On maps of Old Katamon that I have looked at, the tomato comparison seems a bit far-fetched.
Actually the park has another, official name, inscribed on two separate plaques:
I did a little digging online about Harvey Rothenberg, the park donor identified on the plaque in the above photo. A successful New York City businessman and active Zionist who helped found the Jerusalem Fund, he was also a good friend of John V. Lindsay and served on Lindsay's mayoral staff for a salary of $1 per year -- somewhat reminiscent of our current shekel-a-year Jerusalem mayor. Rothenberg reminisces about his interactions with such luminaries as Golda Meir, the Shah of Iran, and Teddy Kollek, here. For a fascinating article about John V. Lindsay and his conception of New York City as an "adventure playground," click here.
It may seem unfair that a "popular" playground name should trump the name intended for it by its donor; there may be something instructive in this, something to do with the primacy of physical features in the minds of children. I don't feel capable of bucking the trend and talking about "John V. Lindsay Park" in everyday conversation, but I do think it's worthwhile to trace the donor history of parks and to honor the philanthropists who help make Jerusalem a better place. So, I hope, where relevant, to keep including donor information as a feature of my Jerusalem Playground Reviews.
Location: Kovshei Katamon Street, at the Kaf-Tet BeNovember Street intersection (across from Chorev Elementary School), Old Katamon.
Transit/Parking: Bus line 24 (Kovshei Katamon St.); plentiful on-street parking on Kovshei Katamon during most daytime hours, except for school drop-off and pick-up times.
Shade: Gan HaAgvaniya has abundant shade. I can't vouch for the central play area during all daytime hours, but a large sandbox near the park entrance (which includes a couple of spring toys and tic-tac-toe installation) is shady throughout the day:
Playground equipment and features:
Large climbing/slide structure, suitable for toddlers and young children, up to about ages 6-8:
Large, relatively clean and shady sand box with tic-tac-toe installation and spring toys:
(Plenty of real felines, too ...)
Shrubbery areas that are accessible to children for mucking around and exploring:
Lots of climbable rocks and stepping-stones:
A circular path, part asphalt and part cobblestone, suitable for scootering, tricycling, etc.:
Age range: Play equipment suitable for toddlers and younger children up to ages 6-8; for older children the park offers sufficient space to kick a ball around, dig for scorpions (if they're into that sort of thing), ride a scooter, or just hang out.
Snack factor: Unfortunately, there is no kiosk or grocery in the immediate vicinity (i.e., accessible without having to cross a street, or at least visible just across a street). However, there is a grocery around the corner on HaLamed-Heh Street, a fairly short walk away, as well as a bakery/cafe. A few blocks away, on HaPalmach St., there is a larger selection of stores and eateries (see the Beyond the park section below).
Schmooze factor: I use this park mainly in the afternoons, when I pick my kids up from the school across the street. The after-school hours are quite busy and fun here, with older Chorev kids stopping to play or cutting through the park on their way home ...
|(somebody brought their hamster to school today)|
|In memory of Eliezer Karsani|
The park's immediate proximity to a school and a bus stop, and its relative proximity to some shopping areas, make it a pass-through place. Although it is bounded along much of the "tomato" perimeter by residential buildings, with a buffer of shrubbery and mature trees, this boundary is actually quite permeable. All the locals seem to know where the park border's unofficial "transit points" are, and utilize them as shortcuts.
Gan HaAgvaniya fits my mantra: a good park should be different things to different people, and different things to the same people on different occasions.
Beyond the park: Kovshei Katamon and HaLamed-Heh streets
Although I have reviewed three other playgrounds so far in the enchanted Old Katamon-German-Colony-Baka triangle, it is Gan HaAgvaniya and its surrounding streets that conjure up memories of my bitza past with a Proustian palpability. This is subjective, I know. I'm sure other Katamon refugees have their own involuntary-memory triggers.
As you leave Gan HaAgvaniya and head up Kovshei Katamon in the direction of HaLamed-Heh, you see some pretty typical Katamon architecture:
The above building is not an especially fancy one, just a normal stone-faced residential structure that exemplifies what life was like in Jerusalem before the current nightmare of minimum parking requirements. Note that there is indeed some parking space at ground level, under the building proper and directly in front of it. Note also, however, that the area in front of the building is left open, meaning that the structure's overall human scale remains intact. Yes, there's a car parked there, but there's also a bit of shrubbery; you can see the balconies and windows of the lower floors; if you pass by at night you have a reassuring sense of human activity in the area. This is in contrast to the snout houses that have become all the rage in Jerusalem over the last two decades -- buildings with large, enclosed garages that protrude from the building facades and create a sense of desolation at street level. A few of these devils appear a little farther up, when we turn the corner onto HaLamed-Heh Street. I will point them out to you, don't worry.
Another undistinguished, but human-scaled and therefore attractive apartment building:
The Kovshei-Katamon--HaLamed-Heh intersection:
The corner building is Yakar, the well-known synagogue and epicenter of my bitza memories. To point up the connection with Gan HaAgvaniya, I used to duck out from Yakar to the park on Yom Kippur for a catnap between mussaf and mincha -- the ten minutes or so that were left after the endlessly drawn-out (but beautifully harmonized!) davening. Now, I do like trees and shrubbery but I think they've gone a bit overboard. I'd like to see more building here.
Turning left onto HaLamed-Heh, one finds an interesting mixed-use street marked by attractive older architecture and, unfortunately, some terrible recent construction.
One lovely old building serves as a residence ...
... while its next-door neighbor houses a bank:
Below: the only store selling religious Jewish books on this side of town. Since they have a local monopoly, why do the proprietors of Havruta feel it's necessary to advertise themselves all over Jerusalem on those ugly municipal ad installations?
But it is a great store (though not very stroller-accessible), with a good children's section (including English books) and attractive Judaica:
Ah, here we come to it. The original Jerusalem snout houses, circa mid-1990s -- the start of a plague. The cavernous garage entrances, like giant yawns in the middle of an otherwise pleasant and human-scaled street:
The interesting and rather hopeful thing that characterizes this snout-house setup on HaLamed-Heh St. is that the garages alternate with commercial spaces: a minimarket and a branch of the Lechem Shel Tomer bakery/restaurant chain:
|On the menu: "orange" soup, kumquat confiture (marmalade?), "outstanding" hamantaschen ...|
Whether the minimarket and bakery/cafe occupy spaces that were originally planned for commercial use, or converted from garage spaces, I don't know. The minimarket guy hadn't been there long enough to tell me ... But the sight of this garage/commercial mix does give one hope that many of Jerusalem's snouthouses will someday be retrofitted for shops and restaurants, offices, small groundfloor apartments ... thereby creating viable streetscapes, rather than depressing garage-scapes.
Farther down the street there's another cafe and a greengrocer ... but the little one was getting impatient in her stroller. Also, she was filthy, having removed her shoes and socks (this in mid-February) for a more "feet-on" sandbox experience at Gan HaAgvaniya: