Wilshire Boulevard Temple, completed in 1929, is home to the oldest Jewish congregation in Los Angeles. Founded in 1862, the congregation was housed in two previous synagogues before moving to the sumptuous building at the corner of Wilshire and Hobart in what is now Koreatown.
I just finished reading a fascinating book: An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. When you think about it, most of the founders of the movie industry were Jewish. So it is no surprise that this grand temple was supported by the moguls of the industry.
Rabbi Magnin was close friends with such illustrious Hollywoodites as the Warner Brothers, Sid Grauman, Carl Laemmle, Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg and many other well-known Jews in the film business who contributed considerable amounts of money for the construction of the temple.
True to its Hollywood connections, the synagogue, also known as “Temple to the Stars,” was designed in the grand style of a movie palace of the time. There is no center aisle found in most houses of worship. The sentiment was that the best seats are located in the middle!
Over the decades, as this area of the city was left behind by businesses and the wealthy who were all moving westward towards Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, the temple fell into disrepair.
Fortunately, in 2004 the Board of Trustees made the decision to raise the millions of dollars necessary to restore the synagogue to its former glory.
Several years and $50 million later, with the work of teams of specialists led by Levin & Associates Architects, the renovated building opened its doors to once again serve the area’s Jewish community.
In commemoration of this restoration, the Los Angeles Conservancy organized an event on Sunday, April 27, 2014, attended by those of us lucky enough to purchase tickets. It was a sellout crowd.
As it happens, the Purple Line Metro station is just a couple of blocks away. Anytime I can travel by train I am a happy camper… or passenger…
We were split into three groups and moved around from the auditorium to the Sanctuary to the exterior to listen to the various contractors and experts talk about their participation in the renovation.
At the very end of the day we were treated to a concert by the temple’s own organist playing the 4,102 pipe organ. The last piece was composed by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan, who it seems was also an organist) and utilized the full vocabulary of the instrument.
Unlike Christian churches and cathedrals, the organ in a Jewish synagogue is mostly hidden out of site. Here we could just make out the organist’s head through the lattice work above the Ark.
This restoration was truly an amazing feat with just about every inch of the building disassembled, from the basement to the pews and carpeting to the stained glass windows and dome.
Even the organ pipes, which fill five rooms, had to be dismantled and shipped to Ohio for refurbishing.
The murals which circle the sanctuary, were painted on canvas by Hugo Ballin who is well known around Los Angeles for all his public works. He was also art director at the studios.
During the renavation they discovered, just like a movie set, a lot of materials were not what they seemed. Wood was not wood and concrete was not concrete. So they had to figure out a way to replace that which was not!
The congregation is in the process of raising another $100,000 to complete the campus which will occupy an entire city block with educational and recreational facilities for the community. Above is a scale model of what the complex will look like.
Of course, the exterior of the building also had to be cleaned up and repaired. A garden area was added. The gray stone inlaid stripes were originally black but became discolored over time… in my opinion the mottled bands have more character now.
It was a long day, and both my friend and I were sagging and dragging by the time the last notes of the organ faded away. But it was a good day. And now when I pass by the Wilshire Boulevard Temple I will no longer be wondering what architectural treasures lie inside.
Click on an image to start the slideshow if you wish to see some more photos of the temple:
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