From his office above Wilshire and Kingsley Drive, Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshman has been able to keep an eye on the transformation of the venerable Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Rather than abandon Koreatown for the Westside, the temple leadership decided to stay and fix up the fading synagogue, under the guidance of architect Brenda Levin. Eshman is glad they did. From his piece:
In 2009, the enormous Byzantine Revival-style building sat in dilapidated silence most of the time. Its exterior was the color of a pair of old, soiled khakis. There was some activity, of course, but most of the temple’s large membership used the Westside campus, at Olympic Boulevard and Barrington Avenue.
When I had non-Jewish visitors who wanted to see what a synagogue was like, I’d walk them across the street and enter the deserted sanctuary. I have a thing for old halls of prayer, and Wilshire Boulevard Temple always gave me shivers: seats worn by generations, the famous Hugo Ballin murals barely decipherable in the dark light. It had become more a monument, or museum, than a place of worship.
Fast forward to today.... “Wow,” I said — and the word echoed in the vast, splendid new space. I write “new” space because it looks as fresh as it must have during its dedication in June 1929. Levin and her team polished a Los Angeles treasure. They meticulously restored the Ballin murals, donated by Warner Bros., which now seem to shine. The massive roseate stained-glass window, taken out for repairs, now looks like a ruby in its setting. The pews have been redone, the carpet is new, the bimah has been lowered and extended, and a new air conditioning system literally breathes new life into the place.
When the late Rabbi Edgar Magnin beheld the sanctuary for the first time in 1929, he said, “The room reveals the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty.”
Now we can see what he meant.
The temple, which hosts a synagogue that began downtown in the 19th century, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a city of Los Angeles historic-cultural monument.