Jewish Histories in Multiethnic Boyle Heights

Los Angeles Jewish Homes for the Aging

The Jewish Home for the Aged in Boyle Heights was not the only institution in the Los Angeles area dedicated to serving the needs of the elderly; a second home for elderly Jews was built in the San Fernando Valley in the 1930s. The demographic and population shifts that unfolded in the decades after World War II eventually resulted in the merger of these two organizations in 1979 to form the Los Angeles Jewish Homes for the Aging.  
In 1933, two Jewish garment manufacturers, Abraham Slopkoff and Nathan Ross, purchased an eight-acre ranch in Reseda with the intention of establishing a non-sectarian cooperative agricultural settlement for people forty-five and older who were out of work because of the Depression. At a time when so many unemployed workers were forced to live “on the dole,” they wanted to create a place where residents would become self-supporting by working the land, raising chickens and cows, and building homes from salvaged materials. Their Industrial Center for the Aged started with just a handful of unemployed Jewish garment workers living in a two-story farmhouse and steadily grew, helped along by donations from Mrs. J. A. Rosenkranz and Mrs. Ida Rosenblum. During World War II, the Home took in a group of forty Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, providing a space of refuge and recovery where they could rebuild their lives after unfathomable tragedy and loss. After the war’s end, they raised the admittance age from forty-five to sixty-five and adopted a more traditional focus on senior care, renaming the facility the California Home for the Aged.5 

Jewish American philanthropists and communal associations had planned and financed similar agricultural settlements for indigent and working-class Jews, particularly recently-arrived immigrants, since the mid-nineteenth century, resettlement initiatives that spanned across North and South America. In the early twentieth century, Jewish American banker, railroad tycoon, and philanthropist Jacob H. Schiff notably founded the Jewish Industrial Removal Office, which worked in tandem with the local Hebrew Benevolent Society to relocate some 2,200-2,300 Eastern European Jewish immigrants to Los Angeles among other locations. Schiff was also a major financial supporter of the Galveston Movement (1907-14), which promoted Jewish settlement into a region of Texas with a similarly sparse Jewish population.6 Though a later iteration, the Industrial Center for the Aged built on these earlier projects, one part of a broader movement that looked to agricultural resettlement as a practical and ideological approach to fostering Jewish belonging in America.

When the California Home for the Aged had been founded, the San Fernando Valley was a sparsely populated, largely rural area, and the Home located twenty or thirty miles away from the neighborhoods where most Jews lived. But in the 1940s, as the Valley was rapidly subdivided into new suburban communities, Jewish Angelenos began moving there en masse. Included among these were thousands of new arrivals from cities in the east and Midwest who resettled in Southern California in the years after World War II, increasing Los Angeles’ Jewish population from 130,000 in 1940 to 330,000 in 1951 and over 400,000 by 1960. Not only did these demographic trends encourage the California Home for the Aged to expand its facilities, they also prompted the Jewish Home for the Aged to build a second, larger facility on Victory Boulevard nearby. In 1979, the two organizations merged to form the Jewish Home for the Aging of Greater Los Angeles. Now known as the Los Angeles Jewish Home, the organization today houses over 1,000 seniors, both Jews and non-Jews, at five different campuses and serves an additional 5,000 seniors through their in-home and community health programs every year. 

Shortly before the merger, the Jewish Home for the Aged decided to close their campus in Boyle Heights and sell the Gless property that had been its home for almost sixty years. Eager to see that the mission of serving the elderly residents of Boyle Heights would be maintained, they sold the facility to Keiro, a senior health care organization dedicated to serving the needs of the Japanese American community. After decades of painful mistreatment and mistrust of government-provided social services, a group of prominent Japanese American community leaders had founded Keiro in 1961 to provide health and senior care services for their community, believing, just as Mrs. Corenson and Mrs. Zuckerman did, that seniors needed access to the language, foodways, and culture of their community. Keiro first acquired the Japanese Hospital in Boyle Heights in 1962, later relocating it to a new facility in Lincoln Heights, and then purchased the Boyle Avenue campus in 1975.  While many of the original structures on the campus had to be replaced after they were damaged in the 1987 Whittier Earthquake, Keiro continued to fulfill the Home’s original purpose of providing a welcome home to the elderly and less fortunate.7 

In 2015, Keiro's facility on Boyle Avenue was sold to Pacifica Companies. Fearing the sale would result in the displacement of the 600 seniors living there, a Committee to Save Keiro was formed to protest the sale and over 500 people, including Congresswomen Judy Chu and Maxine Waters, as well as members of the Japanese American community, attended a community meeting to demand Pacifica Companies promise to protect the seniors.8 While Pacifica pledged to continue operations of the Home for five years under the new name Sakura Gardens, some worry that they have other long-term plans for the four-acre site, especially given its scenic views of downtown and proximity to Metro Gold Line Station at Mariachi Plaza. To learn more about the efforts to protect Keiro, visit Save Keiro here.

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