Tucked in between the high rise glass sided office blocks of Yehuda HaLevi Street, Tel Aviv, No. 36 might be a bit on the short side in comparison but it sure does stand out.

The modern glass paneled headquarters of Bank Leumi at No. 34 act as a reflector of the architecture of yore next door – and somehow the starkly different but “basked in sunshine” building styles of the present and times gone by – complement each other.

The renovated period piece at No. 36 was built in 1910 and by the 1980s was in a dilapidated state. The attractive two story building was saved from the wrecker’s ball as part of a deal with Bank Leumi who were given permission in 1987 to construct their gigantic glass house on condition they return the sandstone No. 36 – known as the Bet Mani – to its former glory.

Not only has Bank Leumi done just that, but has turned the structure into an archive and recently opened a museum presenting the history of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel as well as emphasizing the financial and economic situation during the early years of the State of Israel.

The bank has a rich history indeed, and the fascinating museum sports a model of the very first branch in nearby Jaffa, plus a multimedia presentation that almost in Dr. Who style whisks the visitor off on a “back to the past” time machine to soak up the atmosphere of Tel Aviv a hundred years ago.

On display are examples of the Anglo-Palestine Bank currency, official bank documents, statements, rubber stamps and equipment the bank teller of that period would have used during a day’s work behind bars in a Tel Aviv bank at that time.

One can also find a great deal of information about the establishment of Tel Aviv port and the founding of Ahuzat Bayit – the group of Jaffa Jews with a vision (and funds loaned by the Jewish National Fund) that eventually became Tel Aviv. Certified cheques from the First World War and banking memorabilia from way back, make up a veritable bank vault of historical detail, all housed in a beautiful period building.

Posters of various descriptions and adverts from the local press give one a vivid idea of what was on offer all those years ago as the neighbourhood that became a city was rising like a modern day phoenix from the sand dunes on the Mediterranean shore. All that and a great deal more can be viewed in this unique, checks and balances exhibition which also includes the establishment of Israel’s monetary system – whether it be the old shekels, lire and back to the former but renamed the ‘new’ shekel.

A small sign on the building’s exterior hints of the architectural treasure trove – apart from the bank museum exhibits – to be found inside Bet Mani, dwarfed between modern day structures but a giant in artistic, creative and eye catching design. The sign reads:

“Mani House was built between 1910-1913 outside the borders of the original Ahuzat Bayit by Shlomo Barsky, a farmer and activist.

In 1923 the house was sold to Yitzhak Malchiel Mani, the first Jewish judge in the British Mandate High Court in Palestine.

Like most of Tel Aviv’s first houses, it was erected without special architectural planning, in the building tradition of Jaffa’s urban residential houses.

The house is made of sandstone, containing elements cast in concrete, coarse sand blocks and stylized ironwork.

The interior design, including ornamental floor tiles and wall and ceiling paintings, gives historical testimony to the bourgeois residential culture of the early twentieth century.

The conservation of the house (1995-2003) in conjunction with the Leumi Headquarters, included its documentation and planning and its structural adaptation to accommodate a modern infrastructure.”

Open 10.00 – 16.00 weekdays, one can bank on a visit to Bet Mani being an interesting and most rewarding experience.

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Lydia Aisenberg

Lydia Aisenberg is a journalist, informal educator and special study tour guide. Born in 1946, Lydia is originally from South Wales, Britain and came to live in Israel in 1967 and has been a member...

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