Monday, August 6, 2012

Wilshire Boulevard Temple renovation offers renewed history

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s restoration is just the start of a new vision of outreach for the Eastside campus
The exterior of the synagogue is surrounded by scaffolding for the two-year restoration project,
which will repair damage and return the structure to its original earthy hue.
Photo courtesy of Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Early on a recent Wednesday morning, architect Brenda Levin bounded up the metal steps temporarily installed at the center of the historic sanctuary of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Leading the way up 10 flights — that’s 100 feet — she climbed to the normally inaccessible domed ceiling, high enough to touch the enormous Hebrew letters circling the oculus’ opening. Those letters, inscribed in gold, spell out the most sacred words of Torah: Shema Yisra’el ...

Levin, dressed in a hard hat and elegant silk blouse, stood amid a forest of scaffolding and took a moment to greet the conservator meticulously fixing spots where gold leaf had flecked off the ceiling during the 83 years since the moguls of Hollywood bankrolled the structure. Wilshire Boulevard Temple was built to be the fanciest building money could buy for the denizens of the silver screen’s Reform Jewish congregation, and its dramatic, quasi-Byzantine-Moorish design by architect A.M. Edelman (son of the congregation’s first rabbi, Abraham Edelman) was constructed over a span of just 18 months, at a cost of $1.5 million, under the leadership of Senior Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin (who presided from 1919 to 1984). It was made to compete with the cathedral-scaled churches and ornate office buildings that were lining up along Los Angeles’ grandest new street, because, in 1929, the temple’s site on Wilshire Boulevard, just east of Western Avenue at the then-westernmost tip of the city, was one of the best addresses in town. Nothing else would have satisfied the ambitions of Jack and Harry Warner, Carl Laemmle, Adolph Zukor or the boy-wonder producer Irving Thalberg. --  Susan Freudenheim, Jewish Journal

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