Monday, October 20, 2014

Photo Essay: Hollywood's First Jewish Temple, Restored

You can't really talk about the history of Hollywood without considering Judaism.



And it would be tough to consider the Jewish history of LA without including Hollywood.



The two come together in beautiful ways at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple...



...in what was once the western boundary of the City of Los Angeles...



...with nothing but bean fields between it and Beverly Hills and Santa Monica...



...but what is now smack dab in the middle of Koreatown...



...without a lot of Jews nearby.



Still, Wilshire Temple is the house that Hollywood built...



...under the leadership of architect Abram M. Edelman (also responsible for the Breed Street Shul and Shrine Auditorium)...



...but with contributions and donations from all the major film impresarios of the 1920s...



...including Jewish history murals (starting with Genesis) painted by art director and production designer Hugo Ballin (also muralist for Griffith Observatory), courtesy of the Warner Brothers.



Phase One of the temple's restoration, led by Brenda Levin of Levin & Associates Architects, was completed last year...



...which included seismic, cosmetic, and mechanical alterations (including lots of cleaning, upgrading the air conditioning, adding lighting and speakers, etc.).



It is the oldest synagogue in the LA area, the third home of the Congregation B’nai B’rith (founded in 1862)...



...and was officially closed for two years in 2011 after pieces of plaster literally had started falling down from the sanctuary ceiling.



It is Byzantine and Moorish in design...



...and feels very much like a theater, as was the wish of Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, who chose the new location to be on Wilshire, "The Fifth Avenue of the West," and whose Hollywood friends earned him the title "Rabbi to the Stars."



As you walk upstairs from the Wilshire Boulevard front lobby...



...past the art glass windows in the stairwell...



...under one of the many shadow-casting ornate lighting fixtures...



...you get even closer to the sanctuary's 100 foot octagonal domed ceiling, fully restored, with its oculus lit in a midnight blue...



...and inscribed with the Shema Yisrael, a Jewish prayer from the Torah expressing monotheism – all a gift from Hollywood tycoon Irving Thalberg of MGM, rising high above gifts from the Warners, Sid Grauman, Louis B. Mayer, Carl Laemmle, and all his other contemporaries.



You also get closer to the stained glass windows...



...including the rose window depicting the twelve tribes of Israel, all of which were lovingly restored by LA's own Judson Studios.



But at one point, the sanctuary was in such bad shape, and Wilshire Temple had opened another campus on LA's West Side, there was a question whether there was even a place for a Jewish temple on LA's eastside, and whether the Koreatown location could be – or should be – saved. Fortunately, a master plan was approved, grants were received, and support poured in to restore not only the domed sanctuary, but the entire Wilshire Boulevard campus, inside and out. Handicap accessibility was added, resulting in a new side entrance through a courtyard off the parking lot.


Photo: Levin & Associates Architects

Inside, scaffolding was built to create a platform high enough to clean and paint the coffers in the ceiling. Elsewhere, too, paint was restored to its original color whenever possible, though much of what you see is actually a combination of several different colors of paint, and, in some cases, sprayed with gold on top. The carved walnut wood has been cleaned and restored (with the addition of a new apron at the end of the altar/stage area). The seats have been reupholstered. Flood lights have been replaced with LEDs and less blinding stage lights hidden high off to the side. The Kimball pipe organ was completely refurbished, the pipes and console cleaned and restored.

Since the sanctuary's acoustics are better for music than for talking, the Temple has welcomed a few musical performances and plans a calendar of many more in the future, as well as other secular and non-sectarian cultural events to attract the local community – Jews and non-Jews alike.

This is a real success story in preservation, and one that's not finished yet. For the second phase, they are building a large parking structure behind the temple, and are instituting more community outreach which includes a school, a food pantry, and social services (including medical, vision, and mental health care).

Download the LA Conservancy's brochure on the restoration here.
More great photos of the restoration from Curbed here.

Watch the video that shows the pre-restoration condition of the temple here:


Related Post:
Photo Essay: Breed Street Shul, Unsafe for Entry

Saturday, October 18, 2014

To Say "I Love You"

I've loved before, but I never said it.

They probably knew, but I never said it.

I never said it, because I knew they didn't love me back.

So when I finally decided to say it to someone, you would think it would have been hard to get the words out, to utter the sentiment that had been on the verge of my lips and in the core of my heart time and time before, tucked away, hidden, silenced.

Instead, it was the easiest thing in the world.

And once I started to say it, I couldn't stop.

Imagine my surprise when I heard those words said back to me.

It was the best feeling in the world.

It took 38 years for it to happen.

And now I realize it wasn't real.

The love I heard wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the love I wanted. It wasn't the love I gave.

He said "love is love," but this love is not that love.

And now I wonder why I had to open my big fat mouth. Why did I ever have to say anything at all?

It was a gift I gave him that he didn't want.

And the worst thing in the world is to say "I love you" to someone who doesn't want to hear it.

On a Break

Sometimes, you need to take a break.

Sometimes, things are just broken, and you have to throw them out.

Sometimes, things are so bad, you just don't have anything to say about them.

Sometimes you have to give up and do something else.

Sometimes you have to do nothing at all.

You don't cry.

You don't rebound.

You don't distract.

You don't self-medicate.

You don't lash out.

You just...don't.

There is no anger worth having.

There are no feelings worth hurting.

There are no hurts worth feeling.



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Photo Essay: The Lost Furry Companions of LA's Pet Cemetery

If you love animals as much as I do, the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park – translation: pet cemetery – might prove to be too heartbreaking for you.



But, it turns out, I love to have my heart broken. Apparently.



All over the "park" you'll find statues of St. Francis of Assisi, known as the patron saint of animals...



...and the origin of the Blessing of the Animals...



...which usually takes place on October 4...



...but can occur throughout the month.



I suppose you always find some animal iconography at cemeteries...



...certainly birds and bunnies and big cats and lambs...



...all of which make their appearance in the Bible (both in the Old and New Testaments)...



...but here...



...these above-ground statues and figures...



...are only a small tribute...



...to what's buried down below:



...the beloved companions of individuals and families throughout the LA area.



Some of the families are famous or prominent in some way...



...having enough money to spring for a proper resting place (replete with casket and headstone) for their furry friends...













...but in other cases...



...like Milton Sill, the famed German Shepherd "who knew everything," (even how to spell)...



...or Arras of the Los Angeles K9 unit...



...or even Blinky the Friendly Hen (infamous as a performance art piece in which a frozen Foster Farms chicken was buried and mourned)...



...the animal itself has some claim to fame.



"Room 8" was a neighborhood cat who wandered into a classroom at Echo Park's Elysian Heights Elementary School...



...and who died in 1968 at age 21, after over a dozen years of returning to the same classroom at the start of every school year. The school's students raised the money for his gravestone.



Tawny is probably the only lion buried at LA Pet Memorial Park, and reportedly one of the former MGM lions.



But even the not-so-famous pets clearly had a major impact on their families...



...who were not just "owners"...



...but considered themselves parents...



...often attributing their own salvation to their little angels...



...who were often also considered the soulmates of those they left behind.



I have never seen a cemetery in Southern California so lovingly kempt.



The lawn is green, watered and fertilized.



Many of the headstones are as large and imposing as one would be for any human dignitary or movie star.



The more modest plaques are in terrific condition...



...and are inscribed with the most adorable pet names...



...etchings of the animals...



...and the most heartwarming (and heartbreaking) epitaphs...



...in many languages...



...and for multiple faiths (many of the tombstones carrying a Star of David).



There are a few horses buried here, as well as countless cats, dogs, birds, and turtles.



There's even a mausoleum (and crematory)...



...for above-ground interments...



...including one for a 9-11 hero dog who has passed.

The Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park was founded as a kind of cemetery to the stars in 1928 by celebrity veterinarian Dr. Eugene Jones (the same Dr. Jones of the doomed Jones Animal Hospital that West Hollywood just voted to demolish in favor of the Melrose Triangle development project). Although it was intended as a final resting place for Hollywood's animal kingdom, it has provided consolation and a place for bereavement for many other families – and continues to provide funeral services for new burials today, but also a supportive community for grieving, with occasional candlelight vigils.

Despite those 40,000-plus animals interred (including a number of unmarked graves), reportedly they're not running out of room anytime soon.

And yes, you guessed it: it's also haunted.