The Palestine Hotel Company - a company of which the Mosseri family, Egyptian Jewish bankers, were part owners - purchased a 4.5-acre tract from the Greek Patriarchate for $150,000 in order to build a luxury hotel in Jerusalem. The rectangular two-story building, constructed of locally quarried pink sandstone and boasting 200 rooms and 60 bathrooms, was opened in 1931 on Julian's Way - today King David Street.
Swiss interior decorator Hofschmidt, asked to draw on the "ancient Semitic style," attempted to create an atmosphere evocative of the glorious time of King David, with a high-ceilinged, marble-floored lobby, muted green and beige colors, and Egyptian, Assyrian, Hittite, Phoenician and Greek motifs in public areas. Motifs depicting biblical plants such as pomegranates and vines and stars of David decorate the rooms. The spacious terrace offers a wide-angle view of the Old City.
Until a proper kitchen was organized, food for the dining room came by train from Cairo, and was served, with pomp and circumstance, by waiters decked out in long white robes with broad red sashes, fezzes and white gloves. But shortly after the festive opening, the hotel was forced to close down for two years, due to a worldwide economic depression and Arab riots, neither of which were conducive to tourism.
When the hotel opened again in 1933, it hosted such royalty as the dowager empress of Persia, queen mother Nazli of Egypt and King Abdullah I of Jordan, who arrived with a retinue on horses and camels. The hotel afforded asylum to three royal heads of state who had to flee their countries: King Alfonso VIII of Spain, forced to abdicate in 1931; Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, driven out by the Italians in 1936; and King George II of Greece, who set up his government in exile at the hotel after the Nazi occupation of his country in 1942.
During the Arab riots in 1936-39, the British army leased the top floor of the hotel as its emergency headquarters. Later the entire southern wing became the administrative and military center of British rule in Palestine.
In July 1946, a bomb placed in the restaurant kitchen by a Jewish underground movement, the Etzel (Irgun Tzva'i Le'umi), killed 91 people and destroyed the southern wing. The hotel became a British fortress until May 4, 1948, when the British flag was lowered, and the building became a Jewish stronghold.
At the end of the War of Independence, the hotel found itself overlooking no-man's land, on the borderline which divided Jerusalem into Israeli and Jordanian territory.
In 1967, when Jerusalem was reunited, the hotel, under new management, added two floors; the builders used the same type of sandstone, from a Hebron quarry, which had been used in the original construction in 1930.
In the course of the years, many heads of state have stayed at the King David Hotel, among them U.S. Presidents Nixon, Carter, Bush and Clinton, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt during his dramatic visit to Jerusalem in 1977, Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major of Great Britain, President Francois Mitterand of France, President Richard Weizsaecker of Germany, President Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR, and entertainment stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Danny Kaye.