Sunday, 17 April 2016

Picture Post 53 - Singapore's Art Deco Gem - The Cathay Cinema


The Cathay Centre in Singapore's Handy Road is a magnet for young people with its shops, cafes and multiplex cinema. It has the Singapore School of the Arts as its neighbour which no doubt supplies many of its younger customers. However, the original Cathay Cinema building was attracting visitors long before its nearest neighbors came along. Designed by British architect Frank W. Brewer, it was completed in 1939 and at 16 storeys and 83.5 metres tall, it was Asia's first skyscraper. 

Brewer was based in Singapore and designed several other buildings there. His Cathay complex included a 1,300 seat cinema, an hotel and the headquarters of the British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation. The epitome of modernity, the cinema was the first air conditioned public building in Singapore and offered arm chairs to its patrons, something out of the ordinary for 1939. The original interior included black marble pillars, green tiled floors and a gold ceiling - sadly all lost now. The Cathay was declared open by Loke Wan Tho, founder of the Cathay organization and a major mover and shaker in the film industry and the first screening was The Four Feathers starring Ralph Richardson and C. Audrey Smith. 



The Second World War reached Singapore in 1942 and the Cathay was used as a Red Cross casualty station. In February of that year, 14 shells struck the cinema, killing a number of Australians who had been in the hall. When Singapore fell to the Japanese, the occupying forces used it as a broadcasting centre from which to disseminate propaganda and directives to the local populace, including occasionally displaying the severed heads of executed locals.

The Cathay also served as home to the Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu for the last year of the war. Ozu was to go on to direct the classic Tokyo Story in 1953. During his time in Singapore he is said to have done little work and spent most of his time entertaining guests, drawing and collecting carpets. This must have been disappointing for his superiors who had sent him there to make a propaganda film with the Indian director, Chandra Bose. The building was to have another famous resident from 1945 to 1946 when Lord Louis Mountbatten stayed there in his role as Commander of the Allied Forces in the Far East. The cinema eventually re-opened in 1948 with Tunisian Victory as its first post-war screening, an allied propaganda film. You can see it in its entirety here on youtube if you really want to!


Since then the building has been through many changes. The hotel was converted into flats, an unsympathetic makeover took place in 1978 and in 1990 the Cathay organization announced plans to revamp the entire complex, including demolition of the original cinema. Thankfully the facade was listed as National Monument in 2003 and so this alone survives from the original building. Its striking curves and waves, its geometric centre piece and highly stylized lettering bearing the Cathay name now compete with much taller buildings to the side and the rear and interesting as those newcomers are, the Cathay facade is still the main attraction.


You might also like A Few Hours in Macau

More pictures from Singapore here.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Tel Aviv - Ten More

The seafront, Tel-Aviv
Almost two years ago, I wrote here about my favourite places in my favourite city. Two years is a long time in Tel-Aviv and some of the places I listed back then have disappeared whilst many new ones have appeared. Having just returned from a month in Tel-Aviv, it is timely to update my choices and to list ten more.

Starting with food (of course), Cafe Idelson at 117 Dizengoff and the vegetarian Mezze restaurant on Ahad Ha'am are sadly no more, but I have some new favourites that more than make up for this. My first choice is Delicatessen at 79/81 Yehuda HaLevi which combines a successful restaurant/ cafe with a stunning food emporium offering high quality cheeses, breads, vegetables and other deli fare. You can choose to eat upstairs inside, or on the pavement cafe (my preference). There are some excellent salads and lunchtime offers as well as some extremely tempting patisserie cunningly displayed in the window behind the cafe tables. I ate there three times during my recent stay, returning for the great food and the friendly and helpful service. A bonus is that Delicatessen is located in a restored Bauhaus building dating from 1938 and designed by Yitzhak Rapaport who also designed the French Ambassadors house in Jaffa.

Delicatessen, Yehuda HaLevi Street
Still with food, I have two new cafe favourites. Nachat sits right on the corner of Kikar Dizengoff and Raynes street (the address is Raynes 1). It is small but cosy with a few indoor tables, a work bench for those who can't be parted from their laptop and several outdoor seats. The coffee is taken very seriously with information about the different beans on display. Good sandwiches (I like the tomato, mozzarella and pesto) are available but for me the star of the show is the cheesecake which was both delicious and light - every time I had it! 

Da Da and Da on the ground floor of the Institut Francais at Rothschild 7 is another new favourite and my third choice in my new top ten. I visited this place several times each week on my recent trip as it was my coffee stop during the break from my Hebrew classes at the nearby Ulpan Neveh-Tzedek. The coffee is great and there is a good range of pastries to help you keep your strength up! My favourite was the apple pastry the sweetness of which complements the strength of my taste in coffee. The staff here are superb. After my first few visits I no longer needed to give them my name or tell them how I liked my coffee. That's what I call service. I also ate lunch here twice and enjoyed some very tasty salads. A real find.

Milk Bakery, Beit Eshel Street
I am going to indulge myself (which I did throughout my trip) by including a another cafe/ bakery. The Milk Bakery at 5 Beit Eshel Street in Jaffa's flea market was another place where I spent a lot of time during my trip. The bakery is a tiny walk-in space tucked neatly into the corner of the Market House Hotel. There are a couple of tables inside and some pavement seating as well as a takeaway service. The coffee is good, but the various pastries and patisseries are what kept me returning. The owner trained in patisserie in Paris and it shows. This is another place for great cheesecake but my favourite was the cassata which included sponge, ricotta, orange rind and other goodies encased in green marzipan. Reader, I ate the lot. It's a great place for a coffee and cake stop if you are visiting the market as well as somewhere to stock up on treats to take home. They make good bread too!

Four choices already made and I'm still on food. My fifth choice, still in that category is  Shuk Lewinsky, a market in Lewinsky Street in south Tel-Aviv. This is the place to come for spices and other culinary treats. A stroll through the shuk will stimulate your sense of taste and smell as well as being a delight for the eyes with the colourful mounds of herbs, spices, nuts, teas and coffees.

The shuk was established in the 1930's, primarily by a group of Greek Jews from Salonika. It expanded following independence in 1948 with Turkish, Iranian and Bulgarian Jews also establishing stalls here. Many of the shops are long established and have loyal customers, whilst the shuk has also become part of the itinerary of more informed tourists. The Yom Tov delicatessen was founded by the family of the same name in 1967 when they arrived in Israel from Istanbul. The shop is famous for its halva but people also come for the jams, speciality cheeses and spiced salads. Holocaust survivor Chaim Raphael came to Israel from Salonika in 1958 and founded the shop that still bears his name today. Here you can find great olives, cheeses and meats and there are special weekend treats including stuffed vegetables and leek patties.

Cafe Atlas, Shuk Lewinsky
Regular readers know I have a passion for strong coffee. And cake. Look no further than Cafe Atlas, founded in 1924, again by Greek Jews from Salonika. Like most of the shops on Lewinsky, Atlas is open to the street and the aromas of strong coffee, spiced teas and other goodies float out to draw you in. You can have your coffee beans ground here and Atlas is famous for its Golda Coffee - a very strong blend named after former Prime Minister Golda Meir who used to drink it at the cafe's Ramat Aviv coffee shop. I drank gallons of this stuff during my recent trip and brought 300 grams home with me to keep me going! Cafe Atlas isn't strictly speaking a cafe - they don't serve drinks here, but buy yourself some Golda, pick up some baklava from the Nazareth based Baklava Mahrum across the road, then go home and enjoy! Like all of the stores on Lewinsky, expert advice is available and a warm, friendly service is provided by Juliet and David Raphael.

The market is not without its oddities. You can find a coffee shop that serves from a window and has an outdoor seating area - in the back of a van with a couple of interesting mannequins on top. Only in Tel Aviv. Guided tours of the market including tasting tours can be arranged. You can find the details here.

Street cafe, Shuk Lewinsky
Coffee and cake is not my only passion. I also love jazz and Tel-Aviv has a thriving jazz scene that includes world class musicians and young, emerging artists with something to hear almost every night of the week. The Tel-Aviv jazz scene is my sixth choice. During my four weeks in Tel-Aviv I managed to see Omer Avital play at Zappa, Daniel Zamir  (supported by Tomer and Sam Bar no less) at Levontin 7 and a group of young musicians at Beit Ha'amudim. The latter is a relative newcomer to the scene, housed in an eclectic style building in the Nachalat Binyamin area close to Shuk HaCarmel. There are gigs almost every night and big names including Aaron Goldberg, Yuval Cohen and Gilad Abro have appeared here. As well as a busy bar, there is a kitchen serving light meals. Best Ha'amudim has a busy, friendly atmosphere and attracts a much younger audience that most jazz clubs - possibly because entry is free! The Shablul club at the port also hosts jazz concerts including leading Israeli and international artists. Sadly I just missed one of my favourites - pianist Ari Erev who launched his new album Flow there on the day I came home. Bad timing on my part.

I can't complete my list without some examples of Tel-Aviv's wonderful architecture. The city is known for its more than 4000 Bauhaus style buildings constructed in the late 1920's and throughout the 1930's, designed primarily by Jewish refugees fleeing Germany, Austria and the then Czechoslovakia. In 2003 this built heritage earned Tel-Aviv UNESCO World Heritage status. On each visit I discover examples of the style that I haven't seen before or that have been restored. I am going to be greedy and include three of them as part of my seventh choice - Bauhaus architecture. 


56 Lavandah Street
1 Montefiore Street
As well as drawing on Bauhaus influences, some of Tel-Aviv's modernist architecture displays elements of the art deco style, including nautical references with portholes and curves resembling the bow of a ship. There is even an apartment building widely known as the "Ship House". Number 56 Lavandah Street (real name Shimon Levi House), was completed in 1935, designed by Arieh Cohen. It is a long, thin building with a beautiful curved bow that gives it its nickname. The house is a little off the main tourist trail in south Tel-Aviv, close to the Central Bus Station but could be combined with a visit to the edgy Levontin district which includes Shuk Lewinsky, Levontin 7 and several small galleries and design shops.

Number one Montefiore Street is another building displaying nautical features. Built in the 1920's for the Havoinik family, the original design work was carried out by Yehuda Magidovitch who was responsible for many of the city's architectural landmarks. However,  the triangular structure you see today was constructed to the final designs of Isaac Schwartz. Originally a residential building, it now serves as the headquarters of an accountancy organisation. The upper floors are not original but were added as part of the 2011 restoration works in a style sympathetic to Schwartz's designs.This approach is sometimes taken as a means of financing the restoration necessary to preserve these buildings.

My third example of Tel-Aviv Bauhaus is number 56 Mazeh Street. This is probably my favourite building in the whole city. Completed 1934 and designed by Joseph and Ze'ev Berlin, it was originally the print works of the Ha'aretz newspaper. Today it is used as an office building and has no connection to the newspaper. It's pristine white cement cladding, beautiful balcony and glass framed stairwell ensure that this relatively small building stands out despite the much larger modern block behind it. Gorgeous.


You can find out more about Tel-Aviv's Bauhaus architecture you in the Bauhaus Center at 99 Dizengoff where there are books, postcards, posters and exhibitions that focus on this subject. The Center also offers guided tours of some of the key Bauhaus buildings.

56 Mazeh Street
Beit Bialik
Beit Bialik is my eighth choice for my new top ten. This very beautiful eclectic style building at number 22 Bialik Street was once home to the national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik. Completed in 1924 and designed by architect Joseph Minor, the house is a Levantine version of the eclectic style with some art nouveau influences. The ground floor rooms are a riot of color with deep blues, reds, greens and yellows punctuated with beautiful Bezalel tiles designed by Ze'ev Raban, showing scenes from the Bible and the symbols of the Twelve tribes of Israel. During the 1920's the house became a cultural focal point for the city as well as a place where people went to get advice. Eventually there were so many visitors that Bialik had to post a notice saying "Ch. N. Bialik receives requests at his residence on Mondays and Thursdays only from 5-7 in the evening". Visits to the house are much less restricted these days and can be combined with a visit to the City Museum and to the Reuven Rubin Museum, both of which are in the same street.

Beit Bialik
Beit Bialik
Tel-Aviv has many other museums including several of international standard. My previous top ten included the still magnificent Eretz Israel Museum, whilst Beit Hatfutsot, the Diaspora Museum has seen major improvements in recent years. However, the Tel-Aviv Museum of Art is a truly world class museum with outstanding collections of Israeli and European art. These include works by Klimt, Kandinsky, Chagall, Archipenko, Bonnard and van Gogh as well as leading Israeli artists such as Reuben, Gutman, Mane-Katz, Zaritsky and Janco. There are also strong contemporary collections and excellent temporary exhibitions that include photography, drawing and sculpture as well as painting. A new wing was added to the museum a few years ago and has been used to showcase Israeli art from the pre-state years to today. The exhibition is changed from time to time but includes some wonderful items from the early years of the Bezalel school of art as well as more challenging contemporary pieces. The museum also stages concerts and lectures, has a good gift shop and a cafe for occasional coffee stops when admiring the collections. It is my ninth choice for my updated top ten.

New wing, Tel-Aviv Museum of Art
Ben-Gurion returns, Tel-Aviv beach
My tenth and final choice for my new list is my beloved promenade that runs along the sea front linking Tel-Aviv to Jaffa. The promenade is busy all day and late into the evening with people strolling, jogging, cycling, roller-skating, busking or just sitting and relaxing. I like to go there on shabbat afternoons, sometimes to walk on the shore, other times to sit and read and always to enjoy the music of a small group of older gentlemen who play the violin to entertain passers-by. I love to walk all the way to Jaffa, occasionally stopping for something to eat at Goldman's cafe and always to admire the view of Jaffa's old city perched on the hillside as the sun begins to go down in the late afternoon. Like everything else in this most exciting of cities, the promenade is always changing. At the moment there are major works being carried out to provide more shelter from the summer sun plus stepped, open air seating facing the sea. It already looks good and its going to be even better when its finished. New palm trees have been introduced planted to provide more shade and David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister appears to have returned, doing his famous headstand on the beach. I can't wait to go back, which I will. In September!

Shabbat serenade, the promenade, Tel-Aviv
Sun-down and old Jaffa

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Picture post 52 - Modernism on Massada Street

Haifa is Israel's third largest city (after Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv) and is the main centre in the north of the country. Like Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, Haifa has many modernist buildings spread throughout the city. I have written previously those in the heart of the Hadar district where there are many examples of this style, including residential and commercial premises and at least one former cinema.

37 Massada Street
37 Massada Street
A little further up Mount Carmel, Massada Street is well known for its cafes, bars and vintage shops that have sprung up over the last decade. It is also home to a collection of extremely attractive modernist buildings completed in the 1930s. Some of these treasures are difficult to see due to the mature trees in front of, or around them, and of course views of some of them are obscured by the ubiquitous wires, poles and parked cars that feature in most of my photographs below! However, it its well worth looking past these little annoyances to enjoy the architecture. I have not been able to secure details of the architects and date of construction for all of the buildings featured in this post and welcome any information that readers may have. Similarly it has proved difficult to find detailed information about the architects that I have identified so again all information is welcome! 

Perhaps the most imposing modernist structure on Massada Street is the apartment building at number 37. Completed in 1935 it was designed by David Wittmann. It is in need of some restoration but is still an striking building with its glazed "ladder"on the stairwell, art deco style portholes at the summit and rooftop terrace. The gardens in front of the building are overgrown but it is possible to walk up the steps from the pavement to the raised platform on which the house stands, look up, and appreciate this very large structure.The building's facade also features curved balconies with views over the city whilst it is also worth picking your way through the overgrown gardens to the side of the building to see more balconies, almost completely hidden from the street. Wittmann was also responsible for a modernist building at 35 Moriah Avenue further up the Carmel.

37 Massada Street
35 Massada Street
42 Massada Street
The corner building across the street, number 42 Massada was designed by the Hungarian born architect Leon Vamos and completed in 1936. Another apartment building, it too has a roof terrace and glazed stairwell but unfortunately some of the balconies have been enclosed - something that has happened to many of Israel's modernist buildings, in a bid to acquire extra internal space, often for growing families.

42 Massada Street
Number 33 is also worth a look, particularly for its glazed stairwell. Some of the panes are missing today but look up to see the impressive sweep of this cement clad and rectangular glazed section. The architect responsible for this building was Bruno Kalitzki. Born in Chemnitz in 1890, he graduated from the city's Royal Gymnasium in 1906 and went on to study architecture at the University of Charlottenburg in Berlin.  Kalitzki served in the German army during the First World War before going on to establish his own architectural practice with one Walter Naumann. He designed a couple of cinemas in Chemnitz but his promising career in Germany came to an end in 1933 following the election of the Nazis when together with his non-Jewish wife he left the country to live and work in Haifa until his death in 1953. His cinemas in Chemnitz were destroyed in bombing raids during the War.

33 Massada Street
Number 43 is a beautiful apartment building with a cafe on the ground floor and residential premises above. Unfortunately the details of the architect are unknown but it is probably safe to assume that it was built around the same time as the neighbouring modernist structures. I particularly like the two balconies, the upper one topped by a "lid". Note the red flag on the first floor balcony - its actually the flag of China!

43 Massada Street
43 Massada Street
Facing number 43 on the opposite side of the street, there is another beautiful modernist building. Dating from 1936 this apartment block is an interesting combination of styles. The small rounded balconies on the facade topped with a shelf to protect residents from the sun are modernist and many similar examples can be found in the city. The unclad stone around the communal entrance reflects the approach to modernism in Jerusalem and in other parts of Haifa and contrasts with the cement covered facade. However, the shape of the house and the taller middle section make mild references to some of the Arab architecture in the city. 

I was charmed by this building (which is again undergoing some kind of restoration) but it is a shame that those spectacularly ugly air conditioning units have been placed above the entrance, not to mention the prison style bars on the window at first floor level. On a more positive note, those curtains hanging outside the first floor windows are a photographer's dream! The exterior wall bears a plaque explaining that the house was restored in 2001 and won second prize in a competition to improve the look of the city whilst a further plaque names the "engineer" responsible for the building as one S. Rimon.

You can find out about the many other modernist buildings in Haifa from the recently published book "Carmel - The International Style in Haifa". The book is authored by Ines Sonder and features the photographs of Stephanie Kloss. You can buy a copy in most branches of Steimatzky or at Tel-Aviv's Bauhaus Center at 99 Dizengoff.

All of the buildings featured in this post are close together and can be seen in a leisurely 20 minutes visit. Massada is one of the stations on the Carmelit - Haifa's underground funicular railway and so it is easy to combine a stop here with visits to the attractions further up the Carmel or lower down the mountain in the Down Town area, German Colony or Hadar. There are also several good cafes on Massada Street where you can stop for a refuel before continuing to explore the city.

44 Massada Street
44 Massada Street