Timeline of Jewish History in Los Angeles

Originally published by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles, 2002.

Information from:
Newmark, Harris. Sixty Years in Southern California 1853-1913. NY. 1926.
Vorspan, Max and Gartner, Lloyd. History of the Jews of Los Angeles. Huntington Library. 1970.

Thanks to Wendy Elliott Scheinberg: Timeline of Boyle Heights 1900-1939; to Harriet Rochlin for her insight, her many additions and corrections; to Bob Hattem, JGSLA Archivist.

Jacob Frankfort, a German tailor was perhaps the first Jew to arrive in Los Angeles. He traveled with the Rowland Workman party. Although he appears to have been in Los Angeles again in 1847 and is documented in the 1850 census as living at the Alexander Bell residence, he did not become among the later residents of L.A.
California admitted to the Union.
The U.S. Census recorded 15 blacks, 8 Jews and 2 Chinese residing in Los Angeles County, including Jews Jacob Frankfort, 40; Morris Michaels, 19; Abraham Jacoby, 25; Augustin Wasserman, 24; Felix Bachman, 28; Philip Sochel, 28; Joseph Plumer, 24; Morris Goodman, 24. All are listed as not married. Approximately 1/6th of the 30 natives of Germany in the census were Jews, two Jews were the only natives of Poland.
John P. Jones, one of eight Jews elected to the city council between 1850 and 1875, was chosen president of the council in 1870.
Morris L. Goodman was the first Jewish Councilman in 1850 when the Los Angeles Ayuntamiento became the Los Angeles City Council.
Samuel K. and Joseph Labatt arrived from New Orleans and were the first native born American Jewish adults in Los Angeles. They were merchants of dry goods. They were also the first Sephardic Jews in Los Angeles. Samuel K. Labatt was the first president of the first Jewish organization established in L.A. The brothers opened a store called La Tienda de China, described as the Bon Ton dry goods store of that time.
Solomon Lazard, a Los Angeles merchant, not only served on the Los Angeles City Council in 1853, but also headed the first Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
Salomon Nuñes Carvalho, an artist and photographer, accompanied the explorer John C. Fremont on his fifth and last expedition to California. His memoir: Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West.
July 2, 1854
Joseph Newmark arrived in of Los Angeles and helped found the Hebrew Benevolent Society as the cornerstone of the evolving Jewish community after organizing congregations in New York and St. Louis.
When Los Angeles Jewry recognized the necessity of organizing in order to provide for religious services, a Jewish cemetery and Jewish welfare needs, they called for a meeting for 2 July 1854. At this meeting they formed the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles, the first charitable group to be founded in the city. Samuel K. Labatt as President, Sharles Schachno, Vice President, Jacob Elias, Secretary/Treasurer, and S. Lazard and H. Goldberg, Trustees. Members included residents as far away as San Bernardino until they established their own society in 1861. Samuel K. Labatt was elected president, not only because he had the language facility of a native-born American, but also because he had similar experiences in New Orleans.
Harris Newark famed Los Angeles chronicler (Sixty Years in Southern California 1853-1913 NY:1926) and community leader (and also founder of Montebello). His uncle, Joseph Newmark, a lay rabbi, began conducting the first informal Sabbath services in Los Angeles in 1854. They were among the founders of the Hebrew Benevolent Society that same year.
The first Jewish cemetery site in Los Angeles, the Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery (1855-1910), was established in Chavez Ravine. From the Los Angeles Star, April 14, 1855 it was reported that “proposals will be received on the first day of May, 1855 for the purpose of building a wall to surround the future cemetery (Chavez Ravine).” Note: This is now the site of the Dodger Stadium.
As the first president, Samuel K. Labatt was responsible for local efforts in defending the fair name of Jewry against the 1855 anti-Semitic attack by William Stow in the California State Assembly. He saw to it that the lengthy and effective denunciation of Stow written by his brilliant lawyer brother, Henry J. Labatt of San Francisco, was reprinted in full in the Los Angeles Star of 7 April 1855. Samuel Labatt was thus the first one to undertake Anti-Defamation work in Los Angeles.
A regional drought decimated the herds and brought the end of the cattle boom and the collapse of the cattle economy. The demand dropped and animals began to be brought to Northern California from Missouri and Texas. The rancheros were ruined and lands were lost to creditors, many of whom were Jews.
Founding of Beth-El Congregation. First High Holidays held.
A prolonged flood devastated the Los Angeles area carrying away gardens, homes and vineyards.
Moritz Morris and Joseph Newmark convinced Rabbi Abraham Wolf Edelman to come to Los Angeles from San Francisco to start a congregation. Newmark had previously served as lay rabbi at weddings and for the High Holy Days. The first formal Jewish services were conducted by for the newly formed B’nai B’rith Congregation.
H. M. Cohn and Leopold Harris opened a Kosher meat market.
A smallpox epidemic ravaged Los Angeles, especially the Mexican and Indian population.
A drought occurred in Los Angeles basin lasting three years. At the end of these disasters, residents had fled and the agrarian economy, the pastoral quality of life, had changed forever.
Marked the end of the Civil War.
Louis Lewin, the printer, and Charles Jacoby organized the Pioneer Lot Association which developed the area later known as Boyle Heights.
Aliso Homestead Association.
Federal Census lists Los Angeles total population of 5,728 of which there were 330 Jewish individuals in the city or 5.76% of the total population.
It had taken seven years to form a congregation out of the Hebrew Benevolent Society. The construction of a synagogue took many more years. However, money for a building fund was solicited much earlier. On July 12, 1870, the retiring president of the Congregation, Henry Wartenberg, gave a report of the accomplishments of his tenure to the Los Angeles Star for publication. Published in book form, authored by Norton Stern.
Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society was the first women’s philanthropic organization (led by Rosa Newmark) in Los Angeles.
Banking and the railroad came to Los Angeles.
Forerunner of all social clubs was the Los Angeles Social Club. Social clubs were rapidly expanded in the 1880’s.
Chinese Massacre, during which patrolman Emil Harris tried to protect the Chinese, earning their friendship in the future.
L.A.’s first synagogue. Congregation B’nai B’rith stood from 1872-1895 on Fort St. (now Broadway) between 2nd and 3rd. The congregation’s Wilshire Blvd. Temple was built about 1925, where it remains today.
Depression / “Panic of 1873”
Independent Order of B’nai B’rith began in Los Angeles
Ephrain Greenbaum and his wife established the White House Hotel
David d’Ancona made a brief trip to Los Angeles. He wrote in his diary, “Los Angeles is the Damascus of America.” There is a book written about him by the late Dr. Norton Stern and Rabbi William Kramer.
1877 and 1878.
Emil Harris, born in Prussia, organized the Los Angeles Turnverein, a German social and athletic club. He served as Los Angeles Police Chief.
Bernard Cohn, Jewish politician, served briefly as mayor pro-tem, and was nominated for mayor by the People’s Party. Cohn lost the election but was reelected to the council.
City of Paris, L.A.’s first Jewish-owned department store built in 1880 on the site of the present Grand Central Market. The Victor Clothing Company was on the northeast corner. The Victor family was Jewish.
Electricity came to Los Angeles.
Death of Joseph Newmark. This led to changes in the Orthodox religious practices of the synagogue leading to Reform.
I. W. Hellman became a Regent of the University of California.
The telephone came to L.A.
Arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which enabled L.A. to grow to become the metropolis of the region.
1880 – 1890
Los Angeles boom days.
In the mid-1890’s small proportion of Eastern European Jews began what became an influx of new settlers from the mid-west. After an initial lack of enthusiasm by the older settled Jewish community, B’nai B’rith accepted 42 Eastern European Jewish children into their Sunday School.
Concordia Club founded, whose 100 members represented the Jewish social elite until the 1920s when the Hillcrest Country Club began.
Depression (The result was rapid and erratic growth in industry and transportation).
Max Meyberg organizes the first “Fiesta de Los Angeles,” a parade and carnival modeled on the New Orleans Mardi Gras, sponsored by the Merchant’s Association to help improve the economy.
Brith Congregation builds its second synagogue at 9th and Hope
Herman W. Hellman became Vice President of the Farmer’s National Bank, resigned from his company, Hellman, Haas & Co., going on to serve as a director of twelve L.A. banks. His office building at 4th and Spring stands today.
January 1897
First issue of B’nai B’rith “Messenger” which became an “important source of communal self-awareness” (Vorspan)
Dec 1, 1899
People’s Synagogue Beth El Conservative congregation, led by M. G. Solomon, rabbi. Rabbi Sigmund Hecht (1849-1927) came to Los Angeles as Congregation B’nai B’rith’s new Reform rabbi. Beth Israel (Olive St. Shul), the oldest Orthodox congregation, was founded.
Railroad builder Herman Silver, onetime president of the Los Angeles City Council, ran and lost as the Republican candidate for mayor.
There was no distinct Jewish Neighborhood. 2500 Jews lived “downtown” which in 1910 was described as Temple Street (the main Jewish Street) and area to its south. In 1920, this was described to include Central Avenue. Smaller groups lived in the University, Westlake and wholesale areas. Except for University, these areas steadily declined between 1900 and 1926.
Ahabath Zion, the first Zionist organization in Los Angeles, was formed.
The Kaspare Cohn Hospital (1902-1910), which later became Cedars of Lebanon, and eventually Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was established. From 1902-1905 it treated tuberculosis sufferers from Eastern sweatshops, until rich neighbors forced them to stop treating TB patients.
Mordecai Zeitoun, the first Sephardic Jew to arrive in 20th century Los Angeles, was a veteran of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and a native of Algeria.
Russian Molokans, a Christian sect of dissenters to Russian Orthodox Church, flee Russia due to persecution by Tzarist government and mandatory conscription during Russo-Japanese War. Almost all of the Molokans who immigrate to United States settle in Los Angeles, primarily in “the flats” of Boyle Heights.
After San Francisco Earthquake devastates city, many Japanese Americans migrate south to Los Angeles, increasing local Japanese American population. The center of commercial and social life is Little Tokyo. By 1920s, Japanese Americans begin moving along First Street into Boyle Heights.
The Jewish Orphans’ Home of Southern California was incorporated by the B’nai B’rith. A new building opened in Huntington Park in 1912.
Asher Hamburger and his sons build the Hamburger Building at 9th and Broadway, which became the city’s largest department store.
Los Angeles City Council establishes nation’s first zoning law protecting Westside communities from industrial development. Boyle Heights remains open to industrial development, which by the 1950s occupies approximately 1/4 of the area.
Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct enabled the city to expand.
Workman’s Circle/Arbeiter Ring, a Yiddish cultural and political organization establishes its Los Angeles headquarters—the Vladeck Center—in Boyle Heights. This becomes an important meeting hall for Jewish labor unionists and activists concentrated in Boyle Heights.
Beginning in this year and continuing until 1933, as part of the City Beautiful Movement, a series of 12 monumental bridges were designed and built to cross the Los Angeles River. Six connect Boyle Heights to downtown Los Angeles.
Organized 1906; 1909-1925
Sinai Temple was organized in 1906. It was the first Conservative congregation in Los Angeles and the first Conservative synagogue built west of Chicago. Since 1925 it has been the Welsh Presbyterian Church. There are still huge Stars of David in the windows and above the interior ceiling chandelier.
All bodies were disinterred from Chavez Ravine Cemetery and moved to Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles.
Mexican immigration to Los Angeles increases as many flee the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution. As downtown is developed, other Mexican Americans previously living near the city center move across river into Boyle Heights and East L.A.
The Hebrew Sheltering Association began, eventually becoming the Jewish Home for the Aged.
Avat Shalom Congregation was founded in 1912. Early members were: the Zeitoun family, the Bramy family, the Caraco family, Marco Tarica, Morris Soriano, Joseph M. Mayo, Jack Notrica, Isador M. Hattem, Isaac Raphael, Ovadiah Haim, Mandolino Levy and others.
The Federation of Jewish Charities founded; it became the Federation of Jewish Welfare Organizations of Los Angeles in 1929.
Sephardic Conregation Avat Shalom was founded.
Jacob (Jack) Caraco was another early Sephardic arrival. Baruch, Cohen, and Levy, plus a listing of a Portuguese Jewish Colony, was included in the honor roll of the first Jewish Federation dated 1912.
Jewish Consumptive Relief Association (The City of Hope) founded in 1913 in Duarte, California. The institution initially treated patients suffering from tuberculosis.
California Alien Land Law prevents ownership of land by “Aliens ineligible for citizenship.” In 1952, East L.A. resident Sei Fujii successfully challenges law in California Supreme Court, which rules it unconstitutional.
The creation of Hollywood as a Jewish “empire” is illustrated through the making of a 1914 six-reeler, “The Squaw Man,” by Cecil B. DeMille, Sam Goldwyn and Jesse Lasky. The film is arguably the movie capital’s first blockbuster.
The Sephardic Peace and Progress Society was founded (Jews from the Island of Rhodes).
Grand Central Market opens with six Sephardic tenants: Isadore Hattem, Morris Passy, Ely Pascal, Sam Passy, Mandolino Levy, Morris Ererra.
Beside the City of Paris (which is today the Grand Central Market) was Sid Grauman‘s “Million $ Theater,” built in 1918, (before he built the Egyptian and the Chinese theaters in Hollywood).
World War I and ensuing turmoil force many Europeans to flee homelands. Many immigrate to United States.
After an initial period in East Coast and mid-west cities, significant numbers of Jewish immigrants and their families drawn by the economic boom, move to Los Angeles, eventually making Boyle Heights home to largest Jewish community west of Chicago.
Japanese Americans move east along First Street from Little Tokyo into Boyle Heights.
La Communidad founded on February 1, 1920 with thirty-nine men in attendance representing the Sephardic Community of Los Angeles. Rabbi Abraham Caraco served as the first rabbi of the community. The first book of minutes dated 1 February 1920 reads, “Communidad sefardi de Los Angeles, domingo 1 de febrero de 1920 en Los Angeles, California – Walker Auditorium, 730 S. Grand Avenue a las 2:00 P.M. Respondiendo al llamaniento de los presidentes Mandolino Levy y Jose M. Estrugo acudieron en asamblea general a las personas siguentes.” Mandolino Levy was the provisional president for this very first meeting of La Communidad, as it was to be known, and Adolphe de Castro Danziger was elected the first president of the fledgling organization. Jose Estrugo was elected vice president and secretary. The minutes also note that monthly dues would be $1.00 for each member.
Bikor Cholim Society was founded in response to influenza epidemic, and renamed Bikor Cholim Hospital when the epidemic ended. A larger home was secured in 1925 and the name became the Home for Incurables. In 1929 it became Mount Sinai Home for Chronic Invalids, forerunner of Mount Sinai Hospital and Clinic and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Mass Immigration created a large-scale community. Areas of greatest population were Brooklyn Avenue and Boyle Heights section, Temple Street section and the Central Avenue Section. The later two sections were stagnating and gradually declined.Old Boyle Heights contained the Hebrew Sheltering Home, the Talmud Torah, the Modern Social Center, the Day Nursery and the area around the Breed Street Synagogue and the Kaspare Cohn hospital.

The New Boyle Heights was the Wabash Avenue district, north of Brooklyn Avenue. Religiously Orthodox, they were modern in ideas and tendencies. City Terrace was a Yiddish secularists’ enclave.

The Breed Street Shul on Breed Street was completed in 1923. The huge brick structure, closed since 1992, is now, finally, under the administration of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. It is hoping to raise $5 million to renovate the shul into reuse. Boyle Heights had 70,000-80,000 Jews from the 1910s through the 1950s. Breed Street Shul served the Orthodox Jewish community and once was the biggest Orthodox congregation west of Chicago.
Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School in Boyle Heights opens doors to first students.
The Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924 established annual quotas for immigrants from Europe. Northern Europeans were favored over Eastern and Southern Europeans. The law significantly curtailed the massive 1881-1924 influx of Eastern European Jews. However, the population in Los Angeles continued to increase rapidly as Jews and others moved West.
Sinai Temple (1925-1961) on New Hampshire Avenue and Fourth Street was the second site of this temple. The huge building still stands and is now the Korean Philadelphia Presbyterian Church. Huge menorahs, Ten Commandment tablets and the cornerstone make it obvious that a major synagogue once occupied this site.
The Sephardic Brotherhood was founded – Congregation Haim VaHessed.
I. M. Hattem, a Sephardic Jew, opens the first supermarket in America on December 15, 1927.
Stock market crashes — Great Depression begins.
The Menorah Center was dedicated at Wabash and Alma in Boyle Heights. It was used by over 150 different groups, had a large Hebrew school, a baby clinic, and 15,000 users each month during the 1940s.
The first Sephardic synagogue in Los Angeles was dedicated on February 21, 1932.
A mass meeting was held at the Philharmonic Auditorium to protest against the treatment of the Jews in Germany.
The Sephardic Hebrew Center’s symagogue was dedicated in 1935.
A new Committee on Jewish Education met, leading to founding of the Bureau of Jewish Education.
The Los Angeles Jewish Community Council was incorporated, today the Jewish Federation Council.