A vintage postcard of Hamburger’s Department Store. Image courtesy of Rodman Family archive

Hamburger’s ‘Greatest temple of commerce’ to shine again

As the long-shuttered Hamburger’s Department Store downtown undergoes redevelopment and prepares eventually to reopen for a variety of purposes, it’s hard not to recall the building’s glory days.

When it opened in 1908, the Los Angeles Times called it “the greatest temple of commerce west of Chicago.” On opening day, 75,000 people rushed through its doors, and in the ballyhoo of the time, flags were raised on the roof. Live music played, politicians gave glowing speeches and bargain tables set out to entice.

When David Hamburger, a Jewish merchant, and his family opened the store on Eighth and Broadway, creating a model for multilevel shopping destinations such as the Beverly Center and Century City, he included a wide range of amenities, including book nooks in which to sit, relax and read; an 80-foot-long soda fountain; and a women’s restroom featuring “cozy seats, soft divans” and music played by a female orchestra.

As evidence of its stylishly modern design, architect Alfred F. Rosenheim included an escalator, said to be the first on the West Coast, and six elevators to whisk customers up and down the five-story, Beaux Arts-style building, which also had a rooftop garden.

In today’s terms, Hamburger’s, as it was called, can be seen as a vertical mall. In addition to sumptuous areas dedicated to the latest in men’s and women’s fashions, the building featured a post office, telegraph offices, a barber shop, grocery department, drug store and several restaurants.

If you took ill during your visit, not to worry, there was a doctor’s office where a fully equipped operating room “was ready for emergencies.” If you wanted to take a break from shopping and delve into matters more esoteric, from 1908 until 1914, the Los Angeles Central Library was located on the third floor, which it shared with the home furnishings department.

On the fifth floor was Hamburger’s Arrow Theatre, a venue seating 500 for vaudeville, “moving-picture” shows, conventions, fairs and as a meeting place for women’s organizations.

The theater, especially from 1911 to 1914, also was a meeting place to gather members and funds for several Jewish philanthropic organizations, including the Consumptive Relief Association of California (now City of Hope), Hebrew Sheltering Association (now Los Angeles Jewish Home) and Jewish War Sufferers Relief Association.

In 1921, to deepen the connection between the department store and L.A.’s Jewish community at a time when Christmas holiday advertising was viewed as influencing how Jewish children might feel about their own holiday, Hamburger’s began advertising specifically for Chanukah, much to the commendation of the city’s Jewish Mother Alliance. As another Jewish draw, Babin’s Kosher Café opened in 1921 on Hill Street on the west side of the building.

In the early 1920s, the May family of St. Louis, owner of a chain of department stores, bought Hamburger’s, making it part of its chain. With a new tower and parking structure, Hamburger’s was renamed May Co. and remained part of the downtown retail scene until 1986, when it closed, eventually becoming an indoor swap meet, with some light manufacturing on the upper floors.

The building, which was designated a Historic-Cultural Monument in 1989, was purchased by current owner, New York firm Waterbridge Capital, in 2014.

Under the guidance of the downtown architectural firm Omgivning, work currently is underway to rehabilitate the formerly rundown building. Plans include a ground-floor mix of markets and restaurants, and creative office space and a hotel on the remaining floors.

Already, the construction tarps are off, the original white facade along Broadway has been restored, and the white glazed terra cotta medallions with a large “H” for Hamburger’s can be seen once again.

According to Lauren Mishkind, an architectural designer working on the project, even more features that would be recognizable to Hamburger will be restored to the facade, including an arched entry with Doric columns, and planters that once hung from the building. A sustainable roof garden, referencing the original upper-deck garden and arboretum, also is under consideration.

“A lot of the interior plaster work was damaged over the years,” Mishkind said. One of the main goals “is to restore as much of that as possible.”

“We’re working with the L.A. Office of Historic Resources to achieve as much as we can,” she added.

With a projected completion date of two years or more from now, the decision on whether to include any interpretive historic display, such as archival photos, a timeline or a plaque memorializing the builders, has yet to be made. As for telling the history of the building, “ownership will have to speak to that,” Mishkind said.

David Asher Hamburger, who was born in Sacramento in 1857, came to Los Angeles in 1883 with his father, Asher, who owned a wholesale mercantile store in Sacramento; his mother, Hannah; and brother Moses.

Hamburger was seriously ill at the time, and doctors gave him six months to live. But he rapidly recovered and eventually graduated from Harvard Law School. After passing the California bar in 1879, he joined his brother and father in A. Hamburger & Sons, which in 1881 opened  The People’s Department Store in downtown L.A., which catered to working-class customers.

Not just a merchant and real estate developer, David Hamburger also was a columnist and Jewish community voice, writing several editorials for the B’nai B’rith Messenger.  In 1931, during a period of rising anti-Semitism nationally and in Los Angeles, he wrote a column titled “Judaism Needs Strength to Fight Anti-Semitism,” calling on his fellow Jews “to aid in the fight against prejudice and anti-Semitism, and to “place the Jew in the position in the community that his ability, his citizenship and his loyalty to his country deserves.”

In honor of their parents, the Hamburger family donated the funds for a new building, dedicated in 1928, that was called the Hamburger Home for Girls (now the Aviva Center). A director of Farmers &  Merchants Bank, and considered by the business community to be honest, Hamburger spoke publicly on business morality.

But he was not always popular. According to the “History of the Jews of Los Angeles,” Hamburger was not above offering “transportation money to attract cheap experienced tailors from New York,” to overcome a local trade union boycott.

Also, with the Olympics set to return to Los Angeles in 2028, it should be remembered that Hamburger was one of the directors of the organizing committee of the 1932 Summer Olympics in L.A.

After he died in 1944, he was remembered in the L.A. Times as a builder of the city. In addition to his successes in merchandising real estate, banking, law and philanthropy, “he was interested above all else in the progress of the city which he saw and helped grow from a stripling frontier town to metropolitan stature.”

As for his best-remembered and still important contribution, the department store, “We’re trying to bring back as much as possible,” said Mishkind, pointing out that experts are being consulted on how to best light the facade.

“It will look great at night.”

Have an idea for a Los Angeles Jewish history story? Contact Edmon Rodman at edmojace@gmail.com. 

Love and Judaism are built into couple’s distinctive home

There is divine justice in the fact that the daughter of a survivor of Auschwitz now lives in a beautiful home wrapped in a metal sheath pierced with Hebrew letters and filled with Judaica.

Meyer Wiesel, who died in 1987, survived the Holocaust — the only member of his family to do so. And now, the Jewish heritage of that boy from the Czechoslovakian town of Topolčany — who would later become Michael Morris of Denver — plays out daily in the most public fashion possible in the Cheviot Hills home of his daughter, Maxine Morris, and her husband, Bob Hale.

“It is like a giant mezuzah,” Morris said with a laugh during a recent afternoon interview at the house. 

Indeed, like the V’ahavta prayer of love hidden inside every mezuzah’s decorative casing, this home is a 5,000-square-foot, three-story declaration of ahavah — love — with the word repeated in hundreds of perforations across the corrugated aluminum that encases its structure. The design is an expression of gratitude and deep affection between the two people who built the house, with the Hebrew letters inscribed both forward and backward, becoming, as well as an expression of their Judaism, an abstract, decorative pattern allowing light and shadow to seep through into the private spaces inside. 

The “Beit Ha-Ahava” — “House of Love,” as it has become known — was, of course, a very personal project. In 2008, Morris, director of research finance operations at the Rand Corp., met Hale, a highly regarded architect and principal at the Los Angeles firm of Rios Clementi Hale Studios. (Hale has also been a vice president at Universal Studios and a principal architect for Frank O. Gehry Associates, including working on, among many projects, the landmark Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.)  Morris and Hale fell in love and decided to marry. Both lived on the Westside, and when they thought about designing and building a new home for a life together, they found they had very compatible tastes in modern design. 

“I was the architect, Max was the client,” Hale said. “She had a lot to say about it.”

They married in 2010, but had bought the property while engaged (the house wasn’t completed until 2012). Hale said he had always envisioned wrapping the exterior with perforated corrugated aluminum, but, at least at first, he’d simply thought of a pattern of holes. 

Bob Hale and Maxine Morris at their Cheviot Hills home. Photo by Trevor Tondro

“I said, ‘Just holes?’ ” Morris remembers. “Sounded not so interesting.” 

Morris had been collecting images of objects she liked, and one day she came across a lamp in the graceful, turning shape of the Hebrew letter lamed

“I was staring at it, and it just struck me: Hebrew letters are so beautiful,” she said. “So I said to him, ‘Can we do something with Hebrew letters?’ He said, ‘Sure, why not?’ And then it became, well, what letters?”

They quickly settled on an expression of their love. “And it was perfect,” Hale said. “It was concise, and it allowed us to make a pattern, and, as Max said, if you know the letters, you can make it out, and if you don’t, it just reads as a pattern.”

The house is set back enough from the street to allow for privacy, and the metal, while a prominent feature, encases only the top floor of the house. Throughout, large sliding windows open onto terraces that take advantage of the Southern California climate and allow for a fluid openness between inside and out. Upstairs, the metal-enclosed bedrooms and office spaces are lit both day and night by light flowing through the lettering, which marks the rooms with shadows of ahavah across every surface — walls, windows and ceilings. 

“It’s really cool in the middle of the night,” Morris said. 

“The streetlights and the moon create the light coming through,” Hale explained. “And in the morning, the eastern light comes this way,” he said, pointing to their bedroom window, “and rakes across here, and sometimes it seems like it’s on fire. I have to say, it exceeded my expectations of how nice it could be.

“I made it so we can actually open it up and have a completely open view,” Hale added. “But we almost never do.” 

The home’s furnishings and décor are colorful, including shelves throughout displaying a host of menorahs, Shabbat candleholders and dreidels, as well as other toys and collectibles. On the walls are many vivid paintings by Hale’s late first wife, Anne Greenwald, an accomplished artist and children’s book author-illustrator. Hale said he converted to Judaism at the time of his first marriage, and the Jewish connection continues with Morris. 

Together Morris and Hale traveled to Topolčany, to rediscover Morris’ lost paternal heritage, and today they proudly announce their own Jewish connection for all the world to see.

“This isn’t a very busy street, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people outside pointing and looking,” Hale said. “And sometimes I’ll go out there, and they’ll ask me, ‘What’s it say?’ ”

“People will ask, ‘Is it a word, or just letters?’ ” Morris added. “And some people know it’s Hebrew; some people know ahavah. It’s the whole spectrum.”

It’s not hard to notice that their joyous, public display of their Judaism is the absolute opposite of what young Meyer Wiesel would have experienced when he was carted off to Auschwitz at age 12. 

“One of my Jewish architecture friends, Michael Lehrer, when he saw the house, he wrote me an email and called it, ‘The House of an Optimist,’ ” Hale said. “He’s right, I am an optimist. We’re open to the street, and we say who we are.”

Morris stressed that the never-ending commitment to Judaism her father  passed on to her is essential to who she is, and to making this architecture possible.

“He kept his love of Judaism. And I hold onto that — it’s a part of him. It’s who he was.”

Culturally rich history of Jerusalem is literally in the woodwork

When it comes to the Middle East, and especially the city of Jerusalem, everything in the built environment has a significant historical subtext, as we are eloquently reminded in “Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City” by Adina Hoffman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a superb and sharp-eyed account of “burials, erasures, and attempts to mark political turf by means of culturally symbolic architecture and hastily rewritten maps,” as Hoffman puts it.

“As I stroll the main street of the city I’ve called home for most of my adult life — a city that has held me in its grip, delighting, infuriating, bewildering, surprising me since I first encountered it — I’m considering both what meets the eye and what doesn’t,” Hoffman explains. “Captured and recaptured some forty-four times by different powers throughout its long history, the city is as renowned for the structures razed there as for those it has retained.”

To make her point, Hoffman focuses on three architects, each different from the others in origin, ambition, style and achievement.  Erich Mendelsohn, an influential Jewish architect in Weimar Germany, despaired of the imported European architecture he found in Jerusalem when he settled there in 1934, seeking instead “to learn from the local Arabs who’d come to understand over centuries how best to shelter themselves from the glare, how to build with thick, cooling walls, and small, carefully placed windows.” Austen St. Barbe Harrison, “essentially, even implacably, British,” was the chief architect in the Public Works Department of Palestine in the early years of the British Mandate. And Spyro Houris was an enigmatic figure with a Greek first name and an Arabic last name, whose signed buildings from the 1920s remain but whose biography is so obscure that Hoffman wonders if he is just a figment of someone’s imagination.

The book serves as a short biography of each man, as well as an architectural history of Jerusalem in the first half of the 20th century. Not incidentally, it is also a work of richly detailed cultural and social criticism by an author with a deep command of history. All of these many facets reflect the light of Hoffman’s own experience in Jerusalem as she finds herself “walk[ing] the streets of Jerusalem compulsively, as I thought I could track down a ghost’s footprint.” Wherever her eye falls on the architectural landscape of modern Jerusalem, she detects not only the footprints, but also the tool marks of its builders.

For example, when Harrison designed the official residence of the British High Commissioner of Palestine, which was completed in 1931, he wanted to “sidestep the politics that surrounded his every choice of carpet and candelabra” in order to create a structure of “sublime timelessness.” Even so, one architecture critic at the time praised the finished building as a “Crusaders’ Castle of To-Day.” For Hoffman, the design was an ironic failure of the architect’s imagination in a place that was both “antiquity-obsessed” and yet vividly aware of the day-to-day conflict between Arabs and Jews. Indeed, Jerusalem had been rocked by an earthquake in 1927 and riots in 1929, both of which served as reminders that nothing is timeless in Jerusalem: “Deliberately or not, Harrison had built a citadel on a far-off hill, a citadel worthy of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem — which as he of all people knew had lasted almost two hundred whole years,” she concludes.

By contrast, when Houris used elaborate tiles to ornament the houses he designed and built, according to Hoffman, he was drawing on the extraordinary richness and diversity of Jerusalem, a quality that can be easily overshadowed by the blood in the streets, then and now. Hoffman writes: “To fathom how those tiles landed on the walls of [an] Arab Catholic family’s elegant home — and ultimately on the doorposts of so many of the city’s twenty-first-century Jewish residents — it’s crucial to grasp how this now almost-forgotten Greek architect took inspiration for the arrival on the scene of an Armenian refugee ceramicist, brought from afar by a group of aesthetically alert British officials intent on repairing the façade of the most iconic building in the entire city, and a structure sacred to Muslims everywhere.”

Countless books have been written about Jerusalem, and I lost count long ago of the number I have read for pleasure or reviewed for publication. For me, the most memorable among them is a thick tome given to me as a gift by the public relations director of the King David Hotel, but only because it prompted a vigilant security officer at Ben Gurion Airport to pull my suitcase out of the X-ray machine for closer scrutiny.  But I am confident that none of the many books about Jerusalem is quite as charming and engaging, nor as surprising and satisfying, as Hoffman’s marvelous examination of the Jerusalem streetscape through the eyes of three men who helped to build it.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Libeskind-designed museum reflects surrealist Nussbaum’s art

Just walking up to the Felix Nussbaum Haus in Osnabrück, Germany, is a breathtaking experience. The building’s unconventional design of sharp angles, zigzagging windows and mixture of wood, concrete and zinc creates a visual symphony with the surrealistic art housed within. 

It’s a first-rate art museum designed by the eminent Jewish architect Daniel Libeskind, dedicated to the life of a young local Jewish artist who perished in the Holocaust.

The main section of the Felix Nussbaum Haus, covered with oak, imparts a warm, organic feeling, in contrast to a section of cold, immovable concrete. 

Not the sort of thing you might expect to find in a quaint medieval German town founded by Charlemagne in the eighth century.

And yet, there it is on the borders of Lower Saxony and Westphalia in a region where Jews have lived since the Middle Ages. (Currently, approximately 1,500 Jews reside in the region, and there is one Orthodox synagogue.) 

Felix Nussbaum was born there in 1904. His father — an educated, wealthy iron merchant and World War I veteran — appreciated culture and supported his son’s artistic passions. His mother, however, felt “the arts are nothing useful,” according to Eva Gerber, director of the Museum of Cultural History in Osnabrück, where the Nussbaum collection was originally housed. 

Nussbaum left the city in 1922 at the age of 18 to pursue his art, first in Hamburg and then in Berlin, where he attended the Prussian Academy of Arts. There he met his Polish-born wife, Felka Platek, a fellow painter. In 1932, he was awarded the coveted Rome Prize, allowing him to study abroad in Italy. When Hitler came to power, the scholarship was revoked, and Nussbaum went through 12 tumultuous years living in exile that lasted into World War II. 

The artist painted in hidden places, escaped from an internment camp in France and lived illegally with the Belgian underground. He was able to slip by, out of sight of the authorities, until the closing months of the war. On June 20, 1944, Nussbaum was found and deported, along with his wife, and was eventually sent to Auschwitz. He perished there about a month later, at age 39, meeting the same fate as his wife, parents and older brother. 

The Felix Nussbaum Haus opened in 1998 and displays close to 100 of its 300 pieces of art, thanks to a large number of works recovered by the artist’s cousin and given to Osnabrück. Gerber said they’ve become a valued treasure.

“The city of Osnabrück decided to create a museum for the Nussbaum collection, not just for the crime of the time but for the art,” she said.

Artistic influences revealed in Nussbaum’s work include the Post-Impressionist painters Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Rousseau, according to our tour guide, Anne Sibylle Schwetter, curator at the Felix Nussbaum Haus. However, she said, “Nussbaum developed his own style using metaphors to depict his emotional and isolated world.”

In a powerful example of architecture and art working together, the museum showcases two self-portraits by Nussbaum — both created in 1943 while he was in hiding — on a long, stark concrete wall. The first piece, “Self-Portrait With Jewish Identity Card,” is spiritually deflating. Filled with drab colors and an aura of claustrophobia, it shows a man standing in front of a crumbling wall, holding an identity card that has an illegible place of birth and the word “without” written for his nationality. Wearing a coat with a yellow Jewish star on it, one of the ultimate symbols of the degradation imposed by the Nazis, his penetrating gaze seems to be foreshadowing his destiny.

“His identity is not his identity. … The Germans were responsible for taking away his identity and freedom,” Schwetter said. 

In a stark juxtaposition, the only other painting on the long wall is “Self-Portrait at the Easel.” A more virile Nussbaum is shown calmly smoking a pipe, bare-chested with bright eyes. His internal angst reveals itself through the labels that appear on the bottles of paint — death, nostalgia and suffering. According to Schwetter, the painting suggests a message from Nussbaum that even though he was a prisoner, he found freedom in his art.

“Self-Portrait at the Easel,” Felix Nussbaum, 1943. Photo courtesy of Felix Nussbaum Haus

Nussbaum’s sense of humor remained evident even up to his last known painting, “Triumph of Death” (1944). It features a hideously alluring landscape of trash, dead trees, a sky filled with masks in the shape of kites, and skeletal figures, many still with skin and hair, playfully making music in an post-apocalyptic world. A torn piece of sheet music appears on the ground with notes from “The Lambeth Walk,” a song in the 1937 musical “Me and My Girl” that is a caricature of a German military march. 

This painting is placed alone on a dark wall; the floor leading to it slopes downward, and a grate compels you to stop at a distance a few feet from the painting. It forces you to pause for a moment and take it all in, and then you realize: You’re at a dead end.  

The museum, which sits on the remains of an 18th-century bridge that was once part of the city’s fortifications, is itself a work of art. Designed by Libeskind, a Polish-American Jew and internationally renowned architect and urban planner, it was the first building he completed in his signature deconstructionist style. Other noteworthy ones have followed: the Jewish Museum Berlin, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and the master plan for the World Trade Center site in New York City.  

The entrance to the Felix Nussbaum Haus — part of a 2011Libeskind-designed extension project — is both inviting and daunting, as its cacophony of shapes hints at the interior.

Inside, the museum contains three distinct sections, each symbolic of an important phase in Nussbaum’s life. A windowless narrow corridor made of concrete — a material that is cold, hard and barren — symbolizes his experience in exile. This wing of the museum faces what from 1933 to 1945 had been the local Nazi Party headquarters. 

The main wing is covered with oak, symbolizing Nussbaum’s younger life and his artistic evolution. It looks toward the former location of the old Jewish synagogue, which burned down in 1938. 

The wing called “The Bridge” is faced with zinc sheets — the coldest and most unchanging of the materials. It represents the last days of Nussbaum’s life and his death in the extermination camp. It is oriented toward the neighboring Museum of Cultural History, symbolically reintegrating Nussbaum’s life and art into the history of the city of Osnabrück. 

Throughout the building, asymmetrically shaped windows create collisions within the walls. The light works like a sundial throughout the museum, always changing with the time of day. There are sloping floors, unpredictable intersections and dead ends that reflect Nussbaum’s martyred life of fear and oppression. 

Leaving the museum, it’s hard to not feel swept away by the magnitude of the architecture and Nussbaum’s gripping and powerful world that was filled with beauty, confusion and, ultimately, silence. 

Don’t demolish LACMA: In praise of the ‘vulgar’ architecture

When Renzo Piano was first approached about designing an addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Italian architect hesitated. “As I already told you,” he wrote in a letter to Eli Broad, whose donation was funding the building, “it’s very frustrating to play a good piece by a string quartet in the middle of three badly played rock concerts.”

“Three rock concerts” was a reference to the existing architecture of LACMA, which had grown in fits and starts over the years. The original museum, which opened in 1965, was local architect William Pereira’s Southern Californian version of Manhattan’s Lincoln Center—three temples on a raised plaza. The second stage was a partial makeover by the New York firm Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, which in 1986 inserted a postmodern wing and roofed over part of the plaza. The third stage (1988) was a freestanding pavilion designed by the Oklahoma maverick Bruce Goff.

Blogger Mark Berman calls Pereira’s original buildings “mid-century classics.” Typical maybe, but classics? The architecture is pretty banal, even by Lincoln Center’s low standards. Stage two is not much better—L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight called it “Hollywood Egyptian.” And stage three, with its two stone towers and fossil-like objects on the roof is, well, goofy by any standard.

Despite his hesitation, Piano relented and the first phase of his addition opened in 2008, the second phase two years later. The Piano addition struck me as heavy-handed, not his best work and hardly the “good piece by a string quartet” he had promised. As for the “rock concert,” my first impression of the original museum was that it resembled an undistinguished shopping mall that had been enlarged over the years and then awkwardly converted into a cultural facility. But after sitting for a time at Ray’s and Stark Bar, the outdoor café on the shaded plaza, I changed my mind. 

Most art museums today resemble either palaces (if they are old), or upscale automobile showrooms (if they are new). This was neither. Groups of excited children played on the plaza and clusters of teenagers wandered in off Wilshire Boulevard. The familiar mall-like atmosphere made this an unintimidating space; it was definitely not the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But it struck me that this vulgar (in the literal sense of the word) solution to an art museum succeeded in one important way. Because of its lack of pretension, this was a cheerful place in which people appeared decidedly at home.

A sense of place is an elusive quality, difficult to achieve, and not easy to maintain. It is the result not only of architectural forms but also of behavior, habit, and time. Learning to use what you have is as important as having the perfect building. That’s why it’s a shame to hear that LACMA has decided to wipe the slate clean and demolish all its older buildings, except the Goff pavilion. Why does Los Angeles, which has little enough history, feel the need to keep reinventing its surroundings? 

It would be better to reconsider this wholesale demolition. Especially as the proposed replacement, designed by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, leaves much to be desired. It is a spreading building raised up on stilts; instead of a friendly plaza there is a dark and gloomy undercroft. The kidney shape is supposed to have something to do with the nearby La Brea Tar Pits, but it reminds me of a 1950s coffee table. Finished all in black, the proposed museum will be a somber presence among the palm trees on Wilshire Boulevard, as anomalous as a Calvinist preacher on a sunny Malibu beach. Or maybe it’s the quintessential Angeleno building?  After all, replacing an aging faithful spouse with a younger, more stylish trophy wife is an established Hollywood custom. 

Witold Rybczynski is emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and the recipient of the 2014 National Design Award for Design Mind. His latest book is How Architecture Works: A Humanists Toolkit.

This was written for Zocalo Public Square

Sacred spaces

Ever catch yourself on Rosh Hashanah flipping through the remaining pages of the prayer book, mentally calculating how much longer you’ll be there? How about counting the number of tiles in the ceiling? To pray, an individual has to push his thoughts beyond mere material things, which is why thoughtful architects and designers often try to shape synagogues in a way that’s meant to be pleasing but not distracting. These synagogues, however, are worth a longer look. The spaces are too beautiful, too unique or just too clever to ignore. So go ahead and sneak a peek — before you start praying.

Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue

Photo courtesy of malibu jewish center & synagogue    

More than most houses of worship, the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue blurs the boundary between interior and exterior space, almost to the point of nonexistence. The building’s modern, arcing roof lets sunlight filter in through hardwood slats and sweeps out far beyond the glass walls that define the sanctuary. Before the new building opened in early 2006, congregants had to convene in a temporary air-conditioned tent every year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Now, on High Holy Days, the doors at the base of those glass walls slide completely away, allowing the Reconstructionist congregation to double in size without moving an inch.

Temple Adat Elohim

Rising from the top of Temple Adat Elohim’s ark is a single giant Hebrew letter, a shin. The first letter of one of God’s names (Shaddai) and of Judaism’s central declaration of faith (the Shema), the shin serves as the focal point of this Reform sanctuary. Clearly modeled on the handwritten letters found in torah scrolls, this shin also feels plantlike, like an Art Nouveau motif. The large table and twin wooden podiums at this Thousand Oaks synagogue all have thick, brown, botanical-looking legs — perhaps an additional homage to that late-19th century European artistic movement. The wooden trusses spanning the ceiling , meanwhile, recall the steeply pitched beams at the congregation’s original home.

Temple Ahavat Shalom

Visiting Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge can be a bit like going back to 1978 — to a time of rugged modernism, when cylindrical light fixtures could be deployed in even the most elegant rooms. The Reform temple’s walls are built of cinderblocks that have the rough finish of stone. This unrefined texture extends also to the metal-and-wood doors of the ark and to the eternal light that hangs above it, two interlocking pyramids that are more Auguste Rodin than M.C. Escher. Local Jewish textile artist Peachy Levy made the temple’s Torah covers and obviated the need for traditional silver breastplates. (They still hang in the ark, on the back wall.)

Shomrei Torah Synagogue

With its teal roof, Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills is hard to miss. That signature color is absent from the Conservative synagogue’s white, airy sanctuary, though. The room is relentlessly symmetrical: Two rows of orchids lean toward the ark’s partially frosted glass doors, which sit directly behind a central table, which itself has a strong central axis. One side of the room is a near-mirror image of the other, down to the two identical illuminated memorial cabinets installed in the walls flanking the bimah. The room’s lone unpaired feature: the 12 stained glass panels hanging in front of the sanctuary’s north-facing window, which came from the congregation’s previous building.

Temple Etz Chaim

Winged angels, commandment-inscribed tablets, a menorah, lions and all the notable produce of the Holy Land: This (and more) is portrayed on the sculptural tableau in Temple Etz Chaim’s sanctuary. Rabbi Shimon Paskow, rabbi emeritus at this Conservative synagogue in Thousand Oaks, designed the piece, a super-high relief that faces the congregation during services. (The sculptured panel may look like stone, but it’s closer in weight to styrofoam.) On Friday nights, when the weather is nice, services take place in a courtyard, facing an otherwise ordinary-looking cylindrical tower. But walk inside and look toward the ceiling: You’ll find an oversize Star of David made of white beams inscribed in that circular room. 

Photos by Courtney Raney and Jonah Lowenfeld

Architects ask: What might a Palestinian West Bank look like?

“Decolonizing Architecture,” an exhibition on view at REDCAT, the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater in downtown’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, assumes that the current residents of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank will ultimately have to evacuate their homes. The three architects behind the show appear to have no doubt that those areas will be transferred to Palestinian control.

The question the architects attempt to probe in this compact and provocative display is simultaneously politically theoretical and architecturally concrete: What will happen to the houses left behind when Palestinians take over Israeli settlements in the West Bank?

A query inscribed on one of the walls is more blunt: “How to inhabit the house of your enemy?”

REDCAT’s gallery is currently configured as four rooms, and this exhibition, which has attracted 2,500 visitors since opening in early December, is the first presentation in the United States by the Bethlehem-based organization known as Decolonizing Architecture/Art Residency (DAAR). Established by architects Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal and Eyal Weizman in 2007, DAAR brings artists and architects to Bethlehem and encourages them to examine — in a hyper-local and highly critical way — the built environment of the West Bank. The show at REDCAT uses the tools of architecture — including drawings, models, maps and video — to explain one view of the situation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank today.

After viewing the exhibition, Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of the Israel education organization StandWithUs, called it anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and accused the organizers of omitting important context, including the Jewish historical connection to the West Bank. “Israel’s presence in the region was described in ugly terms, without any mention of the terror attacks that necessitate Israel’s military oversight of the area,” Rothstein wrote in an e-mail.

Weizman is no stranger to controversy. The Israeli-born, London-based architect is best known for co-curating “A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture,” a show intended to be the official Israeli submission to the 2002 World Congress of Architecture but which was withdrawn at the last minute by the Israel Association of United Architects. The association’s president later called it “one-sided political propaganda” in The New York Times. (A version of the exhibit was mounted in New York and Berlin; the catalog was reprinted in 2003.)

By putting forward a vision of what might happen to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the REDCAT show harkens back to questions asked in advance of the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005 — explicitly so. Visitors to “Decolonizing Architecture” are welcomed by an ominous two-minute video clip of one settler’s house being torn apart by a backhoe — one of the more than 1,000 residential buildings destroyed before the disengagement from the 22 Israeli settlements in Gaza was complete.

In the section titled “How to inhabit the house of your enemy?” the show looks past the currently stalled peace negotiations and offers a bricks-and-mortar vision for the evacuated settlements in the West Bank radically different from what happened in Gaza. “The guiding principle,” the architects write in the text that accompanies the exhibition, “is not to eliminate the power of the occupation’s built spaces, nor simply to reuse it in the way it was designed for, but to reorient its logic to other aims.”

The show presents the Israeli settlement of Psagot (population 1,600) as a test case for this kind of transformation. Founded in 1981, Psagot sits on a hilltop east of Ramallah (population 27,000) and south of the Palestinian city of Al-Bireh (population 38,000). First and foremost, the DAAR architects propose that the settlement — which today functions as a gated community for religious Jewish settlers separated from the Palestinian areas around it — be woven into the urban fabric of the Palestinian cities nearby.

“You see, it is suburban in relationship to Jerusalem,” Weizman says of Psagot, in a video on the “Decolonizing Architecture” Web site. The settlement is about 15 miles from Jerusalem, but sits practically adjacent to Al-Bireh and Ramallah. “It’s very close to the Palestinian urban fabric,” Weizman said, “so it’s urban in the context of Ramallah and Al-Bireh, and it’s suburban in the context of Jewish Jerusalem.”

What might actually come of Psagot in a negotiated peace deal for a two-state solution remains unclear, as is true of the entire West Bank. “If you try to make a line around Psagot as a settlement bloc, you’ve got some trouble,” Americans for Peace Now West Coast Regional Director David Pine, who also visited the show, said. “There’s no line that you can draw without cutting communities of Palestinians in half.”

“Decolonizing Architecture” doesn’t attempt to draw any such lines. Instead, it simply assumes that places like Psagot will one day be evacuated and transferred over to Palestinian control, and that the transfer will necessitate some architectural modifications to the houses left behind, if only to turn the settlers’ homes —highly visible representations of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank — into something that could better serve Palestinian purposes. (One of the simplest changes they propose is the removal and reconfiguration of the pitched red-tile roofs typical of Israeli settlement residential architecture.)

To be sure, the DAAR architects aren’t the only ones proposing architectural visions for a future Palestinian state. Doug Suisman is a Santa Monica-based urban designer whose infrastructure plan called “The Arc” recently won the “2010 Future Project of the Year” at the World Architecture Festival. Developed over the last six years in partnership with the RAND Corp., Suisman’s plan calls for a mix of railroads, motorways and bus routes to connect the primary Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza to one another.

“We assumed that there was a peace accord in place,” Suisman said. By this, he meant that an agreement about borders — including a solution for Jerusalem and for the West Bank settlements — had somehow been reached. “Huge assumption,” Suisman acknowledged.

In creating “The Arc” — an inherently hopeful, self-consciously apolitical vision of a future Palestinian state — Suisman avoided looking at Israeli settlements in the West Bank. “It’s an important question, but it’s not the most important question,” Suisman said.

By contrast, “Decolonizing Architecture,” which looks directly at the settlements, does not make the same assumption of a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, as the architects explain in the exhibition brochure, DAAR was launched as a way to entertain “the possibility of significant transformation” in the theoretical realm, despite its being “blocked by the political impasse known as the ‘peace process.’ ” Despite numerous attempts to reach them, none of the architects involved in the show responded to requests for comment.

“Decolonizing Architecture” is on view until Feb. 6 at REDCAT. Architect Alessandro Petti will participate in a panel discussion at the gallery on Wed., Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd Street, Los Angeles. 213-237-2800. redcat.org.

VIDEO: Architecture as experience – Daniel Libeskind

Celebrated architect Daniel Libeskind discusses his views of architecture as a spiritual and aesthetic experience, citing the examples of two sites he designed: the rebuilding of New York City’s World Trade Center, and San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum.



Legends and lies

If the plans follow the promises of its sponsors, the site of the next preeminent national Jewish institution will be in the historic heart of Philadelphia.

There, steps from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, edging a revitalized Independence Mall, the proposed

Briefs: Tel Aviv Museum of Art gets new building named for the Amirs

Construction begins on Tel Aviv Museum of Art addition named for Herta and Paul Amir

Construction is underway for a bold new addition to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, designed by American architect Preston Scott Cohen and named for Los Angeles-based philanthropists Herta and Paul Amir. The Building, costing $45 million, will double the museum’s space and house the largest collection of modern Israeli art anywhere. It is “one of contemporary architecture’s most keenly anticipated buildings,” critic Jeff Kipnis said. “Its distinctive form — a curved facade enclosing a series of stacked levels around a spiral atrium — allows for rectangular, flexible gallery spaces within a triangular site.”

Cohen, who directs Harvard University’s masters program in architecture, beat out more than 77 competitors to win the museum commission in 2003. His project has since been spotlighted in exhibitions ranging from “The National Design Triennial” at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, and the recent “Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture” at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Amirs are the parents of Orna Wolens, a board member of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

The six-level museum building should be completed in 2009, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the city of Tel Aviv.

— Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Asian-Jewish initiative takes off

When American Jewish leaders spoke out this winter against a Korean professor who had published a popular series of anti-Semitic comic books, the Pacific Southwest chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) had already begun working with Asian Americans leaders on a dialogue to prevent such stereotyping.

Modeled after the Latino Jewish Roundtable, the Asian Jewish Initiative began last week with an hour of schmoozing followed by a kosher dinner at the Empress Pavilion Restaurant in Chinatown. It was not launched in response to local anti-Semitism, regional ADL Director Amanda Susskind said, but to prevent such attitudes from developing and to help Asian Americans and Jews identify their similarities.

“It’s about learning more about two communities of Los Angeles,” Susskind said.
In many ways, Asian American immigrants have appreciated the same integration and assimilation process that Jewish immigrants have — with first-generation immigrants operating small businesses and strongly emphasizing education and entrepreneurship to their children.

This has led Asian Americans to face the same “model-minority” discrimination Jews have, said Raphael J. Sonenshein, a Cal State Fullerton political science professor and Journal columnist.

Future Asian Jewish Initiative events have not yet been announced.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Exhibition offers visions of future intelligent homes

For those who love the experience of shopping for real estate, “Open House: Architecture and Technology for Intelligent Living,” on display in Pasadena at Art Center College of Design’s south campus, is not the usual collection of modish conceits by residential architects.

Organized by Art Center in collaboration with the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the show offers a provocative variety of visions for the so-called intelligent house of the future, specifically anticipating advances in technology, building materials and shifting demographics over the next 20 years.

And as hoped for in this day and age of inconvenient truths, threaded through the wealth of contrasting offerings by an international cadre of relatively young designers is an acute concern for the failing, fragile environment and the need for sustainable, or “green,” architecture.

The concerns are, of course, not new, certainly not to those who follow the precepts of tikkun olam, the sacred mission of Jews to repair the world. Among those who not too long ago had to elbow their way into the once WASP-dominated design profession, this meant being particularly sensitive to ecological and contextual constraints; that architecture was a social art that could create places of human endeavor in concert with the earth.

That is, if they had the chutzpah to press the precepts, they were usually labeled as suspect environmentalists or, worse, social activists, among the usually conservative firm principals and even more conservative clients.

This rarely happened, however, and some would say that architects who happen to be Jewish too often assimilated all too well.

But as this exhibition illustrates, repairing the world is back in vogue, and whether this attitude is informed by a mystical Jewish tradition or the rising secular sociopolitical economic concerns — or the heretofore faddish Art Center’s need to be au courant — sustainability will likely increasingly drive the world’s design scenarios.

Among the more provocative, if not prophetic, displays in this exhibition is the “Dunehouse,” by su11 architecture + design of New York, a single-family prototype designed to adjust to the extreme temperatures and harsh landscapes of the Nevada deserts, much like a cactus or tumbleweed.

The “Jellyfish” house by Iwamoto/Scott/Proces2 of Berkeley, goes beyond just providing a unique flexible live/workspace and is designed with a sophisticated water reclamation process as part of its structural skin that the architects claim can cleanse their sites. This house was specifically invented to be located on the toxic soil of Treasure Island, a former military base in San Francisco Bay, but its concept also could be applied to other contaminated locations.

In contrast to such scientifically sophisticated conceits, there are some houses here that are just plain silly, offering comic relief to this thought-provoking exhibition. These include the “open the house ” concept, for which the house need not provide a heating or cooling system, because the inhabitants will simply wear special clothing designed to regulate their own microclimate.

Actually, this is an ancient concept, one my mother appropriated when we complained of being cold in our underheated house, telling us to wear an extra sweater and drink some hot tea.

“Towers in the Park,” which deals with anticipated increased density in the South Korean city of Seoul, includes clusters of vine-entwined structures that soar like giant sculptured topiaries and contain a variety of flexible private “cells” and public spaces. The result is environmentally friendly, landscaped vertical neighborhoods.

One would have hoped for more urban designs addressing the heightening challenges of increasing population, dwindling resources and urban density, as noted by co-curator Dana Hutt in a catalog accompanying the exhibit.

As for the show’s installation, designed by Nikolaus Hafermaas of Art Center, one could quibble with the placement of the display boards, the small type not being at eye level, and the lack of more audiovisuals and interactives, especially considering the topic. Too much tell and not enough show.

But to be fair, quite a lot of information is presented, however convoluted and weighted down in pseudoscientific semantics. For this writer, the history section was a trip down memory lane. Certainly no exhibition on the future of houses can be complete without a look back at the fantasies projected in the past, such as in the visionary work of Buckminster Fuller.

There is much to contemplate here, coming just when you thought you were finished refurbishing your home to make it as environmentally friendly and aesthetically modish as possible, be it by installing solar heating, low-flush toilets or hanging your wash out to dry.

Admission is free and open to the public. Now there’s a concept for both the present and future.

“Open House: Architecture and Technology for Intelligent Living,” continues at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena’s south campus, 950 S. Raymond Ave., through July 1. Tuesday through Friday, noon-9 p.m.; Saturday, noon-6 p.m.

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Seoul Commune 2026 is a proposal for an alternative sustainable community, viable in an overpopulated metropolis. Courtesy Art Center College of Design

Prefab housing gets ‘fab’

“I try not to drive on Shabbos, except, of course, to go to open houses,” explained a woman of a certain age and uncertain religious persuasion.

Maybe the curiosity was whetted when wandering in the desert for 40 years, in the ancient past, looking for a place to put down roots and build a temple, or perhaps in the last decade, wandering over the Westside looking at houses for sale.

Whatever, the fact is that the preoccupation with real estate in Southern California for many Jews, as well as others of every belief and culture enraptured with the American dream, has taken on something akin to the search for the Holy Grail.

Flavoring this quest is a growing awareness of the aesthetics of architecture and interior design, not only for how it might enhance the value of select properties, but also for how it might heighten the level of casual conversation about everyone’s favorite topic — real estate.

With this interest in mind, you might want to check out an exhibit at the Pacific Design Center’s extension of the Museum of Contemporary Art, titled, “Some Assembly Required: Contemporary Prefabricated Houses.” It opens Feb. 28 and runs through May 13.

The show has been making the rounds across the country — to critical acclaim — for more than a year, and it spotlights the creations and conceits of several designers, including the local architecture firm of Marmol Radziner and Associates.

They, as well as other architects scattered around the country, have been struggling with how to make prefabricated homes look less like container boxes or house trailers and instead be more flexible, artfully modern, reasonably priced, and ecologically friendly.

Prefab indeed has the potential to lend itself to being “green” by using materials more efficiently, wasting less space, and generally creating structures that are lower maintenance. Think the frugal Prius in the land of lumbering SUVs.

The exhibition features eight varied projects, displayed through an appropriate mélange of video, photographs, drawings, renderings, material samples and scale models. Singled out for a full-scale mock-up is the so-called FlatPak House, designed by the Lazor Office of Minneapolis, which offers various choices in materials and layouts, thereby providing maximum flexibility for potential clients.

Offering choices is a key goal in this new wave of prefabricated design: The designers obviously are trying to downplay the down-scale reputation of factory-built homes, emphasizing customization and craftsmanship in order to appeal to more sophisticated, up-scale buyers.

“The overall dimensions and sections are simple enough that people can easily customize to make it their own,” said architect Michelle Kaufman, in an interview with Dwell magazine, describing her Glidehouse design. “There is a range of plan options as well.

All have the same basic box configuration and details to maintain the benefit of mass production, but depending on how you put the boxes together, you can have an L-shape, or a courtyard U-shape, or a long plan for a lot with views. There is quite a bit of flexibility so the house can be configured to fit the site and the way the owner lives.”

Kaufman concluded: “People are starting to see the benefits of both green living and modular building construction. When you put those together, it is a great combination.”

Yes, but at what price? More customization equals higher costs, negating one of the major appeals of prefab and the hope of its past innovators. Through its long history, dating back to the middle of the 18th century, the allure of prefab housing included the promise of lower costs through efficiency of materials and labor, as well as the ability to accelerate and streamline construction.

To be sure, the range of prefabs on display in this exhibition indicate some cost saving, but when all the adds-ons are calculated and the total cost is projected, the savings are not particularly impressive or encouraging.

Also to be considered are the persistent problems that have plagued such efforts in the past, including antiquated and inconsistent municipal codes and the reluctance of financial institutions to finance “manufactured” housing. However, exhibitions such as “Some Assembly Required” — along with the pressing need for less expensive, green housing — no doubt will help overcome institutional and government resistance. Or so we hope.

Unfortunately, not included in the exhibition, because it was not completed when the show was being organized, is the so-called “Living Home.” It was designed by the venerable architect and venerated founder of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, Ray Kappe, who has been experimenting with prefab systems for nearly half a century.

The house features an array of green materials and a solar power system, which prompted the design to win a coveted environmental award. It can be seen in situ at 2914 Highland Avenue, tucked away in the southeast corner of Santa Monica.

Please don’t disturb the residents.

“Some Assembly Required: Contemporary Prefabricated Houses” opens Feb. 28 at MOCA at the Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Avenue, Design Plaza G102,
West Hollywood, CA 90069. Admission is free.

For information call: (310) 289-5223.
Web link: IFF: Engaging in disengagement — five horrible days in Gaza

Prager; CAIR; Gibson; The Boot!


It is getting somewhat boring to read yet another letter in The Jewish Journal from such a disingenuous character as Hussam Ayloush (Letters, Dec. 1). Typical of Ayloush and other CAIR officials, he engages only in ad hominem smears and refuses to deal with the substantive claims. One only needs to do a little research to uncover his obvious fabrications.

First, it is ironic that he says that I “resort to deception” by stating that CAIR has engaged in anti-Semitism in the past. It is notable here that Ayloush conveniently fails to address the fact that neo-Nazi William Baker has been invited to speak at several CAIR events — whose presence at those events Ayloush himself has defended.

Also, Ayloush categorically lies when he states that “CAIR has no connection, direct or indirect, to the event he referred to in New York” in which radical Islamist cleric Wagdy Ghoneim made anti-Semitic statements and led the crowd in an anti-Semitic song. In fact, CAIR’s name is listed on the event announcement, along with several other groups including the Holy Land Foundation, as a co-sponsor. The event itself was sponsored by the Islamic Association for Palestine, which was hit with a $156 million civil judgment — along with the Holy Land Foundation and several other entities — by a federal court in Illinois in a case in which the family of a murdered victim of Hamas terrorism successfully sued U.S.-based Hamas front organizations.

Maybe the problem here is one of language and definition. Perhaps, to Ayloush, neo-Nazis and songs lyrics such as, “No to the Jews, descendants of the Apes” are not anti-Semitic.

Steven Emerson
Executive Director
Investigative Project on Terrorism

Ed. Note: The Journal has invited Steven Emerson and Hussam Ayloush to continue their exchange in an e-mail forum at jewishjournal.com. This letter will be posted there awaiting Mr. Ayloush's response.

Hussan Ayloush has managed to manipulate and use The Jewish Journal as his mouthpiece to discredit Steve Emerson. I wonder if any of the Islamic papers would allow such use of their papers for us to discredit Ayloush.

Steven Emerson has been warning the government about radical Islam long before anyone knew about CAIR and Ayloush. Had our government listened to the warnings that Emerson made them aware of instead of trying to appear politically correct, or just naive, more than 3,000 people would be alive today. We would have been prepared for the promotion of Sharia law, and accommodations made for Islam that are not made for either Judaism or Christianity in the United States.

Your paper has allowed an apologist for terror in the United States as well as in Israel to use your pages to promote his agenda, propaganda and lies. This is just shameful.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Valley Glen

Prager and the Quran

I don’t know which is worse; Dennis Prager’s virulent intolerance and Islamaphobia or his pathetic ignorance of what our “American values” really are (“Prager Opposition to Quran Congress Rite Draws Fire,” Dec. 8). Surely even he would agree that the U.S. Constitution reflects cherished “American values” to which we can all adhere.

Article VI, on the very topic of the oath of office, says, and I quote in full to give the context: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

How dare Prager set himself above the Constitution, and claim that anyone who does not take an oath on the Bible can’t serve in Congress?It’s Prager that shouldn’t serve on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council if he does not share the American value of religious free exercise protected by the First Amendment.

Stephen F. Rohde
Los Angeles
The writer is a constitutional lawyer

I wish the journal would do their homework on Keith Ellison. If you simply Google “Ellison Jews” you would find that he defended a colleague’s right to say “the most racist white people are Jews”; that he sat silently while Khalid Muhammand spewed a racist rant; that he defended in writing Farakhan’s not being anti-Semitic; that he his funded by CAIR, a known front group for Hamas. It’s most disturbing that Jewish organizations would defend this guy without knowing the truth.

Joshua Spiegelman
Los Angeles


Dear Jon Drucker, your suggestion that we sneak into seeing Mel Gibson’s movie “Apocalypto” although we paid to see a different movie is bad advice (“Skip Into Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto’ Now,” Dec 8). It reminded me of last year when I read that Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, had snuck into a free preview of “The Passion” without being invited.

As a Jew, I was totally embarrassed by Foxman’s actions. If you want to see the movie, act like a responsible adult and pay the price. You will be providing a better example for everyone, Jews and non-Jews. Leave “skipping” for the kids.

Jeff Shulman
Granada Hills


I feel reassured to learn that measures are taken to keep sexual predators, evil opportunists and other dark characters away from shul (“Getting Kicked Out of Shul,” Dec. 8). The safe environment this creates makes for a more spiritual experience without, as a single woman, having to fear for my safety.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all the rabbis for taking on the responsibility of doing what it takes to create the safe and loving environment we enjoy at shul, in addition to their already demanding work.

Talar Toprakjian
Beth Jacob Congregation

Your front-page article of Dec 8 shows that we Jews continue to be our own worst enemy — and sadly, The Jewish Journal is leading the way in making us look nasty or foolish to our own community and certainly to the general L.A. community (“Getting Kicked Out of Shul).

Designing woman preserves observatory’s past for future

Brenda Levin sometimes said that she wishes her original architectural designs would get as much attention as her historic-preservation efforts, such as the restoration she’s just completed of the Griffith Observatory. If so, there is no detectible ambivalence in her voice on this bright, if hazy, morning in Griffith Park. As the architect recites a list of materials and techniques she used in bringing back to life the stately, white, beaux arts-style building, which now looks as bright and sharp-edged as it did when completed in 1935, it’s clear that Levin’s warm, approachable manner belies a core of strong will and clarity of purpose. The observatory has personal attachment for her.

“It’s practically in my backyard,” said the Los Feliz resident, adding that she and her family have been hiking in the nearby trails of Griffith Park for more than two decades.

The observatory, which this weekend celebrates its reopening after a $93 million renovation and expansion, is one of the best-known structures in Los Angeles. For decades, it has been a pilgrimage site for visitors, not least for its unparalleled vista of the L.A. basin, which flows downward from its site like an immense green checkerboard, intersecting with the spiked spine of tall buildings along Wilshire Boulevard.

“Of the 2 million people who visited the observatory before it closed,” she wonders aloud, “how many came here for the view alone?”
Levin is decidedly not ambivalent in acknowledging that 2006 will be a landmark year for her practice, which she opened in 1980 in the Fine Arts Building in downtown Los Angeles. Not only are her years of painstaking work on the Griffith Observatory coming to fruition — “we have been over every inch of this building,” she said firmly — but another long-awaited, long-delayed project, the Barnsdall House by Frank Lloyd Wright, is set to reopen nearby, in a radically redesigned Barnsdall Park in Hollywood.

Further, Levin is discussing plans to rehabilitate and enlarge another notable project: Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the ornate synagogue built by Harry and Jack Warner in the 1930s. (She and her husband, David Abel, a political consultant and school construction advocate, are longtime members of that congregation. Her son, Elliot, celebrated his bar mitzvah at the temple’s Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu.)

Even without being a member, it would be hard to imagine that Levin would not be on the short list as the temple’s architect. She is the reigning historic-preservation architect in the city, and few other people in the design profession can boast comparable credentials. (Disclosure: This writer wrote the introduction to Levin’s 2001 monograph and remains a friend.)

Levin’s preservation work, in part, reflects a lifelong interest in cities, she said, having grown up in suburbs outside New York and spent much of her early youth exploring that city on foot. After completing studies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design in the 1970s, the newly married Levin decamped to Los Angeles, where she briefly worked for John Lautner, a Wright disciple who built a series of boldly engineered houses in Los Angeles. Her own home, which she designed in the 1970s, has some of the geometrical purity and quirky planning of the older architect.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, she helped spark the revival of downtown Los Angeles — a firecracker with a 30-year fuse — by acting as the architect for developers Wayne Ratkovich, on the renovation of the Oviatt Building (and later the Pellissier Building-Wiltern Theater) and the late Ira Levin, who was responsible for reviving the Bradbury Building and the Grand Central Market. Although architects and developers are often adversarial in their dealings, both developers had lifelong friendships with Levin.

The downtown projects were widely published, and Levin became pigeonholed, possibly unfairly, as a historic-preservation specialist. She likes to point out the volume of original architectural designs she has built, including the sensitively scaled music, dance and athletic center and math and science building at Oakwood School’s upper-school campus in North Hollywood. Among her current nonhistorical projects are a new student center at Whittier College, a new civic park in the Grand Avenue mixed-use development in downtown Los Angeles and the outdoor Ballona Discovery Center planned at Playa Vista.

This morning, however, belongs to the observatory, the master plan of which was a collaboration between Levin and Pfeiffer Associates, which was responsible for the newly designed portions of the building, while Levin focused on preserving and updating the observatory building itself.

For a 71-year-old building that had not undergone any major repair, she said, the observatory was in relatively good shape, in large part because of the quality of the original materials, including concrete on the exteriors with domes covered in copper and marble and travertine on the interior. According to legend, the materials in the observatory are particularly fine, because the cost of those materials plummeted during the Depression years.

Levin’s preservation and updating work on the observatory includes a number of new spaces and details that she emphasizes are compatible with the historic originals. One of her most elaborate efforts was to re-cover the central planetarium dome with new copper panels. This delicate task required construction of an elaborate scaffolding — a design feat in itself — that encircled the observatory dome without touching it at any point.

Characteristic of Levin’s concern for improving the quality of public life in her buildings, a number of rooftop spaces at the observatory that were formerly closed to the public have become viewing platforms. “This building is now accessible from all four directions, just as it was originally intended to be,” she said.

The Griffith Observatory and Wilshire Boulevard Temple, have some design features in common, Levin points out. Both buildings are topped with enormous round “drums” supporting domes, reminiscent of early 19th century German architecture. The observatory, built of concrete, was originally intended to have a skin of terra-cotta ornament, much like the temple has today. Given the local history of earthquakes, however, Levin quickly adds that the observatory was probably better off without the brittle clay ornament.

Her design for Wilshire Boulevard Temple remains preliminary and subject to change, Levin said, but she said officials there are considering the conversion of the east-facing parking lot into an outdoor event plaza, the addition of a new school building and a new parking structure, among other new spaces, as well as historic preservation.

Although synagogue architecture is a new undertaking for Levin, she said the dignity of sacred architecture is not essentially different from what she describes as the spirituality of all great architecture.

“Whether it is the Disney Concert Hall or the Griffith Observatory, beauty and inspiration and spirituality are part of the things you hope to achieve as an architect,” she said.

Museum-hopping in Madrid, sans ham

What is the best museum town in the world?

Paris comes to mind, as does New York.

But as a certified art museum lover, I put my money on Madrid.

Madrid, the proud and stately capital of Spain, is home to three of the finest collections of art anywhere: the Museo del Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, each of which would be the standout attraction in a city with less to offer, and a reason to visit in its own right. The three museums form a triangle of sorts around the Paseo del Prado, allowing visitors to walk easily between them.

Madrid has lately receded into the shadow of showy Barcelona, which gets all the buzz for being a European capital of style. And indeed, with its spectacular Mediterranean setting, whimsical, unique architecture and international fashion scene, Barcelona deserves its stylish accolades. But its museums are limited to small, idiosyncratic or single-artist collections; the greatest visual thrill is walking its streets.

Madrid is arguably less glamorous, more conservative, more closely associated with Spain’s troubled past than its exhilarating future. It is also the guardian of Spain’s wonderful aesthetic legacy, and serious lovers of art could easily get lost inside its museums for a week at a time.

Jewish travelers will find a flourishing community in today’s Madrid. The freedoms of post-Franco Spain, combined with an influx of Argentine Jews who settled here in the wake of political and economic crises over the past 30 years, have contributed to an active, if small, Jewish community.

Observant travelers will want to acquaint themselves with the Jewish Community of Madrid (Comunidad Judia de Madrid), a nexus of Jewish life here for nearly 100 years. The community provides information, both online and in person, about Orthodox worship services, activities and Jewish resources throughout Madrid.

Bet El Synagogue is affiliated with the Masorti, or Conservative, movement and has a helpful Web site; there is also a Chabad center in Madrid.

On to the art: The Prado is a surprisingly small museum that can hold your attention longer than the encyclopedic Louvre. Rather than being vast and comprehensive, the Prado contains only the most exciting works by a small number of wonderful artists.

In one room you’ll find virtually all of the greatest works of 15th- and 16th-century Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch, including his famous “Garden of Earthly Delights.” Even if you’re jaded by endless Madonnas, the soft, glowing religious portraits of Raphael will force you to stop and stare in admiration. Upstairs, many of Goya’s most famous works — from his “Maja” series to his controversial “black” paintings — are grouped together, inviting contemplation. The collection also includes major works by the Spanish giants Velazquez and El Greco.

When it opened a decade ago, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum was a major event on the international art scene: the acquisition by the Spanish government of the personal collection of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, comprising some seven centuries of European and American painting, with emphasis on the Italian primitives and Renaissance, Dutch and Flemish masters, German expressionism, French impressionists and 19th- and 20th-century Americans like Hopper and Rauschenberg.

In 2004, the museum made waves again when it added the collection of the baron’s widow, Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. Together the two collections represent more than 1,000 works of art, mostly paintings, which have been called the 20th century’s most significant private collection.

As with the Prado, nearly every work is stunning. But more importantly, the Thyssen-Bornemisza represents a perfect pan-Western complement to the Prado’s smaller, more focused collection, and the more contemporary Reina Sofia. In fact, it was the availability of space in such close proximity to these other collections that motivated the Thyssen-Bornemisza family to choose Spain to house its legacy.

On view through Jan. 7 is “Sargent/Sorolla,” an exhibition that looks at the parallel careers of John Singer Sargent, who is having a big year in the United States, and Joaquin Sorolla, his Spanish contemporary.

It’s also a Rauschenberg year. On the heels of the fabulous Rauschenberg “Combines” show at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art this past year comes “Rauschenberg:Express,” an exhibition of 1960s silkscreen print collages from the Thyssen-Bornemisza’s permanent collection.

An apt metaphor for today’s Spain, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia unites the aesthetic cutting edge — modern and contemporary art, including some daring conceptualism and Picasso’s famous “Guernica” — with a historic 16th century formal national hospital building.

A very Madrid counterpoint to all this art is an evening of zarzuela, Spain’s answer to opera. Culturally distant from the main currents of Western Europe for much of the last few centuries, Spain developed its own distinctive idioms, of which zarzuela, which is closer to what we think of as operetta, is one. (If you have ever wondered why there are no Spanish operas at the Met, this is why.)

The Teatro Lirico Nacional de la Zarzuela, on Jovellanes Street, presents a regular schedule of faithfully presented classics. Join the elegant evening crowd, draped in fringed shawls and diamonds, and go out afterward for a glass of sherry at one of the nearby tapas bars. If awards were handed out for cities least hospitable to kosher eating, Madrid would certainly be in the running. As in most of Spain, the main ingredients on Madrid restaurant and cafe menus are ham, shrimp, ham, calamari, ham, octopus — and ham. Madrid even boasts a “Museo del Jamon,” which feels less like a curated collection and more like a temple, with shrines and icons of hanging pork.

For advice on a ham- and shellfish-free visit, a friend recommended the Madrid listings on Kosher Delight’s Web site.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum: ” target=”_blank”>museoprado.mcu.es

Reina Sofia Museum:

Which came first: the building or the dress?

A model at a Parisian fashion show sports an enormous collar that almost hides her head in an aureole of stiff, folded cloth. So stiff does the cloth appear, in fact, that it could almost be mistaken for concrete. Meanwhile, in Yokohama, Japan, architects have covered the ceiling of a port terminal with a folded material that looks very much like pleated fabric. Are these chance coincidences, or signs of some odd convergence between fashion and architecture?

“Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture,” opening Nov. 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown, proposes that building design and haute couture have increasingly begun to overlap and borrow ideas from one another. Even if the premise seems thin, the show’s parallel images of buildings and clothing suggest that meaningful connections can be found between these two very different kinds of design. Indeed, “Skin + Bones” turns out to have much to say about the current practice of both building design and fashion design, not all of it positive.

Skepticism is a legitimate starting point. Clothing and shelter have different purposes, different materials and different methods of assembly. Why should they be compared? Well, for starters, because designers are always searching for fresh ideas, and architects and fashion designers apparently check each other out on a regular basis.

In an essay for the show’s catalog, Brooke Hodge, MOCA’s Curator of Architecture and Design, who has previously organized shows on the architecture of Frank O. Gehry and Peter Eisenman, as well as the fashion designs of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, identifies some obvious and not-so-obvious commonalties between the two mediums.

“A vocabulary derived from architecture has been applied to garments, describing them as ‘architectonic,’ ‘constructed,’ ‘sculptural,'” she writes. Architects, on the other hand, have borrowed some “sartorial strategies,” such as “draping, wrapping, weaving, folding, printing and pleating architectural surfaces and materials.”

Although Santa Monica-based Gehry may not be a “dedicated follower of fashion,” to quote the Kinks, he has undoubtedly boosted the cross-pollination between construction and tailoring with the biomorphic curves of buildings like the Disney Concert Hall, referencing to the human body and other natural forms. Gehry, Eisenman and Preston Scott Cohen are among the Jewish American architects who have contributed work to this international collection of design.

The complementary opposite would be clothing that looks hard and structural, such as a tulle dress from the spring/summer 2000 collection of Hussein Chalayan that appears to be a rigid structure, inflating by four or five sizes the shape of the woman who wears it.

Another structural-looking garment, this one from Chalayan’s autumn/winter 1999 collection, is the “Aeroplane Dress,” which appears to be a smooth, hard shell. A portion of its form seems to be slipping away, like a panel of airplane fuselage that has not been properly bolted, revealing the wearer’s navel and a seductive slice of abdomen.

Some architects are interested in exploring fabric-like materials, sometimes called extreme textiles. The “Carbon Tower,” an unbuilt project by Los Angeles-based architects Peter Testa and Devyn Weiser would be built with a lightweight carbon-based material that curves and bends much like fabric. Although the method of construction on the building is not visible from the images in the show, some so-called “technical textiles” can be woven or sewn together.

The “Inside Out 2way Dress” from the spring 2004 collection of Yoshiki Hishinuma, for its part, seems inspired by the glass “curtain walls” of high-rise buildings. The garment is a tight-fitting transparent tunic (think glass) held in place by a white band (think steel structure) wrapped in a crisscrossing band of cloth around the model’s body.

The relationship between buildings and clothing is not new, according to Hodge. In her catalog essay, she identifies some parallels, both ancient and modern. In ancient Greece, the flutings of classical columns may have been suggested by the folds in the chiton, a garment worn by both men and women. In the Middle Ages, the “propensity for extreme verticality” can be found in the “sharply pointed shoes, sleeves and hennins [conical headdress]” that seem directly related to the “ogival arches and soaring vertical spaces of Gothic architecture.”

Not all of Hodge’s examples are equally convincing, however, such as the analogies to fashion design in the soft curves of the landscape elements of the Yokohama International Port Terminal by Foreign Office Architects. Or the comically oversized collar of folded and feather-like white fabric from Junya Watanabe’s fall/winter collection for 2000/2001.

What is convincing, however, is the degree to which architectural style has become as attention seeking, and in many cases, as short-lived as fashion design. Here the commonality between architecture and couture is the quest for spectacular display. While display as a value in itself is not new, the degree of importance placed on display — so that buildings can make an impression in two-dimensional media such as magazines, newspapers and the Web — has undoubtedly increased.

If the result of fashion design dipping into architecture is not profound, neither does it seem harmful, because couture is ephemeral, fading away quickly into the next sensation. Architecture, however, is about permanence (or relative permanence), and most buildings are expected to last for decades and to serve many different users. Building design that is guided by momentary fashion, can lose sight of its purpose in search of the values of celebrity culture. “Skin + Bones” hints at the degree to which the runway mentality has influenced architecture for the worse.

“Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture,” Nov. 19-March 5, Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 90012. (213) 626-6222.

Morris Newman has written about architecture and other subjects for many publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Shlub to Hero: Film Sketches Gehry Life

“He starts out with that,” says Barry Diller, alluding to a squiggle-like drawing in the new documentary, “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” and “he ends up with this,” pointing to a model of the InterActive Corp. (IAC) Building, currently under construction in Manhattan. Although made completely of glass, a material that likes to be flat, Gehry has molded the glass walls to resemble a row of sailboats billowing in the wind.

Even to the architect’s detractors — and there are many — buildings like the IAC offer something new and unexpected, even if a lot of looking is needed sometimes to wrap one’s mind around these edifices. In short, the IAC Building aspires to be a work of architecture that is simultaneously and unapologetically a work of art.

There’s an implicit question in the comments of Diller, the chairman of Expedia and Gehry’s client for the IAC Building: How did that blankety-blank squiggle turn into a really good building?

The film, a rare departure into documentary by Sidney Pollack, director of “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa,” assays the mystery of Gehry, an outwardly aw-shucks guy, who regularly produces some of the world’s most aggressive and attention-getting buildings.

While it is interesting to hear Gehry, 77, describe his formative influences — building blocks during childhood, the images of fish, the architecture of Finnish master Alvar Aalto — this kind of museum-docent talk does not bring us close to the core of Gehry’s creativity. Pollack’s film is strongest when filling in the human, rather than theoretical, background.

The real question here is: How did this lower-middle-class Jew from Toronto become the most celebrated architect in the world, and one of the rare people in the profession, outside of Frank Lloyd Wright, to become a household name? (What other architect is well-known enough to be spoofed on “The Simpsons”?)

Pollack, with his skill in developing character, locates the Freudian threads in Gehry’s life story. A Canadian in Southern California, the young Gehry, then known as Goldberg, struggled in architecture school, believing himself victimized by anti-Semitism in a largely all-WASP profession.

He has the outsider’s simultaneous rejection of, and reverence for, authority, here symbolized by the architectural profession, with its weighty baggage of uptight, exclusionary, backward-looking rules. The young Gehry wonders why architecture must be so authoritarian and rule-bound, as opposed to something akin to the delight he experienced as a child, building imaginary cities on the floor of his aunt’s apartment.

Gehry’s creative solution — his psychoanalytic victory — was to embrace the delight of free-form design, while making sure that his buildings met the needs of his clients. His freedom in designing what appear to be purely sculptural objects that subsequently win rapturous praise must make him the envy of all architects who secretly wish they could find such willing clients. Gehry seems to embody the myth of the artist-hero, a symbol of personal attainment and untrammeled freedom of expression.

Yet self-doubt remains. On the eve of his greatest popular triumph, the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, five years ago, the architect recalls walking around the spectacular complex, shortly to become the most photographed and discussed building of the past 50 years, asking himself, “What have I done?” It is the most touching moment in the film.

That kind of vulnerability and introspection makes “Sketches of Frank Gehry” at times resemble a Woody Allen movie. The plotline certainly sounds a lot like Allen: A sad sack, Jewish shlub who feels excluded from the country club set of architects, turns out to be the designer of amazing buildings that turn the world of architecture on its ear. Meanwhile, the hero, in all innocence, says things like, “Gee, did I really do that?”

Adding to the Allen-like texture of the film is a series of celebrity talking heads — Diller, ex-Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, actor Dennis Hopper, rock musician Bob Geldof, ex-talent agency director Michael Ovitz, artist Julian Schnabel, the late architect Philip Johnson — each expressing his admiration for cher maitre.

And in the archetypally Allen moment, we meet Gehry’s psychoanalyst of 35 years, who acknowledges with a coy smile that “Frank has made me famous,” while adding that he refuses services to other architects seeking to emulate Gehry’s inner transformation. (Question for Gideon Kanner: Is there a statute of limitations on physician confidentiality?)

This enjoyable, undemanding film from the hand of a master director holds no terrors for nonarchitects and others who feel flummoxed by the mystique and technical complexity of the profession. This very much reflects the attitude of Gehry, who seems intent on puncturing a certain kind of architectural snobbery.

What the film does not do is help us understand the process through which a scribbled drawing turns into a finished building. For all the accessibility of Gehry the man, Gehry the creative personality remains a mystery.

Hancock Park Infighting Escalates

Update September 25, 2007: City Building & Safety inspectors briefly interrupt Kol Nidrei services at Hancock Park shul.

Smoldering tensions between the Orthodox community and other Hancock Park residents, many of them also Jewish, are heating up anew, as a battle over neighborhood architecture has divided along lines of religious affiliation.

Residents of the upscale neighborhood are weighing whether it should become a designated Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), which would establish a process of scrutiny for any changes to the outside of homes. Opponents of the measure are mostly Orthodox Jews, who own an estimated 20 percent of Hancock Park’s 1,250 homes. A decision on this issue will be made by the City Council with neighborhood input, perhaps as early as this summer.

The latest battle comes nearly a year after Orthodox Jews and other residents faced off in an ugly election for control of the neighborhood council, when competing accusations of corruption and religious bias tore apart the community.

But even as halting peace efforts are under way to heal those wounds, the HPOZ fight is once again pitting Jew against Jew and neighbor against neighbor.

Proponents say the neighborhood needs to become an HPOZ to protect the 1920s and ’30s Spanish, Tudor and Mediterranean revival mansions from aesthetically dubious remodels that tamper with the historic look of the neighborhood. They also say it would improve property values. Opponents say the measure would infringe on homeowners’ rights, make improvements too costly and cumbersome and thereby hurt property values.

The fight is playing out on the wide, winding streets of this urban oasis, where orange anti-HPOZ signs and green pro-HPOZ signs have sprouted on impeccably landscaped lawns.

In the middle of the night on April 2 and 3, about 200 pro-HPOZ signs were uprooted and carted off, according to Jolene Snett, who is heading up the preservationist effort. Opponents say many anti-HPOZ signs have also been stolen.

At a March public hearing before Los Angeles’s Department of Planning, about 300 people came to voice their support or opposition to the ordinance. Nearly all of the measure’s opponents, including all of the speakers for the opposition, were Orthodox.

On May 11, the city’s Planning Commission will meet to hear a report on the public hearing, take recommendations from staff and hear more public comments. The Planning Commission will then send a recommendation to a subcommittee of the City Council, and the full council will have the final vote on whether to adopt an HPOZ ordinance for Hancock Park. That vote is expected over the summer.

The Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, The Los Angeles Conservancy and Councilman Tom LaBonge all have gone on record supporting a HPOZ for Hancock Park. The opposition is headed by the Hancock Park Residents Association, founded several years ago by Orthodox activists Michael Rosenberg and Stanley Treitel to fight against the HPOZ.

Preservationist Snett estimates that about 80 percent of Hancock Park residents support the HPOZ, while Treitel calls it a toss-up.

If established, control of the HPOZ board, which reviews proposed changes to property, would fall directly into the hands of local residents. The board would be made up of five members, three of whom live in the area, and some would have expertise in architecture or construction. Board members are appointed by the mayor, the area’s City Council member and the Cultural Heritage Commission, with the input of the local neighborhood council.

The grass-roots nature of the issue has made it tinder for the ongoing religious flare-ups in the neighborhood.

Some vocal Orthodox Jews say HPOZ is one in a long list of issues — from opposing synagogues to giving Jewish schools a hard time — whereas established neighbors have worked to keep the burgeoning Orthodox community at bay.

“The Orthodox typically have large families and want to be able to make these homes useful with expansion to accommodate the families, and they are concerned that that they will be stopped from doing this,” said Fred Gaines, an Encino lawyer who is representing a group of Orthodox residents opposed to HPOZ.

To David Rubin, chairman of Yeshivat Yavneh, a 450-child day school in Hancock Park, the issue is trust.

“Although I support the concept of preservation, I don’t support the process of local empowerment on this issue in our community,” Rubin said. “We can’t have an HPOZ controlled by a small group that has developed a double standard.”

Rubin says neighbors are much tougher on Yavneh than they are on Marlborough School, a private girls’ school in the area.

Neighbors say Marlborough is a 120-year-old school that was grandfathered in, and that Yavneh is simply expected to adhere to conditions it accepted on moving to the neighborhood in 1999.

Those conditions were brought to a Zoning Board hearing in City Hall on April 6, at which Yavneh requested permission to erect an 8-foot perimeter fence for security, and to change the terms of who can pray in the school on Saturdays from only students and their families to include alumni, board members and others associated with the school.

The Hancock Park Homeowners Association opposed both requests, which would change the school’s original conditional use permit. The zoning board is expected to hand down a decision by late April.

The us-versus-them atmosphere in Hancock Park has been festering over the past decade. Residents have been locked in a 10-year legal battle over a synagogue built on a residential lot at the corner of Highland Avenue and Third Street, which neighbors say violates local zoning laws. Congregants argue religious freedom allows them to pray in the new building, which they constructed after tearing down a home.

Snett, the preservationist, hopes that the city’s decision on the HPOZ can be separated from the religious disputes and seen for what it is: an effort to preserve the architecture of a beautiful and historically significant neighborhood. She is banking on the preservation plan, to be put together by the city, which allows residents to individualize the terms of an HPOZ.

But the preservation plan won’t be presented until after the city council approves the HPOZ, and opponents are skeptical.

“It is unfortunate that rather than sit down and compromise, there is an insistence to keep pushing forward and having a situation where neighbor is pitted against neighbor, and the city will end up in litigation,” said Gaines, the attorney for the opponents.

Three Museum Shows Span Gamut of Arts

Architecture is for the photographer Julius Shulman what green peppers and sand dunes were for Edward Weston or Yosemite for Ansel Adams. Born in 1910, Shulman’s iconic images have become a staple of every book or magazine that touches on the subject of modern architecture.

In recognition of his reach and historical significance, the Getty Center-Research Institute acquired Shulman’s archive of 70,000 images earlier this year; currently, a selection of those images is included in “Julius Shulman, Modernity and the Metropolis” in the institute’s exhibition gallery.

Shulman sees formal elegance in what others might overlook: banks, gas stations, churches and restaurants, for example. His keen compositional eye discovers the iconic aesthetics of edifices, revealing and reveling in their symmetry. Although he has photographed using color throughout his career, his work is best known for its vivid use of black and white.

Brooklyn born but an L.A. resident since 1920, Shulman has also documented the development and urbanization of Southern California with the same eye for detail that New Deal photographers like Dorothea Lange recorded the Dust Bowl.

Shulman’s structural subjects stretch from the Shangri La mountains in Ojai to Chavez Ravine to the Stratosphere at Los Angeles International Airport.

A 1964 gelatin silver print of the Richard Neutra-designed Moore residence in Ojai prominently features the mountain range where Frank Capra shot the Himalayan sequences of 1937’s “Lost Horizon.”

A 1953 photo reveals the Chicano neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine, before they were bulldozed to make way for Dodger Stadium, .

A 1960 image of the famed Chemosphere, created by John Lautner and now belonging to the German publisher Benedikt Taschen, illustrates the futuristic vogue of space-age design as Kennedy’s New Frontier dawned.

A 1947 photograph of the patio of the 1936 home Neutra originally designed for movie director Josef von Sternberg shows the architect socializing with Ayn Rand at her Northridge home, where the author wrote “Atlas Shrugged.”

In an interview, Shulman declared: “The point is, I want to expose to the public what it’s like to live in a contemporary house … not 1890 or 1790, but a house that is done in this day and age … to avail ourselves of the best possible architecture … floor plan, the best productive way of enjoying their lifestyles…. So, my photography has successfully portrayed for 69 years how it is to live in a good house.”

The exhibition shows that Shulman’s interests aren’t limited to homes, however. Throughout the decades, Shulman’s unerring eye has captured the architectural Zeitgeist of each era. For instance, the peaked Melanesian-style roof of Coffee Dan’s coffee shop in Van Nuys expresses the tiki craze of postwar Pacific Island-inspired architecture. Another series from the 1960s focuses on churches in California, Colorado and Illinois.

Shulman still lives in the same house in the Hollywood hills that architect Raphael Soriano built for him in 1960. Still feisty at 95, he continues to take photographs and travels widely. He also lectures and presents workshops and seminars, most recently in Philadelphia and Frankfurt.

“Julius Shulman, Modernity and the Metropolis” continues through Jan. 22 at the Getty Center-Research Institute, 1200 Getty Center Drive Los Angeles. For information call (310) 440-7300.

As a child, teachers complained to my parents that I was neglecting my studies by “drawing flying men,” yet I went on to create Manaman, the Noble Savage, the first Polynesian comic strip published in a weekly newspaper, The Samoa Times. Cartoon and comic book artists have long been the Rodney Dangerfields of artists, denied respect by the art world establishment, so I’m personally gratified that the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art have joined forces for an unprecedented collaboration to present the dual-venue exhibition, “Masters of American Comics.”

This rock-’em-sock-’em exhibition reveals why there are often more exclamation points in a single comic than in the entire Bible, displaying 900 objects by 15 cartoon and comic book artists who helped shaped this cinematic medium with its close-ups, long shots and camera angles.

“More than half of the artwork displayed [are] original drawings by the artists’ … pen and ink, that are one of a kind … made for reproduction in the newspapers or comic books, and a large selection of old printed newspaper pages and comic books … and graphic novels,” explained co-curator/cartoonist Brian Walker, son of Mort Walker, creator of “Beetle Bailey” and “Hi and Lois.”

Some may feel the show makes omissions, such as DC Comics, which gave us “Superman” and “Batman.” But Walker said he and his co-curator, art historian John Carlin, selected the artists included in the show because they were “all … very influential in their times and influenced other artists.”

The exhibition “focuses on form over content,” he said. The artists include George Herriman (“Krazy Kat”), E.C. Segar (“Popeye”), Chester Gould (“Dick Tracy”), Milton Caniff (“Terry and the Pirates,” “Steve Canyon”), Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”), Will Eisner (“The Spirit”), Jack Kirby (“Captain America,” “Fantastic Four”), Harvey Kurtzman (“Mad Magazine”), R. Crumb (“Zap Comix”) and Art Spiegelman (“Maus,” “In the Shadow of No Towers”).

As with movies, musicals and other art forms, Jews “made a tremendous contribution in all areas of cartooning,” Walker said. “Most of the early comic book artists were Jewish.”

Fleeing pogroms and other persecution, newly arrived immigrants and their children often felt powerless, so they compensated by creating superheroes who defended the underdog, especially during the Nazi era. Ancient traditions, from Moses to the Golem, influenced these Jewish artists, from Superman’s Siegel and Schuster to Batman’s Bob Kane to Spiderman and the Fantastic Four’s Stan Lee to Li’l Abner’s Al Capp. Of the artists represented in the exhibition, Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg), Eisner, Kurtzman and Spiegelman all are Jewish.

The Hammer’s portion of the exhibition presents work from the first half of the 20th century, while MOCA is showing work from the 1950s on. Admission at each of the venues also includes a $2 discount for admission at the other museum. As the Thing, who was revealed to be a Jew, says, “It’s clobbering time” for the joint exhibitions through March 12.

“Masters of American Comics” continues through March 12 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 626-6222, and at the UCLA Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000.

Jennifer Bornstein’s work on view at MOCA may initially appear to the unsuspecting eye to be pencil sketches, but they are, rather, copperplate etchings rendered through the archaic intaglio printmaking process used by Rembrandt, Blake and Goya.

Bornstein’s acid-dipped, serialized image-making technique is the most outstanding aspect of this first installment in the museum’s new Focus series, which is designed to highlight Southern California artists.

Produced since 2003, the 55 images by the Seattle-born 35-year-old include slices of life depicting ordinary people Bornstein has encountered, as well as abstractions and historical personages derived from photographic sources. The latter include images of Margaret Mead clad in aboriginal apparel, taken during the 1920s when the anthropologist conducted her South Seas fieldwork for “Coming of Age in Samoa.” In the frontal full shot, “Margaret Mead in Authentic Samoan Dress,” a youthful Mead stands on a mat of plaited pandanus, or coconut leaves, in a tapa lavalava (barkcloth sarong) that is decorated with breadfruit leaf designs.

My favorite work in the show is the most detailed etching, which best reveals Bornstein’s deft touch. In “Study for 16MM Film (Ruth Benedict, Lover and Mentor of Margaret Mead, Kneeling on a Hand Woven Navajo Blanket),” the ethnologist wears traditional haberdashery and a meticulously rendered garment designed with Pacific Northwest Indian animal iconography.

Bornstein said she feels an affinity for Mead’s work.

“There’s an anthropological aspect to what I do,” said the artist, who lives in Hollywood. She called her subject “a curious character … simultaneously really wonderful and problematic in the way she practiced anthropology.

“She’s a woman who got so far in that field. I felt she was very familiar to me, and I was working in a way that wasn’t so far from her own work.”

Other notables represented include ex-City Councilman Joel Wachs, Fatty Arbuckle, Lotte Lenya and even Bertolt Brecht’s Santa Monica home, where the playwright lived after fleeing Hitler. In a closely cropped etching redolent with irony, silent film comedian Buster Keaton — famed for his agility — faces the viewer, standing on crutches, his right foot bandaged.

Other less exotic works by Bornstein, who is also a sculptor and experimental filmmaker, are ruminations on roommates, relatives and friends going about everyday activities. These include “Alex Doing His Homework” and “Teenage Roommate Digging in Fridge.” They fall somewhere between ho-ho-ho and ho-hum.

Bornstein’s abstractions include proposals for sculptures, plus “Maps of Trails in Griffith Park, Drawn From Memory While Waiting for the Bus in New York City.” The latter resembles the playing board for the global conquest game, Risk, and is whimsical at best.

“Jennifer Bornstein” continues through January at MOCA, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles (213) 626-6222.

Ed Rampell is the author of “Progressive Hollywood, a People’s Film History of the United States” (The Disinformation Company, 2005).


Historically Sacred L.A.

Robert Berger is a third-generation Angeleno who dares to do the unthinkable in Los Angeles.

He actually gets out of his car and studies old buildings.

Berger, an architectural photographer with Berger/Conser Architectural Photography, is interested in historic Los Angeles. Previously, he photographed all the old movie theaters and published them in a book: “The Last Remaining Seats: Movie Palaces of Tinseltown.”

He then turned his attention to historic buildings of a different kind: places of worship.

Over a three-year period, Berger visited 300 churches, synagogues, and temples in Los Angeles and photographed them. Some he discovered through research; others he found just by driving around. Often, when photographing the spaces, he started in early evening and worked until dawn. Berger judged 54 of the buildings to be the most historically and architecturally significant places of worship in Los Angeles, and he published those photographs in a book, “Sacred Spaces, Historic Houses of Worship in the City of Angels.” (Balcony Press, 2003). In August, Berger’s photographs will go on display at the Ruby Gallery at the Skirball Cultural Center.

“My family has been in Los Angeles for 100 years, but how often is it that you go to Vernon, Lincoln Heights or Boyle Heights?” said Berger, referring to his photographic expeditions. “It was fascinating — it gave me a great feel for the city.”

The elegant photographs of “Sacred Spaces,” and the accompanying text by architectural historian Alfred Willis, tell an interesting story of Los Angeles and the various demographic shifts that took place in the city over the last 150 years. For example, several of the churches photographed, such as Korean Philadelphia Presbyterian Church in Mid-Wilshire, or the Welsh Presbyterian Church downtown, were once synagogues. Other synagogues, like the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights, sit deserted and abandoned, as their congregations moved, and the neighborhood changed.

“People see my work and say ‘I have driven by that church many times, but I would never have thought about looking inside,'” Berger said. “I want people to get out of their cars and look at things they wouldn’t normally go to, and experience the street life and the history [of Los Angeles].”

“Sacred Spaces: Historic Houses of Worship in the City of Angels” is on display at the Ruby Gallery at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles from Aug. 11-Nov. 27. Free. For more information, call (310) 440-4500 or visit

Get ‘Wicked’ in the Windy City

If you’re not willing to wait to see the Wicked Witch of the West melt at the Pantages, you can always skip down the Yellow Brick Road, click your heels three times and say: “There’s no place like Chicago.”

“Wicked,” the Tony-award winning Oz-based musical is currently playing at the Oriental Theatre in downtown Chicago’s opulent Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The company featuring Carol Kane will leave Chicago for Los Angeles on June 12. But immediately after the touring cast leaves, a permanent cast will take over with “Saturday Night Live” alum Ana Gasteyer headlining in the role of Elphaba, the green-skinned wicked witch. The permanent troupe is expected to play through until the end of September, possibly longer. So if you are unable to secure tickets for the Los Angeles production, which ends its run on July 31, consider a trip to Chi-town.

Thanks to more than 200 theatres, the City of Big Shoulders, as Carl Sandburg called it in his 1916 poem “Chicago,” is fast becoming the City of Big Ticket Sales. Chicago features big-budget musicals like “The Lion King,” “Cats” and “Little Shop of Horrors”; notable playhouses such as The Steppenwolf Theatre (created by John Malkovich and Gary Sinese); and long-running faves, like Second City, Blue Man Group, “Menopause: the Musical” and “Late Nite Catechism.”

A song in “Wicked” describes an incredible day in the fictional Emerald City, but the same could be said of the Windy City: “One short day full of so much to do. Ev’ry way that you look in the city, there’s something exquisite you’ll want to visit before the day’s through.”

More than 2.77 million Chicagoans work, live and play in nearly 100 distinctive neighborhoods, divided by ethnicity, class and geography. Navigating the city can be a daunting, perplexing task. Luckily, Chicago Greeters (” target=”_blank”>www.chgocitytours.com) offer two-dozen excursions throughout the year that allow visitors to explore these “cities within the city.”

The heart of Jewish Chicago can be found in the neighborhood of West Rogers Park, and Devon Avenue is its main artery. Over the years the area has become ethnically and religiously diverse, featuring a plethora of Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants and shops. A large Orthodox community inhabits the area, which frequents the cleverly named kosher Chinese restaurant Mi Tsu Yun and more than 20 synagogues, most of which are Orthodox or Traditional.

The Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Michigan Avenue features something for children with the traveling exhibit, “Every Picture Tells a Story: Teaching Tolerance through Children’s Picture Books” (” target=”_blank”>www.millenniumpark.org), where outdoor concerts, gardens and an ice skating rink bring a sense of tranquility to the urban jungle.

While the views of the lakefront from the ground are incredible, nothing beats the view from the top. Visit the 150-foot Ferris Wheel overlooking Lake Michigan on Navy Pier (” target=”_blank”>www.hancock-observatory.com). Of course, there’s always the tallest building in North America (second-tallest in the world), the 110-story Sears Tower and its 103rd-floor skydeck (” target=”_blank”>www.artic.edu/aic), which houses more than 300,000 works, including Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” For interactive Americana, the Museum of Science and Industry (” target=”_blank”>www.architecture.org), which spotlights more than 50 of Chicago’s most spectacular waterfront sites. Grab a snack on board the ship, or get something really unique to the city once you disembark.

The first rule of thumb when eating in Chi-town: If it ain’t a Chicago dog, it ain’t a dog. The steam-cooked all-beef dogs, which come in a kosher variety, are only authentic when eaten with yellow mustard, pickle relish, onions, tomatoes and celery salt on a poppy-seed bun — never order ketchup.

The second rule of thumb when eating in Chi-town: Pizza isn’t pizza if it can’t be eaten with a knife and fork. For Chicago deep-dish, there’s really no wrong way to go: Pizzeria Uno and its sister restaurant Pizzeria Due’s (” target=”_blank”>www.loumalnatis.com, which will ship anywhere in the country); and, if your lucky, you’ll stumble into a little-known treasure like Joey Buona’s (” target=”_blank”>www.thedrakehotel.com), across from Oak Street Beach.

Turn the corner from the Drake and it’s shopping heaven up and down the Mag Mile with stores like Neiman-Marcus, Niketown and the American Girl Place. Your nose will beckon you to make a stop at Garrett’s Popcorn Shop at 670 N. Michigan (it’s worth the occasional 45 minute wait).

Down the street is a piece of Chicago history — the stone-built Old Chicago Water Tower, the only structure in the city to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. For another landmark, head over to State Street (“that great street”) and spend some time (and money) at the flagship Marshall Field’s department store, a city treasure for 150 years that spans an entire block and comes with its own audio tour.

At night, the city comes alive with its own vibe. Chicago is famous for its own style of the blues and some of the city’s best can be heard at B.L.U.E.S. (” target=”_blank”>www.bluechicago.com). Then toast your vacation with a breathtaking backdrop at the Hyatt Regency’s BIG Bar (chicagoregency.hyatt.com), where patrons can indulge in an 48-ounce Cosmopolitan or a “Big” “Bigger” or “Biggest” beer on tap at the longest free-standing bar in North America.

With so much to do, don’t expect a relaxing vacation in Chicago. But with its culture, cuisine and construction marvels, Chi-town just might make you feel like you’re ended up somewhere over the rainbow.

For tickets to “Wicked,” visit ” target=”_blank”>www.choosechicago.com. For more information on Chicago’s kosher options, visit

Wilshire: Boulevard of Sanctuaries

Wilshire Boulevard’s stature as the grand concourse of Los Angeles is due in part to its many architecturally distinct synagogues and churches. Those located in the Wilshire Center district, between LaFayette Park and about Western Avenue, are some of the most notable and serve some of the city’s oldest congregations.

The boulevard in the 1920s was the natural place for the institutions and their members to relocate. They saw that, in the future, downtown’s narrow, congested streets would no longer be the center of the community. Los Angeles was turning into a driving city, and Wilshire became the nation’s first Automobile Age thoroughfare. Religious establishments that wished to be part of the exciting future moved to Wilshire Boulevard.

On the boulevard of big dreams they constructed edifices on a grand scale to suit the surroundings. It was in the same era that architects gave Los Angeles proud, new symbols of aspiration, such as the marvelous City Hall and the museum-quality Bullock’s Wilshire department store. The new houses of worship also aspired to greatness. Their membership typically numbered in the thousands, and the pews were filled with mayors, judges, publishers and other movers.

Congregations didn’t need to advertise their addresses, just the corners: Wilshire at Berendo Street for Immanuel Presbyterian, Wilshire at Harvard Boulevard for St. Basil’s Catholic Church, Wilshire at St. Andrews Place for St. James Episcopal. They formed a community that crossed denomination lines. During the years around World War II, the Christian churches joined for an annual procession on Easter Sunday. At the conclusion of services, worshippers would jam the sidewalks to watch cars promenade along Wilshire.

Neighbors took care of one another. The congregation at Wilshire Boulevard Temple welcomed offers to hold High Holy Days services in the larger sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian, a few blocks to the east. The temple also held services inside the gorgeous Wilshire Christian Church, built at Normandie Avenue on land donated by the Chapman family, for whom Chapman University is named.

Likewise, when the original St. Basil’s burned down, Wilshire Boulevard Temple invited parishioners to worship in its sanctuary until a new Catholic church was finished. At the dedication of new St. Basil’s in 1969, Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin sat as an honored guest at Mass alongside John Francis Cardinal McIntyre.

Congregation B’nai B’rith had been the leading downtown synagogue at the time its members voted to relocate at Wilshire and Hobart boulevards. The new Wilshire Boulevard Temple served some of the city’s most respected and influential Jews.

At the dedication in 1929, banker Marco Hellman presented the ark, and Jack Warner, one of the studio-owning Warner brothers, bestowed colorful murals depicting the history of the Hebrew people painted by Hugo Ballin. The artist, whose work also decorates Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and the lobby of the Los Angeles Times Building, painted on canvas in his Santa Monica studio, then mounted the murals around the 100-foot-high, mosaic-inlaid dome in the octagonal sanctuary.

Placing such prominent artwork in the synagogue was not typical of the time. But Rabbi Magnin hoped it would add warmth and an element of mysticism to the surroundings. The temple’s architecture by David Allison and Abraham Edelman is regarded as a work of art in itself. With Italian and Belgian marble, carved mahogany and inlaid gold, it is the only Wilshire Center religious home listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Allison was the Wilshire architect of choice in the 1920s. He is credited with designing the cathedral-like First Congregational Church on Commonwealth Street, across from LaFayette Park, the similarly regal Wilshire United Methodist near Windsor Square and the imposing First Baptist Church off the boulevard behind Bullock’s Wilshire. Allison also contributed the design for several of the original Italianate buildings at UCLA, including the stunning Royce Hall.

Like Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Immanuel Presbyterian opened in 1929. The acquisition of the land five years earlier had stirred up controversy among the members. Some opposed the idea of giving up the prestige of being downtown to start over as a country church. Today, Immanuel Presbyterian is the most Gothic-looking structure found along Wilshire, dark and brooding with a soaring bell tower and windows by the historic Judson Studios and Dixon Art Glass Co. Gothic chandeliers hang inside the massive sanctuary, capable of seating 2,000 worshippers.

These days, the congregations in mid-Wilshire are not as large as at the district’s peak. But their establishments all stand as important monuments to the dreamers who saw where Los Angeles was headed and knew how to get there.

Adapted from “Wilshire Boulevard” by Kevin Roderick, to be published next year.

Freewheeling Around D.C.

When Stephen Marks and his wife, Janna, acquired Bike the Sites in December 2002, they didn’t realize how their two-wheeled tours of Washington, D.C., would translate to a Jewish audience.

“We put together some talking points to generate discussion and thought from a Jewish perspective at the different sites,” says Stephen, who took over the company from its founder, Gary Oelsner, who began offering professionally guided bicycle tours and rentals in 1995.

The Markses, recreational bikers until purchasing the company, also started providing customized programs for Jewish organizations such as B’nai B’rith, Jewish camps, federations and synagogue groups.

Bike the Sites, a smart solution to the challenges of sightseeing in heavily trafficked D.C., allows visitors to enjoy Washington’s history and architecture in an environmentally friendly way. It is among a handful of unique ways to explore the capital and enjoy local Jewish culture, kosher restaurants and community resources.

On a trip to Washington in 2003, a friend and I opted for the Marks’ Sites@Nite tour — a warm-weather option. March 1 through Dec. 30, the Bike the Sites menu features its flagship outing, the Capital Sites Tour, an easy three-hour ride around the National Mall and the Potomac’s Tidal Basin. Guides share the scoop on more than 50 of the nation’s most popular attractions, including the presidential monuments, as well as a few lesser-known sites that may have more meaning to Jewish visitors, such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Einstein Memorial.

After adjusting our seat height on our 21-speed comfort mountain bike (a more upright ride and a larger seat) and helmets, we began our tour with a brief orientation on safety tips and hand signals from a CPR-trained guide. We took off from the Bike the Sites headquarters at the Old Post Office Pavilion (near the offices of the Internal Revenue Service) and rode on the sidewalk up busy 12th Street to the Mall.

In a picture-postcard setting, we rode past locals playing ball on the green open spaces in the shadow of landmarks. We cruised toward the Smithsonian Castle on a level, gravel path toward a number of top-billing destinations: the National Gallery and Sculpture Garden, National Archives, Air and Space Museum and the future American Indian Museum, which is slated to debut in September 2004.

From time to time, our energetic guide Mark, who earned a bachelor’s degree in American history at George Washington University in D.C., would roll to a stop and tell us more about our capital.

As we looked on at the Capitol building and munched on kosher Clif Bars (provided gratis for hungry guests), we learned how President Abraham Lincoln ordered tons of iron to be used for the construction of the Capitol dome — a message of strength and determination to the rest of the world that the North would win the Civil War.

Pedaling onward, we noted the increased security around the majestic Washington Monument and the White House. At the Vietnam Memorial, Mark told us an Israeli visitor pointed out that the soldiers on a statue that looks on at the poignant wall of victims’ names are equipped with authentic models of the M-16 rifle.

At the Einstein Memorial, we took a water break and marveled at the beautiful execution of this memorial to the 20th century’s most legendary scientist. A larger-than-life statue combines Einstein’s thoughtful gaze with the body of a child to evoke his childlike wonder of the world and his unique ability to see it anew.

At the foot of the statue, a fascinating star map depicts the skies on the night of what would have been his 100th birthday. As you stand in the apex of converging rays and say a few words to Einstein, you hear yourself speaking to him in the most perfect echo. It’s a whole new theory on relativity.

Bike the Sites is at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, behind the Old Post Office Pavilion in the historic Penn Quarter. Prices for the Capitol Sites Tour are $40 for adults and $30 for children under 13. The fee includes the use of bikes and helmets, professional tour guides, bottled water and snacks.

Summertime Beat the Heat trips and customized tours for
Jewish groups are also available. All groups of riders receive a 15 percent
discount for a post-bike ride meal at Stacks, a nearby kosher delicatessen.
Bike, tandem, trailer tandem, burley (a buggy that attaches to bikes for young
children) and stroller rentals are also available. For group reservations, call
(202) 842-BIKE; e-mail, Stephen@bikethesites.com; or visit,

Mojitos and Matzah Balls in Havana

Care for an authentic Cuban mojito at the L’chaim bar? How about Israeli salad, matzah ball soup and cheese blintzes?

They’re all now on the menu at the Hotel Raquel, Cuba’s first boutique hotel catering specifically to adventurous Jewish tourists.

Richly illustrated passages from the Bible cover the walls of the small but elegant property, located in what was once a thriving Jewish neighborhood of Old Havana.

The 25-room hotel originally was built as a bank in 1908, a time when thousands of impoverished Jews from Eastern Europe, Turkey and Syria were immigrating to Cuba.

After the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, nearly all of the Jews fled to the United States and elsewhere. Today, no more than 1,300 Jews live in Cuba, most in Havana.

For many years, the structure housing the Raquel was used as a warehouse and fabric depot. Now, its eclectic architecture and romantic Art Nouveau interiors — all refurbished — have made the Raquel a jewel in the crown of Habaguanex S.A., the state entity charged with fixing up Old Havana’s hotels and restaurants.

The property is located six blocks from Congregacion Adat Israel, Cuba’s oldest synagogue, and boasts the largest stained-glass window on the island.

General manager Jose Manuel Quesada said that since the Raquel’s inauguration in June, it has become popular with Spanish tourists as well as Americans circumventing the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba.

He expects the occupancy rate to reach 80 to 85 percent this winter, thanks to an influx of visitors from France, Germany and Great Britain.

In addition to American Jews, the Raquel clearly hopes to attract tourists from Israel. Though Castro broke off relations with the Jewish State in 1973, tour operators in Tel Aviv estimate that at least 10,000 Israelis have visited Cuba.

Near the Raquel is a kosher butcher shop and a bakery. Some Jewish families still live in the vicinity, and according to Leal, at least seven hotel employees are Jewish.

Eusebio Leal Spengler, director of Habaguanex and Havana’s official historian, said the revival of Jewish culture at the Hotel Raquel is a long and involved process.

“We have built a place of harmony in a Havana neighborhood that respects the best traditions of the Jewish people, members of a community that live in Cuba together with citizens of other beliefs,” he said.

In high season, rooms at the Raquel start at $180 for a double, going up to $282 a night for one of the hotel’s two junior suites. These prices include a welcome cocktail, breakfast, access to a safe, free entrance to all museums and 10 percent off at all Habaguanex-managed restaurants.

The Jewish touch seems to be everywhere in the building, with rooms on the second floor named after biblical matriarchs like Sarah, Hannah, Leah, Ruth and Tziporah. First-floor rooms have names like David and Solomon.

It’s the only hotel in Cuba whose phone system plays the theme song from “Schindler’s List” when callers must be placed on hold.

Four ornate chandeliers patterned after Stars of David hang in the lobby, while contemporary paintings by Cuban Jewish artist Jose Farinis hang on the hotel’s walls.

The lobby bar, meanwhile, is named L’chaim. It’s right next to the Bezalel boutique and gift shop, which sells Judaica, and the Garden of Eden restaurant, where guests can choose a variety of kosher-style items ranging from potato latkes to red beet borscht and vegetable knishes.

For really hungry tourists, the Garden of Eden offers lamb shishlik, sweet-and-sour beef tongue, Hungarian goulash and gefilte fish.

Quesada says the hotel never cooks vegetables together with meat, but Pavel Tenenbaum, a Cuban Jew who used to work at the hotel, says the Raquel does not follow the rules of kashrut.

For more information on Hotel Raquel, visit

7 Days In Arts


“Art” for the people: Yasmina Reza’s play about the delicate nature of friendships opens today at The Laurel in Ventura. Translated from the French by Christopher Hampton, the words fly among three male friends when one of them pays a good sum of money for a supposedly avant-garde white-on-white painting. Actors Joseph Fuqua, Cliff DeYoung and Emmy Award-winner Bruce Weitz (“Hill Street Blues”) star in this latest Rubicon Theatre Company production playing through Sept. 28.8 p.m. (Thursday-Saturday), 7 p.m (Wednesday and Sunday), 2 p.m. (Thursday, Saturday and Sunday). $28-$43. 1006 E. Main St., Ventura. (805) 667-2900.


Wunderkind Daniel Schlosberg works his 24-year-old fingers over the piano keys in this evening’s installment of LACMA’s Sundays Live Series. Mozart and Schubert fans convene at the Bing Theater for a free fix of the composers’ “Sonata in F” and “Sonata in B Flat,” respectively.6 p.m. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000.


Put the superstitions aside and head to Forest Lawn for their latest exhibition, “The Art of a People: Polish Expressions.” Works by Polish artists Danuta Rothschild, Jerzy Skolimowski and Jan Styka are displayed along with videos depicting their lives and their paintings.10 a.m.-5 p.m. (daily). 1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale. (800) 204-3131.


You don’t need a parking reservation to see the Getty’s collection anymore. Take a personal Tuesday and check out their “Photographs of Artists by Alexander Liberman” exhibition. During his 50-year career as art director of Vogue and editorial director of Condé Nast Publications, Liberman’s flashbulb dilated the eyes of prominent artists like Picasso, Matisse, Frankenthaler and Duchamp. You can see those images and others through Oct.19.10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday), 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (Friday and Saturday). 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300.


While growing up, Baila Goldenthal’s nomadic family life took her all over the United States and to the Panama Canal. As an adult, her own wanderlust led to a two-year stay in Europe and later in Madras, India. Her thematic interest in the concepts of time and space were a natural outgrowth of all her traveling, which has translated into her art, most recently in a series of collages and sculptures fittingly titled “On and Off the Wall.” The pieces can be viewed starting today at the Artcore Brewery Annex.Runs Sept. 3-28. By appointment (Wednesday), noon-4 p.m. (Thursday-Sunday). 650A S. Avenue 21, Los Angeles. (323) 276-9320.


Three distinctly American musical musings make up tonight’s “Dvořák’s New World” concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Offered up are “Symphony No. 9” from the titular piece, along with excerpts from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.”8 p.m. $1-$77. 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000.


You started the week with a play about art and friendship; end it with one about architecture and family. Richard Greenberg’s “Three Days of Rain” has reopened at the Flight Theater at the Complex in Hollywood through Oct. 15. The play about two siblings struggling to understand their architect father after his death and their subsequent disinheritance was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1998.8 p.m. (Thursday-Saturday). $15. 6472 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 761-6482.

Amsterdam’s Split Personality

Anne Frank’s house, a fabulous 17th century synagogue and an excellent heritage museum give Amsterdam special appeal for Jewish visitors. But they are all sites whose very existence reflect the city’s incurable split personality, making for a sightseeing experience that constantly provides food for thought.

Jews were victims of Amsterdam’s schizophrenia from the mid-1600s, when they first came from Portugal disguised as Catholic converts, to the mid-1900s, when the horror of the Holocaust provoked serious atonement for a level of duplicity that helped the community to virtual annihilation 60 years ago.

At first, Jews were tolerated yet barred from all but the brokers’, printers’ and surgeons’ guilds and were later emancipated by Napoleon, only to be left to a terrible fate under the Nazis. It is surprising, given how little help was given to the few wartime survivors, that a modern community exists at all.

Yet, this beautiful city has done more than any in Europe to acknowledge the contribution of its late, great Jewish citizens.

Amsterdam has much else to recommend it — beautiful canals, buzzy cafes, world-class art and architecture and eclectic shopping — plus discomfiting contrasts that give it a certain edge. Elegant canalside neighborhoods sit only minutes away from a raucous Red Light District, while a rip-off taxi-driver element preys on tourists who shun the fast and frequent trams.

However, for those sufficiently fit to get around by tram, boat and on foot, dodging the bicycles, Amsterdam makes for a rewarding weekend. The city looks utterly unique, thanks to its legacy of distinctive 17th century buildings, and also feels unique, thanks to the cultural sea change of the hippie era in which it remains charmingly stuck. There’s a hallucination round every corner, whether it’s a five-story gingerbread house leaning at a precarious 20-degree angle into the canal, or a rescue barge fishing drowned bicycles out of the water by the truckload — not to mention those ladies of the night in their neon-framed windows.

Anne Frank’s house, the saddest canalside mansion of all, is the first place of pilgrimage for virtually all cultural tourists. Despite the queues and the controversy (some feel it whitewashes wartime facts), it is impossible not to be moved by the sight of her bare room decorated with pictures from the cinema magazines smuggled in every week, not to mention the original diary pages in which she recorded every agony of her interrupted adolescence and longing for a future in which it would be OK to be Jewish.

Far less well-known than the diary, but an equally powerful testament of a young girl in the wrong place at the wrong time, are the 769 vivid comic-strip tableaus by Charlotte Salomon, who also died in the camps. Salomon was a Berliner, but her illustrated autobiography is a jewel in the crown of Amsterdam’s Jewish Historical Museum, which attempts to explore all Jewish identity — as well as the sad tale of the Dutch experience — within a complex of 17th and 18th century shuls.

You don’t, however, need to enter a museum to trace the history of Amsterdam’s community, thanks to an excellent self-guided walking tour around the old Jewish quarter, whose most poignant site is the Hollandsche Schouwburg, a music-hall grotesquely turned into a Jewish theater by the Nazis and shortly thereafter a collection point for Amsterdam’s Jews sent from bound for death in the camps.

Almost equally chilling to behold is the handsome canalside Jewish Council building, whose members so efficiently carried out the orders of their new Nazi masters in the vain hope of not making things worse. Like the Amsterdammers at large who went on strike to protest the occupation long after the event, they realized the truth too late. It is a wonder that the magnificent Portuguese synagogue completed in 1675 survived the war, unlike its community, and that it continues to open for services today without the benefit of electric light. one of the most breathtaking aspects of a Shabbat visit is to experiencing davening by candlelight, but a visit is possible at any time without special arrangement.

Across the road lies Waterlooplein, a big waterside market square once the main trading venue for Jewish peddlers barred from owning shops, now a Mecca of ’70s-style tat. Nearby — and thus perfectly placed for touring Amsterdam’s Jewish sites, as well as the canal belt, which is a living legacy to the city’s golden age — is the Hotel de l’Europe, one of Amsterdam’s three five-star deluxe hotels and by far the most conveniently situated. Worth the price for its luxury as well as location, it is just a couple of doors down from the city’s best cafe, Cafe de Jaren, a brilliant waterside rendezvous for anything from a late breakfast to a late drink. Less posh than the l’Europe, but very acceptable, is the Hotel Estherea, offering a canalside view of Amsterdam life. There is a Waterlooplein stop for the excellent Museum Boat that goes one step further than other canal cruises by linking all sites of interest, including Anne Frank’s House and the Jewish Museum, and permits a start-stop cruise as often as you want within the scope of a day ticket.

A large part of the day will doubtless be spent on land, in the art gallery belt at the southern end of town, where the Rembrandts, Vermeers and still-life masters of the Rijksmusum compete with the Van Goghs at the modern museum dedicated to the work of the mad Vincent — including several incarnations of his sunflower paintings.

Next door, the Stedilijk Museum promises world-class modern art, but out of season it displays disappointingly few of its Mondrians, Maleviches and other Post-Impressionists. Before leaving the museum belt, do wander down to the lively Leidseplein, which, although rather gaudy, is distinguished by the turn-of-the-century Cafe Americain, another Amsterdam institution. Each city center meeting point seems to have its signature cafe. In the Leidestraat shopping area, it’s the top floor of Metz, Amsterdam’s answer to Harvey Nichols, with a fantastic view of canalside rooftops, while on Spui Square, aficionados divide themselves between the Dante and the Luxembourg. Negotiating Amsterdam life depends on knowing the difference between a grand cafe (all the aforementioned — large and glamorous), a brown cafe (smaller and more traditional) and a coffee shop — which legally dispenses cannabis, with or without a shot of caffeine. Scary as they sound, these law-abiding establishments are safe, no one pushes customers to smoke, and the odd one, like the Jolly Joker, where a tiny hive of left-wing Jewish intellectual debate on the Nieuwmarkt, is an absolute gem. This former brown cafe, with its fabulous art nouveau light fittings, serves the best cappuccino in town against a suitably laid-back musical backdrop — everything from the Mamas and the Papas to modern Chill. Traditionalists may prefer the equally exquisite and tiny Papenisland, Amsterdam’s oldest brown cafe, named for the secret tunnel under the canal that Catholics used to reach their clandestine church in the days when their own religion was outlawed.

Visiting this fantastically lit watering hole for a nightcap would be reason enough to head for Jordaan, Amsterdam’s loveliest and also funkiest residential neighborhood, but although the nearby Brauwersgracht canal and its elegant homes and bridges are enchanting by night, its shops are equally worth a poke around during the day. A good bistro hereabouts is Lorrainen, but the gastronomic gem likely to be of greatest interest to Jewish visitors is the delightfully decorated Lucius fish restaurant, back in the town center on Spuistraat.

L.A. Museums: Saved by the Jews

A small museum opened its doors in Pasadena last month and naturally enough made local headlines. The stories touched on the museum’s focus — California art, architecture and design from 1850 to the present day; and on the personal angle, namely that the $5 million Pasadena Museum of California Art is being underwritten by a couple of local art collectors, Robert and Arlene Oltman. They live on the top floor of a new three-story building, with the second-floor set aside for art galleries, a bookstore and a community room. It is in effect a private museum — they are a self-made couple who began collecting art 30 years ago — open to the public and underwritten by the Oltmans. They have agreed to pay the operating expenses of $500,000 a year for the next five years. What few reporters mentioned is that the Oltmans are Jewish. But then, why should they?

The art scene in Los Angeles, like its popular culture counterpart of film and television, is known by insiders as having a very significant Jewish presence. Drift through the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and it is difficult to avoid noticing the prevalence of Jewish names. It is well-known that the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art, a smaller modern art museum that opened its doors in 1983, owes its existence largely to the efforts of the late Marcia Weisman — she had been the guiding force behind the idea, the fundraising, and the support of local artists — and its recent renovation to a $5 million contribution from David Geffen of Dreamworks.

When we add the Armand Hammer Museum, (opened in 1990 and now run by UCLA,) and the Norton Simon Museum (1974), and the Getty Center’s Jewish Presidents (past and present) we might conclude that without the involvement of L.A.’s Jewish population, art in the city would be greatly diminished if not invisible.

On one level, of course, none of this is new. Jews have historically been collectors, producers and consumers of art. Culture matters. But there is a fork in the road here. The cultural life of the city, not just its Jewish community, is being shaped by this new — Jewish — cultural elite. One result is that it blurs the line of living apart, of being an outsider in gentile America. After all, these are neither Jewish museums, nor Jewish art that are being championed.

Monetarily this means that Jewish philanthropy has expanded far beyond Jewish causes. Many of the museum benefactors, to be sure, are easily recognizable as major figures in the Jewish communal world, with generous contributions to organizations such as the American Jewish Committee or the Anti-Defamation League and/or The Jewish Federation. But, as several community fundraisers have noted, instead of all the disposable income, only part of it is now slotted for Jewish causes. And, of course, some of the art patrons have been more single-minded, ignoring Jewish institutions entirely. It is one of the prices of integration — of some Jews becoming part and parcel of American society, with only frayed or limited connections to Jewish communal life.

Obviously not all Jews share this view. Some point to the role culture plays in this multicultural city. LACMA’s curators apparently have adopted the idea of bringing L.A.’s diverse ethnic communities to the museum by organizing shows that attempt to link art with the city’s populace, A retrospective of Mexican artist Diego Rivera was one case in point as was a show concentrated on the Harlem Renaissance. Friday evenings, the museum draws a diverse crowd to its free open-air jazz concerts, followed on Sunday by free concerts of classical music.

It is a policy that the Getty — elitist to the core in the past — has also attempted to emulate since its new palatial Getty Center, designed by architect Richard Meier, opened its doors four and a half years ago.

This inclusive approach, reaching out to the city’s diverse population, has been echoed and made central to the life of L.A.’s two Jewish museums: Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance and the Skirball Cultural Center. The Wiesenthal’s museum, at its core, carries an instructional mandate: Educate the public about the Holocaust in particular, and prejudice and discrimination in general. With that in mind, it plays host to school children nearly every day of the school year, and runs training programs for teachers and police. Its goal: to focus on the human cost of persecution. It is ironic, perhaps, that Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center’s director, is an Orthodox rabbi who relies on national contributions from Jews of all denominations as well as from non-Jews. Hier is fond of explaining that the museum would not exist if it depended on Orthodox Jewry for its funds. Not surprisingly 80 percent of the 350,000 visitors who pass through its doors are not Jewish.

The Skirball Cultural Center sees itself as an institution "rooted in American and Jewish values," according to Dr. Uri D. Herscher, its founding president and CEO. Herscher views his center as "a Jewish institution in an American context."

In effect, it introduces Jewish values and art to the entire city, while opening the world of America, and the immigrant component within American society to L.A.’s Jewish population. The Skirball brings poets and playwrights and artist to the center who are part of the American fabric, the makers of its culture. Some are Jewish; many are not. The Skirball’s just completed major show was the traveling "Faces of Ground Zero: A Photographic tribute to America’s heroes in the aftermath of Sept. 11" — a central, tragic moment in contemporary America.

This approach to art, high and low, is perhaps the next logical step in the narrative of America’s Jews. By playing a central role today in the shaping of our national culture, Jews have moved inside the society, and in the process, have helped America become partly Jewish. It is a dramatic step towards inclusion. One unintended consequence of that story (which is well underway) may be that only as some Jews become thoroughly American, can they find their way forward to a Jewish identity.

Berlin Bound

More than 300,000 visitors have thronged the Jewish Museum in Berlin since it opened to the public in February 1999, and more are coming at a clip of 20,000 each month.

The figure is astonishing, considering that the building is completely empty. The exhibits, tracing the 2,000-year Jewish presence in Germany, won’t be in place until the formal inauguration next year on Sept. 9.

What attracts the primarily non-Jewish visitors to the multilingual guided tours is the exterior and interior architecture of the building by the Polish-born American architect Daniel Libeskind.

The building zig-zags on a site near the old Berlin Wall and, seen from above, resembles, according to one’s perceptions, a shattered Star of David or a bronzed lightning bolt.

The exterior walls are covered in zinc, with diagonal slashes across the facade that serve as the building’s 350 oddly shaped windows.

Reached by an underground passage, the interior is marked by slanted corridors, one leading to the empty upstairs exhibition halls. Another points to the outdoor Garden of Exile, with its 49 rectangular concrete columns, each sprouting an olive tree. The columns are slightly tilted, leaving an impression of a world somewhat askew.

A third corridor leads through a heavy steel door into the Holocaust Tower, a high angular room of concrete walls, with a single slit of light at the unreachable top. When the door clangs shut, a sense of oppression and suffocation grips most visitors.

Throughout the five-story building are “voids,” black-walled, permanently empty spaces, that embody the absence left in German life by the expulsion and murder of its Jewish citizens.

“Few buildings have evoked the unspeakable with such clarity,” a Los Angeles journalist wrote. So powerful is the impact of Libeskind’s creation that some visitors break into tears, and it has been proposed to leave it empty permanently as a mute Holocaust memorial.

Museum director W. Michael Blumenthal, who left Berlin for Shanghai as a young Jewish refugee and later became secretary of the treasury in the Carter administration, will have none of it.

The building’s purpose goes beyond its architecture,” he notes. “There were many Jewish citizens in this country, and they were not always helpless victims. They lived here for centuries and were profound contributors to the life of their country. This is part of German history that must not be forgotten.”

A network of Holocaust memorials is in place or rising in Berlin and throughout Germany, but “without showing how Jewish Germans lived here as citizens, the picture would be incomplete,” Blumenthal adds.The permanent exhibits will be divided into three parts. The primary one will chronicle the triumphs and tragedies of German Jewish history since Roman times. A second will focus on Judaism and everyday Jewish life, and a third will depict the Holocaust and the slow reconstruction of the Jewish presence in Germany.

Originally, the Jewish Museum was conceived as merely one wing of the adjoining Berlin municipal museum. It has taken more than a decade of stormy political debates and personality clashes to arrive at the Jewish Museum’s present autonomy and status as the largest Jewish museum in Europe. (The museum’s Web site at www.jmberlin.de offers a brief illustrated tour of the facilities.)

The construction costs came to $65 million, underwritten by the Berlin municipality. The current annual budget is $18 million, of which the German federal government contributes $12 million and the city of Berlin some $6 million, says Eva Soederman, the museum’s spokeswoman.

In addition, the museum is seeking private donations to help support an information center, research facilities, interactive learning center, lectures, workshops, theatrical events and films.

Another appeal has been for personal mementos by German Jewish émigrés to illustrate their former lifestyles and cycles. The response has been so overwhelming that additional staff had to be hired to handle the incoming packages.

“Our emphasis will not be just on famous persons and names but on ordinary people,” Soederman says. “For instance, we now have the histories of 8,000 German Jewish families.”

Adding to the research resources will be the transfer or access to the archives of New York’s Leo Baeck Institute and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

When fully functioning, the Jewish Museum expects some 500,000 visitors a year. One reason for a year-long delay in its opening has been to install additional air conditioning and other utilities to handle the large crowds.

German interest in the museum has been intense, perhaps not surprising in a country whose media coverage of the Jewish past and present sometimes borders on the obsessive.

This preoccupation hasn’t been lost on Blumenthal, who spends one-third of each month in Berlin and the rest at his home in Princeton.

“Each month, I arrive in Berlin as an American,” he noted in frequently quoted observation, “and I leave as a Jew.”

One Berlin newspaper interviewed visitors to the empty building and quoted a student as saying, “I hardly know any Jews, but I want to learn about them.”

The article concludes that “the visitors are searching for continuity of the Jewish presence in Germany. They want to see Jewish life in Berlin once again.”

Tom Tugend recently visited Germany as guest of the European Academy Berlin.