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Sidney Eisenshtat, 90; Was Known for His Innovative Synagogues

March 05, 2005|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Sidney Eisenshtat, a Los Angeles architect who designed schools, community centers, bank buildings and synagogues, has died. He was 90.

Eisenshtat died Tuesday of pneumonia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his daughter, Carole Oken, said.

Several of his buildings have become unofficial neighborhood landmarks, including the Union Bank in Beverly Hills, the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles and the Sven Lokrantz School for disabled children in Reseda. He also designed the master plan for the University of Judaism in Bel-Air, which was completed in 1977.

In addition, Eisenshtat designed the Friars Club in Beverly Hills, which was completed in 1961 and became the site of toasts and roasts of dozens of celebrities, including Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Sid Caesar and Alan King.

In a style that combined dramatically oversized interior rooms and exterior walls typically made of thin-slab concrete or brick, Eisenshtat gave a light, airy quality to his structures.

"Whether it is a school, office building or church, it's all the same thing," he said in a 1964 interview with The Times. "Architecture is space. If you sit in that space and you're comfortable, it's good design."

He avoided architectural details meant for decor.

"Eisenshtat was a minimalist," said James Steele, professor of architecture at USC. "He used natural materials, natural light and often used white walls."

Eisenshtat, a Jew who attended synagogue services every day, designed his first major religious structure, Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, in 1951. Eight years later, he designed Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and later designed synagogues in El Paso and Detroit, as well as Knox Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.

Eisenshtat was best known for his innovative synagogues, Steele said. He often built floors that rose from a lower level at the back of a synagogue's main sanctuary to a higher level at the front near the altar. And he insisted that art be included in the building's budget.

Along with synagogues, Eisenshtat designed several centers for the study of Jewish life, including the House of the Book, a conference hall at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley; and Hillel House at USC. He graduated from the university's school of architecture in 1935.

In addition to his design work, Eisenshtat was a champion of Jewish education, said Gil Graff, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles, where Eisenshtat was a board member for decades. He also was very active in the Jewish Federation.

"He once explained to me that what is lasting is transmitted through education, not buildings," Gaff said.

Born in New Haven, Conn., in 1914, Eisenshtat settled in Los Angeles in 1926. He married Alice Brenner in 1937, and the couple had two children. In addition to Oken, he is survived by another daughter, Abby Robyn; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. His wife predeceased him.

He began his career in the late 1930s and built his first major solo project, Mrs. Reich's Noodle Company in Los Angeles, in 1938.

Two years later, he joined the firm of Arthur Froehlieh, a racetrack designer who built Hollywood Park. He later worked on large projects for the Defense Department and designed tract houses in Yucaipa and retail stores in Los Angeles. He established his own firm after larger commissions began to come his way.

"He had a thirst for knowledge and learning," said Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, where Eisenshtat was a longtime member. "He was always thinking and growing, spiritually and intellectually."

Contributions in his name can be made to the Sidney Eisenshtat Book Fund at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048; the Bureau of Jewish Education at the same address; or Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211.

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