Jewish history in turn-of-the-century America usually conjures up images of deeply religious East Coast garment district workers or greased-back, penny-pinching Old Hollywood studio moguls.
“This was not primarily, in certain respects, an immigrant community,” says W. Richard West, Jr., president and CEO of the Autry National Center. “It was a settlement community who came from elsewhere ready to roll once they hit the city. And they did. What this exhibit is about is … an effort to figure out how those who comprise the Jewish community here in Los Angeles touched other communities and touched the great diversity of other communities here in Los Angeles.”
The exhibit wouldn't be accurate without the inevitable tributes to Hollywood and includes mementos like Billy Wilder's Oscars and a “Scroll of Fame” with signatures of guests who came to the 1935 grand opening of Max Factor's cosmetic studio (Judy Garland and “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd among them). But it also highlights less-glorified or forgotten Jewish people and families who influenced the city, such as:
5. Joseph and Harris Newmark
Prussian-American Joseph Newmark came west with his large family that included four marriageable daughters (“I like to say that without those four daughters, we wouldn't have a Jewish community in Los Angeles,” jokes exhibit curator Karen Wilson). One of his daughters married his nephew, Harris Newmark. Harris flourished in Los Angeles as a businessman and philanthropist, founding the Jewish Orphans Home and co-founding the Los Angeles Public Library.
4. Bill Phillips
The exhibit features music stations that pay tribute to the Phillips Music Company in Boyle Heights, a dearly departed music store and gathering spot for all of the nationalities that lived in the eclectic neighborhood. (Incidentally, the exhibit also has a 1939 map for the Home Owners' Loan Corporation that labeled Boyle Heights too “hopelessly heterogeneous” to back for loans.)
3. Lorraine Art Schneider
The activist and mother entered her tiny yellow etching of a sunflower with the words “War is not healthy for children and other living things” in a design contest. It became one of the strongest anti-Vietnam signs in the late 1960s and is the logo for the California non-profit Another Mother for Peace.
2. Ruth Handler
The American businesswoman was instrumental in the creation of the Barbie doll. (It should be noted that while Barbie has had her share of feminist ridicule over the years, she comes to the exhibit properly dressed in business attire).
1. Julius Shulman
The architecture photographer continues to be remembered for his iconic photos of Case Study House No. 22, but his work also popularized the Modernist designs of Jewish architects like Richard Neutra and Raphael Soriano.
The Autry National Center's Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic runs through Jan. 5. More information: TheAutry.org.