Ready for Its Closeup: Inside the Full-Scale Restoration of a Temple With Ties to Old Hollywood
Step into the sanctuary of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood, and you’ll instantly see its ties to old Hollywood. Dedicated in 1929, the Romanesque Revival temple, designed by A.M. Edelman, was funded by some of the biggest names in the film industry: Louis B. Mayer, Sid Grauman, and Carl Laemmle, to name a few. The Warner brothers, of Bugs Bunny fame, commissioned Hollywood art director Hugo Ballin to paint murals depicting Jewish history along the walls. And like many movie theaters, the building has no center aisle.
“It has a very theatrical character to it,” says longtime congregant Brenda Levin, who, as principal of Levin & Associates Architects, oversaw a recent restoration of the temple—the first in its decades-long history.
Work began in 2001, as Levin began applying for grants and, later, hosting meetings with clergy, staff members, and congregants to identify key goals. Finally, with construction plans drawn and permits secured, the temple closed in September of 2011 for a two-year, $48 million restoration.
Nearly every surface was repaired, re-created, or restored, including Ballin’s murals; the suspended coffered ceiling; stained glass windows; bronze chandeliers; and a 100-foot-tall, 100-foot-diameter Byzantine-style dome and its oculus, which had been blackened by decades of dirt and pollution. A full seismic retrofit and mechanical upgrades, including improved lighting and acoustics, were completed as well.
The building reopened in September of 2013. The project received the 2014 President’s Award from the Los Angeles Conservancy. The restoration is part of a major 10-year, $150 million plan that includes a full renovation and expansion of the temple campus to provide new educational and community services. In March of 2018, the temple unveiled plans for its new community event space, which will be designed by Rem Koolhaas and Shohei Shigematsu of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. It is scheduled to open in 2020.
This story first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Preservation magazine.