November 9, 2006
Top Ten Jewish silver screen landmarks
Some film historians claim that the Jews invented Hollywood, and so it's only fitting that so much of Los Angeles' Jewish life has been captured on film.
Many local landmarks have played significant parts in TV series (memorably, Brentwood's University Synagogue in Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), but it's only when an institution appears in a feature film that it achieves a certain level of silver-screen immortality.
Like the faces of character actors whose names you don't know, these 10 L.A. Jewish locations are instantly familiar from their celluloid incarnations:
1. Breed Street Shul, Boyle Heights: This East L.A. landmark, and future home of a museum, plays "The Jazz Singer's" (1980) New York City shul, where Cantor Laurence Olivier is surprised by his pop star son Neil Diamond chanting "Kol Nidrei" on Erev Yom Kippur. "One of the great community myths is that the 1927 Al Jolson 'Jazz Singer,' was shot here," Los Angeles historian Stephen J. Sass said, "but that appears to be a location bubbemeise."
2. Old Sinai Temple Site, Koreatown: Sinai's second incarnation (1925-1961) is located at Fourth Street and New Hampshire Avenue. Although it's now the Korean Philadelphia Presbyterian Church, the domed structure still retains many of its original features, including the stained-glass windows seen in the Danny Thomas version of "The Jazz Singer" (1952), according to location manager Ned Shapiro.
3. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Mid-City: A 1929 landmark, built by Hollywood's golden-age moguls, features biblical-themed murals designed by famed artist and studio director Hugo Ballin. The synagogue is featured in Diane Keaton's eccentric 1995 drama "Unstrung Heroes," with Andie MacDowell, John Turturro, Michael Richards and Valley Beth Shalom's Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis.
4. Museum of Tolerance, Pico Boulevard, Beverlywood: This brick-and-glass educational outreach complex, part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, hosts regular entertainment-related events and screenings. It was a location for the upcoming Paramount Pictures tolerance-themed drama, "The Freedom Writers" (opening in January 2007), with Hilary Swank as a high school teacher working with at-risk students.
5. Fairfax Avenue Bakeries: Here you'll find classic old-world bakeries specializing in everything from rugellach to chocolate babka. In the 1968 comedy "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!," groovy Beverly Hills lawyer Peter Sellers claims that the movie's infamous hash brownies come from a "small bakery on Fairfax." At the film's end, runaway bridegroom Sellers flees down Fairfax Avenue, past the film's screenwriters Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker (in cameo appearances) and the old Famous Bakery building.
6. Canter's Deli, Fairfax: This 24-hour restaurant and cocktail lounge dates back to 1931 in Boyle Heights and is beloved by rock stars, night owls and celebrities. Canter's is where screenwriter Walter Matthau meets with daughter Dinah Manoff in Neil Simon's "I Ought to Be in Pictures," where D.C. attorney Will Smith meets with informant Lisa Bonet in Tony Scott's thriller "Enemy of the State," and where agent Vince Vaughn meets with hit man Robert Pastorelli in "Be Cool." The deli is also featured in an episode of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" with Larry David, Moon Zappa and Paul Mazursky.
7. Brandeis Bardin Institute (BBI), Simi Valley: The famed Jewish retreat center consists of the old Maier's Ranch and an adjoining parcel donated by actor James Arness (star of TV's "Gunsmoke"). In Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," a T-Rex chases Jeff Goldblum's and Laura Dern's jeep through the Brandeis riverbed, according to BBI's Ken Hailpern. Brandeis' futuristic-looking House of the Book is Camp Khitomer, the setting for a peace conference in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," where William Shatner foils an assassination attempt.
8. Mishkon Tephillo, Venice: Built in 1948, this egalitarian Conservative synagogue is across the street from trendy industry hangout Chaya Venice. The landmark shul features a Gothic revival, columned entrance and front steps where an elderly man identifies fugitive Richard Gere in the 1983 remake of "Breathless."
9. Israel Levin Center, Venice: This senior citizen center played a prominent role in Lynne Littman's 1976 Oscar-winning short "Number Our Days" and Jeremy Kagan's "The Big Fix" (1978) where private detective Moses Wine (Richard Dreyfuss) visits his radical communist aunt; its mural "Chagall Comes Back to Venice Beach" can be seen in "Falling Down" (1993), with Michael Douglas and Barbara Hershey.
10. Pacific Jewish Center (PJC)/Shul on the Beach, Venice: The last of the original Venice Beach synagogues is where Sacha Baron Cohen led the priestly blessings at Yom Kippur last year. Its compact 1940s building is glimpsed in Paul Mazursky's "Down & Out in Beverly Hills" with Richard Dreyfuss as well as the Greg Kinnear comedy "Dear God." "Toklas'" Sellers visits hippie brother David Arkin outside the shul, while Neil Diamond's "Jazz Singer" beach pad is farther south on the boardwalk, at 28th Street and Ocean Front Walk.
On Sunday, Dec. 3 at 2 p.m., Harry Medved will sign books and show historic film clips at Book Soup on 8818 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood, followed by a free walking tour of infamous Sunset Strip movie locations as seen in the clips.
Harry Medved is the co-author of "Hollywood Escapes," a travel guide to Southern California's filming locations.
The Breed Street Shul