The Israel Levin Center
Learn about the Venice Jewish community and the Israel Levin Center and mural
The idea of the Israel Levin Center began about 35 years ago as European Jews who lived in Boyle Heights (an area of Los Angeles) began to move to the Venice area. People met in small groups in an area storefront and were politically and socially active in the Venice community.
In 1964, Israel Levin purchased the land and building on the Venice Beach boardwalk at 201 Ocean Front Walk. At the time, the building was used as a Bingo Parlor on the ground floor and "a place to entertain the ladies" on the second level. When Israel Levin passed away, he willed the building to the Jewish Federation Council, a fundraising organization for the greater Los Angeles Jewish community. The Federation, in turn, leased the building rent-free to Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles. "The Center" as it became known, became Venice's own "Senior Center" on the ground floor. The rooms upstairs were renovated and used as senior apartments.
Combined structural damage from both the Whittier earthquake in the early 1980's and the Northridge Earthquake in 1994 closed the Israel Levin Center for repairs for 18 months. Although the Center's senior programming continued through the generosity of Temple Mishkon Tephilo, a conservative Jewish synagogue in the immediate neighborhood and the Jewish Federation who paid the rent , the new temporary facilities proved challenging to seniors who had to now negotiate a several block walk and sets of stairs. Many could not remain active in the Center's programs. Nevertheless, repairs commenced at the Israel Levin facility. The new plan called for the elimination of the top floor apartments.
The original mural on the outside of the building was conceived and painted in 1991 by Christina Schlesinger, daughter of Arthur Schlesinger, who served as historian and special assistant to president John F. Kennedy. When the building was rebuilt, the mural needed to be redone. Christina was flown to Venice, California from the east coast to accomplish this task. She created a new mural with the assistance of local Venice artists. Individual scenes can be depicted in the overall re-creation.
A detail of the mural on Venice's Israel Levin Center
In 2003, Jewish Family Services (JFS) took over the programming contract for the Israel Levin Center. It provides programs and services for approximately 300 seniors, some of whom are 2nd generation and whose parents were members many years ago. They feel a special bond to the Israel Levin Center and travel great distances to participate in programs. The Center is open to all seniors, regardless of religion, race, gender or sexual orientation. It is not unusual for people from all over the world to stop into the Center to experience its rich history.
The Center is currently closed for renovations. It is scheduled to be reopened in Summer, 2020. It will be a multi-generational community resource with an emphasis on serving area seniors. The famous mural will be preserved.