How Khobar’s King Khalid Street won, then lost, its ‘Saudi Champs-Élysées’ label

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Ask anyone in Saudi Arabia and they will tell you that King Khalid Street in the eastern city of Khobar was once proudly labeled as the “Saudi Champs-Elysées”. One look at old albums of the street and it’s easy to understand why.

The street has witnessed many prosperous periods and was one of the most beautiful and famous streets of the Gulf kingdom’s eastern region. Once full of action and life, the street attracted both Arab and foreign shoppers and visitors. Over time, this has impacted the social life of Khobar city, allowing it to embrace different cultures. Over the years, locals of Khobar were one of those who were the first to argue for full tolerance of cultures different than their own and fight against extremism wherever they see it.

Bahraini researcher and academic Abdullah Al-Madani, a specialist in international relations and Asian affairs, was born in Khobar and recently highlighted the street in a piece written for Al-Ayam newspaper.

Over time the street saw many changes since its establishment, highlighting its impact on the city and its lifestyle. Madani says he feels sorry for the current state of the street “as it was once full of action during its glorious days from the 1950s to the early 1990s. But now it no longer deserves its fame as the ‘Champs-Elysées of Khobar and the Eastern region’ since the shoppers left it to the modern air-conditioned malls and neglected by the municipality”, Madani wrote.

New York design and parallel streets

Madani mentions the beginning of the street saying: “When the gentlemen Sadaqah and Siraj Ka'iki finished building their modern buildings on both sides of the streets, they dedicated their ground floors for shops. Then came more modern and higher buildings, from the properties of Sheikh Saud al-Dugithir and Sheikh Abdulrahman Sorour al-Sabban and others. In parallel, Khobar municipality and Aramco planned and paved the streets of the city and made it to resemble the same model as New York city. The streets are parallel and straight from south to the north, with straight and parallel crossroads from east to west”.

King Khalid Street is approximately 2.5 kilometers, 16 meters wide, starting south from Dhahran Street, which separates the southern parts of Khobar from the north. It runs straight until it ends north at Pepsi-Cola Street, intersected with 28 straight crossroads on both sides. Hundreds of shops lined up to sell everything, including spaces to facilitate the movement of shoppers and pedestrians. This was the street until the early 1970s when these spaces were used as common coffee shops to make tea or coffee with milk, and the Hijazi shisha (hookah) for the visitors.

Royal visits and theater for joy and happiness

Madani also noted that the street witnessed several landmark moments in its history, most significant of which was the visit of the late King Saud to the eastern region in the 1960s and the first visit of the late King Faisal to the eastern region a few years later after he ascended to the throne. During both visits, Arab and Muslim communities living in Khobar lined up the street and music and dancing shows were held around the street during the nights which made the street a scene of spectacle that people from neighboring cities and areas came to visit it. During the 1950s, Khobar’s regional police also used the street to perform their weekly parades.

Madani also mentioned that since the street was established, three hotels and the “Arab institute for culture” owned by Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Hussan came to existence. The institute is considered the first civil institute established in the Eastern Province in 1959 for nigh schooling, spreading literacy and helping citizens to gain skills in bookkeeping, accounting, using the typewriter, and other sciences. The street also attracted many Bahraini merchants and other nationalities.