The imminent threat of destruction and the latent wish for it are both present in the story of the Herzliya Gymnasium’s building from its very beginning. The building was targeted by bold projects which regarded its removal a first, necessary step in the ultimate revolution of Tel Aviv's cityscape, or at least or at least for "breaking out" of its early planners’ shortsightedness. At the same time, the Gymnasium’s founders and senior teachers turned their backs on the building. They offered a variety of reasons for this choice, all aimed at concealing the embarrassing gap between the grandiose phraseology that had surrounded the construction of the building and its everyday decrepit reality. Thus, the physical destruction of the building—a structure that had been overburdened with symbolic meaning, before it had even been built—was not the result of momentary lapse of reason, but the culmination of long and deliberate process that was accompanied by an apologetic tragicomedy of excuse-mongering. As a result, the Gymnasium building lapsed into a moribund state of death-in-life already in the early stages of its existence. The Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium building was built in the course of 1909-10, at the height of a wave of messianism that had swept Zionists in Eretz-Israel. This general mood was the combined result of the powerful impact of Political Zionism’s early nationalist rhetoric and the momentary sense of euphoria which the Young Turk Revolution had inspired across Ottoman Palestine. Since it was intended to serve the propagandist aim of securing the spiritual status of Ahuzat Bait (later to become Tel Aviv) as the center of a revivalist Zionist Hebraism, it is not surprising that the building was situated at the focal point of the new neighborhood’s main street. Equally significant was the style that informed the building’s facades, which had been conceived by Bezalel Art Academy founder Boris Schatz and architect Yosef Barsky. The result of their efforts—especially in the building’s monumental portal—incorporated motifs copied almost exactly from French architect Charles Chipiez’s imaginative reconstructions of the Temple in Jerusalem. As with other religious symbols and concepts which Zionism had converted for its own needs and aims, here too the sacred images used to construct a secular shrine to Hebraism imbued the entire building with a messianic tension that went far beyond its earthly functions and purposes. As architectural taste changed, the same visual elements that were used to attract attention to the building, as well as its deliberate positioning at the center of the world’s first Hebrew city, started to come under criticism. From the 1930s onwards, the Yishuv’s wholehearted embrace of architectural modernism with its ahistorical state of mind went in complete opposition to the architectural approach of the previous generation, which had tried to make use of the past in order to design the language of the present. The Gymnasium building—a dominant representative of the Hebraic style in Eretz-Israeli architecture—now began to be perceived either as an abomination, or at least as a grotesque expression of the architectural eccentricities of the past. This devaluation on the part of the arbiters of architectural taste made the work of the city’s municipality and the Gymnasium’s administration much easier, as both bodies sought to dispose of the building. The suggestion to get rid of the “obstruction” on Herzl Street was proposed already in 1913. The idea was to extend the street through the Gymnasium’s grounds and thus to correct what was regarded as a grave design flaw—caused by an early lack of faith in the potential fast expansion of the city northwards. This plan did not materialize, for the development of the area north of the Gymnasium meant that the full implementation of the plan would have entailed tearing down numerous buildings. Twenty years later, Tel Aviv municipality's City Engineer Yaakov Shifman (Ben-Sira) and its planning corps, possessed by the modernist obsession with traffic flow, revived the wish to extend Herzl Street north through the area then occupied by the Gymnasium building. This time, the reasoning behind the proposal was that the change would ease the congestion of traffic in the commercial heart of the city. This “objective” argument became the standard justification for the demolition of the building for years to come, despite the fact that the reality on the ground has shown that there was no real infrastructural reason to extend the street, and that the tower, which eventually replaced the Gymnasium building, had in fact caused the increase of traffic in the area, thus only aggravating the existing problem. Regardless of their exact content, Tel Aviv municipality’s plans would never have materialized without the enthusiastic cooperation of the Gymnasium’s administration. The latter sought to escape what had become the business center of the city, an area whose manifestly urban, non-pastoral landscape they deemed an inappropriate setting for a progressive educational institution (as if the founders—many of whom were also the city’s first inhabitants—believed that the suburban atmosphere of the neighborhood in which they had built the school would persist for long). In the beginning of the 1930s it became evident that the allegedly bazaar-like character of the area from which the administration wished to escape dramatically raised the financial value of the Gymnasium-owned real estate. This discovery spurred the administration to realize their asset, as though it were simply another commodity, while consciously denying the fact that by doing so they were also signing the building’s death warrant. Though an actual deal for the selling of the old building took many years to realize due to ups and downs in Tel Aviv’s real estate market, at the beginning of July 1959 the contract for its purchase by a private group of investors was finally signed; several days later, and with hardly any public opposition, it was demolished. The building, which came into being as a national-messianic symbol, ended its days as a real estate corpse with soaring financial prospects.
|Translated title of the contribution||A wish for destruction: The life and death of the Herzliya Gymnasium building|
|Title of host publication||ימי הגימנסיה : הגימנסיה העברית "הרצליה", 1959-1905|
|State||Published - 2013|