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Pensak's Passage

Passage Pensak (Pensak’s Passage): Tel Aviv’s first elevator and rooftop restaurant

Passage Pensak (Pensak’s Passage) was built in 1924 at  16 Herzl Street; it was the  first commercial center in both Tel Aviv and Israel. It was built at the initiative of Zvi Arieh Pensak, a Jewish businessman and one of the most prominent leaders of the Jewish community in Brooklyn, which numbered about 750,000. Born in 1868 he immigrated to Israel during the Second Aliyah, at the age of 45. After the Forst World War he was able to build and develop properties in Eretz Yisrael.  A great Zionist, Penask  said: “I left my whole family and all my children and I decided to settle in the country. My views have always been that it is the role of every Jew to live in the Holy Land and to help as best he can in building our homeland. I brought a lot of capital and began my pioneering work by building the first office building in Tel Aviv. The construction cost me, in addition to a lot of money, many concerns, my health and nerves. However, I did not think about all this, I realized that this is what doing pioneer work entails;  it also requires an investment of health and nerves.”

Passage Pensak (Pensak’s Passage) was built on a parking lot used by taxis transporting passengers to Jerusalem. In 1921, Yehuda Leib Magidovich designed and built a one-story structure, which was demolished in 1924. In its place, Pensak’s Passage was built, a large, three-story building with a courtyard. Facing the courtyard, on each floor, a balcony connects the wings of the building. Construction was completed in 1925, and in 1927, Magidovich added a fourth floor and an elevator used to carry merchandise up to the shops.

Pansek's Passage, Tel Aviv, history, Tel Aviv Architecture

Shmuel Wilson, who immigrated to Israel from the United States was the contractor. Before immigrating, he wrote to Menachem Shenkin and asked him if building contractors were needed in Eretz Yisrael. Shmuel Wilson, nicknamed Sam went on to become the most sought after contractor; he was known for using expensive materials and new building technologies, and was considered the expert who broke the building monopoly of Arab contractors.

The façade of Pensak’s Passage was built in the Neoclassical style that was characteristic of Magidovich’s architectural designs in the 1920’s This was the first building in Tel Aviv designed for commerce and offices; indeed, over the years it housed shops, workshops, offices and printing houses. It housed the first elevator in Tel Aviv (called at that time ma’aliyah instead of ma’alit the modern word for elevator in Hebrew.) The signs directing people to the elevator still can be seen today.

TEL Aviv history, Tel Aviv Architecture, Town planning

A passage that is not a passage

The name passage refers to a covered arcade or gallery with a glass roof and symmetrical façade that was used exclusively by pedestrians as part of an urban block in Europe. The glass roof covered the arcade that extended over several streets; these passages were the very popular in the 19th century, thanks to advances in the use of cast iron and glass.

Pensak’s Passage is not characteristic of European arcades, as it is not a passageway covered in glass; rather it resembles a department store from that time that has a series of departments that faced a central interior space. Historically, department stores were huge buildings that occupied an entire block. The facade had shop windows and the interior was a central space covered with glass. Pensak’s Passage had shop windows facing Herzl Street and an interior space, although this space was not covered with glass but provided natural light. Like the uniform façade of traditional department stores, Pensak’s Passage has symmetrical pilasters, balconies and impressive stairs, but it is not a department store. It was designed for offices and shops, with individual units with separate ownership . In that it resembles more an arcade than a department store.  

The facade of the building is similar to the facades of department stores that were common in Europe and the United States. The façade is symmetrically designed so that the entrance on the ground floor is prominently centered between four shop windows (two on each side). The entrance features rusticated stonework.  Between each window there is a rusticated stone pillar. Above the ground floor, in the center of the building , the stairwell features three arched windows two stories high with Corinthian pilasters between the windows. The sides also feature two-story-high Corinthian pilasters. The pilasters combine first and second floor heights with a Corinthian-like title. Another set of pilasters with a flat decoration at the top unites the third and fourth floors (the fourth floor is without windows). Between each pilaster there is a window on the first, second and third floor. The first floor has four windows with a balcony that runs along them. On the second floor there are four more windows with balconies for the two middle windows. All balconies are made of concrete slabs and laid on lugs decorated with volutes. The railings are made of iron bars. The third floor has four windows, while only the main windows have one continuous balcony. In the center of the building, in front of the stairwell there is a balcony above the windows. Above the top floor and along the entire front, there is a stylish cornice in rounded lines.


It is not clear why the building was called a passage or arcade, as it does not fit the architectural definition. The word was also not a Hebrew term, and at the time, there was fierce opposition to the used of foreign terms instead of Hebrew ones. Perhaps the name was chosen because it offers a passageway from the entrance into the courtyard. 

Pensak’s Passage was a unique building in the Herzl Street landscape of those days. Before the First World War, houses in Tel Aviv were similar to the houses of the agricultural moshavot. Pensak’s Passage was a large three-story building while the rest of the buildings were two-stories and single family homes. Even apartment buildings did not exceed two floors.  It also had no garden and bordered on the sidewalk.

Only from the mid-1920s were three-story buildings built containing at least six apartments each. Thus, neighborhoods began to be more crowded.  Nahalat Binyamin Street, Herzl Street, and later Allenby Street all became commercial area. Gardens in front of the buildings were eliminated and the Tel Aviv landscape became more urban. The garden city had disappeared.  The two main types of houses in Tel Aviv were houses built in the Arab-Jaffa style, usually in plastered sandstone) and homes built and designed by an architect or engineer in European style.


Uses of the building

In the 1920s, a vibrant Hebrew cultural life developed in the city. Prominent writers and artists of Eretz Yisrael resided in Tel Aviv, which offered theatre houses, a series of literary magazines and daily newspapers, the Eretz Israel Opera, a symphony orchestras, modern and classical dance performances by local dance troupes and more. In addition, public celebrations were held on Purim, which included costume parties and a carnival. In the first half of the 1920s, many cafes and restaurants, kiosks, boarding houses, hotels, and workers’ kitchens were opened. The cafes were very popular with bourgeois immigrants, who were used to sitting in cafes in Europe. 

A restaurant and cafe called Hasharon were established on the roof of Pensak’s Passage. This was the first time that a restaurant was built on the roof of a building in Eretz Yisrael. It was led by three partners, members of the Jewish Legion: S. Inzidler, Moshe Allenbogen and Abba Korinski. They rented the place from Pensak and invested 800 pounds in renovations, equipment and furniture. The modern and sophisticated restaurant included interior spaces and a large and well-kept roof garden, the first in the country. An orchestra of four musicians played classical and dance music every evening from 5 pm to midnight. Due to the economic crisis of 1926, the owners were forced to close.  From that year on, the Carlton Restaurant operated on the ground floor of the building.

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Over the years, more businesses opened in the building. The Pensak Restaurant opened on the roof; a gypsy violinist entertained the diners. Ezekiel Weinstein would stand with a baseball cap with the name of the restaurant written on it and accompany the guests to the restaurant on the roof. Weinstein became famous when he later established the renowned café Hezkel Ish Kasit. The building also housed shops, workshops (mainly for textiles, leather and metal) and the newspaper headquarters of Yedioth Ahronoth and Hatsofeh.  Zvi Arieh Pansk lived on the fourth floor of the building, so he rejected certain requests to rent space to tradesmen and artisans on the grounds that the businesses were too noisy or smelly.  In the 1940s, the Melk & Rosenfeld wallet factory operated in the building. Pensak sought to evict them because of the noise and smells. The dispute reached the courts and Pensak lost the case. Over the years, the building housed many businesses such as a replication factory in 1975 and the Zvi Rosenfeld Industries’ plastic workshop in 1981. In the 1990’s, some scenes from the movie Afula Express were shot there. Later on, a colorful coffee bar called The Elevator was opened by Udi Ifrach.   In the 80s and 90s some of the units were rented as residential apartments but due to opposition from the municipality, the apartments were evacuated and the place is used today for commercial purposes only. It houses the offices of architects, designers, graphic designers, a law firm and a small technological college.


Before 1964, when property began to be registered in the Land Registration Offices (Tabu)  the property was sold to a company called Maoz on Herzl Street Ltd. In 1964, the company sold the building to eight different owners and since then the property has changed hands several times. In 1990, the building was purchased by Haya and Yosef Schori, who managed the building through Pensak Properties. In 1993 ownership was transferred too Yehuda Tzadok. The building has not been restored.  

Enforcement of Building Laws in Pensak’s Passage

Although municipal policy pertaining to the opening of businesses in Ahuzat Bayit changed, enforcement of building laws remained strict.  

The building was built in accordance with an official building permit. But near the end of construction, Pensak began to close the balconies, without a permit to do so. Municipal inspectors immediately issued a warning, and when he did not stop, an indictment was filed against him, and withdrawn only after he promised to stop the extra construction works.  A few years later, Pensak built a small shed in the backyard of the building. Following a complaint from a neighbor, the inspectors showed up once again. In 1925, Pensak applied to the municipality for permission to add a balcony to the roof of the three-story building, that would serve as a dancing floor for guests at the newly opened Hasharon restaurant. The request was approved. In 1927 Pensak applied to the municipality with a request to add an additional floor to the building, quite an exception at that time. Adding another floor required the installation of an elevator, so Pensak requested a license to install and operate the elevator.

Most of the buildings built in Tel Aviv during this period were three stories or less. When Geddes planned the city, he felt that women coming home with her children and shopping basket would have difficulty climbing more than three floors. Therefore, when Pensak submitted his request, the municipality’s technical department were at a loss as to how to react. In a letter to the technical department of the municipality, Pensak writes: “Since I recently received a license from your department to build a fourth floor in my home on Herzl Street, and the plan I submitted for the above license designed by architect Mr. Magidowitz also included an electric elevator up to the fourth floor … I hereby request a license for this electric elevator that will ascend from the courtyard to the fourth floor and serve 5 people at a time. The work is already underway, according to the plan by the Bachar brothers Herzl Street shopping center presented to you.’’


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