Early Cinema Theaters

In the early 1900's, there were few sheds, cafes and other temporary structures in Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) in which silent movies were screened, but most of these places lasted for just a few years. The building of cinema theaters, in permanent stone structures, started in earnest in the late 1920s, reaching its peak in the mid-1950s. These theaters, be they large ones in centers of entertainment or small neighborhood ones, have become the hub of community life.

During the peak year, 1966, 2.6 million Israelis went to the cinema more than 50 million times. Two years later, when television broadcasting began, many Israelis chose to stay at home and watch this new marvel, and cinema theaters closed down – first in the periphery, then in major cities. 330 standalone theaters were torn down, or else redesigned as multiplex theaters. Since the mid-1980s, most cinemas are hidden away inside shopping malls and entertainment centers. The possibility to watch movies using other media such as videotape, DVD and home computer, turned the old movie theater into a distant memory.

Eden Cinema, Tel-Aviv (right stamp) –
Regarded by most as the first modern cinema in Eretz Israel, Eden was built in 1914 amidst conflicts and objections by residents of the Ahuzat Bayit community, Tel-Aviv's precursor. Its owners demanded and received from the community council a 13-year exclusive franchise, making Eden the only location for movie screening in Tel-Aviv. During World War I, Eden Cinema was shut down by order of the Ottoman government, under the pretext that its generator could be used to send messages to enemy submarines off shore. It was reopened to the public once the British mandate was established, soon becoming a cultural and social center. Then the monopoly expired, additional cinema theaters were built, and Eden gradually lost its prestige. In the 1950s, following the establishment of the State of Israel, the owners screened Indian and Turkish films to the new immigrants. The Eden cinema was closed down in 1974 and then designated a "preserved building''.

Mograbi Cinema, Tel-Aviv (left stamp) –
Mogragi Cinema was opened in 1930. Architect Yosef Berlin's design included pressed silicate blocks, reflecting the art deco style then prevalent in cinemas worldwide. ''It was like building the pyramids,'' commented the supervisors on the scale of the building. Massive investments in construction had left it roofless for its first few years, until a sliding roof was built. The 12 steps leading from street level to its doors only reinforced the feeling that one was entering a shrine.

The Mograbi Cinema Square became a well known meeting place. Here, people gathered to dance in the streets when the UN General Assembly adopted the Partition Resolution in November 1947. During the 1960s, when high-rise buildings were appearing in Tel-Aviv, entertainment centers moved north. Poor maintenance also contributed to Mograbi's demise. It caught fire in the summer of 1986, due to an electric short-circuit, and was subsequently torn down. City Hall then decreed that Mograbi's original facade will be reconstructed for the shopping mall built on its site.

Zion Cinema, Jerusalem (left stamp, featured with the Hebrew article) –
In 1917, owner Israel Gutt decided to name the silent movie shed that had been built five years earlier in a square on Jaffa Road, on a lot previously owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, "Zion". Heavy snow caused the wooden shed to collapse in 1920 and a new 600-seat cinema was built there in its stead. A stage for performing operas and plays was added, chandeliers were hung and central heating was installed.

Zion Square was a focal point for Jerusalemites. Numerous cafes and businesses were located there, but it was the cinema that gave the area its name, as well as its spirit. In October 1967, three Palestinian youths placed a bomb in the cinema during the early evening show. The charge was discovered and removed in time and the late show took place as scheduled. The next day, during an evening of solidarity held in the cinema, Mayor Teddy Kollek proclaimed that "no one will scare us away from going to the movies." Five years later, Zion Cinema was closed down. The building was demolished in 1979 and a bank was subsequently built on the site.

Armon Cinema, Haifa (right stamp, featured with the Hebrew article) –
The Armon Cinema was opened in 1935. It was Haifa's largest cinema, seating an audience of nearly 1800 movie-goers. Its size and location in the heart of the city's entertainment center made the Armon Cinema a cultural institution. As the city lacked other suitable halls, the cinema regularly hosted performances of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israeli Opera, and also served as a venue for election gatherings. Watching movies in the Armon Cinema was a pleasant, comfortable experience. On summer nights the roof was opened above the heads of those sitting in the balcony. Before matinees, one of the ushers would shut the cinema windows with a long pole, arousing cheers from children in the audience, who knew this was a sign that the show was about to begin.

Haifa residents also remember the Armon Cinema because of the groups of youths who used to gather out front. They would arrive on motorcycles and sit idly on the curbside iron fences, at times harassing female passers-by, thus earning themselves the nickname "Armon Commandos". The Armon Cinema closed down in 1987 and was subsequently demolished. Today, a high-rise office building has taken its place.

Written by David Shalit, Cinema Historian

The stamps in this series were issued in 2007 and 2010. Designer: David Ben-Hador.