February 26, 2020

The Way We Were

In honor of the Federation turning 100 and in anticipation of the upcoming Autry National Center exhibit on Jews of Los Angeles, I decided to look back to see where Jews lived using the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Census data available from the University of Minnesota Integrated Public Use Microdata Series. These are the original interviews from the Census that can be released only after 70 years have passed to protect privacy.  This series is extremely popular with genealogy buffs who can go back and find their grandparents, great grandparents, great-great grandparents, and so on. I identified Jews using a combination of born in Russia or having a Russian born parent, speaking Yiddish or having a Yiddish speaking parent, or having one of the 37 most common “Distinctive Jewish Names.” A Jew was defined as someone who met one of these three criteria.

The period 1920-1930 was a period of explosive growth both for Los Angeles and its Jewish community.  The population of Los Angeles County more than doubled and the Jewish population more than tripled, growing from less than 30,000 in 1920 to more than 90,000 in 1930. In 1920 more than one in five Jews lived in downtown. By 1930 that percentage dropped to 7%, not because Jews were leaving downtown (the downtown Jewish population actually grew a bit), but because the new migrants to Los Angeles were pouring into the “East Side” (i.e. Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights). The East Side Jewish population grew more than seven-fold from 3,000 to almost 25,000. By 1930 one in four Los Angeles Jews lived in the East Side.  Almost as many Jews (19,000) lived in Hollywood, Los Feliz, Echo Park, and Silverlake.  Jews were more likely than non-Jews to live in these two areas.

By 1950 major changes were already underway.  The Jewish move to the Valley was already taking off and the Fairfax area, which accounted for only 5% of Jews in 1930, would account for 17% twenty years later. At mid-century the leadership of the Jewish Community Council (which had not yet merged with the Federation) understood that 1950 was not the same as 1930, and commissioned the very first Jewish population study in Los Angeles in that same year. The forthcoming release of the 1940 IPUMS file, combined with 1920 and 1930, will provide a unique look at the formative years of what would become the second largest Jewish community in the United States.

    Where Jews Lived in Los Angeles, 1920 & 1930























































































Neighborhood 1920 1930
Atwater, Glassel Park, Highland Park, Eagle Rock 1% 3%
Boyle Heights-Lincoln Heights 11% 26%
Downtown 21% 7%
South of downtown (South of MLK, East of Figeuroa) 22% 10%
West Adams-University Park-Jefferson Park 10% 9%
Southwest LA (w. of Figueroa) Beach Cities-Inglewood 3% 7%
Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silverlake, & Echo Park 16% 20%
Bev Hills West LA Santa Monica 0% 2%
Midtown, Mid Wilshire, Westlake Park 9% 5%
Fairfax 0% 5%
Palms Mar Vista & Venice 0% 2%
San Fernando Valley, Burbank Glendale 0% 2%
Long Beach & Harbor area 4% 1%
Pasadena 4% 1%
Total 100% 100%

Bruce Phillips is a Professor of Jewish Communal Service in the School of Non-Profit Management, HUC-JIR/Los Angeles and USC. Bruce is among the leading sociologists studying the contemporary Jewish community, specializing in the sociology and demography of American Jewry.  Bruce can be found playing banjo, mandolin and other stringed instruments in the Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Shabbat Unplugged live Bayit (House) Band on many Friday nights.{encode=”pini00003@gmail.com” title=”To email Bruce:”} pini00003@gmail.com