Tuesday, September 23, 2014 Elul 28, 5774

King David: Jerusalem's Goliath of a Hotel

November 29, 2007 By:
Ben G. Frank, JE Feature
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They say that the streets of a city contain memory. If so, then King David Street is special to the residents of Jerusalem, this biblical city that is the capital of the State of Israel.

Standing tall at No. 23 in all its majesty is the King David Hotel, now celebrating its 75th year. The name is fitting. After all, King David chose Jerusalem as the capital of Israel about 1000 BCE.

The hotel's location is superb. Across the street is the towering YMCA. It's a 15- to 20-minute walk to the Old City and the Jaffa Gate, and another 10 minutes to the Western Wall. You can easily stroll to fine restaurants, to shopping. Another of the hotel's neighbors on King David Street is the Hebrew Union College, at No. 13.

Physically, the hotel stands on the crest of a hill that overlooks the Old City. It offers a wonderful view of the Tower of David, the spectacular walls of Jerusalem and the Old City. You will never have to say, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem" -- at least from a nonspiritual point of view.

And in the evening, you can marvel at the legendary city as the sunset works its magic on this golden municipality, which this year is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its reunification.

The King David opened in 1931, and it has never lost its majesty.

From U.S. presidents, to prime ministers, to Broadway and Hollywood stars, to diplomats, secretaries of states ... you name the title and person, and chances are they stayed at this wonderful institution, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World.

Not that the King David is the only hotel in Jerusalem, and not that everyone stays there. Its accommodations include 237 guestrooms, including 57 deluxe Old City rooms; 18 executive Old City rooms; 37 luxury suites; one presidential suite; and one royal suite.

One of the highlights for the peripatetic businessperson or tourist is the well-informed, very helpful and very polite concierge.

Many a visitor has raved about the hotel's shops and art gallery. The La Regence restaurant has also received great praise. The facility boasts the Kings Garden, the Oriental Bar and a poolside-snack bar where, in summer, you can order a light meal. The gardened swimming pool is a plus, according to all the guidebooks.

Officially, it may not have the largest breakfast-buffet spread, but size is not everything, especially in food. The quality remains hard to beat in a land where Israeli breakfasts rule supreme. And the waiters are not only professional and polite; they're cosmopolitan, and as such, speak many languages. Not all of them are Jewish, but they are all Jerusalemites, and they love both the hotel and the city.

Built during the British mandate period, the King David has outlasted the British Empire. The ceilings, columns and walls of the bustling lobby-lounge are decorated in ancient Mesopotamian geometrics. The ground floor is built of rusticated ashlars, the upper stories of smooth ones, all in rose-colored Jerusalem stone.

Constructed in the tradition of the grand hotels and originally owned by Egyptian Jews who managed the famous Shepard's Hotel in Cairo, the building was designed by two Swiss architects: Emile Vogt and G.A. Hufschmid.

Sitting in the lobby recently as the King David celebrated its 75th anniversary, one marvels at the old photos on display. Ah, the nostalgia; did you ever see a man holding a tennis racket on the court dressed in a white suit, red fez and black shoes?

In 1946-47, the Yishuv -- the body of Jewish residents in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel -- entered upon a long struggle against the British. So-called illegal boats carrying survivors of the Holocaust continued to arrive on the shores of Palestine. The British did everything in their power to stop them; the English pulled off "Black Saturday" on June 29, 1946, when members of the Jewish Agency Executive were arrested.

Tensions reached new heights when, on July 22, 1946, the Irgun Zvei Leumi -- an underground Jewish militia fighting the British and at odds with the main Haganah Jewish army -- blew up the British Army headquarters, the Secretariat of the Palestine Government in the King David Hotel. The British disregarded a warning given them a half-hour in advance to evacuate the building.

The result? A bomb went off, killing 91 and injuring 45 government officials and civilians.

The hotel was closed for two years after the bombing.

Today, you can barely notice the seam in the southwestern corner of the hotel to the right of the front entrance that housed British government and military offices. It was rebuilt, with the two top floors added on later.

Many historical conferences and events have occurred in this city since those days, including a very famous hotel stay that brought Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Israeli soil for four days in November 1977 to discuss peace.

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