Since posting its first story about the missing former Soto-Michigan Jewish Community Center on Sunday, the Jewish Journal has done more checking and found that the federal government razed the building for a Social Security office. The feds didn't need a permit, but the unannounced demolition has now caught the attention of Councilman Jose Huizar, the Boyle Heights Neighbors Organization, the Los Angeles Conservancy and acclaimed photographer Julius Shulman. He grew up in Boyle Heights and recalled for the Jewish Journal meeting architects Richard Neutra and Raphael Soriano to plan the new center in 1936.
At that time the JCC, then named the Modern Social Center, was housed in a converted private home, but shortly before Shulman had met a philanthropist from Indiana, Ida Latz, who offered $30,000 to erect a new JCC building.
“That was a huge amount of money, enough to construct the building, pay the architect and have some dollars left over,” reminisced Shulman, sitting in his large glass-enclosed studio. The studio and adjoining house, near Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon Boulevard, both were designed by Soriano in 1949 and are designated cultural landmarks.
Shulman, who also sat on the center’s building committee, proposed that Soriano design the new JCC, which, upon its dedication in 1939, was named the Soto-Michigan JCC.
At any given time in the 1930s and ‘40s, there were some 10,000 Jewish homes, with 35,000 to 40,000 residents, in Boyle Heights. After the end of World War II, a steady migration transplanted the Jewish population to the Fairfax area, Beverly Hills, Westside and San Fernando Valley.
Shulman's photo of the center runs with the updated story, by permission of the Julius Shulman Photography Archive at the Getty Research Institute.