We’ve all heard of the German Templar colonies built during the second half of the 19th century all over Israel in places such as Haifa, Jerusalem, Jaffa, the Galilee and next to Lod.
These were agricultural settlements built by a group of German Protestants from Wittenberg, Germany. These settlers brought agricultural development to the land of Israel. However, in the years leading up to World War II the Nazi government began to take control over the schools in the German colonies.
This led to a large membership in the Nazi party among the colonists which in turn convinced the British to evacuate them and send the inhabitants back to Germany or to Australia until the end of the war.
Of course, with the establishment of the Jewish state and in the light of the slaughtered six million Jews, it was clear that these German colonists would not be welcome back.
Later on, the State of Israel purchased these lands from the German government who represented these colonists and for many years the small farm houses of Sarona housed various government offices.
Sarona is located on prime Tel Aviv real estate opposite the Azrielli Towers. A few years ago the Israel Land Authority sold the rights to about thirty of the houses to a group of private investors.
In addition to this, some of the houses were given over to the Tel Aviv Municipality and other government or educational institutions.
After several years of preservation work, which included physically moving some of the buildings to widen Kaplan Street, which runs down the middle of the colony and separates the northern part from the southern part, the newly preserved and renovated Sarona is now open for business.
The part that has been renovated is the southern part. The northern part is still in use by the government.
One way of funding the expensive preservation work is by selling the building rights or “air rights” of the houses.
As these are historical buildings, the building rights cannot be used to add additional floors to the houses. However, these rights can be sold and used for the construction of buildings in other places in the city.
The houses have been rented out to businesses and each house will either be a restaurant, an art gallery or a boutique. The buildings taken up by the municipality will be museums and a visitor center while a few houses have been taken up by the Technion. In addition to this, playgrounds, grass, and benches have been included in the overall site.
Around the site there are several apartment and commercial complexes. The proximity to the Azrielli Towers, the national train line, the apartment and commercial complexes, Ibn Gvirol Street, the courthouse and the opera should all contribute to the success of business in the project.
This just goes to show that historical preservation projects can be lucrative investments as well as vehicles for the enhancement of the urban scene.