Tel Aviv’s Monstrous Bus Station

The central bus station in Tel Aviv is certainly the ugliest building in Israel, and probably one of the ugliest in the world. Planned in the 1960s by the architect Ram Karni, this horrible building occupies seven floors and almost 5 city blocks in southern Tel Aviv. The cavernous building was built to be the biggest bus station in the world (and is now the second biggest, after New Delhi); however, much of it is empty either by design (the air pollution is so bad that the authorities evacuated the first two floors) or by default (the shop owners went bankrupt because of the lack of traffic.

Karni designed the station as a maze and a city under a roof. He hoped that by getting lost in the maze, people would wander around and buy things. The building was planned for a half-million people a day, but even on the best days, only 70,000 people come to the building, and most of those try to exit as soon as possible because of the sheer monstrosity of the building.

We took a tour on a Saturday afternoon, when the building was almost empty. Surreal.

The top floor is very interesting, a long line of exciting and innovative graffitti.

Here we see the layout of the top floor, with the arms of the octopus coming in and out of the stores. As you walk around the seventh floor, look around you and you will see tentacles everywhere on the wall.

Foreign workers flock to the third floor where there are a variety of grocery stores for Filipino and African food, as well as restaurants serving the foreign worker clientele.

Food prep for the Filipino diners.

As you descend into the bowels of the building, it becomes spookier and spookier, darker and darker and the old abandoned stores become some strange galleries.

And we go further down to the forbidden first and second floor. The area is filled with abandoned stores where the owners still have to pay for the utilities (water and electricity). Many families have gone bankrupt. Surreal.

Once there was life here, people came and shopped, but now it’s just a ghost town

On the bottom level (now 4 floors underground), we find a nuclear bomb shelter.

And we reach the immense and ghostly parking lot, where if you’re lucky you can see the permanent residents of the building: bats.

The eerie and surreal Tel Aviv Central Bus Station

So many surprises on Agron St.

I think that I must drive on Agron St. about twice a week. It’s a major road between anywhere and everywhere. Usually, I don’t pay too much attention to the buildings, although I know that there is the American consulate, the beautiful new Waldorf Astoria hotel, and a monastery or two. This week I decided to explore two buildings along the eastern (or bottom) part of the street.

My first stop is a beautiful and old building called Beit Habib Bshara, at Agron 22. This is a one floor square building with a ceramic roof and has four apartments. Habib Bshara was a Christian-Arab who worked as an architect in Jerusalem and designed this beautiful building at the beginning of the 20th century.

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1/25, f/11

It’s perfectly symmetrical, and you can see the beautiful arched entrance. Notice the beautiful art deco iron works. You can also see that the stone has a reddish tint to it. The store on the bottom left is the oldest bicycle shop in Jerusalem (Yedidya). Everyone bought a bike from them at some point (I bought a few!)

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1/60. f/6.3

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1/100, f/6.3

The building is on a corner of an alley way (Zamenhof street), and it you go down the alley, you’re in for a treat. For those of you who are interested who¬†Zamenhof was … he invented the language Esperanto (aka¬†“Doktoro Esperanto”). We come to some lovely residential buildings.

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1/125, f/6.3, -2/3 EV

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1/100, f/6.3, -2/3 EV

Walking a bit further, we find more beautiful buildings and a small and lovely community garden. Hidden from view, unknown to many, but lovely!

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1/320, f/6.3

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1/50, f/5.0

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1/200, f/6.3

We go back to Agron St and turn right. The next building is a gem (Agron 24). This two floor building was built in the 1920s and 1930s and is called Beit Lorenzo, after the Christian-Arab family (Lorenzo).

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1/13, f/11

Here the red stone is very pronounced. Notice on the top right, there is a balcony floor. I see that they intended to add another floor, but the war (1948) got in the way, and the family fled (or were chased out).

If you walk through the central gate, you come into another hidden Jerusalem gem. You will see that there are actually two buildings – one on Agron street and another recessed in from the street. Separating them is an amazing garden.

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1/10, f/7.1, -2/3 EV

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1/5, f/7.1

And as you walk further in, you see the courtyard in all its splendor.

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1/8 , f/11

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1/10, f/7.1, -1/3 EV

The original owners were a Christian-Arab family; you can see the Madonna on the roof of the central building. I spoke with a resident (Yisrael) who has lived there since 1949 (after the 1948 war, the building was abandoned and taken by the state and then re-sold), and he told me that despite one of the residents being a very orthodox Jew, they all decided to leave the Madonna intact, out of respect for this beautiful building.

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1/20, f/11

There’s a lot of construction going on around the area (that’s what you are seeing behind the Madonna).

There are so many other beautiful buildings on Agron St., and I’ll write about them at some point. It’s just wonderful to really explore the area after passing it by so often. How many other gems are there in the city?