YMCA Building, Jerusalem
Designed by Arthur Loomis Harmon, a partner in the same architectural film that designed and built the Empire State Building in New York. Built in 1931, the YMCA is heavily influenced by Byzantine design and architecture: it was opened in 1933 and dedicated by Lord Allenby.
Located as it is in Jerusalem, the architects took into account the three main monotheistic religions - the 40 columns int he forecourt represent the 40 days in the wilderness of the Jews and Christ's 40 days in the wilderness: 12 windows in the auditorium represent the 12 disciples, 12 followers of Mohammed and the 12 tribes of Israel.
Nowadays, its 152 foot tower is a city landmark along with an observation tower for tourists, and within its walls, a hotel (Three Arches), conference centre, fitness centre, swimming pool, restaurant and a 600 seat auditorium are to be found.
NIS10 will get you access to the lift in the tower - ask at the information counter. Views are somewhat marred by the extra 2 floors built onto the King David Hotel across the street in the 1950s.
The first thing you see as you approach the Jerusalem YMCA – apart from the stunning architecture, of course - is a trilingual sign in English, Hebrew and Arabic proclaiming “Here is a place whose atmosphere is peace, where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten, and international unity be fostered and developed.” So said Lord Plumer, the British High Commissioner for Palestine, at the cornerstone-laying ceremony in 1928.
The array of programs offered by the “Imka,” as it is called locally, would seem to bear that out. The Y runs a Jewish and Arab pre-school (separate classes, but joint activities), and a language school where you can study English, Hebrew and Arabic. It also houses the Great Shape Studio and Mind-Body Center to help you relax (yoga classes, etc.) and stay physically fit (exercise machines, basketball and squash courts, swimming pool, sauna). The library and reading room is stocked with books in English, French and German, as well as newspapers in different languages (open Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). It has a very charming restaurant (not kosher, so I can’t comment on the food) which also has outside tables on a patio surrounded by greenery.
Altogether it is a very pretty place, with atmosphere to match. First look down: Embedded in the floor of the entrance hall is a mosaic replica of the famous 6th century Madaba map, with its schematic representation of Byzantine Jerusalem. Then look up: Above you is a 17th century wooden ceiling from Damascus, reassembled here.
Like many YMCAs around the world, the Jerusalem Y used to be a cheap sleep. Nowadays, it operates a hotel on the premises, the Three Arches. It has 56 rooms that look quite nice (in the brochure, at least), with prices that don’t sound so cheap to me –$85 for a double room, $70 for a single.
Once you’re there, take the elevator up to the bell tower for NIS5 (less than a dollar) for a panoramic view of Jerusalem.
The YMCA building is not the place where the village people are dancing and singing.
The building's 50 meters tower , has great view over the city that was build in 1928 with the help of the YMCA association (the meaning of YMCA is Young Men's Christian Association).
The architect of the building was also the architect of the Empire State Building, so we can say that this building was in good hands while he was built.
The Entrance to the tower is 5 nis (something like 1 USD) and it is open from 9-17 (saturday 9-12).
Trivia question: What do the Jerusalem YMCA and the Empire State building have in common? Both were designed by the same architect - Arthur Loomis Harmon. The Empire State is 10 times taller than the Jerusalem Y (locally known as the “Imka”) but both were the tallest buildings in town when they were built. On top of that, this YMCA – (which stands for Young Men’s Christian Association, in case you’ve forgotten) – is the only “Jewish” Y in the world. Built during the British Mandate, it opened its doors to the public in 1933, catering mainly to Christians. After the establishment of the state, its charter was changed to allow Jews to sit on the board.
The Y is one of those melting-pot buildings that borrow from a bunch of architectural styles. Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, neo-Moorish – this place has got it all. In the 50-meter (152 ft.) bell-tower, which looks very “mosquey,” are 35 carillion bells imported from Croydon, England. A caretaker I spoke to said they are rung only on Christmas.
On either side of the main entrance are white-domed buildings, connected to the main building by vaulted arcades. One is a 600-seat concert hall with a pipe organ, which was the first home of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, and the other is a sports center, housing Jerusalem’s first swimming pool. In fact, it was the only pool until the 1960s.
The soccer field behind the building was the training field for the city’s local team, Betar Jerusalem, and the venue for all national and international games until 1991 (at the moment, it’s a giant construction site). Soccer games used to be held on Saturday afternoons. When I lived in Jerusalem as a teenager, there wasn’t a treetop in the vicinity without some soccer fan perched in it on Saturday afternoon. And if you lived on a street near the YMCA, everybody wanted to be your friend because your rooftop was the perfect place to watch the game for free.
This is the main entrance to the YMCA. The central tower is a landmark in Jerusalem and before the advent of highrises in New Jerusalem was singular.
The YMCA in Jerusalem also has a hostel that I have heard is very good. The picture is taken from the dirction of the old city.