Twenty-five years later, after the state of Israel was created, there was a movement to change its name to King David Street. Israel’s president Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi successfully campaigned to retain the original name, reminding government officials that King George had always been a good friend of the Jews and was England’s monarch when the Balfour Declaration—a crucial document in which the British government favored the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people—was written in 1917.
King George Street is famous for a lot of firsts:
24 King George Street was the address of the first Knesset building. The Knesset was housed in the three-story Froumine House from 1950 until 1966. Interestingly, the original plans were for a six-story building but only three levels had been completed when construction was suspended during Israel’s War of Independence. After the Knesset moved to its permanent Givat Ram campus, the building continued to house various government agencies until 2015, at which time work began to renovate the property and create the Museum of the Knesset.
King George Street was the Fifth Avenue of pre-state Jerusalem. Accordingly, it was only appropriate that this fashionable street would be home to the first elevatored building in Jerusalem, a Bauhaus-styled building called Hama’alot House.
Jerusalem’s first department store, Hamashbir, was built on King George Street above the Ben Yehuda promenade. Parenthetically, across the street from Hamashbir is my favorite falafel joint, Maoz. I was introduced to this establishment back in 1983 and it was love at first bite.
Back in the 1950s, the first traffic light in Jerusalem was installed at the intersection of King George and Jaffa, which was the hub of commerce in the city.
King George Street was also the home of Jerusalem’s first pedestrian scramble, which existed for many years at the same Jaffa Road intersection where the first traffic light was installed. A pedestrian scramble, also known as an “x-crossing” in England and a “diagonal crossing” in the US, is an intersection where car traffic halts so that pedestrians can cross in all directions, including diagonally, at the same time. The scramble was removed when the light rail was established along Jaffa Road, which eliminated cars from that street.
There are many landmarked buildings lining this bustling street, including The Great Synagogue, Heichal Shlomo, the Jewish Agency Building and Beit Avi Chai. If you ever find yourself in central Jerusalem with some time on your hands, I recommend that you take a stroll down King George Street and soak up its rich history by reading the many interesting plaques affixed to these fascinating preserved buildings.
By Gedaliah Borvick