Jewish Journal

Community Briefs

by David Finnigan

Posted on Mar. 23, 2006 at 7:00 pm

Reclaimed Art to Be Shown at LACMA

Five paintings by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt will be exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) from April 4 to June 30, following a seven-year battle to return the Nazi-looted art to its legal owner, Maria Altmann, a Cheviot Hills resident.

Among the works exhibited will be the most famous of the paintings, a gold-flecked portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a Viennese Jewish beauty painted by Klimt in 1907. The "Golden Adele" alone is valued at about $125 million.

Altmann, the 90-year-old niece of Bloch-Bauer, and her attorney E. Randol Schoenberg, engaged in a tenacious legal and diplomatic struggle with the Austrian government to transfer ownership to Altmann.

Altmann said she decided on the location of the first American exhibit of the five paintings "in gratitude to the City and County of Los Angeles. [They] provided me a home when I fled the Nazis, and their courts enabled me to recover my family paintings at long last.

"I am very pleased that these wonderful paintings will be seen at LACMA. It was always the wish of my uncle and aunt to make their collection available to the public."

The Klimt paintings epitomize the height of the Viennese Jugendstil and also include a second portrait of Bloch-Bauer and three landscapes, "Beachwood," "Apple Tree I" and "Houses in Unterach on Lake Atter."

Until the recent court and arbitration decisions in favor of Altmann's ownership, the Klimt paintings hung in the Austrian Gallery in Vienna's Belvedere Castle. They were the gallery's most popular tourist attraction and were considered a national treasure.

The total value of the paintings is estimated at $300 million, and the Austrian government declared that it does not have the funds to purchase them from Altmann and keep them in Vienna.

Altmann has not made a decision on the future permanent location of the collection, but hopeful speculation continues.

Stephanie Barron, LACMA senior curator of modern art, said that "should there be some way to make this exhibition something that would be forever available, that would be extraordinary."

But Austria hasn't given up entirely. Klaus Pokorny, spokesman for the Austrian Gallery, expressed the hope that the "Golden Adele," at least, would find its way back to Vienna if enough generous private donors step forward to buy the portrait and donate it to the gallery. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

A Razed Jewish Building's Postmortem

Concerned city, federal and private construction officials are planning an open meeting for Boyle Heights residents and Jewish preservationists on plans for a new Social Security office building to be built on the site of the former Eastside Jewish Community Center.

The meeting comes in response to numerous complaints following a report in The Journal that the old JCC building, which was of both historical and architectural significance, had been razed without public notice or issuance of a demolition permit.

Architect Raphael Soriano, who helped pioneer the mid-century architectural style known as California Modernism, designed the demolished building, which was dedicated in 1939 as the Soto-Michigan JCC.

In 1958, as the Jewish population of Boyle Heights dwindled, the JCC transferred the building to serve as a community and sports center for the growing Latino population.

Because it is a federal entity, no demolition permit was required for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which signed the lease for construction of the new Social Security building. The GSA also was not obligated to obey city regulations.

However, local civic organizations and such groups as the Los Angeles Conservancy and Jewish Historical Society, were outraged at the failure to give any public notice of the planned razing.

Among those caught unaware when the building was demolished was the district's newly elected city councilman, Jose Huizar, who scheduled a press conference this week to demand an investigation of the transaction by city and federal officials.

Steven Doctor, project manager for the private developer who acquired the site and will erect the new building, said that prior to starting work he checked with the appropriate city departments, including the district's then councilman (and now mayor) Antonio Villaraigosa.

Doctor said he was told that no demolition permit and notice to neighbors were necessary.

Among those expecting to attend the community meeting is Peter Zepeda, GSA's Los Angeles branch chief of real estate.

In a phone call to The Journal, Zepeda expressed his and the government's deep regret at the lack of communication with the community. He indicated that steps will be taken to avoid such mishaps in the future and to assure consideration of the historical provenance of existing structures.

Zepeda welcomed a suggestion to affix a historical marker citing the site's Jewish roots at the new Social Security building.

Historians and conservancy groups have long protested the continuing destruction of cultural and historic monuments in Los Angeles, and the Jewish community seems as negligent in preventing such actions as the rest of the population, said renowned architectural photographer Julius Shulman. Shulman, now 95, was instrumental in bringing together architect Soriano and the Soto-Michigan JCC building committee in the 1930s.

Not enough programs are in place to officially identify such buildings as historic monuments. A study by the Getty Conservation Institute found that although a municipal Cultural Heritage Ordinance went into effect in 1962, only 15 percent of Los Angeles real estate had been surveyed by 2001.

In a 2003 update, the Getty institute reported that "many historical properties and districts are unrecognized, underutilized and frequently threatened."

However, alert community groups can intervene and even score some victories.

Stephen Sass, president of the regional Jewish Historical Society, said that his all-volunteer group, working with the L.A. Conservancy, Jewish Labor Committee and the Boyle Heights Historical Society, were able to save the facade of the former Workmen's Circle Shule on St. Louis Street in Boyle Heights, which was threatened with destruction.

Another rescue operation saved the Joseph Young mural on the history of Boyle Heights currently in the lobby of the Hollenbeck police station; when the station is torn down, the mural will be moved to another site, perhaps to the nearby Breed Street Shul. -- TT

L.A. Federation Names New Board Chair

Over the past 30 years, Michael Koss, 59, has held a variety of top positions in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, including real estate construction division chair, general chair of the annual campaign and board vice chair. Now, Koss, who heads a commercial real estate financing group, has been named L.A. Federation board chair.

Koss succeeds Harriet Hochman and will serve a two-year term. He comes in with goals for boosting the organization's bottom line and its ability to touch people's lives. Koss says The Federation needs to develop an extensive list of affluent area Jews who have yet to give and to find ways to reach them. He also believes the organization should continue to do more than simply raise and distribute money, including developing programming to "raise consciousness" and promote community.

"I want The Federation to feel inclusive, like it's open to everyone and accessible to everyone," he said.

Koss has the passion, commitment and perseverance to succeed, said Steve Bram, a Federation executive committee member and mortgage broker who has known Koss through the Federation for more than 15 years.

"I would say Michael is one of the few people I know who calls Federation supporters every day to enhance their support," Bram said. "I think Federation is in his blood."

As head of the Real Estate Division in the late 1980s, Koss said he wrote a manual about how to operate and manage the business of professional divisions, including the importance of mentoring. He also established networking programs for younger members of the division, where they received solicitation training. In 2004, Koss was honored for his efforts by The Federation's Real Estate Division.

In addition to his work on behalf of The Federation, Koss served as chairman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Los Angeles chapter, in 1991, and four times as chairman of the Brentwood Country Club UJF campaign. He currently serves as the club's UJF co-campaign chair. -- Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

LAPD Officers Study Security in Israel

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) sent two senior-level officers last week to Jerusalem for an Israeli conference on homeland security; LAPD Chief William Bratton did not make the trip.

The March 19-23 conference was hosted by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and attended by about 130 officials from homeland security units from local and state police departments in the U.S., according to the foreign ministry. Representing the LAPD was a sergeant from Bratton's personal staff and Cmdr. Mike Downing, the South Bureau assistant commanding officer who later this spring will become second-in-command at the department's counterterrorism bureau.

An LAPD spokesman told The Jewish Journal that Bratton had planned to attend the Jerusalem conference but canceled his trip due to, "pressing local matters." The spokesman said Bratton's decision was unrelated to a recent Los Angeles Times article about the police chief's travel, which reported that he spent 125 days away from L.A. last year on personal or department-related trips. -- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer


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