This page is referenced by:
The Classical Period: 1930s-1960s
The Beverly-Fairfax neighborhood first became a residential destination for Jews in the 1930s and gradually emerged as the city’s prime Jewish area during the 1940s and 1950s. With its newly constructed houses, duplexes, and apartments, Fairfax attracted Jews from Boyle Heights who sought to relocate west of downtown.
Here, Jews built an identifiable ethnic community—for the religious and the secular, the Yiddish and the English speaking, the middle class and the lower middle class, and the foreign born and the native born—commonly referred to as Los Angeles’ “Borscht Belt” and “kosher canyon.” Describing this area in 1959, sociologist Fred Massarik wrote that, “American urban values, a cosmopolitan orientation, and Jewish tradition [gave] rise to a new form of social and economic neighborhood organization that is complex but novel non-ghetto blend.”
Explore the links below to learn more about the institutions, organizations, and general demographic conditions that helped to define life in the Fairfax neighborhood during the Classical Period:
Fairfax High School
Fairfax High School was founded in 1924 as an agricultural and mechanical school for students that lived in what was a largely rural part of Los Angeles. As the neighborhood gradually became more residential and commercial, Fairfax High transformed into a more academically focused school. Indeed, through the mid-1960s, Fairfax High was traditionally one of the top-academically-rated high schools in the city of Los Angeles, with about 90% of its graduates attending college. The school's esteemed alumnus include parodist Allan Sherman, politician Jack Kemp, television writer Larry Gelbart, and musician Herb Alpert.
To a certain extent, Fairfax High during the postwar years, was the quintessential "all-american" high school, reminiscent of the social dynamics portrayed in the film American Graffiti. Indeed, socializing at Fairfax High was very much built around athletics, cruising culture, and the seemingly all-important social club scene. As one alumni recalls, "everybody who was in the social swim was in a club. There were very few independents. There was a hierarchy. There were the clubs that had the more attractive and affluent, popular kids, and the ones who were less so." Club life also played a crucial role in facilitating social interactions between male and female adolescents.
Yet, the school, especially from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, also exuded an identifiably Jewish ambience. Fairfax High was the first public school in Los Angeles to offer a modern Hebrew language course; many of the teachers were Jewish leftists; perhaps most importantly, 90% to 95% of the student body was Jewish. (Non-Jewish students tended to be white Christians) According to one alumni “Jews at Fairfax High ran things. It’s not like there was an establishment they were locked out of. They were the establishment. They were confident.” Some, however, found this experience overwhelming. For Lewis Erenberg, who was part of a lower middle class Jewish family that moved from the racially diverse neighborhood of Boyle Heights to Fairfax, there was something strange and discomforting about attending a public school that was so heavily populated by one group. Similarly, many non-Jewish students, as one such 1955 report from the Jewish Federation reveals, complained of discrimination and exclusion from social activities and received permits from the district to attend schools elsewhere. Ultimately, the outward migration of non-Jews from Fairfax High School reinforced the perception of the school that the school did not adequately accommodate non-Jewish students.
In Search of Fairfax
The Urban Crisis
Revitalization and Gentrification