Zuckerman, Mover in Jewish Community, Dies
H. Lew Zuckerman, the last surviving founder of the Jewish Homes for the Aging of Greater Los Angeles, a businessman believed the oldest active realtor in the United States and for 75 years the essence of this city’s Jewish community, died Tuesday.
He was 102 and died in Victory Village in Reseda, one of the two current homes for the elderly that he first inspired in 1912.
What has become a model for Jews caring for other Jews in need came about in 1909. A friend had heard of three elderly Jewish men forced to live in the old County Poor Farm without the means to celebrate Passover or a Kosher place to spend it. Could Zuckerman help?
“With tears running down their faces,” Zuckerman remembered last year, “they begged me to arrange to take them out of there . . . just for the eight days (of Passover). Once we took them, we didn’t have the heart to send them back and thus began the Jewish Homes for the Aging.”
The home that Zuckerman and a few friends originally started was on Temple Street near Grand Avenue but with the subsequent migration of Los Angeles Jews to East Los Angeles at the beginning of World War I, they rented and then purchased 5 1/2 acres on South Boyle Avenue. That location is now the site of the Japanese Retirement Home.
In 1962, following the shift of the Jewish community to the Westside and the Valley, an additional nine acres was purchased in Reseda and that site today has become the Victory and Grancell villages. They currently are home to 900 residents with limited financial means whose average age is 89.
Zuckerman, born in Hungary, came to the United States in 1900, first to Brooklyn where he worked as a market clerk (for $4 a month), cigar maker and tailor, and then to Iowa, South Dakota and, in 1907, to Los Angeles. His first job here was as a tailor on Hill Street near the site of the present Biltmore Hotel and then as a cleaner and presser again on Hill Street. A laundry wagon driver named Ben Weingart, who went on to become the multimillionaire financier and philanthropist who founded the city of Lakewood, encouraged Zuckerman to take in laundry as well and the two partners prospered.
He married Sadie Goldberg in 1909 and The Times covered the wedding at Beth Israel Synagogue where the Music Center stands today and where her father was its founding president. The minute Jewish community of that era evoked such curiosity from the then-small community of Los Angeles that the coverage included a photograph heralded as “The First of an Orthodox Wedding.”
Meantime, Zuckerman had become a saloon keeper at 7th Street and Central Avenue, where he installed a 150-foot-long horseshoe bar, billed as “The World’s Largest.” Prohibition arrived in 1917 and Zuckerman was forced to launch a new career. He obtained a real estate license in 1919 and established H. Lew Zuckerman Real Estate, building his own two-story headquarters at 2nd Street and Western Avenue. He built the 13-story Commercial Exchange Building at 8th and Olive streets, constructed the first homes in the Pico and Robertson area and the Marvin Apartments, named for his late son.
He also took on a partner, Philip Lyon, who later left to develop shopping centers, among them Beverly Center.
By the repeal of Prohibition, Zuckerman had become a singular influence, not just among Jews, but in city politics. He had served on a grand jury that brought about reforms at City Hall, served as treasurer for his beloved Jewish Home and acquired the Reseda property that the home eventually moved to. He also had the first idea for a support group for the homes, a group that came to be called The Guardians, which today has more than 2,000 members and raises $2 million each year.
He became skilled at acquiring sites for chain stores, a concept that helped him weather the Depression. In 1931 he was believed to be the first businessman to propose a moratorium on foreclosures at a time when tens of thousands were being forced from their homes because they couldn’t make the payments. At Zuckerman’s urging, California became the first of 27 states to establish the moratorium and it became a national policy in 1933 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When the economy brightened, Zuckerman, with another son, Ted, founded a store in El Monte, then a distant suburb of the city. That store became the genesis for the Sally Shops, women’s ready-to-wore stores that once dotted the Southland.
In 1980 he was honored by the National Board of Realtors as the oldest active real estate agent in the country, continuing his real estate activities even after moving into one of the homes he had founded. He maintained his interest in community affairs and inspired others to follow him into service. Among them was a young teacher named Rosalind Weiner. She became Los Angeles City Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman.
Throughout his life Zuckerman carried a small silver thimble in his pocket, a reminder of his days as a struggling tailor. He lived between walls on which hung the dozens of plaques and awards he had accumulated from a grateful citizenry.
His wife died in 1983 and two years later, during an interview with The Times, he couldn’t talk of her without his eyes filling with tears.
Zuckerman will be buried at 10 a.m. Friday at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles. He leaves his son Ted, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
He also leaves this credo:
“Wealthy people who never do a damn thing for other people. It breaks my heart.”