Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Elite Factory, Ramat Gan - modernism and chocolate!


Elite is Israel's leading company for the production of coffee and confectionary. Now part of the world wide Strauss group, Elite had very humble origins when Eliyahu Fromchenko began experimenting with making chocolate in his own kitchen in Russia in 1918.  Eliyahu was destined for great things in the confectionary trade and moved to Riga in Latvia where together with his brother, Leonid, he acquired the Laima company in 1925. By 1933, Latvia had become distinctly uncomfortable for Jews and the Fromchenkos sold the business to move to Eretz Israel. Laima survived the Second World War and the Soviet period and continues to be an iconic brand today. 

In 1933 Eliyahu commissioned the building of a confectionary factory in Ramat Gan, close to Tel Aviv, establishing the Elite brand in partnership with the Mosevic and Kopilov families. The first batch of confectionary was produced in time for Pesach (Passover) in 1934 with Shokolad Para (cow chocolate named for the picture of a cow on the packaging) being the most popular product.

By 1938 Elite had began manufacturing chocolate for the British Army and following the success of the "chocolate from the Holy Land" branding, commenced exporting to Jewish communities overseas. The company continued to prosper and opened a second factory in Nazareth in 1956. Confectionary production ceased at the Ramat Gan factory some time ago but local people still recall the smell of chocolate emanating from this much loved building in the town centre. Popular singer, Yehonatan Geffen even wrote a song in praise of the aroma of chocolate coming from the factory! In recent years the building has been home to the Shankar College of Design but at the time of my visit it looked abandoned with no sign of recent activity. 


The factory was designed in the modernist style by architect Shlomo Ponrov. Ponrov had studied at Harvard University in the United States and eventually became the City Engineer of Jerusalem following Israel's independence in 1948. He was also responsible for designing the Yerhovsky House at 17 Bialik Street in Tel Aviv. The factory is an extremely handsome structure, in relatively good condition with some of the nautical references so typical of larger modernist structures in Israeli buildings of the 1930's. The entrance is particularly elegant with the curved "shelf" style canopy over the short flight of steps and the glazed, squared off corner. 

The site has been the focus of a number of abortive schemes to build a large tower block, including one, now dropped, that involved a certain Donald Trump. Each of the schemes proposed so far have involved total demolition of the factory. I have been unable to find any recent information on the current position. It is to be hoped that this building which played such an important role in the development of Ramat Gan and of the Israeli catering industry can be saved. Eliyahu Fromchenko had a bit of a knack for survival. He wisely left Europe in 1933 and there is at least one report of him being rescued from execution during the Petlyra pogroms in Kharkov during the Russian Civil War. Let's hope his factory has similar survival skills.


1 comment:

  1. If Trump or any other destructive force moved in to protected buildings, the power of the law should be down on him immediately. But then I am not sure if the Elite Chocolate Building has heritage protection - Bauhaus? Deco? 1930s Modernist?

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