The LA City Council votes to demolish a monument to the Jewish and labor movement

(Michael Blackshire/Los Angeles Times)

The LA City Council votes to demolish a monument to the Jewish and labor movement

LA Politics, Homepage News

Angie Orellana Hern√°ndez

March 8, 2024

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Friday to demolish a century-old building in the Westlake neighborhood that served as a Jewish landmark and later the heart of the labor organization.

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the city.

The vote was a victory for Catholic Charities, which in 2018 bought the building historically known as the B’nai B’rith Lodge but later said it was “severely dilapidated and structurally unsound” and threatened the safety of the surrounding neighborhood could endanger.

Catholic Charities, a nun

A for-profit organization affiliated with the Los Angeles Archdiocese filed a lawsuit against the city in 2023, saying it was wrongly denied permission to demolish the ornate 1924 structure.

The group said in court documents that the city would not allow demolition of the South Union Avenue property because it may be historic, making it subject to further additional review, and because any future projects on the parcel must meet the California Environmental Quality Act.

Community protectors and advocates argued that a potential demolition would be a blow to L.A.’s crucial history. Instead, they urged Catholic charities to repair and put the building into use.

The Rev. Dylan Littlefield, the Cecil Hotel chaplain who has become involved in the preservation fight, said the lodge’s demolition would mean the destruction of a place that was a testament to the resilience and diversity of the city of Los Angeles .

Esotouric, a tour company that advocates for historic preservation and public policy, told The Times before the vote on the settlement was announced that the public should be given a chance to comment. The company called the lawsuit and any future settlements a potential land use decision over the right to demolish a cultural resource.

The city’s attorney’s office declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

The B’Nai B’rith lodge was designed by famed Jewish architect Samuel Tilden Norton, who also designed the Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

It was built in the early 1920s as home base for an LA chapter of the Bnai Brith, a Jewish service organization with roots in New York. According to Steven Luftman, a heritage conservation consultant, members of the Bnai Brith at the time felt a desire to be truly accepted by the city’s leaders.

They felt that if they could just build a meeting hall big enough, that would be a step in the right direction

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to be recognized as part of the community, said Luftman, who wrote an application to have the lodge designated as a historic-cultural monument.

After a few years as a community center for Jewish LA, the building was sold to the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1930. It then had a brief tenure as the clubhouse for the Safeway Employees’ Assn. before becoming the headquarters of the American Federation of Labor Teamsters Joint Council 42.

It became the site for the rapid growth of the labor movement and, according to Luftman, it was here that the Teamsters elected their first black official, John T. Williams.

The AFL Teamsters Building was the heart of the labor movement in Los Angeles and home to much of the union organizing that transformed Los Angeles into a metropolitan powerhouse, said Chris Griswold, president of Teamsters Joint Council 42.

Bnai Brith International said in a statement that the lodge represents an important part of our organization’s history in Los Angeles.

However this is resolved, it would be important for the history of Judaism in Los Angeles to note that Bnai met Brith there, the statement said.

Catholic charities and the archdiocese respect the building’s history and “have been in communication with both the Jewish community and union leaders throughout this process,” the religious groups said in a joint statement. Our concern has always been the safety of the dilapidated property and the good health of the building.

are from our neighborhood.

In the lawsuit, Catholic Charities said no projects are planned for the property, emphasizing that the intent is to simply demolish the lodge.

Catholic Charities continually incur hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in costs to maintain and secure the building, which is vacant, in poor condition and unstable, the court document said. These funds are diverted from critical programs to help underserved communities.

The groups said their hope was to work with the community and the council office to ultimately find a use for the property that is consistent with the Catholic Charity’s mission, such as community food provision, an emergency shelter, transitional housing for youth, before and after school care, and services for the elderly.

Littlefield, the Cecil Hotel chaplain, said the Catholic Charities’ rationale was merely an excuse to justify their desire to demolish the building.

The building itself could be a place of empowerment, Littlefield said. The building itself could be a place where more movements like this one start, where more great things happen, where more lives are saved and changed.

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