Boyle Heights Historic Places include a Sears and a Synagogue

Mar 29, 2010 by Lisa Newton

Both buildings are located in Boyle Heights, and they’re both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Los Angeles, a relative new city when compared to the founding of the nation on the East Coast, occupies an array of a rich, multi-layered historical and cultural past that’s reflective of our diversity.

This Sears building located in Boyle Heights is one of only nine Sears, Roebuck and Co mail order distribution centers built between 1910 and 1929, in the United States. The Boyle Heights Sears building is a massive nine stories, and has a basement and a large parking lot, covering a total of approximately 11 acres.

I remember ordering items from Sears and anxiously awaiting their arrival. For many, buying from the Sears catalog occurred for daily and holiday needs. At one time, Sears was the largest retailer in the country.

Sears Retail Entrance

This particular Sears building was built in an astonishingly short period of time—it was completed in only six months; using materials mostly from Los Angeles County.

From 1927 to 1991, the building was operated both as a mail order distribution center serving the Western United States and as a retail store operating on the ground floor. The sprawling mail order distribution center was a marvel of modern technology when it opened, with employees filling orders by roller skating around the enormous facility, picking up items and dropping them onto corkscrew slides for distribution by truck or rail. The building was one of the largest in Los Angeles, and it attracted more than 100,000 visitors in its first month of operation, not including shoppers at the ground floor retail store. Source: Wikipedia

In 1991, Sears announced the closing of all its mail order operations leaving only its retail stores in operation. This essentially forced the Boyle Heights Sears building to close. After several unsuccessful redevelopment attempts the building remains largely empty.

Several blocks from the Sears building, sits the famous Breed Street Shul, at 247 North Breed Street. It’s another icon from a different era of our city’s history. From 1910 to 1930, the Los Angeles Jewish population grew from a just a few hundred, to over 10,000. Naturally this created the need for a local Synagogue or “Shul,” as the word is a colloquialism from Eastern Europe as a euphemism used to describe a Jewish Temple.

An Orthodox Jewish synagogue, also known as the Congregation Talmud Torah of Los Angeles, the Breed Street Shul originally opened in 1923. The synagogue became the center of the Jewish community, and was soon surrounded by butcher shops, eateries, delis, and bakeries.

In 1945, Rabbi Osher Zilberstein of Breed Street Shul opened the city’s first Jewish parochial elementary school. When Israel was established as an independent nation in 1948, the Breed Street Shul was the site of a solemn ceremony in which the new flag of Israel was flown for the first time in Los Angeles. Source: Wikipedia

After World War II, most of the Jewish population of Boyle Heights moved to other parts of the city, but the Shul remained.

Although the main building was vacated in the mid-1980s (earthquake reinforcements were needed for the building’s retrofitting), they still held services in a much smaller building located on the property until the late 1990’s. As many older buildings usually do, the Breed Street Shul also fell into disrepair; so afterward the Breed Street Shul became the property of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California in 2000. Since then, there’s been an ongoing effort to repair the synagogue and turn it into a county museum, and an educational and cultural center.

Congregation Talmud Torah of Los Angeles

Although today’s Boyle Heights’ demographics are mostly Latino, the idea of reviving the Breed Street Shul is welcomed by all. Upon the 2003 ceremony celebrating the rejuvenation, a son, Jaime Jr., of a former Boyle Heights’ resident, Jaime Rodriguez said:

This isn’t just for the Jewish community or the Latino community, but it’s something for all of Boyle Heights. Source: LA Times

Although its remodel is stalled, Travelin’ Local echoes Jaime Jr.’s thoughts and hopes that its redevelopment continues.

Most of the Boyle Heights community, like all other areas of town, are proud of their neighborhood’s rich cultural heritage, history, and ethnography.

This story demonstrates that our city, and its history, contain significant Los Angeles gems to be treasured and kept alive. Along with the Sears Building and Breed Street Shul, Boyle Heights is an integral part of Los Angeles’ great mosaic of a city with thousands of unique stories to be told.

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Architecture, Boyle Heights, Culture

3 Responses to “Boyle Heights Historic Places include a Sears and a Synagogue”

  1. Ryan Cowles @ Metacom Creative says:

    The different styles in architecture really surprised me the first time I visited LA. I found it so weird that there was barely any red brick. I also found it weird that a lot of homes don’t have basements. That Sears building looks like it would be real fun to explore!
    Ryan Cowles @ Metacom Creative´s last blog ..Taking a Train Across the Country – Part One My ComLuv Profile


    Lisa Newton Reply:

    @Ryan Cowles @ Metacom Creative, I totally understand your thoughts here. I had similar revelations, too. My first thought about the brick is that the materials needed to make it aren’t readily available in CA.

    I would love to explore it from the inside, but I don’t think it can currently be done.


    Ryan Cowles @ Metacom Creative Reply:

    @Lisa Newton, I never thought of that reasoning, it’s very well possible. One thing I love about traveling is all the different styles of architecture. I was also wondering if the threat of earthquakes was the reason for the lack of basements. Haha, it’s funny, the things you notice..
    Ryan Cowles @ Metacom Creative´s last blog ..Taking a Train Across the Country – Part One My ComLuv Profile


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