October 14, 1999
The Big Campaign
"Now, after the synagogue arson in Sacramento and the shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, we need a strong, visible presence. Let us show the flag, let us show Los Angeles that we are a vibrant, unafraid people."
The "flag" in Edward Sanders' metaphor, is the Jewish Federation building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., which is now undergoing a complete reconstruction, inside and outside. It will reopen -- six years after it was struck by the devastating Northridge earthquake -- a year from now, bigger, better, safer, and with a new name.
Sanders, a community leader for 45 years, is heading the "Campaign for the 21st Century," which expects to raise $20 million by Dec. 31 to fund the rebuilding project.
When completed, the Jewish Federation name and flaming menorah logo, and the words "Goldsmith Center," will be surmounted on the 12-story building.
The new designation honors banking executive Bram Goldsmith and his wife, Elaine, for their challenge lead gift of $5 million which is setting the pace for the campaign (see sidebar).
As outlined by Lionel Bell and John Fishel, the Federation's chairman of the board and president respectively, the distinctive architectural feature of the Goldsmith Center will be floor-to-ceiling double-glazed, blue-tinted windows in lieu of the old exterior walls.
This feature will bathe the building in light, while modern construction will bring it up to state-of-the-art earthquake and energy codes.
Jerusalem stone will support the full-length of the ground floor facade, and olive trees -- the traditional Jewish symbol of peace -- will furnish the wood for the lobby walls.
The reconstruction will add up to 30,000 square feet to the office space, allowing more room for offices and constituent agencies, says Bell.
Particularly appreciated by the 300 staff members and 700 visitors who pass through the front door daily will be three high-speed elevators to replace the clunkers of the past era.
Encouraging a family-friendly atmosphere will be a first floor children's library and the Zimmer Jewish Discovery Children's Museum. Adjoining will be galleries and space for permanent and changing Judaica exhibits.
"The new building will have a much more efficient and stimulating environment for everybody," observes Bell. And at the same time, notes Fishel, security will be of the highest order.
"The Goldsmith Center will make a strong statement on the dynamism of the Jewish community," adds Fishel. "It will stand as an icon for the next generation."
As solicitation of donors gets underway in earnest this week, Sanders' campaign committee is looking first for 12 persons who will each adopt one of the building's floors for a $1 million contribution.
These "Builders of the Community" will have their names inscribed on the Wall of Honor in the main lobby.
However, Sanders reassures persons of more modest means, they will also be able to contribute. "We don't want an elitist campaign," he says.
In addition, the Jewish Community Foundation is providing $2.5 million for maintenance and operation of the building after its completion.
Last year, the Federation's United Jewish Fund raised $42.5 million, and expects to do slightly better this year, according to Fishel.
While the 6505 capital campaign thus represents a hefty percentage of the UJF total, fundraisers vigorously rebut suggestions that contributors to the $20 million drive might therefore reduce their gifts to the UJF drive.
"In soliciting for 6505, we are working on the premise that any gifts will be above and beyond the UJF contributions," says Goldsmith.
Discussions and planning on where to locate the central headquarters of the organized Jewish community started shortly after the 1994 earthquake, which seriously damaged the 6505 building. The pace picked up after the entire staff relocated to leased offices at 5700 Wilshire Blvd., during the tenure of Herbert Gelfand, the Federation's immediate past president.
There was strong sentiment to move the headquarters further west, in line with the general Jewish population shift. Such a move would also accommodate Jews in the San Fernando Valley, who make up almost half of the 520,000 Jews in the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles area. That area stretches from Palos Verdes to Thousand Oaks, the largest geographical span for any federation in the United States or the world.
In tracing the planning timeline, Gelfand says that the initial focus was on a 4.5 acre piece of land on Olympic Blvd. near Centinela, which would have provided enough room for a combined Federation-Jewish Community Center campus, along the lines of the Milken Jewish Community Campus in the West Valley.
The property was for sale for $15 million and estimates were that with buildings, utilities and other amenities the total price tag would come to $60 million.
Gelfand pushed for this project, the deal was put in escrow but not consummated. "It was not easy for a 200-member board of directors to move swiftly," he notes dryly.
Concurrently, in late '96 and early '97, a blue-ribbon committee conducted a six-month population study and recommended that the "target area" for a new headquarters should be bounded by La Cienega on the east, Bundy (west), Pico (south) and Mulholland (north).
It proved impossible to find a large enough place in that area that the Federation could afford.
A further study urged that the preferred location would be inside a corridor, one mile east and west of the San Diego Freeway, and north of the Santa Monica Freeway.
Again, high real estate costs aborted action, and in the meanwhile, the Federation, realizing that any permanent relocation would require at least 18 months, was facing a deadline.
The three-year lease at the 5700 Wilshire building would be up in October 2000, after which the rent would skyrocket by $1 million a year.
So the committee's thinking circled back to 6505, though there was "strong sentiment to tear down the building and start anew," says Gelfand.
One telling reason for staying with 6505, says Bell, is that the Federation would otherwise forfeit a $2 million FEMA grant for repair of earthquake damage.
Another reason, he says, is that "we had Realtors looking on the Westside for two years, but we never found anything that we wanted and could afford."
In one bow to the "Westward Ho" sentiment, the Federation has rented 17,000 square feet of office space on Sawtelle Blvd., one block from the San Diego Freeway. Facilities include a conference center and meeting rooms, and are already extensively used for board and other meetings.
For Ed Sanders, there is a sentimental reason for assuming the chairmanship of the Campaign for the 21st Century.
It was exactly 25 years ago, when then Federation President Sanders -- together with Executive Vice President Alvin Bronstein and Victor Carter -- orchestrated the move from the old Federation building at 590 N. Vermont Ave., to 6505.
"We paid $2.7 million for 6505, and there were some who questioned such an expenditure," he recalls.
For Bram Goldsmith, the current campaign's $5 million donor, his family contribution was dictated by his upbringing.
"I was born in Chicago, and though we weren't rich by any means, there was always a pushke in the house and food for anyone who came to the door," he said.
He made his first pledge to the United Jewish Appeal in 1947, "It was for $100 and it took me five months to pay off." Now the chairman of the board of City National Corp., his basic philosophy has never changed.
"I believe that the only people who will take care of Jews are other Jews," he declares. "That is our responsibility if our people are to survive and continue."