When California was admitted to the Union in 1850, it has been reported that there were eight Jews living in Los Angeles. Nearly a century and a half later, that population has proliferated, with growth and contributions evidenced by the many historic sites around the city.
Some are no longer in use; others have become homes for different faiths, nationalities or professions. Several landmarks have been designated historical buildings by the Cultural Heritage Board of Los Angeles. And one huge institution, Cedars Sinai Hospital, can trace its history back to a Victorian house on Carroll Avenue, now a private residence, which was known as Kaspare Cohn General Hospital at the beginning of the century.
Throughout the Southland, there are many buildings that are significant in the history of Jews in the area, but for the purpose of this column, which is limited to only 10, Jerry Freedman Habush was asked to make the selection. Habush is a board member and tour leader of the Southern California Jewish Historical Society.
“Each tells part of the story of the demographic and institutional development of Jewish Los Angeles,” Habush says.
Breed Street Shul--247 N. Breed St., Los Angeles. Founded in 1912, this was one of the major synagogues in Los Angeles for five decades. Rich in design with stained-glass windows, mahogany panels and zodiac signs, it’s been called queen of the shuls. Louis B. Mayer was one of its presidents, and it was here that Al Jolson filmed the Yom Kippur scene from “The Jazz Singer.” Orthodox services are still held.
First site of Temple Emanuel, 635 S. Manhattan Place (at Wilshire Boulevard), Los Angeles. The temple was built and occupied by the first “traditional reform” congregation in 1925. Although it counted
about 400 families among its congregation in the late ‘20s, it was dissolved in 1929, and the building became occupied, and is still occupied, by a Christ Church congregation. Temple Emanuel resurfaced and occupied a Westwood site in the late ‘30s and other sites before building the large temple it occupies today at 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills .
Former site Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery--Lookout Drive and Lilac Terrace, Chavez Ravine. California Registered Landmark No. 822 is the first Jewish site in Los Angeles. Located south of Dodger Stadium, behind the armory, it is empty now, since the bodies were moved to the Home of Peace Cemetery, but the past is remembered by a plaque on the hillside of Chavez Ravine. The society, organized in 1854, is presently known as Jewish Family Service.
Home of Peace Cemetery--4334 Whittier Road, East Los Angeles. In 1891, the Jewish women of Los Angeles formed the Home of Peace Society for the specific purpose of maintaining and beautifying this memorial to the dead. At the turn of the century, moving the bodies was precipitated by two conditions: the discovery of oil increased property value in the area and a steep grade hampered the hearses’ ability to reach the site in inclement weather.
Former site of Jewish Federation--590 N. Vermont, Hollywood. To the students, it is the Cleveland Chiropractic College, but the U-shape, three-story building was once known as the Jewish pentagon. From 1950 to 1976, it housed the federation. As the community expanded northward and westward, the location became less accessible. The federation’s present location is a 12-story building on Wilshire Boulevard.
Former Jewish Home for Aged--corner of 4th Street and Boyle Avenue, Boyle Heights. Moved from the 131 S. Boyle Ave. site, the Jewish Home people were here 75 years. They have since moved to Reseda. This series of one- and two-story buildings now houses the aged of another culture--the Japanese.
Former site Sephardic Temple Tefereth Israel--1551 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (formerly Santa Barbara Avenue), South-Central Los Angeles. This elaborate edifice, now a Christian church, still displays the 10 Commandments and the Star of David carved in stone. Dedicated in 1932, it was founded by Jews who came from the Middle East. The congregation has since moved to Westwood.
First site Sinai Temple--12th and Valencia streets, Los Angeles. A Jewish congregation worshiped here from 1909 to 1925. One memento left behind for the next and present tenant--a Welsh Presbyterian Church--is the original organ. Stars of David are carved in stone in the side of of the building. It is said to be the oldest Conservative Synagogue. The congregation moved to Westwood in 1961.
Second site Sinai Temple--4th and New Hampshire streets, Los Angeles, in the Wilshire district. Like its predecessor, this too is now a Presbyterian Church, one that serves the Korean community. This beautiful building has been denoted a historical building by the Cultural Heritage Board of Los Angeles.
Wilshire Boulevard Temple--3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, in the Wilshire district. Another historical building designated by the Cultural Heritage Board of Los Angeles, this is the home of what is believed to be the oldest congregation (a Reform denomination) in Los Angeles. The congregation started in 1862. With its Moorish architecture and four-story dome, it may be one of the most elegant of its kind on the North American continent.