About the Levant Fair
The Levant Fair was given that name because, in the 1930's, white Bauhaus buildings adjacent to the northeastern section of the port were actually an expansive trade show that exhibited diverse merchandise from around the world. Manufacturers and consumers from across the globe met at the fair. Many countries exhibited their wares in the fairground pavilions – including Britain, the Soviet Union, Lebanon, Poland, Bulgaria, France, Cyprus, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, Greece, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Romania and Czechoslovakia.
The colorful Levant Fair venue also hosted some of the most important cultural events of the period, such as the first Hebrew radio broadcast in the country and the first concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Nowadays, the Levant Fair complex offers a recreational experience for the whole family, including restaurants, shopping, exhibits, sports activities, playgrounds for children, and performances open to the general public at the Tribuna Amphitheater.
The Levant Fair – the largest public event held during the British Mandate period – was the first trade show of its kind to take place in Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew city. What made it special? The Levant Fair set high-reaching targets, and with a characteristic display of local pride, invited the entire world to participate. And the fair did in fact become an international event. Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv's first mayor, stood on the podium at the opening ceremony of the large fair in 1932, applauded the achievement, and said: "Tel Aviv is the center of the world."
And the ambitious dreams came true – the fair was a huge success. The
participation of representatives from emerging nations in the Orient, together with exhibitors from prosperous European countries, turned out to be a welcome and winning idea. Holding the fair once a year became a matter of tradition. The developing city of Tel Aviv suddenly became a center that hosted international trade shows, attracting the public and vendors who flocked there from every corner.
The popular fair was reminiscent of an exciting and animated carnival that combined commerce and business promotion with entertainment and recreation. The Tel Aviv Municipality and the Jewish Agency were quick to grasp the importance of the Levant Fair as an economic and image-related strong point of the Jewish community in pre-State Israel. Consequently, they invested numerous resources in its production and promotion and in spreading the message in the Diaspora.
However, the Levant Fair was not only characterized by vibrant and spirited commercial activity. The event also gave the members of the Jewish community and their leaders an opportunity to mingle with cosmopolitan people from around the world. Furthermore, the fair significantly advanced locally produced merchandise and advertised its quality to visitors from other parts of the country and overseas, turning it into a diplomatic and economic asset. The British Mandate government became involved and extended assistance to the project. Even the poet Nathan Alterman was impressed and wrote about the fair and the preparations made for it.
The Magical Years
It all began with the Near East Fair, held in 1923 at the Zionist Club on Rothschild Boulevard. That fair was a private initiative of Shlomo Yaffe, Abraham Idelson and Alexander Ibzrov-Ezer from the "Mischar veTa'asiya (Trade and Industry) Company – who organized a fair where locally manufactured goods were sold to local customers. When they realized they were on to something good, they started thinking about expanding and came up with the idea of establishing an international trade show. Their idea took shape and widespread advertising campaigns were launched in Europe that invited business owners to come to the Tel Aviv Levant Fair. The response was overwhelming, exhibit space sold like hotcakes, and the enthusiasm continued to grow from to fair and from year to year.
The 1932 trade show was the first to be called the Levant Fair, which also incorporated the name in its branding. It had an appealing and familiar logo – The Flying Camel – that was designed especially for the fair by its chief architect, Arieh Elhanani. Nearly 300,000 visitors attended that fair, which was the first international one. The success of the subsequent fairs also steadily grew. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, Arabs, British subjects and tourists came to the fairs. They also hosted dignitaries such as the Arab mayors of Jaffa and Jerusalem and the British High Commissioners Herbert Samuel, Herbert Plumer, John Chancellor and Arthur Wauchope.
The cornerstone of the Levant Fair's permanent site was laid In August 1933, a year after its initial launch. Its special location apparently also played a role in the fair's success. The British had allocated 25 acres to the fair on the banks on the Yarkon River, which in practice also defined the foundations of the future Tel Aviv Port. It was dedicated a few years later and became a particularly active and thriving port.
Two of the most prominent architects in the country – Arieh Elhanani and Richard Kaufmann – were chosen to design the new Levant Fair complex. Kaufmann was in charge of the fair's urban plan. He designed the Produce of the Land palace, which was the largest and most imposing pavilion on the fairgrounds, with its original ship-like facade that became a source of local pride. Elhanani was entrusted with consolidating the construction and design plans and also added his own touch to the outdoor sculptures installed at the site (including the Hebrew Laborer, which he designed and is still there today, Lot's Wife, The Gazelle, The Woman, and others). The fairgrounds also featured cutting-edge and stylish street lamps, original benches, and especially well-tended gardens. A main entrance square, named Plumer Square, was also built.
The best architects from the local Jewish community were recruited for the important undertaking of building the Levant Fair complex. Each of them was responsible for designing the pavilion of one of the participating countries, giving each pavilion a unique look under the overall plan. Britain and its colonies had an entire cluster of pavilions. After obtaining the consent of the British authorities, a local architect, Yosef Neufeld, was chosen to design them. That decision was interpreted as confirmation of the respect and admiration that the British had for the local architects of the time.
On April 26, 1934, and as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations marking the founding of Tel Aviv, the Levant Fair opened its doors at a new location on the northern end of Dizengoff Street. The festive grand opening was held in the presence of the British High Commissioner, Arthur Wauchope. 30 countries took part in the fair and it drew around 600,000 visitors during the six weeks it was open. Those were impressive numbers given the period, which was several years before the State of Israel was established and a just a short time before the outbreak of World War II.
An international fair was held again in 1936, but the winds of war that were hovering over Europe and the entire world affected the fair as well, leading to the cancellation of many scheduled events and the withdrawal of numerous exhibitors who were supposed to take part. The fair's organizers suffered financial losses and after it closed no one knew if or when another fair would be held again. And, in fact, subsequent fairs did not take place due to the Second World War and were never held again in that location.
The Levant Fair tradition was renewed many years later in 1959, about a decade after the establishment of the State of Israel and following the construction of a new fairgrounds complex in Tel Aviv. However, the nature of the fairs changed, they were smaller in scope, and their aims were undoubtedly much less pretentious.
Renewing Our Days Here as of Old
Many years elapsed and, in the absence of new fairs, the complex suffered from neglect and turned into an area occupied primarily by nondescript craftsman workshops and garages. The fair pavilions were torn down and some fell apart. The works of art and sculptures disappeared (except for the Hebrew Laborer sculpture which was restored).
The renewed Levant Fair project was launched In June 2013 at the original location of the legendary fair, situated between the edge of the Yarkon Park and the Tel Aviv-Yafo coastline. The project, a joint undertaking of the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality and Atarim Ltd., is now a leading cultural and recreational venue in Israel, featuring a wide variety of activities and attractions for the whole family.
Some Historical Facts and Figures About the Levant Fair
Prior to its opening, the British authorities built an airport near Lod, which later became Ben Gurion Airport.
For the first time in pre-State Israel, a radio station at the first Levant Fair started broadcasting in Hebrew, four years before the regular radio broadcasts were instituted through the Voice of Jerusalem.
The first concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was held in one of the fair's pavilions, conducted by Arturo Toscanini.
During World War II, the complex was seized by the British army and became a training base. Among those who trained there were the men who took part in Operation Boatswain in 1941. During Israel's War of Independence, the pavilions were used by the Israel Defense Forces as warehouses.