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Wilshire Boulevard Temple and the Warner Murals: Celebrating 150 Years
by Tom Teicholz ; photography by Tom Bonner

Although this book was released in 2013, because of SAH/SCC’s lovely Members’ Celebration at Wilshire Boulevard Temple last year—and because the book, like the restoration, is absolutely stunning—we’re reviewing it now.

This is a rich historical document of the story of Jewish worship in Los Angeles that follows the impressive congregation (including many Hollywood moguls—then and now) on its journey to the perfect home. An early chapter chronicles the beginnings, when services were held at the rabbi’s home, and continues through the building of Wilshire Boulevard Temple (Abraham A. Adelman, S. Tilden Norton, David C. Allison, 1929), and the congregation’s official name change in 1937 to match that of the building. Succeeding chapters discuss the spiritual, civic, and political role of the temple in LA Jewish life.

In the late 1920s, Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin spearheaded the new building, which would move the then 67-year-old Congregation B’nai B’rith from downtown LA (Ninth and Hope Streets Temple, A.M. Edelman, 1896) to mid-Wilshire. Because of his prescient observation that “a society whose attention was increasingly fractured and beset by modernity would become increasingly visual-centric and image driven,” we have the remarkable Warner Murals by Hugo Ballin.

For art and architecture fans, in particular, the chapters interspersed are a real treat. Sumptuous, bronze-edged pages are filled with contemporary photographs by noted architectural photographer Tom Bonner. These include extreme close-ups of the legendary murals, without which, the author acknowledges he “could not have written about the Warner Murals in the detail that I have.”

There is much emphasis on the murals in the book, as they are epic in scale and depiction, and connect “the congregants to the Jewish people’s history and tradition and to their sad, poetic, and yet triumphant procession from the biblical era to their arrival in the New World.” In the center of the book, a spread of thebimahopens to a double gatefold—as a rabbi would open the ark—to reveal a 360-degree view of the murals. There’s even a reproduction of Ballin’s original contract with the Temple ($25,000, plus 10% of contractor’s fees).

Ten years after the 1998 opening of a popular westside campus, the Wilshire building showed its neglect when a large piece of plaster fell from the ceiling. This prompted the restoration, which got underway after three years of planning and fundraising. Levin & Associates was hired as the architect, having conducted successful restorations of the Bradbury Building, Wiltern Theater, and Griffith Observatory, among other LA landmarks. “Every aspect of the building suffered from deferred maintenance,” noted Brenda Levin, FAIA, upon first inspection.

Levin writes a personal essay in the book—“Wilshire Boulevard Temple: From the Heart”—that details the 10+ years of work, from initial surveys to final construction. She discusses the process and complexity of historic restoration and shows photos of conservators and specialists working on valued details. “I cannot describe,” she concludes, “as either a congregant or as an architect with three decades of architectural practice, the profound personal significance and sense of pride I feel as we complete the restoration of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. I can only say that this has been a blessing that will be with me all my days.”

Thanks to this richly illustrated and deeply researched book, the story is available to us for the rest of our days.

"ORO Editions; hardcover; 180 pages; $36.

 

 

 

 
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