First Jewish Site in Los Angeles

LAXG: The First Jewish Site in Los Angeles

First Jewish Site in Los Angeles

Wedged between Dodger Stadium and a firefighter training facility you will find a concrete plaque marking first Jewish site in Los Angeles.

The Search for a Jewish Cemetery

In 1854, the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles, the first charitable organization in L.A., was formed for the express purpose of obtaining a tract of land suitable for a Jewish cemetery. In 1855, they did just that when they acquired three acres at the junction of Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive in Chavez Ravine, part of the Abila Tract.

For nearly 50 years, this site served the Los Angeles Jewish Community. In 1891, the Home of Peace Society was founded to help maintain the cemetery. But, even with this organization’s ministrations, by 1902 the cemetery was in decline.

Part of the reason for its demise was diminishing space for new plots. But the entire area was in environmental peril due to the unregulated and rapidly expanding operations of the oil industry in Los Angeles. So Congregation B’nai B’rith decided to move their cemetery from Chavez Ravine to a new plot of land — the Home of Peace Memorial Park (named for the organization formed to maintain the original cemetery) — adjacent to the nearby Calvary Cemetery on Whittier Blvd.

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The work of disinterring and moving the 360 bodies to the new site started in 1902. For the next eight years, the community moved their departed anscestors and monuments to their new resting places using hand tools, hard work, and horse-drawn wagons.

Despite being out of service in 1910, the original cemetery site still appears on the 1921 Baist’s Real Estate Map of Los Angeles:

The Hebrew Cemetery on Baist’s Real Estate Map of Los Angeles (1921), next door to property owned by Prudent Beaudry, the 13th mayor of L.A.

Now a California Monument

Today all that remains of this first Jewish cemetery is California Historical Landmark No. 822 (granted on April 9, 1968), placed halfway up a hill along Lilac Terrace.

California Historical Marker No. 822, First Jewish Site in Los Angeles. The marker has been here for 53 years and it’s getting a bit hard to read. Photo from the author’s collection.

The marker is set back from the street along a stretch of road that doesn’t get much traffic, so it probably see many visitors — except maybe on a Dodgers game day.

The First Jewish Shop in Los Angeles

The cemetery at Chavez Ravine may be the first Jewish community site in Los Angeles, but it could be argued that the first Jewish site in Los Angeles was a men’s clothing store just off the Plaza (where the the Federal Building now stands) opened by Jacob Frankfurt sometime in 1842.

According to the Jewish Museum of the American West, Jacob Frankfurt was the first Jew to settle in Los Angeles. He arrived in the city in 1842 with the Workman-Temple Party (considered to be the first wagon train to reach California, even though they had no wagons).

Frankfurt was a tailor, and he soon opened a shop on Bell’s Row (roughly where Aliso Street meets Los Angeles Street today), a desirable location because of the traffic heading into town from the Los Angeles River. Over the next decade, even more Jewish-owned businesses set up shop in the building.

The Legacy of the First Jewish Site in Los Angeles

Both the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles (operating as Jewish Family Service LA) and the Home of Peace Memorial Park (still next to Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles) remain active today.

First Jewish Site in Los Angeles

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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