19 October 2008

Los Angeles: The Breed Street Shul

Los Angeles' Breed Street Shul, in Boyle Heights, has an interesting history here

Located at 247 North Breed Street in the Boyle Heights district on the Los Angeles River’s east bank, the Breed Street Shul served a once thriving Jewish neighborhood in Boyle Heights that has since become predominately a Latino community.

The property on Breed Street was purchased after 1910. In 1915, Beth Hamedrash was built on the back of the property. Construction on the shul itself began in 1920 and it was dedicated in 1923. The large building is constructed of brick and the interior fixtures are polished wood.

The Breed Street Shul served as the focal point of the neighborhood that was the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Jewish community. Even if you have never been to Los Angeles, you might very well have seen the shul. Both the 1927 original and the 1980 remake of “The Jazz Singer” featured the Breed Street Shul.

The Breed Street Shul was, at one time, one of the largest synagogues on the West Coast and home to the largest Orthodox congregation west of Chicago.

After World War II, The Jewish presence in Boyle Heights began to diminish as the area became more of an industrial area. An influx of other cultures resulted in young Jewish men returning from military duty during the war to use their VA loans to move to other areas. This resulted in the shrinkage of the congregation at the shul.

The story covers the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake damage, the building's abandonment in 1996, and attempts to renovate it. The Jewish Historical Society of Southern California took over the renovation in 1999 and set up the nonprofit Breed Street Shul Project.

In addition to preserving the historical Jewish site it was also meant to serve the current community as a center. Several Latino organizations and the J. Paul Getty Museum worked with the Jewish Historical Society on the project. Young Latinos from the Imaginando Manana ("Imaging Tomorrow") worked on it, learning the Jewish history and tolerance and respect for other cultures.

Sunday clean up events became popular with the entire community, strengthened community bonds as well as with the area's Jewish heritage.

Involved were JHS President Stephen Sass and Robert Chattel Brent Riemer of Chattel Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Inc., who is quoted as saying, "This building should continue to be a place of congregation." One idea to serve the contemporary community and preserve its heritage is a computer lab with displays depicting the Jewish history of the site.

Read the complete article at the link above.

The Breed Street Shul's website is here.To read more about the history of the Breed Street Shul, read through the National Register of Historic Places nomination (it was registered in 2001) for the site here. There is a wealth of detail about the building, the neighborhood, a bibliography and more for those interested in history and architecture.

For more general comments on Los Angeles' members of the tribe, see Hadassah Magazine's article (June/July 2008) here.
I just received a note from Jan Meisels Allen, who writes that her father, William Samuel Meisels (1907-1998) was the last president of the congregation.
An extensive LA Times story was published on October 18, 1984, when he was still president and he was quoted extensively. Jan also notes that some time ago when the Autry Museum's exhibit on Jews of the West was running, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles visited. The exhibit included a video of the shul and her father was in that as well - she was very surprised to see that.
Jan is president of the JGS of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV) and also serves on the board of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS).

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:36 PM

    Tell Farid that I say 'hello.' The last time I saw him was at Millie's house. Kay and I were there with my brother and sidter-in-law, Bea Fallick. I see that your family has grown and I wish you 'Mazal Tov.' Josh and Bea have passed away but Don and I keep in touch. Norman Fallick