Herman Silver: Los Angeles Jewish Civic Leader, Water Commissioner & Founder of Silver Lake

Herman Silver

Herman Silver

Values Codes I – H – E – L – P


Herman Silver was born in Magdeburg, Prussian Saxony.

He was well-educated and had advanced Hebrew training.

In 1848, Silver traveled by ship to the United States.

While on the ship, he met a Catholic priest. Silver gave the priest lessons in Hebrew, and the priest gave Silver lessons in English.


Along the Way

Once landing, Herman Silver spent the next few years traveling around Canada and the United States: Montreal, New York, the South, and Midwest.

Silver settled in Peru, Illinois, in 1858.

There, he joined the Masons, and was appointed City Clerk.

In 1860, Silver met Abraham Lincoln and was given political work in Northern Illinois.

When the Civil War began, he could not join because of his “congestion of the lungs.”

Instead, he helped raise enough money to support twenty companies of Illinois solders, and aided slaves escaping northward.

In 1864, he was appointed Circuit Court Clerk, and two years later was admitted to the Illinois Bar.

He came to know President Grant and Col. John Freemont of California Expedition fame.

Denver, Colorado

In 1874, Herman Silver moved to Denver, Colorado for health reasons.

He was appointed first to the Federal Land Office and then as supervisor of the Denver Mint.

While in Denver, he was affiliated with Temple Emanuel and its rabbi, Emanuel SchreiberSilver was president of the synagogue for most years between 1878 and 1887.

Herman Silver also founded the Denver B’nai B’rith Lodge #171 in 1878, and was a trustee of the Denver Hebrew Benevolent Society.

Los Angeles

In 1887, Herman Silver moved to Southern California at the urging of his doctor.

He came as the new secretary/treasurer of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroads.

The same year, he was granted a franchise for a Cable Railroad in Los Angeles and was appointed receiver of the Los Angeles & Pacific Railway, which had run into difficulty.


In 1896, Herman Silver was elected to the Los Angeles City Council and was soon voted its president, acting often as the Mayor pro tem of the city.

Herman Silver ran for mayor in 1900, but lost.

In 1899, the Lazard, Beaudry, and Griffith lease on the Los Angeles Water Company ended, and the city purchased it back in 1902 for two million dollars.

The City Council created a Water Commission and named Herman Silver as its chairman.

Silver understood that in order for Los Angeles to grow, it would need a series of reservoirs, due to the lack of consistency of water from the Los Angeles River and other distant sources.

He started planning a reservoir northeast of downtown that would combine stored water with a development of nice homes and parks.

A new mayor came into office and refused to re-appoint Herman Silver to the Water Board.

The City Council reacted, praising Silver by naming the new water project after him.

The area has been known, ever since, by the name Silver Lake.

Herman Silver's Silver Lake in Los Angeles

Silver Lake, Los Angeles


Herman Silver, one of Los Angeles’ first water commissioners

Upon arrival in Los Angeles, Herman Silver immediately joined Congregation B’nai B’rith (now Wilshire Boulevard Temple).

With his Judaic training, he became its “lay rabbi,” assisting both Rabbi Schreiber — who had been his Rabbi in Denver — and then Rabbi Abraham Blum with sermons, and teaching classes to both children and adults.

At the 1896 dedication of the new synagogue building, the newspapers listed Silver as one of the “rabbis present.”

Silver was a supporter of the Kaspare Cohn Hospital, the Jewish Orphans Home, and the Hebrew Benevolent Society.



In 1895 Herman Silver helped form a new Masonic Lodge, F & A.M. Lodge 335 – the West Gate Lodge.



Herman Silver married Eliza Post while living in Peru, Illinois.

He passed away suddenly in Los Angeles in 1913.

“O’er the Way All Mortals Must Go, The Late Herman Silver, One of the notable figures of Los Angeles, California, and the United States, bright career closed last night.  A Good Man Departed.” 

The Los Angeles Times


  • William M. Kramer, “Herman Silver of Silver Lake: Civic Leader and Lay Rabbi; Part 1,” Western States Jewish History 20/1, 38/3&4.
  • William M. Kramer, “Herman Silver of Silver Lake: Civic Leader and Lay Rabbi; Part 2,” Western States Jewish History 20/2.

David Epstein is curator of this Herman Silver exhibit.


Jews in the News — About this Time

Marriage of the First Jewish Girl Born in Los Angeles — 1875

The Wedding—The nuptials of Miss Bertie Greenbaum and Mr. Isaac Norton took place at the Jewish Synagogue on Sunday last. The body of the church was well filled with the friends and co-religionists of the bride and groom, besides many of other faiths. About ten o’clock the bridal party, consisting of Misses Sarah Goldstein, Rosa Cohn, Fannie Jacobs, and Jennie Greenbaum (the latter a sister of the bride), bridesmaids, Messrs. Adolph Cohn, L. Loeb, Gus Katstenstein and Julius Norton, groomsmen, and Mrs. Greenbaum, the bride’s mother, entered the church, followed by the fair bride and her future husband.

Entering the altar, they were met by Rabbi Edelman who presented the marriage contract, which they signed, Messrs. L W. Hellman and H. Newmark subscribing their names as witnesses.

The parties then took their places under a canopy, and the impressive ritual of the Jewish church was read by the officiating priest. The language of the ceremony is almost wholly drawn from the Old Testament, part of it being spoken in English and part in Hebrew, including the intoning of a portion of Scripture in the latter venerable tongue. Toward the conclusion of the ceremony, the bride and groom drank wine from the same glass, which was then broken to pieces under the feet of the groom, the act signifying that as impossible as it would be to reunite the broken fragments, just so impossible is it to break and destroy the ties formed by assuming the marriage relation.

After a brief exhortation by Mr. Newmark, Sr., one of the elders of the congregation, the final blessing was pronounced and the happy couple received the congratulations of their friends.

The bride was elegantly attired in a dress of white tulle, with a white silk polonaise, with the traditional veil of illusion. The bridesmaids wore modest and becoming dresses of white tulle. Everything was elegant without unnecessary display, and passed off in the most harmonious manner. The high contracting parties have the best wishes of all for a happy and harmonious wedded life. The wedding party and a host of friends were entertained after the wedding at the White House. The bride and the groom left yesterday on the Orizaba for a bridal tour.

— Los Angeles Daily Star, Tuesday, March 30, 1875, [Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 4/1. Berta, daughter of Esther and Ephraim Greenbaum, is reputed to be the first Jewish girl born in Los Angeles (1855).]