Sunday, November 16, 2008
David Familian Chapel of Temple Adat Ariel
1949 – Herman Charles Light
5540 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, Valley Village – map
This is the first structure built as a synagogue in the San Fernando Valley. It’s also the site of the Valley’s first bat mitzvah. The David Familian Chapel was dedicated by Rabbi Aaron M. Wise on November 7, 1949, but its congregation first congregated nearly a dozen years earlier.
On January 21, 1938, fifteen of the San Fernando Valley’s 100 Jewish families (15/100 = 15%) met in a private home and, to put together religious services and establish a Sunday school for kids and a social club for adults, founded the Valley Jewish Community Center. The congregation met in a variety of places – homes, the American Legion Hall on Magnolia Boulevard, the North Hollywood Women’s Club – before buying a former speakeasy at 12800 Chandler Boulevard around Coldwater Canyon. In 1944, Universal president Nate Blumberg and his wife, Vera, donated to the congregation a two-acre plot at the corner of Burbank and Laurel Canyon Boulevards.
Five years later, Isadore and George Familian donated the $75,000 (the single largest gift to a West Coast synagogue at the time), 350-seat chapel to VJCC in memory of their father, David. David Familian was a Russian immigrant who, after running a junk business here, switched to dealing in plumbing supplies, forming the Familian Pipe and Supply Co. One of Los Angeles’s leading philanthropists, he later bought out Price-Pfister Brass Mfg. Co.
Herman Charles Light designed the synagogue. Alfred Lushing built it, and Mischa Kallis, an art director at Universal, with Rabbi Wise designed the eleven stained-glass windows depicting major Jewish holidays. I wish I could’ve gotten a better picture of them. (I left a phone call there, but never was called back.)
The congregation outgrew the Familian Chapel and by 1968 a new, 1,500-seat sanctuary had been built and dedicated. The Valley’s oldest synagogue continues to be used for services, weddings, lectures, and concerts. Today the Valley Jewish Community Center is known as Adat Ari El (Hebrew for ‘Lion of God Congregation’), and this section of North Hollywood is called Valley Village (Angelino for ‘No, Really, Not North Hollywood’).
Governor Gray Davis proclaimed November 7, 1999, “David Familian Chapel Day”. Two months earlier The David Familian Chapel was made a California State Landmark. Unfortunately, Rabbi Aaron M. Wise, who not only was responsible for VJCC’s national reputation but also championed equal rights for women and marched with Martin Luther King, had died that July.
“Familian Chapel Consecrated at Jewish Center” The Los Angeles Times; Nov 9, 1949, p. A3
“Valley Jewish Center Celebrates 25th Year” The Los Angeles Times; Aug 18, 1962, p. B8
“Valley Jewish Center Dedication Scheduled” The Los Angeles Times; Jan 7, 1968, p. O12
Oliver, Myrna “Aaron Wise; Civil Rights Leader, Rabbi of Influential Synagogue” The Los Angeles Times, Jul 8, 1999, A16
Andres, Holly J. “Valley’s Oldest Synagogue; Dignitaries to Gather Sunday at Chapel’s 50th Anniversary” Daily News; Nov 6, 1999, p. N.20
Liu, Caitlin “Jewish Cahpel’s 50th Anniversary Marked” The Los Angeles Times; Nov 8, 1999
McLellan, Dennis “Isadore Familian, 90; Philanthropist” The Record; Jun 16, 2002, p. L.07
Up next: Second Baptist Church Building