The Breed Street Shul, which housed the Congregation Talmud Torah, has quite an interesting and significant history. Located at 247 North Breed Street in the Boyle Heights district on the Los Angeles River's east bank, he Breed Street Shul served a once thriving Jewish neighborhood in Boyle Heights that has since become predominately a Latino community. The property on Breed Street was purchased after 1910. In 1915, Beth Hamedrash was built on the back of the property. Construction on the shul itself began in 1920 and it was dedicated in 1923.
The large building is constructed of brick and the interior fixtures are polished wood. The Breed Street Shul served as the focal point of the neighborhood that was the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Jewish community. Even if you have never been to Los Angeles, you might very well have seen the shul.
Both the 1927 original and the 1980 remake of "The Jazz Singer" featured the Breed Street Shul. The Breed Street Shul was, at one time, one of the largest synagogues on the West Coast and home to the largest Orthodox congregation west of Chicago. After World War II, The Jewish presence in Boyle Heights began to diminish as the area became more of an industrial area. An influx of other cultures resulted in young Jewish men returning from military duty during the war to use their VA loans to move to other areas. This resulted in the shrinkage of the congregation at the shul. In 1987, the Whittier Narrows earthquake caused damage to the building.
After that, the Breed Street Shul was only used intermittently until it was finally abandoned in 1996. Shortly after that, there were attempts to renovate the building. The Jewish Historical Society of Southern California took over the project in 1999 and set up the Breed Street Shul Project as a nonprofit organization to oversee the renovation. The project was not only to preserve an historical Jewish site but to also serve the current community as a community center. To this end, several Latino organizations and the J.
Paul Getty Museum worked with the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California to clean up and refurbish the building. By the time the renovation project really got under way, there was a large hole in the ceiling, the inside walls were covered with graffiti and a razor wire topped fence surrounded the building. Many living in the area did not even have an idea of what the building was. Young Latinos from the Imaginando Manana program (translation: Imagining Tomorrow) of Impacto worked on the clean up. In addition to learning the Jewish history of their neighborhood, the youths also learned tolerance and respect for other cultures. The youths were helped by Impacto Director Christine Sanchez to understand and care about the need to renovate the shul by having them imagine how they would feel if it were a site of significance to them.
During the clean up, Sunday clean up events became very popular with, not only the youths, but the community at large. They were advertised and well attended. Participating in the project served to strengthen community bonds and formed a bond with the Jewish heritage of the neighborhood. Directing the youths from Impacto in the clean up were JHS President, Stephen Sass and Robert Chattel Brent Riemer of Chattel Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Inc. The specialty of Chattel's company is historical preservation. Chattel also served as vice president of JHS.
He lent his building expertise to the renovation project. In view of plans to make the site a community center, he is quoted as saying, "This building should continue to be a place of congregation." Among the ideas for merging service to the current community and preserving the site's Jewish history is a computer lab with displays depicting the history of the site as a Jewish legacy. With the dedication and input of the leadership of the JHS and local organizations, the renovation of the Breed Street Shul will not only serve as an historical preservation and community center, it will also advance to tolerance and understanding between two cultures. The very nature of this project exemplifies the truest essence of Jewish tradition of serving the community, whether it is Jewish or not.
E-srael.com is the Premier Directory of all things Jewish, in Los Angeles. Find Los Angeles Synagogues, schools,and more at E-srael.com.