deco theme, which seems to be the friendlier version of Bauhaus.

I recall that we once discussed the transient nature of Fair buildings, and those who saw them as giant junk heaps ready to be salvaged, in a post you wrote about Willard Worden.

Hels said...

We Travel

I reluctantly retired in Dec but all the old lecture notes and reference books will still make wonderful material for future blog posts on history and art history. Hopefully the students and colleagues will still feel welcome to read and comment.

My favourite comparison was Van Der Rohe's famous German pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition. Yet the original structure was dismantled immediately after the exhibition! Only in the mid-1980s was a decision made to rebuild it according to the architect's plans and using the same materials.

Over the years, the condition of the Israeli pavilions steadily deteriorated but only the Produce of the Land Palace was almost totally destroyed. Fortunately they could be restored.

Hels said...


The Palace of Fine Arts was built, as you noted, in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. But when the fair was closed in 1916, only the Palace remained open due to popular demand, becoming a site for important art shows. Due to neglect and the temporary nature of its materials, the Palace had begun to fall apart.

Today the site belongs to the City of San Francisco, displaying a classical Roman rotunda in ruins with curved colonnades - in a very beautiful park and lagoon setting.

Hels said...


you will have to give up sleeping, if you want to take up more studies and hobbies :)

Re the transient nature of World Fair buildings, I have very mixed feelings. On one hand, each host city spent a FORTUNE designing and building what they hoped would be the most culturally and commercially successful event in world history. To pull it all done after 6 or 12 months seemed like unbelievable vandalism.

On the other hand, each World Fair was always taking up a huge land mass and was almost always located in a desirable and central part of the host city. Redevelopment and modernisation seemed almost inevitable.

Andrew said...

It is a shame that the buildings did not survive. So Tel Aviv was under the control of the British, which I kind of knew. Before the State of Israel, the whole area was called Palestine? The Jaffa Peninsula and Jerusalem had Arab mayors. Jerusalem having a Arab Mayor seems strange to me.

Of course you can't answer the essential question, how did it all go so wrong. I will just blame the British.

Hels said...


The Mandate for Palestine was given to Britain by the League of Nations in 1923. The Mandates for Syria and for Lebanon were given to France by the League of Nations, also in 1923. The European mandates were to last until the local peoples voted for independence, 1943 for the French and 1948 for the British.

I think Palestine could have done well under the British, had WW2 not intervened, taking British resources and commitment elsewhere. Just look at Tel Aviv, a beautiful city designed by British town planner, Sir Patrick Geddes.