Table of Contents

The Jews of Los Angeles: Urban Pioneers

Los Angeles Jewry - A Chronology

By Reva Clar

 

All Rights Reserved.

With Permission of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California

 

1840-1850

The admission of California to the Union in 1850 engendered a long list of "firsts," many of which were originated by the pioneer Jewish community of Los Angeles.

The first Jew to reach the pueblo of La Reina de Los Angeles was Jacob Frankfort, a merchant tailor who arrived in 1941 with the Rowland-Workman party. By 1850 when Los Angeles was incorporated as a city and the first United States Census was taken, eight Jewish young men were listed, all of whom resided in Bell's Row at Aliso and Los Angeles Streets, now the site of a Federal Building.

One of them, Morris L. Goodman, was elected to the first City Council in 1850, while another, Arnold Jacobi, became a Councilman in 1853. Goodman became the founding Noble Grand of the first Odd Fellows Lodge in Los Angeles, organized in 1855. His cousin, Maurice Kremer, was elected Treasurer of Los Angeles County in 1859 and later, served as a County Supervisor, Councilman, and also as City Clerk. Kremer was a member of the Board of Education for many years.

Reaching the city in 1853, Harris Newmark, later noted as author of the renowned autobiography, My Sixty Years in Southern California, was influential throughout the years in the growth of Los Angeles. With the arrival of his uncle, Joseph Newmark, in 1854, Los Angeles Jewry had its first lay religious leader and certified shochet, who served as the community's rabbi until 1862.

The Hebrew Benevolent Society was founded in 1854 with Samuel Labatt, an American-born Sephardic (Spanish or Portuguese origin) Jew, as its first president. Another Sephard, Solomon Nunes Carvalho, an artist and photographer who had been a member of John C. Fremont's fifth expedition, played an important role in establishing the society, the first organized charitable agency in Los Angeles. To fulfill the religious, philanthropic and social needs of the pioneer Jewish Angelenos, the Hebrew Benevolent Society sponsored religious services, secured from city officials a sacred burial site, provided for Jewish funeral rites, gave charity to destitute Jews and gentiles and raised funds to assist the Jews in the Holy Land. It still functions to the present time, known now as the Jewish Family Service of the Federation-Council of greater Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles, Carvalho painted the portrait of Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor, and was later noted for his famous portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

By 1855 the Benevolent Society had dedicated a Jewish cemetery in Chavez Ravine, just south of the modern Dodgers Stadium. The burial ground was replaced in 1902 by Congregation B'nai B'rith's Home of Peace Cemetery on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles.

 

1860

On July 17, 1862, Congregation B'nai B'rith (now Wilshire Boulevard Temple) was formerly organized by Joseph Newmark and Moritz Morris with Michel Goldwater as founding Vice-President. Rabbi Abraham Wolf Edelman was called from San Francisco to become its minister and thus the first full-time Jewish clergyman in Southern California. At this time there were approximately 200 Jews in the city. Although a number of them favored the South, on April 19, 1865, the Jews of Los Angeles marched in the funeral cortege arranged by the Mayor and City Council in mourning for President Lincoln.

During the 1860s, Philip Sichel, one of the original Jewish settlers, served on the City Council and as a Los Angeles County Supervisor. In 1862 Myer Joseph Newmark was elected City Attorney, the first Jew to hold that office. Eugene Meyer, a French Jew, was instrumental in organizing a Los Angeles branch of the Alliance Israelite Universelle in 1868, the first Jewish community relations effort in Southern California. He, with Solomon Lazard, was one of the incorporators of Los Angeles City Water Company.

When Los Angeles suffered a smallpox epidemic in 1863, the Hebrew Benevolent Society's Committee on Charity, headed by Solomon Lazard, allotted $150 of the society's funds for the relief of the indigent sick and assumed the responsibility of collecting and distributing additional funds to aid the impoverished victims, many of them Mexicans or Indians.

From the 1850s numerous Los Angeles Jews served on the Los Angeles County Grand Jury. Between 1865 and 1872, the various grand juries included fourteen Jewish members, with Samuel Prager serving as Foreman in 1866. Another Jewish Foreman was Herman W. Hellman, who held that office in 1906.

Anticipating the needs of the general community, Mrs. Joseph (Rosa) Newmark helped to raise funds for St. Vincent's College, the first school of higher education in Los Angeles, renamed Loyola University in 1918. On a more personal note, Rosa was one of the first hostesses in Los Angeles to serve ice cream at a social event. For Passover of 1859, Louis Mesmer, a devout Catholic, was the first baker in Los Angeles to make Matzoth, under the strict ritualistic supervision of Joseph Newmark.

On November 6, 1869, Henry Wartenberg, a prominent Jewish Leader and District Representative of the Odd Fellows Lodge in Southern California, was elected first president of Los Angeles' first volunteer Fire Department.

In 1867, with all Jewish businesses closed on Yom Kippur, a Los Angeles newspaper reported that "so many of our stores were shut, that it looked like Sunday in a New England village."

 

1870

A study of the 1870 Federal Census in Los Angeles revealed that of the city's 5,728 citizens, 330 individuals, or 5.76 per cent were Jewish. By comparison, the Jewish residents of New York City at that time numbered slightly over five per cent of the general population.

Ever ready to render aid beyond the borders of their community, Los Angeles Jews, who had sent funds to their coreligionists in Palestine in the 1850s and to Moroccan Jews and the Southern Relief Fund in the '60s, collected money in the 1870s for the victims of the Chicago Fire and the Franco-Prussian War.

Jewish affiliation in the 1850s with fraternal organizations such as the Masons and Odd Fellows broadened in 1870 with the installation of a Kesher Shel Barzel (Band of Iron) Lodge, organized by Rabbi Edelman of Congregation B'nai B'rith. Composed of Polish Jews, this was the first branch of a national Jewish fraternal organization established in Los Angeles. The same year marked the beginning, through the efforts of Rosa Newmark, of the ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society, the first women's charitable group in Los Angeles, with Louisa (Mrs. Wolf) Kalisher its founding president and Virginia (Mrs. Benjamin) Katz and Ada (Mrs. Samuel) Hellman among its dedicated leaders.

By 1874 with the founding of Orange Lodge No. 224 of B'nai B'rith, another local branch of a national Jewish fraternity was formed in Los Angeles, with its membership largely of German background. A second B'nai B'rith group, Semi-Tropic Lodge, was established in 1883. Rabbi Edelman served four terms as Master of Los Angeles Masonic Lodge No. 42, while such pioneers as Jacob Elias, Samuel Meyer, Joseph Newmark and Samuel Prager were officers of this first Masonic Lodge in its formative years.

Jewish religious education was well supervised by Rabbi Edelman, who in 1870 conducted the first Confirmation in Southern California. In 1873 his congregation's Sunday School was formally established with the help of Miss Rose Goldsmith of San Francisco's Reform Congregation Emanu-El. That year marked the dedication of Los Angeles' first synagogue, erected by Congregation B'nai B'rith on Fort Street (now Broadway) between 2nd and 3rd Streets, the site now marked by a commemorative plaque.

A marriage ceremony of special significance was performed by Rabbi Edelman in 1875 when Miss Bertie Greenbaum, reputed to be the first Jewish girl born in Los Angeles, became the bride of Isaac Norton. Their marriage contract was signed by Isaias W. Hellman and Harris Newmark.

Conrad Jacoby founded the Sud Californische Post in 1874, for a long period the only German paper on the Pacific Coast. The Post, with mergers, continued for over seventy-five years.

In 1878 Emil Harris became the first Jew ever to hold the position of Chief of Police of Los Angeles, Earlier in the decade he was an organizer of the Fire Department, the Turnverein and the Young Men's Hebrew Association. Harris was captain of the Turnverein's rifle club, with Conrad Jacoby as his lieutenant. In 1874 he was one of the principal law officers responsible for the capture of the notorious bandit, Tiburcio Vasquez. A less serious but more amusing law enforcement matter was the request presented to the City Council by Rabbi Edelman for permission "to shoot the pigeons swarming about the synagogue." The Council referred the matter to the Chief of Police "with power to act."

Isaias W. Hellman, founder of the Farmers and Merchants Bank, joined with a Catholic and a Protestant in 1879 to donate the land on which the University of Southern California was built. Hellman at this period was selected by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise as his representative in Los Angeles to solicit and receive funds for the projected Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. He owned the Cucamonga vineyard and the Alamitos Rancho, the largest stock ranch in Los Angeles County. Hellman's cousin Isaiah M. Hellman, was elected Treasurer of the City of Los Angeles in 1877.

 

1880s

The completion of the Sante Fe Railroad in 1885 set off a land boom in Southern California. Long established Jewish businesses were thriving and expanding. In 1881 Asher Hamburger opened the People's Store on Main Street, which eventually grew into the May Company at 8th and Hill Streets. Isaias W. Hellman, who in 1881 was appointed a Regent of the University of California, established a street railway in 1883 that in later years became part of Henry E. Huntington's Pacific Electric Railroad Company; while Herman Silver, who became Treasurer of the Santa Fe Railroad Company, with a cable car line to Boyle Heights. Silver was President of the City Council in the following decade and served also as President of Congregation B'nai B'rith, but his campaign for election as Mayor of Los Angeles ended unsuccessfully.

In 1883 Jacob Loew bought the Capitol Milling Company, still in operation today. Harris Newmark and Charles Stern were proprietors of a winery and distillery on the bank of the Los Angeles River; Moritz Morris a Los Angeles City Councilman and co-founder of Congregation B'nai B'rith, owned a vineyard at Main and Pico. During the 1880s, 1200 acres of the Repettto Ranch which had been acquired by Kaspare Cohn and Harris Newmark, were subdivided and the town site of Montebello was laid out. Another of Newmark's holdings, Rancho Santa Anita was sold later to E.J. "Lucky" Baldwin.

Eugene Germain, a native of Switzerland who had arrived in the city via the Isthmus of Panama in 1870, was the founder of the Germain Fruit Company which handled wines, nursery stock and seeds and operated a fruit packing plant. Germain became the first president of the Los Angeles Board of Trade, organized in 1883, and served two terms in the capacity. He was one of the first Vice-Presidents of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and President of the Stock and Produce Exchange of Los Angeles. An active and respected participant in the city's social and fraternal life, Germain served as Treasurer of the Los Angeles Masonic Lodge No. 42 in the 1890s, belonged to the Odd Fellows and the Jonathan Club and was a charter member of the California Club. In 1893 Germain was appointed by President Grover Cleveland for a four-year term as United States Consul at Zurich, Switzerland. Eugene Meyer was the Consular Agent for France in Southern California and was succeeded by Leon Loeb, another French-born Los Angeles Jew.

Supplanting Rabbi Edelman, Rabbi Emanuel Schreiber was elected rabbi of Congregation B'nai B'rith in 1885 and was instrumental in effecting the congregation's change from an Orthodox to a Reform body. Schreiber rallied the churches and existing charitable institutions, as well as his own congregation, to form the Associated Charities, which, although of short duration, was the forerunner of the present United Way.

 

1890s

In the 1890s, the arrival of large numbers of newcomers from the Midwest changed Los Angeles' population from a homogeneous mixture of foreign and ethnic groups to one dominated by the social and political values of this largely Protestant majority, thereby ending the pleasant congeniality of the pioneer days. When social exclusion became a fact of life for Los Angeles Jews, they incorporated their own Concordia Club in 1891 and later built an impressive clubhouse on Figueroa Street. The club's Visitors' Register, with entries from May, 1891, to December, 1917, is one of the many colorful items of memorabilia in the Jewish Community Library's Julius Bisno Collection.

From 1889 to 1895, Abraham Blum, a French-born Jew, served as rabbi of congregation B'nai B'rith. When President Benjamin Harrison visited Los Angeles in 1891, Rabbi Blum, in an interfaith and uniquely Jewish gesture, sent the President a box of matzoth.

Led by Mrs. Maurice (Matilda) Kremer, the Jewish women of Los Angeles founded the Home of Peace Society in 1891 for the purpose of supervising the maintenance and beautification of the cemetery.

As Congregation B'nai B'rith became progressively more Reform in its observances, an Orthodox group, Beth Israel, was established and by 1892 had built its first synagogue, known as the "Olive Street Shule," on Bunker Hill. Now located on Beverly Boulevard, the congregation is still serving the community.

At this period Jews of the city were in every facet of business life. Although the depression of 1893 affected all adversely, by 1894 Max Meyberg, proprietor of the Los Angeles Gas & Electric Fixture Manufacturing Company, originated the idea of La Fiesta de Los Angeles which helped to aid the business community's recovery from the slump.  Meyberg was director-general of the fiesta, in which many Jewish merchants had floats.

By 1896 Congregation B'nai B'rith erected a new synagogue at the northeast corner of 9th and Hope Streets. Its architect was Abram M. Edelman, son of Rabbi Edelman, and the designer also of the congregation's impressive building, which was dedicated in 1929 as the Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Herman W. Frank, of the Harris and Frank clothing firm, served as President of the Merchants' and Manufacturers' Association  from 1896 to 1899. Becoming a member of the Los Angeles Board of Education in 1904, Frank served as its President form 1911 to 1915.

An important event for the Jewish community occurred in 1897 when the first Jewish newspaper, the B'nai B'rith Messenger, was founded by Lionel L. Edwards with Victor Harris as editor. It was taken over in 1929 by the late Joseph Jonah Cummins who functioned as its Editor-Publisher until his death in February, 1980. Today Los Angeles has four Jewish publications: the Messenger, Heritage, the Los Angeles Community Bulletin and Israel Today.

The first permanent theatre orchestra in Los Angeles was organized in 1898 at the Orpheum Theatre by Abraham F. Frankenstein, who was its musical director for over thirty years. He organized bands for the Los Angeles Police and Fire Departments and the Al Malaikah Shrine Band, and in addition served on the Fire Commission of the City of Los Angeles. Frankenstein in 1913 composed the music for the song, "I Love You, California," which by a resolution adopted by the California Legislature in 1951, became the official state song of California.

Establishment of the textile manufacturing firm of Cohn-Goldwater & Company (Later Cole of California) in 1899 marked the beginning of California's huge sportswear industry with its widespread influence on national fashions in later years. The firm's factory, built in 1909 at 12th and San Julian Streets, was the city's first modern factory building. It was designated Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument No. 119 in 1973 and is now used as a storage facility.

 

1900-1920

The 2,500 Jews in Los Angeles at the turn of the century multiplied to 20,000 by the World War I period. An increasingly large number of Jewish immigrants reached the city: the hordes of escapees from the persecutions and hardships of Eastern Europe, workers from the Eastern United States who sought employment in the developing garment and sportswear industries and the new motion picture business, and the health-seekers.

Sephardic Jews from Rhodes, Salonika, Aleppo and Turkey came to Southern California, formed their own congregations and established themselves in business. Congregation Tifereth Israel dedicated their synagogue building on Santa Barbara Avenue in 1932. At the present time the new Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel is located on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, the Sephardic Hebrew Cemter in Ladera Heights.

Sinai Congregation, the city's first Conservative body, was founded in 1906 by Rabbi Isidore Myers, a Polish Jew who had been educated in Australia. Their first synagogue was erected in 1909 at 12th and Valencia Streets, the second, built in 1925, was situated at 4th and New Hampshire, both buildings designed by architect S. Tilden Norton, a native Jewish Angeleno. The latter edifice, like Wilshire Boulevard Temple, has been designated a historical building by the Cultural Heritage Board of Los Angeles. Today's Sinai Temple is on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood.

Early in the 1900s two leaders of Congregation B'nai B'rith were appointed to the Los Angeles Board of Library Commissioners: Siegfried G. Marshutz, who served from 1905 to 1909, and Henry Newmark, 1909 to 1916.

Zionism first became a part of Los Angeles Jewish life in 1902 when the Young Zionist Society and the Ahavath Zion (lovers of Zion) were organized. These and other Zionist societies gradually took over much of the aid to Jews abroad that had been the responsibility of the Benevolent Society. Los Angeles' first Hadassah chapter was founded in 1916 in direct cooperation with Henrietta Szold. A Southern California branch of the National Council of Jewish Women was already established in 1909.

Increased Jewish immigration to Los Angeles brought an ever-growing need for social services to care for the ill and indigent. In 1902 the Kaspare Cohn Hospital was established in a home at 1443 Carroll Avenue, donated by its namesake. Originally planned as a sanitarium for tubercular patients, it became a general hospital when city ordinances forbade the treatment of tuberculosis victims within the city limits. From 1905 - 1910, when a larger hospital was constructed on Stephenson Avenue (now Whittier Boulevard) in Boyle Heights, Dr. Sarah Vasen served as the institution's first Superintendent and resident physician, thus becoming the first Jewish woman doctor to practice in Los Angeles and the first paid professional to be engaged by the Jewish Community for its welfare programs. In 1930 the hospital moved to a new location in Hollywood and was renamed Cedars of Lebanon. A merger in 1961 combined this institution with the Mount Sinai Hospital (originally the Bikur Cholim Society) to form the huge Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, now located on Beverly Boulevard.

The Jewish Consumptive Relief Society that began in 1912 became today's City of Hope at Duarte.

By 1911 the efforts of Rabbi Sigmund Hecht to organize the various Jewish Charitable groups into a single body were successfully culminated when the Federation of Jewish Charities came into existence to provide free loans, homes for orphans and the aged, plus educational, recreational and counseling services for the Jewish Community. Its first headquarters were located at 610 Temple Street in a small building shared with the Educational Alliance (later the Jewish Alliance), a cultural group for Jewish Young people which was supervised by three Los Angeles members of the National council of Jewish Women: Mrs. Jules Kauffman, Mrs. Berthold Baruch and Mrs. Joseph Y. Baruh, the daughter of Rabbi Hecht. When the Jewish population centers shifted to the south and west of Temple Street, the Federation moved in a similar direction to more spacious quarters at 939 South Broadway.

Los Angeles Jews served in the Army during World War I, while at home the Jewish Organizations gave support to fund-raising. Red Cross activities in the city worked vigorously to collect monies for Palestinian and European Jewry and raised $40,000 in 1916.

The influx of Eastern European immigrants brought a renaissance of the Yiddish language to Southern California. Poets and writers produced important works in Yiddish; dramatic, cultural and political clubs flourished; folkschules and labor unions were established. Orthodox Congregation Talmud Torah constructed a synagogue in 1912 on Breed Street in Boyle Heights, where services continue to be held.

When the officers of Congregation B'nai B'rith voted in 1915 to engage an associate rabbi to share the many duties of Rabbi Hecht, their choice was Edgar Fogel Magnin. The wisdom of their selection was verified in the summer of 1980 when Mayor Thomas Bradley, together with civic and religious leaders of Los Angeles, joined in celebrating Rabbi Magnin's 90th birthday and 65th year as the illustrious leader of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

 

1920-1940

With the flowering and proliferation of silent motion pictures in the 1920s, the attention of the world centered on Hollywood and its actors, directors, artists and technicians, many of them Jewish who worked in the studios founded by Jewish pioneer producers such as William Selig, Carl Laemmle, Jesse Lasky, Samuel Goldwyn and Adolph Zukor. Motivated by his ever-present concern for the welfare for the general community, Rabbi Hecht appeared before the City Council in 1921 to voice his firm opposition to motion picture censorship in Los Angeles, for he felt that such action would "infringe upon the rights guaranteed to every American citizen."

A popular star of this period was Carmel Myers, the daughter of Rabbi Isidore Myers. She was a member of Congregation Beth El of Hollywood and a generous and enthusiastic supported of charitable and philanthropic projects of the Los Angeles Jewish community. Her marriage in 1930 to Ralph Blum, the Los Angeles-born son of Rabbi Abraham Blum, united the scions of two of the city's early rabbis.

Two of Hollywood's best known landmarks, Grauman's Egyptian and Chinese Theatres, were designed and built during the '20s by Joshua H. Marks, who also originated the idea of placing stars in the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard to honor members of the motion picture industry. Marks designed and built the Santa Anita Race Track, the May Company's Crenshaw store and portions of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Disney Studios. Joshua's brother, David X. Marks, was a leader in establishing the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera association and was its Treasurer and Honorary President for life. During World War I, he served as a flying officer of the Royal Canadian Flying Corps. David donated funds to many Southern California institutions of higher learning. The tennis stadium at the University of Southern California is named in his honor.

By the 1920s the once-fashionable Concordia Club had lost its attraction for Jewish society and was replaced by the Hillcrest Country Club, which served the needs of the Jewish elite who were excluded from the city's golf and social clubs. Membership at the Hillcrest involved philanthropic as well as social and recreational activities. Samuel Newmark was a founder and the club's first president.

The Federation of Jewish Charities, organized in 1911, became the Federation of Jewish Welfare Organizations when its charitable functions were gradually replaced by systematic welfare campaigns. During the decade of the Great Depression, additional Jewish philanthropic organizations came into being. The United Jewish Community, founded in 1933 by the Federation leadership, was incorporated in 1937 as the Los Angeles Jewish Council. Soon afterwards this organization became the Jewish Community Council and assumed jurisdiction over the United Jewish Welfare Fund that had been reactivated in 1934 by the Federation's directors as the single annual public solicitation for local and overseas philanthropy. Another body, the Jewish Community Committee, with its purpose directed toward combating discrimination and anti-Semitism, was the forerunner of today's Community Relations Committee, the Jewish community's key defense agency.

Conditions in Nazi Germany brought growing numbers of refugees to Los Angeles during the 1930s, their needs and resettlement met and supervised by the federation's social welfare, health and philanthropic agencies. The arrival of the artists, musicians, scientists, educators, and religious leaders driven from Europe enriched and stimulated the city's motion picture industry, universities and congregations.

Home

Copyright November 2002. All Rights Reserved

Please send your comments, corrections, suggestions and research contributions to nholden@interserv.com