Westside JCC May Be Sold to Shalhevet
By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer
The Westside Jewish Community Center, a recreation and educationinstitution in Los Angeles for more than four decades, may be sold inthe next few weeks to Shalhevet High School. The modern Orthodox coedinstitution, which has been holding classes on the WJCC's secondfloor since the school's inception in 1992, has been in discussionsfor the past several months with the center's parent company, JewishCommunity Centers of Greater Los Angeles.
JCC/GLA President David Aaronson said his organization had askedShalhevet founder and president, Dr. Jerry Friedman, to present anoffer in writing. At the JCC/GLA's executive board meeting inJanuary, the organization made a counter offer and is currentlyawaiting a response, which is expected in the next week or so.
The WJCC, Aaronson stressed, "has never been up for sale," and "itis not a foregone conclusion that [it] be sold." The JCC/GLA is onlyconsidering the offer from Shalhevet because "it is a Jewish entityand will keep a very, very Jewish presence in that building, which wethink is vitally important for the entire Jewish community."
The sticking point -- and it is a very big one for many of theJCC's tenants and the close to 2,500 families and individuals thathold memberships -- are the center's recreational facilities(including two pools), its preschool, senior services, classes andmeeting rooms it has supplied for so many years. Also occupying thesite is My Jewish Discovery Place, a hands-on children's museum thatis likely to vacate its current cramped quarters for roomier oneswhether or not the building changes hands.
Aaronson said the facility will not be sold without an agreementto lease back the recreational, preschool-kindergarten, senior andother spaces for a period of years until a future location orlocations can be secured. "There is every intention to keep servicesin this neighborhood," he said.
But the possibility of a sale has alarmed the WJCC's 20-personboard, which last month sent a three-page letter to the JCC/GLA boardopposing the move. "We believe that selling the site will leave atremendous void in our community," the letter states. The center hasmore membership units than any other JCC in greater Los Angeles andserves as "an unbiased and impartial meeting place for diverse Jewishpopulations," including those who are intermarried, unaffiliated,Russian and Iranian immigrants and Orthodox, Reform and ConservativeJews, as well as "varied socioeconomic populations," the lettercontinues.
Despite a declining Jewish population in the center's immediateneighborhood and growing numbers on the Westside, the 40-square-milearea that the WJCC serves still "contains the highest concentrationof Jews in the city of Los Angeles," (almost 150,000 Jews, accordingto the Jewish Federation's latest population study) and includes 50synagogues and 10 Jewish day schools. The area's highest demographicgroup -- the young and the elderly -- are the JCC's highest users,the letter points out, and WJCC membership has increased 13 percentaccording to WJCC board statistics.
The arguments for retaining the building are valid ones, Aaronsonsaid. But the question is whether in the larger scheme of things,with the Jewish population migrating westward and a Jewish highschool in need of a building, selling to Shalhevet would not serve agreater good. "If you put on a larger Jewish hat and say, 'what agreat building for a vibrant Jewish high school,' and the sale willgive JCC funding and use of the building to continue services, isn'tthat much better for the overall community?" he suggested.
Although Aaronson declined to discuss the price of the building,several sources put it in the $4 million to $4.5 million range. Abusiness plan developed by the WJCC board estimates that the cost ofrenovating the building -- which is apparently in need of a completemakeover, from floor to roof -- would be $4 million. Land andbuilding costs at a new site would be about $2 million to $3 million,not including a gym, pools or any renovations, the board estimated.
For some who oppose selling the building, the issue is not one ofdollars and cents. WJCC board member Maggie Scott is passionate aboutpreserving the building as a JCC. Scott grew up in the neighborhoodand still lives just a few blocks from the center. As a child, shewent to nursery school and day camp at the JCC, took ballet andgymnastics and was on the swim team. Her mother taught at thepreschool for 15 years, and Scott's 8-year-old is on the swim teamthere.
"We're an incredible entry point for young families that areunaffiliated and intermarried, who don't necessarily feel comfortablein a synagogue situation, and who may not have made a firm choiceabout whether to raise their children Jewish or not," Scott said. TheWJCC "is a Jewish center in the best sense of the word," she said."Many of us don't believe the services will be preserved elsewhere."
Many of the board members are pleased to have Shalhevet, "a truemodern Orthodox school" as a tenant in the building, said WJCC BoardPresident Dr. Beverly Siegal. "It's added life, having the childrenin the building. I think we should be real proud of having a schoollike that.
"But selling the building without a game plan, to say we'll buildfurther west and not to do a needs assessment on the west side oftown, is really premature," she added. "The question is, will theJewish community on our side of town feel that they were abandoned?"
"It is 100 percent false" that the JCC/GLA plans to abandon themetro region, Aaronson said. "We may be abandoning the building, butthe bricks and mortar are not our services. The JCC is our services."As ex-president of the WJCC board, Aaronson said he sympathized withthe board's concerns, but the larger needs of the Jewish communitymust be considered as well. "It has been shown that Jewish educationis first and foremost in keeping Jewish continuity," he said. Withclose to 150 students and a desire to admit about 180 in September,Shalhevet has expanded to its limit within the current capacity ofthe WJCC and will either have to find a new home or take over theWJCC site on Olympic Boulevard, just east of Fairfax.
Relocating the JCC may create an opportunity to serve more peopleand attract a broader demographic cross-section, Aaronson said."We're perched on the Southwest edge of where the Jewish communityis. We believe if we move both a little north and west, we'd actuallybe able to serve a larger Jewish population."