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Her turn to pay it forward

Philanthropist pledges $30 million for a synagogue's restoration

February 11, 2013|Martha Groves
  • A worker removes the last bit of scaffolding in front of the restored rose window inside Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Philanthropist Erika Glazer, who came of age at the grand sanctuary, has pledged $30 million over the next 15 years toward the synagogue’s ongoing restoration and redevelopment.
A worker removes the last bit of scaffolding in front of the restored rose… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

Erika Glazer came of age at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, listening to the preachings of the late Edgar Magnin -- the "rabbi to the stars" who envisioned a grand sanctuary west of downtown Los Angeles and persuaded Hollywood notables to help fund it.

"He was always speeding things up," said Glazer, the daughter of shopping mall developer Guilford Glazer. "I remember as a kid he would skip [Torah] pages."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, February 13, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 68 words Type of Material: Correction
Temple restoration: In the Feb. 11 LATExtra section, an article about the restoration of Wilshire Boulevard Temple said that Hugo Ballin, who painted extensive murals in the sanctuary, had headed Warner Bros.' art department. Jack, Harry and Abe Warner commissioned Ballin to paint the murals, but Ballin did not head their studio's art department. The error also appeared in an article in the Oct. 8, 2011, LATExtra section.

Now it's Glazer's turn to move things along. The philanthropist has pledged $30 million over the next 15 years toward the synagogue's ongoing restoration and redevelopment.

The donation, which gives her naming rights for the temple's Koreatown campus, will be earmarked to cover debt payments on tax-free-bond financing of the $150-million project. The temple's board is slated to vote this week on whether to approve the next phase of the campus' redevelopment.

"The day that Erika said yes, I felt an enormous weight ... lifted from my shoulders," said Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, who is spearheading the temple's campaign. "We have cleared an enormous hurdle."

Plans at the Reform congregation call for a kindergarten-through-sixth-grade day school, a parking structure and a social services facility to feed, clothe and provide basic medical and legal aid for area residents.

Leder said he expected the complex to serve as a magnet for young Jews in the Wilshire Corridor, downtown, Silver Lake and Los Feliz.

The first phase of the project is the floor-to-dome restoration of the 1929 Byzantine auditorium, on which work began in October 2011. The dazzling sanctuary -- with its intricate 18-foot rose window -- is set to reopen Sept. 4 for Rosh Hashanah services.

Glazer and other donors gathered in the sanctuary late last month to admire the progress. Days before, workers had removed the metal scaffolding and plywood walkways that had filled the soaring space while construction workers and restorers cleaned, repaired and repainted the coffered dome. All eyes lifted to the concrete oculus at the apex of the dome, rendered sky-like by blue lights.

Conservators have touched up the sanctuary-encircling murals created by Hugo Ballin when he was head of Warner Bros.' art department.

The drawings, which depict Jewish history from creation to the discovery of America, marked the first extensive use of paintings in a synagogue since ancient times.

"It's about the stories that are on those murals and making that an integrated part of kids' education," said philanthropist Tony Pritzker, who contributed to their restoration and is producing a book about them.

The project's biggest challenges were "all of the things you don't see -- structural, mechanical and electrical," said architect Brenda Levin, a temple member who is overseeing the restoration. Among other upgrades, workers inserted concrete walls from the basement to the bottom of the dome and steel columns on either side of decorative windows.

Temple supporter Caron Broidy carried home a memento from the donors' preview event: a mezuza carved from the temple's original granite base, which has been replaced by new stone. A note thanked her "for being a good ancestor to the generations of our people yet to come."

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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