Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Congregation B'nai B'rith
Wilshire Boulevard Temple
|Location||3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, California|
|Architect||Edelman,A.M.; Norton, S. Tilden|
|Architectural style||Byzantine Revival|
|Governing body||Private Religious|
|NRHP Reference #||81000154|
|Added to NRHP||21 December 1981|
|Designated LAHCM||March 21, 1973|
Wilshire Boulevard Temple, founded in 1862 as Congregation B'nai B'rith, is the oldest Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, California. One of the country’s most respected Reform congregations, Wilshire Boulevard Temple's magnificent sanctuary, with its famous dome and Warner Murals, is a City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its immense Byzantine revival dome has been a Los Angeles landmark since 1929. It stands at 100 feet in diameter with its top 135 feet from the street, and was the grand vision of the building architect, A.M. Edelman (son of the congregation's first Rabbi, Abraham Edelman). 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 Irving Thalberg, an Academy-Award winning film producer. 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."
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 B’nai B’rith. 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 synagogue built in 1873 at the corner of Temple and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. It was described by the Los Angeles Star as “the most superior church edifice in Southern California.” In 1895, the temple moved to a larger Victorian structure at 9th and Hope, also designed by A.M. Edelman.
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 several decades, forged a Jewish identity for Los Angeles that joined pioneers and Hollywood moguls. 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.
The artistic highlights of the temple include Biblically-themed murals painted by Hugo Ballin, and commissioned by the Warner Brothers (who founded the movie studio of the same name), Jack, Harry, and Albert. Ballin’s murals consist of 320-foot-long (98 m), 7-foot-tall (2.1 m) murals depicting key moments in Jewish history. Traditionally, synagogues do not feature depictions of human images, with the exception of a few symbols like the Lion of Judah or the Magen David (star of David). This is due to a rigid interpretation of the second commandment which forbade the "making of graven images or the likeness of anything which is in the heaven above and the earth beneath" and in avoidance of a reproduction of God in an anthropomorphic manner. In commissioning the murals, The Temple, one of the first Reform synagogues in the country, was influenced by the great power of motion pictures and television and the desire for visualization.
Designed in the Gothic tradition, by the famed 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 are considered to be among the finest examples of this art form in the United States. Currently undergoing repair at the historic 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. The glass was specifically made for this purpose using the same methods as windows in the 13th century cathedrals of Europe used. Funding for the east and west lancet windows was donated by Louis B. Mayer, an early film producer, congregant and founder of MGM Studios.
The Temple’s immense dome immediately became a landmark in Wilshire Center and throughout Los Angeles.
The construction of the temple cost $1.5 million in 1929 dollars. It was dedicated in a three-day celebration in June 1929 presided over by Rabbi Magnin. Magnin went on to lead Wilshire Boulevard Temple until his death in 1984. 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 in recognition of its status as one of America's most architecturally impressive synagogues.
In response to membership growth in the West Los Angeles area, the temple dedicated the modern Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus in 1998, located at Olympic Boulevard and S. Barrington Avenue.
In 2004, the congregation celebrated the 75th anniversary of the historic structure on Wilshire Boulevard. 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.
The congregation is currently engaged in a major restoration of the sanctuary and redevelopment of the surrounding city block. After the end of the 2011 High Holy Days, the auditorium was closed for a renovation project that was expected to last two years. The sanctuary is scheduled to reopen September 4, 2013, for Rosh Hashanah services.
In 2013, philanthropist Erika Glazer pledged $30 million through 2028 for ongoing restoration and redevelopment of the synagogue.
Senior Rabbis and Their Terms
- Edgar F. Magnin, 1919 – 1984
- Alfred Wolf, 1984 – 1985
- Harvey J. Fields, 1985 – 2003
- Steven Z. Leder, 2003 –
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- "Getty Announces $1.4 Million in Grants for Architectural Preservation of Historic Buildings and Sites in Los Angeles County: 21 Preserve L.A. Grantees Exemplify Diversity of Los Angeles' Cultural Heritage". J. Paul Getty Trust. 2000-07-20.
- "An Address by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama on the occasion of the presentation of the Bodhi Award by the American Buddhist Congress at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles on 12 October 1999". American Buddhist Congress.
- Jeff Gottlieb, "Rebuilding a past glory: Wilshire Boulevard Temple project symbolizes the return of eastern L.A.'s Jewish population." Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2008.
- Martha Groves, "Wilshire Blvd. Temple auditorium to close for restoration". Los Angeles Times, October 7, 2011.
- Groves, Martha. (2013, February 10). Paying it forward at a grand sanctuary on Wilshire Boulevard. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2/13/2013.
- Dedication Set for Synagogue: Magnificent Temple to Be Opened Tomorrow Organ Recital and Paintings Presentation Scheduled Elaborate Sunday Service Will Be Public Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1929
- Synagogue Looks Back on 125 Years Los Angeles Times, Dec. 17, 1987
- Los Angeles; Retiring Rabbi Issues Warning; While praising the state of interfaith relations, Harvey Fields of Wilshire Boulevard Temple sees challenges to Jewish identity Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2003
- LA's Oldest Jewish Temple To Undergo $30 Million Restoration Sanctuary To Close In 2010, Reopen About 2 Years Later KNBC.COM Los Angeles, September 7, 2008[dead link]
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