Wilshire Boulevard Temple – Wikipedia

Posted By on January 31, 2017

Wilshire Boulevard Temple, known from 1862 to 1933 as Congregation B'nai B'rith, is the oldest Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, California.[3][4] Wilshire Boulevard Temple's main building, its sanctuary topped by a large Byzantine revival dome and decorated with interior murals, is a City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[2][3][5][6][7] The Moorish-style building, located on Wilshire Boulevard in the Wilshire Center district, was completed in 1929 and was designed by architect Abram M. Edelman (son of the congregation's first rabbi, Abraham Edelman).

Wilshire Boulevard Temple is one of the largest Jewish congregations in Los Angeles, and has been led by several influential rabbis, especially Edgar Magnin, who has been described as the "John Wayne" of rabbis[8] and who served for 69 years from 1915 to 1984. A second campus, on the Westside, opened in 1998. Despite repeated reports that the congregation might sell its older, landmark building, the temple began extensive renovations of the historic facility in 2008, and the remodeled sanctuary reopened in 2013.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple traces its origins to the first Jewish worship service in Los Angeles, held in 1851. In 1862, a small community of Los Angeles Jews received its charter from the state to found Congregation Bnai Brith. Worship was led by a layman, Joseph Newmark, until Abraham Wolf Edelman was hired as the first rabbi.[9] Long overshadowed by the more prosperous San Francisco Jewish community, L.A.'s Jews managed to erect the congregation's first building, an impressive brick Gothic Revival style synagogue built in 1873 at the corner of Temple and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles.[10] It was described by the Los Angeles Star as the most superior church edifice in Southern California.[3]

By 1885 much of the congregation was pushing to move away from Orthodox practice, and Rabbi Edelman eventually resigned. Ephraim Schreiber was hired as rabbi in 1885 and adopted some reforms, but soon left. Abraham Blum was hired in 1889, but was forced out in 1895 and replaced by Moses G. Solomon.[9]

In 1896, the B'nai B'rith congregation moved to a larger brick Victorian synagogue at 9th and Hope. It was also designed by A.M. Edelman, and had tall flanking towers capped with large onion domes.

Sigmund Hecht became rabbi in 1899, and in 1903 the congregation joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the national organization of the Reform movement. Edgar Magnin was hired as an assistant rabbi in 1915, and took over as senior rabbi upon Hecht's retirement in 1919. Both Hecht and Magnin implemented the Reform practice of the time, including heavier use of the English language and organ and choir music.[9]

The current Wilshire Boulevard Temple opened in 1929, built among other significant places of worship in the Wilshire Center area. The new temple was the dream of Rabbi Edgar Magnin who, over a career of seven decades, forged a Jewish identity for Los Angeles that joined pioneers and Hollywood moguls. Known as the "Rabbi to the stars",[8] Magnin came to B'nai B'rith as assistant rabbi in 1915 and from that time on he championed a new synagogue building. The involvement of the Hollywood moviemakers after World War I and Magnin's promotion to senior rabbi in 1919 allowed the building to go forward. Mostly displaced New Yorkers with marginal religious interest, the Hollywood producers were attracted to Magnin's image of a popular modern Judaism. Rabbi Magnin also foresaw the movement of the city, and especially its Jewish population, westward. In this, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple was both typical and prescient in anticipating the increased suburbanization of American Jewish life. Because the new synagogue was beyond the "car line," it presaged L.A.'s near-total dependence on the automobile, an urban-suburban transformation that would affect most Jewish communities only after World War II.[10]

The artistic highlights of the temple include the Biblically-themed Warner Memorial Murals, painted by Hugo Ballin and commissioned by the Warner Brothers (who founded the movie studio of the same name), Jack, Harry, and Albert.[3][5][11][12] Ballins murals consist of 320-foot-long (98m), 7-foot-tall (2.1m) murals depicting key moments in Jewish history.[3][5] The murals are atypical of Judaism's traditional avoidance of figurative synagogue art.[13] In deciding to include murals in the new temple, Magnin was inspired by his recent visits to great European cathedrals; the particular role of Los Angeles as the capital of the movie industry; and archaeological discoveries of the time that suggested that ancient synagogues used figurative art.[14]

Modeled after Rome's Pantheon,[8] the immense Byzantine revival dome stands at 100 feet in diameter with its top 135 feet from the street. Its base is flanked by 28 buttresses, or small towers, rising from the ring girder for support. Funding for the dome's interior decoration was donated by MGM studio production head Irving Thalberg. The prayer inscribed in Hebrew around the Oculus, at the apex of the interior coffered dome, comes from the shm'a prayer, a centerpiece of all Jewish prayer services. The words read: Shm'a Yisroael, Adonoi Eloheinu, Adonaoi Echad; which translates to "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One."

Designed in the Gothic tradition by the Oliver Smith Studios of Pennsylvania, the Temple's distinctive rose window on the south wall of the sanctuary, and stained glass windows on the east and west walls, have been described as being among the finest examples of this art form in the United States. During the recent renovation, the rose window was removed and repaired at the Judson Studios in Los Angeles. The Rose Window depicts a Torah Scroll and a Star of David in the center and symbols of the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the outer circle. The triple lancet windows on the east and west walls are each made up of some 5,000-6,000 pieces of glass and are the symbolic representation of the 12 tribes of Israel. Funding for the east and west lancet windows was donated by film producer and studio head Louis B. Mayer.

The Temples immense dome immediately became a landmark in Wilshire Center and throughout Los Angeles. Its imposing marble columns were also a form of Hollywood magic: they are hollow columns of plaster painted to mimic marble. And unlike many synagogues, the temple has no center aisle, in part because the temple builders' wanted it to mimic a movie theater.[8]

The construction of the temple was completed by the Herbert M. Baruch Corporation and cost $1.5 million in 1929 dollars. It was dedicated in a three-day celebration in June 1929 presided over by Rabbi Magnin.

The congregation adopted its present name, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, in 1933. Magnin went on to head the temple until his death in 1984,[9] during which time he was widely considered as a spokesman on community and religious matters.[15] The block of Wilshire Boulevard where the temple sits was named Edgar F. Magnin Square in 1980 by the City of Los Angeles. In 1984, the Temple building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

One year after Rabbi Magnin's death, Harvey Fields became senior rabbi and led the congregation for 18 years. He reinstituted some more traditional ritual practices that had not been used under Magnin. The use of music was increased and the temple hired its first trained cantor. Fields was also founding chair of the Interfaith Coalition to Heal L.A. and "Hands Across L.A.", interfaith responses to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.[16]

In response to membership growth on the Westside of Los Angeles, the temple built a second campus at Olympic Boulevard and Barrington Avenue in West Los Angeles. It opened in 1998 as the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus, with a new Jewish day school and other educational and community facilities.[17] Despite repeated reports that the temple would leave its historic building, Rabbi Fields restated the congregation's commitment to the location.[18]

Over the years the temple has hosted many notable speakers, dignitaries and singers including the Dalai Lama, who received the Bodhi Award and addressed the American Buddhist Congress at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in 1999.[19]

In July 2000, the J. Paul Getty Trust awarded a "Preserve L.A." grant to the temple as part of its effort to preserve the city's cultural heritage.[20]

Rabbi Fields retired in 2003 and was succeeded by Steven Leder.[21] In 2004, the congregation celebrated the 75th anniversary of the historic structure on Wilshire Boulevard. As the area surrounding its historic building changed dramatically (becoming part of the rapidly expanding Koreatown district), the temple faced the decision whether to sell the property and refocus its operations on the Westside, where most of Los Angeles' Jewish population had moved. Instead, because of a desire to maintain its landmark facilities and commit to its surrounding community, and also noting a trend for younger Jews to move into neighborhoods further east (such as Los Feliz and Silver Lake), the congregation decided to begin a major restoration of the sanctuary and redevelopment of the surrounding city block.[22] The renovations began in 2008.[23] The temple began working with architect Brenda Levin in 2005, developing an expansive master plan for what was envisioned as a campus, including a renovated synagogue, a new pre-school and elementary school, the Karsh Social Service Center, athletic and community facilities.[24]

After the end of the 2011 High Holy Days, the auditorium was closed for a renovation project that lasted two years.[25][26] In 2013, philanthropist Erika Glazer pledged $30 million through 2028 for ongoing restoration and redevelopment of the synagogue,[27] and the Wilshire Center facility is now called the Erika J. Glazer Family Campus. The sanctuary reopened in September 2013 for Rosh Hashanah services, as the temple stated its intentions to provide services for the non-Jewish, mainly Korean and Hispanic residents of the area, as well for the Jewish community.[22][28] The community outreach has been recognized by local leaders, who hope it will become a model for other organizations as well.

In 2009 the temple and its rabbi, Steven Leder, became participants in the Rabbinic Vision Initiative (RVI), a group of rabbis from large Reform congregations who became vocal critics of the Reform movement's central organization, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). In 2011, Wilshire Boulevard Temple resigned from the URJ in what was perceived as a protest of the organization's perceived ineffectiveness.[29]

In 2015, a committee made up of congregation members, including such prominent philanthropists as Glazer, Bruce Karatz, Eli Broad and Anthony Pritzker, considered more than a dozen architectural firms and commissioned four of them to submit detailed proposals. The subsequently recommended Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture for the project; Koolhaas had proposed a trapezoidal five-story building including office spaces and a large, vaulted ground-level banquet hall.[30]

Wilshire Boulevard Temple - Wikipedia

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