It's the rare house of worship that has a richer, more storied history than Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which was founded as Temple B'nai Brith during the early years of the Lincoln administration. What follows are some of the more notable chapters of our story.
Solomon Carvalho, an artist and photographer with John C. Fremont’s exploratory expedition of the West, visits Los Angeles, encouraging local Jews to form a Hebrew Benevolent Society. In July, a group of 30 Jewish men found the Society; the following year, they receive a deed from the city to establish Beth Shalom, the first Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles, on land they purchased in Chavez Ravine near present-day Dodger Stadium.
Joseph Newmark, a lay rabbi and founder of the synagogue B’nei Jeshurun in New York City, moves to Los Angeles.
High Holy Days are celebrated in a variety of locations, including Newmark’s home near what is today Olvera Street. Eventually Judge Ygnacio Sepulveda allows Jews to use the city’s only courtroom for High Holy Day services.
Rabbi Newmark organizes Congregation B’nai B’rith as an Orthodox temple, the first synagogue in Los Angeles and the forerunner to Wilshire Boulevard Temple. He serves as president.
Rabbi Abraham Wolfe Edelman, born in Kutno, Poland, had been serving a congregation in
San Francisco as cantor when he was engaged to lead as Rabbi and also serves as cantor, teacher, Sunday School headmaster, shochet, mohel, and peacemaker, helping Jewish communities from Santa Barbara to San Diego and as far East as Arizona.
The congregation forms a sisterhood, the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent society, with Louisa Kalisher as president and Newmark’s wife, Rosa, as vice-president. Thirty women signed on with dues of $3 a year.
Rabbi Edelman performs the first confirmation in Southern California.
The Congregation dedicates the Ezra F. Kysor-designed Fort Street Temple, a gothic downtown structure at what is now Broadway between Second and Third Streets, which The Los Angeles Star called “the most superior church edifice in Southern California.” Congregation president Isaias Hellman, one of California’s greatest financiers, receives a golden trowel, which is still in the Temple’s collection. Hellman founded Farmers and Merchants Bank (today, Wells Fargo) and helped Harrison Gray Otis buy the Los Angeles Times.
Congregation members are deeply involved in the life of Los Angeles: Bernard Cohn as Mayor Pro-Tem; Herman Hellman as City Custodian and City Treasurer; Emil Harris as Chief of the Los Angeles Police; Henry Wartenberg as the first president of the Los Angeles Volunteer Fire Department; Maurice Kremer as a member of the Board of Education; and Solomon Lazard as the first president of the original Chamber of Commerce and a director of the city’s first water company.
Joseph Newmark dies.
Rabbi Edelman retires. Emmanuel Schreiber, an Austrian born rabbi who had led Jewish communities in Mobile, Alabama and Denver, Colorado replaces him. He introduces the Jastrow prayer book and encourages congregants to adopt “the Reform code.” Schreiber also had Congregation B’nai Brith join with several churches to form The Associated Charities, a precursor to the United Way.
Wearing a hat or head covering during services is abandoned.
Schreiber leaves Los Angeles. Rabbi Abraham Blum, a native of France who was serving a congregation in Galveston, Texas, becomes spiritual leader, leading the congregation in a progressive fashion. He officiates at one of the first conversions to Judaism in Los Angeles.
Rabbi Blum moves to New York to become Jewish Chaplain for the city’s police department. He is succeeded by Moses G. Solomon, a Polish-born rabbi serving in Youngstown, Ohio. The congregation, which then had 94 members, adopts the American Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union Prayer Book and purchases a site, at Ninth and Hope Streets, for the congregation’s new temple.
The new synagogue is dedicated before a capacity crowd of Jews and Christians. The sanctuary features the largest chandelier in the city.
Rabbi Solomon resigns and is succeeded by
Rabbi Sigmund Hecht, a native of Hungary.
Congregation President Kaspare Cohn donates 30 acres of land in Boyle Heights to be used as a congregational cemetery, called “Home of Peace.” Cohn also donates land to the Hebrew Benevolent Society to establish the Kaspare Cohn Hospital, which opened in 1902. It later merges with Cedars of Lebanon Hospital to become Cedars-Sinai hospital.
Rabbi Hecht organizes women’s and youth programs at the Temple.
The congregation gives women full membership and voting privileges.
Now approaching 300 members, the congregation appoints an associate rabbi, Edgar Magnin, a San Francisco native who becomes the congregation’s first U.S.-born rabbi.
At the time, the congregation is strictly reform. A trumpet is sounded rather than a shofar; no head coverings or tallit are worn. There are no b’nei mitzvah, only confirmation ceremonies at the end of 10th grade or age 16.
In a “move to alleviate the tenderest feelings of mourners,” the entire congregation rises during the recitation of the Kaddish prayer, a tradition that continues to this day.
Rabbi Hecht retires, with Rabbi Magnin becoming Senior Rabbi.
The congregation authorizes the purchase of land at Wilshire and Hobart Boulevards as the site for a new temple.
Rabbi Hecht dies at 75. Rabbi Magnin invites
Maxwell H. Dubin to become associate rabbi. Rabbi Dubin had served with the Canadians during World War I, joining the British forces of General Allenby in the conquest of Palestine and Syria, entering Jerusalem with Allenby’s troops.
Rabbi Magnin establishes the University Religious Conference at UCLA to examine different faiths.
The Temple at 3663 Wilshire Boulevard is dedicated in a three-day ceremony over June 7, 8, and 9. The domed structure is inspired by the great cathedrals of Europe and built in a Byzantine and Romanesque style. The interior is patterned after the Pantheon in Rome.
The interior murals by studio artist Hugo Ballin are donated by brothers Jack, Harry, and Abraham Warner in memory of their brothers Milton and Samuel.
Film executive Irving Thalberg donates the cost of painting the Shema prayer that frames the oculus and the cost of the open eye at the center of the dome. Universal founder Carl Laemmle donates the bronze Havdalah spice-box inspired chandeliers; Louis B. Mayer of MGM donates the east and west stained-glass windows. A Kimball organ is donated by Ben Meyer and Milton Getz of Union Bank.
Floor vents are installed above basement fans blowing over blocks of ice to cool the sanctuary seating area.
Rabbi Magnin has a weekly Sunday radio program broadcast across the country.
It was in the mid-1930's when the congregation officially began doing business as Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
Rabbi Alfred Wolf, one of five German-born divinity students who received a scholarship in 1936 to study at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio joins the Temple. After serving in Alabama, he was sent to California by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations to help establish new congregations and played a role in the birth of 18 congregations, including Leo Baeck Temple, Temple Beth Hillel, and Temple Isaiah.
Rabbi Wolf organizes the Temple’s first summer Jewish camp program, which 40 attend in Pacific Palisades.
Rabbis Magnin and Wolf and Temple president George Piness find a camp site of 110 acres in Malibu, which fellow congregant Harry S. Mier purchases and donates in honor of his lifelong friend and Temple member, Haskel (Hess) Kramer.
Rabbi Magnin begins writing newspaper columns for The LA Mirror and later for the Herald-Examiner. The columns are distributed nationally.
Rabbi Wolf is named Chairman of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations during the Watts riots and leads efforts to heal the city.
The Temple purchases an additional 80 acres adjoining Camp Hess Kramer and builds a separate facility, Gindling Hilltop Camp.
Rabbi Magnin delivers the Inauguration Day Prayer for President Richard M. Nixon. Rabbi Wolf co-founds the Inter-Religious Council of Southern California.
Rabbi Harvey Fields, a former staffer at Camp Hess Kramer and UCLA student, joins the congregation as an assistant rabbi after serving congregations in Boston, New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Toronto.
After serving the congregation for 69 years, Rabbi Magnin dies at 94. Rabbi Wolf succeeds him as senior rabbi
Rabbi Karen Fox joins the Temple in January as the congregation's first woman rabbi. Rabbi Wolf retires from the Temple to become founding director of the Skirball Institute on American Values of the American Jewish Committee. He is succeeded by Rabbi Fields.
Rabbi Wolf is chosen to represent the Jewish community during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Los Angeles.
The Temple hires Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, a Minnesotan who attended Northwestern University and Trinity College at Oxford before receiving his master’s degree in Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union-College-Jewish Institute of religion.
Wilshire Boulevard Temple dedicates the
Steve Breuer Conference Center in Malibu.
After the Los Angeles riots, Rabbi Fields and Reverend Cecil “Chip” Murray lead the “Hands Across LA” civic demonstration, a 10-mile march from the mid-Wilshire district to south Los Angeles.
The Temple purchases westside property for the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus at Olympic Boulevard and Barrington Avenue.
The Irmas campus opens, including The Mann Family Early Childhood Center.
Don Gurney joins Wilshire Boulevard Temple as its first official cantor.
Brawerman Elementary School West opens at the Irmas Campus.
Rabbi Fields retires and is succeeded by Rabbi Leder.
Rabbi Wolf dies at 88.
The Erika J. Glazer Early Childhood Center opens at the Irmas campus.
Brawerman Elementary School East opens.
A two-year restoration begins on the historic Wilshire Boulevard building as architect Brenda Levin leads a renovation of every aspect of the main sanctuary. The building is seismic retrofitted; air conditioning is installed; the bimah is made handicap accessible. The Warner murals are restored, and new lighting is installed to showcase them to powerful effect. The Kimball Pipe Organ is dismantled for maintenance and reassembled.
On September 29, the Magnin Sanctuary reopens as the Temple campus is renamed the Erika J. Glazer Family Campus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The Temple holds a community-wide celebration with several choirs performing and invocations from
Rabbi Leder, as well as from Episcopal, Muslim, and Catholic ministers.
Rabbi Fields dies at 78.
The Temple breaks ground on a new structure along Sixth Street for the Karsh Family Social Service Center, a parking structure, and a rooftop sports complex. Renovation begins on the two existing school buildings.
Renovated school buildings for the Early Childhood Center and Brawerman East with state of the art classrooms open.
Rabbi Leder announces plans for a 55,000-square-foot events center, The Audrey Irmas Pavillon, on the southeast corner of the Glazer campus, to be completed in 2019. Rem Koolhaus is selected as architect.
To help fund the construction Audrey Irmas donates the proceeds from the sale of a Cy Twombly painting, “Untitled New York City.”
The Karsh Family Social Service Center opens, furthering the Temple's longstanding commitment to tikkun olam. The center offers free social services to the greater Koreatown community, including a food pantry, an eye clinic, dental care, and a legal aid center, as well as citizenship classes and literacy programs.
For Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Temple holds a moving public reading of Elie Wiesel’s memoir “Night,” with readers who include Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Rain Pryor, Michael Connolly, Gina Nahai, Eric Roth, Zev Yaroslavsky, Michael Tolkin and Rabbi David Wolpe.
The Rem Koolhaus design for the Audrey Irmas Pavilion is unveiled as the Temple's historic Koreatown neighborhood surges with new real estate development.
Brawerman Elementary School East graduates its first class of Grade 6 students.
#CampNeverStops as Camp Hess Kramer and Camp Gindling Hilltop open for their 67th summer at California State University, Channel Islands after the 2018 Woolsey Fire.
As "Safer at Home" orders take effect during the start of the novel Coronavirus pandemic, Wilshire Boulevard Temple launches WBT@home, an online community for prayer, learning, and connection. The schools also transition to online learning.