L.A. City Council votes to preserve historic synagogue

LOS ANGELES — The Breed Street Shul, once the glory of a thriving Jewish community, has been saved from oblivion.

The Los Angeles City Council, some of whose members have family ties to the shul, early this month voted unanimously to acquire the 75-year old synagogue and turn it over to the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California next year.

Stephen Sass, president of the historical society, said the renovated building will house a historical museum, a small synagogue and a community service center.

When the shul was founded in 1923, with movie mogul Louis B. Mayer as its first president, it was the religious center of Boyle Heights, which was dubbed "the Lower East Side of Los Angeles" and was home to 90,000 Jews.

The enclave in east Los Angeles was dotted with kosher food stores and restaurants. On High Holy Days, the 1,100 seats in the Orthodox shul, formally Congregation Talmud Torah, were filled, with some 300 to 400 worshippers standing outside, listening to the service.

Starting in the 1940s, the Jews of Boyle Heights immigrated to the tonier west side of Los Angeles and to the San Fernando Valley.

Over the years, the shul deteriorated, vandals trashed the sanctuary and earthquakes threatened to collapse the building entirely.

The Jewish Historical Society and the Los Angeles Conservancy launched a campaign 10 years ago to save the building.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent