The Jewish Cemetery at Chavez Ravine, 1855-1902: Photographs from the Oscar Willenberg Collection

The Jewish Cemetery at Chavez Ravine, 1855-1902: Photographs from the Oscar Willenberg Collection


Chavez Ravine Jewish cemetery marker, Los Angeles, California State Historical Landmark 822, dedicated September 29, 1968, #WS3086

The Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles was formed in 1854 as the city’s first chartered charitable organization.

A year later, the society established a Jewish cemetery at Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive in Chavez Ravine, just south of today’s Dodger Stadium, which opened in 1962. It was the city’s first Jewish site and the first Jewish cemetery in Southern California.

The cemetery fulfilled the Hebrew Benevolent Socity’s goal of “procuring a piece of ground suitable for the purpose of a burying ground for the deceased of their own faith, and also to appropriate a portion of their time and means to the holy cause of benevolence.”

In 1891, Matilda Kremer, wife of pioneer civic and Jewish leader Maurice Kremer, helped found the Home of Peace Society to beautify and maintain the cemetery at Chavez Ravine.

By the turn of the 20th century, the cemetery was no longer able to serve the city’s growing Jewish population. Between 1902 and 1910, the remains and monuments were transferred to the Home of Peace, a new cemetery on Stephenson Avenue (now Whittier Boulevard) in East Los Angeles, established by Congregation B’nai B’rith (today’s Wilshire Boulevard Temple).

The relocation was led by Kapsare Cohn, then president of Congregation B’nai B’rith. Cohn was instrumental in shaping several Los Angeles area institutions, including Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, City of Hope National Medical Center, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Although the grounds were maintained by Congregation B’nai B’rith, a report from 1902 stipulated that “plots will be sold to other Jewish societies, and provision has been made for the proper burial of indigent Jews.”

Oscar Willenberg Photograph Collection

Oscar Willenberg, a non-Jewish native of Germany, became superintendent of the Jewish cemetery in 1891. He was naturalized as a United States citizen the following year, and remained superintendent until his retirement in 1920.

Willenberg’s photograph album contained many scenes of both the old and new cemeteries. The album was inherited by his daughter, Erika Powell, and was obtained by historian Edwin H. Carpenter of the Huntington Library in 1974.

A number of the images were shared with the Western States Jewish History Association, three of which are reproduced below.

Funeral at Chavez Ravine Jewish cemetery, Los Angeles, c. 1900, #WS0723

This photograph was taken at the Jewish cemetery at Chavez Ravine around 1900. The man in the center is likely Rabbi Abraham Wolf Edelman of Congregation B’nai B’rith, the city’s first official rabbi.

Oscar Willenberg’s Children, Chavez Ravine Jewish cemetery, Los Angeles, #WS0720

On Saturdays, Oscar Willenberg’s children had the chore of sweeping and tidying the site.

Asher Hamburger tombstone, Chavez Ravine Jewish Cemetery, Los Angeles, #WS2819

The plot of Asher Hamburger (1821-1897), patriarch of the Hamburger’s Department Store family, was at the north side of the cemetery just below a hill, on the other side of which is Dodger Stadium.


  • Thomas Cohen, “First Jewish Site – Los Angeles,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 1/3.
  • “The Old Jewish Cemetery in Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles: A Picture Story,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 9/2.
  • “The New Jewish Cemetery in East Los Angeles, 1902: A Picture Story,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 11/1.

Jonathan Friedmann is curator of this Jewish Cemetery at Chavez Ravine exhibit.