Israel: Old Movie Theaters

Moviegoing in Israel

Basic Stats

In 1966, 2.6 million Israelis went to the cinema over 50 million times, which translates to about 24 times per year.

In 1968, when television broadcasting began, theaters began to close down, first in the periphery, then in major cities.

It is estimated that over 330 standalone theaters were torn down completely, or redesigned as multiplex theaters.

Bet Shemesh movie theater, early 1950s

Movie Theaters

In the early 1900s, silent movies were screened in sheds, cafes and other temporary structures.

In 1905, Cafe Lorenz opened on Jaffa Road in the new Jewish neighborhood of Neve Tzedek.  In 1909, the Lorenz family began screening movies at the cafe. In 1925, the Kessem Cinema (Kolnoa Kessem) was housed there for a short time.

In 1953, Cinema Keren, the Negev’s first movie theater, opened in Beersheba, the capital of the region.  It was built by the Histadrut with the capacity of seating about 1,200 people.

Armon Cinema, Haifa

In 1931, Moshe Greidinger opened a cinema in Haifa. In 1935 he built a second movie theater, Armon, a large art-deco building with 1,800 seats that became the heart of Haifa’s entertainment district. It was also used as a performance venue by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israeli Opera.

Alhambra Cinema, Jaffa

The art deco Alhambra cinema, with seating for 1,100, opened in Jaffa in 1937. It was designed by a famous Lebanese architect, Elias al-Mor, and became a popular venue for concerts of Arab music. Among others, Farid al-Atrash and Umm Kulthum appeared there.

In 2012, the historic building reopened as a Scientology center after two years of renovation.

Smadar Theater, Jerusalem

The Smadar theater was built in Jerusalem’s German Colony (“Hamoshava Hagermanit”) in 1928. German-owned, it mainly served the British Army, during the Mandatory regime.  In 1935, it opened for commercial screenings as the “Orient Cinema.” It was turned over to Jewish management in order to keep it from being boycotted as a German business, which, of course, infuriated the head of the Nazi Party branch in Jerusalem.

After 1948, it was bought by four demobilized soldiers, and then one of them Arye Chechik, who bought out his partners. A movie lover, Chechik sold the tickets, ran to collect them at the door and worked as the projectionist, while his wife ran the concession stand.

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