Neighbourhood Watch: The sleepy fishing village that became the Beverly Hills of Dubai
Jumeirah may be home to luxury hotels and grand villas but the district has retained some of its charm - and there are big plans in store
From a traditional fishing village to what has become the Beverly Hills of Dubai, much has changed in Jumeirah in the last 20 years or so.
Locals fondly remember the strong smell of fish drying out on the beach front when the catch of the day was the livelihood of those living and working in the neighbourhood.
Although many of the original villas remain, plenty have been replaced with two or three-storey alternatives, many grander and gaudier than their predecessors. And the area - which sprawls down the coast over more than 10km - has retained a unique feel thanks to its low-rise landscape.
It was placed in the spotlight this week when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, set out plans to bring more murals and open-air canvasses to the district.
Former tour guide Alicia Morris moved to Jumeirah from Sharjah in 1986 and has never thought of living anywhere else.
“The place has changed a great deal since then,” she said.
“There were lots of small corner shops, a barbers and tailor shops with a few smaller supermarkets dotted around the place.
“It was pretty much a fishing village, made up of single storey buildings.
“There were lots of locals still living in the area then, with their cows and goats wandering about.
“Cows would often go and drink out of people’s swimming pools, it was that kind of place and we would often have camels walking around.”
The Chicago Beach Hotel was a popular watering hole and became an institution for the community.
When that was demolished in 1997, Jumeirah Beach Hotel opened in its place, and remains a key landmark for the area after a recent refurbishment.
As rents soared, many Jumeirah residents moved out to the suburbs and fast food restaurants, coffee shops and private health clinics moved in to take over the buildings along Jumeirah Beach Road.
That has not stopped the distinct neighbourhood retaining much of its charm, despite the rampant development continuing at pace.
One of those holding back the tide of change is Iranian business owner Reza Safdar Poorshamsi.
The father of two who has been in Jumeirah since 1971, and said his two shops have not changed much.
“When I first moved here I had the only shop in this area, and this was just a dirt road,” said Mr Poorshami, who owns two beach shops, complete with inflatable toys, bucket and spade sets and shisha pipes for sale.
“Some of my regular customers have been coming here since the 1970s, they are like me and just don’t want to leave.”
When the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel opened in December 1999, the area changed forever.
Inspired by the spinnaker of a sailing boat, the hotel gave a welcome nod to the neighbourhood’s seafaring connections.
Dubai Offshore Sailing Club has always been at the heart of the Jumeirah community, and continues to be so today.
Since then, more luxury hotels have opened up and the La Mer beach resort, with restaurants and water parks spread over several kilometres of decking, has transformed Jumeirah 1.
The nearby Jumeirah Mosque is an iconic landmark, and the only in Dubai offering guided cultural tours and dedicated to receiving non-Muslims.
Nadir Shah, from India, is manager at the SeaShell fast food shop in Jumeirah 2.
“Jumeirah is not like anywhere else in Dubai, it has a special vibe about the community, because of the beach I think,” he said.
“It can be quiet in the day, but at night and at weekends this place comes alive.”
Further plans include transforming Jumeirah into a cultural hub, featuring houses splashed with murals, regular Dhow sailing competitions and a food festival.
As many as 30 artists can be spotted currently working on individual masterpieces to add to the ‘Jumeirah Project’.
One famous artwork under threat from developers is the fish on a bike mural by Spanish artist Ruben Sanchez in Jumeirah 3.
Khokon Miah Juru Miah, from Bangladesh, has been living and working in Jumeirah for three years and is a watchman on the construction site next to the artwork.
“People have been asking what will happen to the mural, all I know is that this will be another medical centre,” he said.
The biggest change to the neighbourhood has been the opening of the Dubai Water Canal, inaugurated in 2016, connecting the once sleepy district to the rest of the city.
Samantha Henderson, a sixth form administrator at the Jumeirah English Speaking School has been living in the district for eight years, and loves being so close to the beach.
“Jumeirah is clinging onto its identity and there are still a lot of the original Emirati housing, which is great.
“I always wanted to live here and just come and stand with my feet in the sea, so close to home,” she said with a smile.
Updated: November 29, 2018 03:35 PM