Honoring the Past; Embracing the Future
In 1921, a plot of land on Wilshire and Hobart was bought and, as as the old adage goes, the rest is history.
At the time, Wilshire Boulevard was a fairly new boulevard and Mid-Wilshire was dubbed the “Fifth Avenue of the West,” lined with department stores and parking lots.
Rabbi Edgar Magnin had an ambitious vision to build a grand sanctuary – a vision that eventually became a reality with the help of movie-making moguls such as Louis B. Mayer of MGM, Carl Laemmle of Universal, and the Warner Brothers.
Modeled after the Pantheon, the synagogue was built in under 18 months for approximately $1.5 million, completely financed by the temple’s 700-member congregation.
Nearly a century later, with construction of Audrey Irmas Pavilion underway, Rabbi Steven Z. Leder and three members of the Pavilion's Architect Selection Committee (Steven Romick, Erika Glazer and Steve Roth) are contemplating the past and considering the future. Recently, the four of them got together to discuss what will be Wilshire Boulevard Temple's newest building, Audrey Irmas Pavilion, and what it means to be a good ancestor.
“I’ll bet my last dollar that when the plans for the sanctuary were revealed, I am sure that a bunch of people said, ‘Oh it’s so dramatic, it’s so expensive. Can’t we do something more modest?’” said Rabbi Leder, while sitting in the balcony of the Magnin Sanctuary. “And aren’t we glad that they held their ground and chose to be great?”
History is, yet again, in the making.
The Audrey Irmas Pavilion, much like the Magnin Sanctuary, can be summed up by the idiom: Go big or go home.
If the Magnin Sanctuary is an homage to history with its Byzantine-Romanesque architecture, then the Pavilion is an imaginative leap into the future. There are no nuances about the Pavilion; it is 55,000 square feet of architectural modernity.
Juried by a hand-selected committee, the architect selection process for the Audrey Irmas Pavilion started in 2014 and took about ten months. Initially, 25 architectural firms submitted designs. After much deliberation, the Committee made their decision in May 2015. “It was tough because they were all pretty magnificent and beautiful and spectacular, but we also had a lot of needs,” said Erika Glazer. Architect Rem Koolhaas of OMA addressed those needs, so, for Glazer, picking Koolhaas “was a no-brainer."
When Koolhaas’ design for the Audrey Irmas Pavilion was unveiled during a committee meeting, “It was like a concert, everyone got their selfie cameras out," Steve Roth reminisced.
The first thing that Steven Romick noticed about the trapezoidal design was how the pavilion was designed to lean away from the Sanctuary. “It allowed the sanctuary to stand alone and allowed it to be framed," he said.
For Glazer, the building reminded her of a pyramid. “It was a strong enough building that could hold its own against the synagogue,” she said. “Oh,” she added, “and the rooftop was everything. Nobody else had taken that into consideration because the view from here is amazing.” Glazer is referring to a rooftop sky garden with panoramic views that soar from the Downtown skyline to the Santa Monica mountains.
With a projected completion date set for early 2021, the Audrey Irmas Pavilion is already starting to take form; concrete is being poured, facades are being manufactured, and steel beams are being installed. Sitting in the nearly 100-year-old sanctuary is a surreal moment for Romick. "We're in a sanctuary that somebody else built...a group of people took it upon themselves, the responsibility to do something for their community that was not just to serve them in their time, but to serve the generations that followed," he marveled.
In addition to the generous gift of Audrey Irmas, Romick, Roth, and Glazer have each invested their time and financial resources into making this Pavilion a reality. When asked why they felt the need to support the building of the Pavilion, Romick responded, "If not me, then who?" It's the same question that a group of congregants asked themselves a century ago when our sanctuary was being built; years from now, when Wilshire Boulevard Temple continues to expand its legacy, the same question will be asked again.
"We don't think of ourselves as ancestors," said Rabbi Leder. "But we are, just not yet."
For more information about the Audrey Irmas Pavilion, go to https://audreyirmaspavilion.org/