Panels of steel-framed ballistic glass wrap a corner of the building
Panels of steel-framed ballistic glass wrap a corner of the 7,000- square-foot building.

Belzberg Architects Designs a Multigenerational Jewish Community Facility With Ocean Views in Los Angeles

Amid the dive bars, fast-food joints, and tattoo stands populating a funky stretch of the famed Venice boardwalk stands a luminescent jewel: BAR Center at the Beach, a community facility that’s part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Its bright-white, three-dimensional facade, the work of Belzberg Architects, is aglow day and night like a sculptural installation amid towering palm trees backdropped by the Pacific Ocean. Technically, the project is a renovation, since the building originated in 1927. But in the supremely talented hands of BA—specifically founding partner and Interior Design Hall of Fame member Hagy Belzberg and principals Lindsey Sherman Contento, Barry Gartin, and Kristofer Leese—it’s essentially a new-build.

Constructed first as a dance hall, the structure was expanded in the ’50’s with a second floor for housing, which, according to folklore, was utilized as a brothel. In 1964, the pendulum swung the other way with the building transitioning into the Israel Levin Senior Center, a haven for the area’s aging population, particularly its numerous Jews. In 1994, the Northridge earthquake severely damaged the second floor, necessitating its removal. Which is what ultimately brought the project to Belzberg and his team in 2013, leading to its recent completion this summer. “Part of the reason it took so long is that it was donor-funded,” Belzberg takes up the narrative, referring to contributors Bennett and Allison Rosenthal, the center’s namesakes. There were also the complexities resulting from the various “add-ons that created a Frankenstein’s Monster of a building,” Gartin recalls.

dimensional panels of powder-coated aluminum compose abstractions of the Star of David
At BAR Center at the Beach, a Jewish community facililty that occupies a 1927 Los Angeles building renovated and expanded by Belzberg Architects, dimensional panels of powder-coated aluminum compose abstractions of the Star of David.

But any visitor walking by who steps inside the airy, light-filled volume would never know it. “It’s a jewel box,” Sherman Contento says of the center, which, among various other activities, offers yoga classes. “It’s a little building programmed to do a lot,” Belzberg continues. Community is the core mission. BAR is conceived as a multigenerational institution bringing together the old and the young through events and activities, both spiritual and physical. Its reach is projected to extend past Venice to greater L.A.’s Jewish community at large. In keeping with the neighborhood’s history, however, the doors are open to everyone, regardless of religion. “50 years ago, Venice was a rich cultural mosaic and a center of diversity when the rest of L.A. was segregated in an ugly fashion,” continues Belzberg, whose firm also designed an addition to the Holocaust Museum LA and the USC Shoah Foundation.

While retaining the same mandated footprint, BA rebuilt the center’s second story and added another level, bringing the now three-floor structure to 7,000 square feet. Reorganizing spatial configurations, reception, a spacious community room, and a commercial kitchen have been allocated to the ground floor. Classrooms, flex spaces, and a library are on two; they open to a new roof deck that the firm built on top of the community room and outfitted with an angular, chuppah-reminiscent trellis to provide shade from the SoCal sun. The top level is a three-bedroom apartment that provides free housing for recent college grads in exchange for them leading on-site activities between senior and younger Jews—a first for community centers within the federation.

Sandwiched laminate creates a pattern in the glazing
Sandwiched laminate creates a pattern in the glazing.

Interior finishes are durable while evoking a beachy vibe. BA newly wrapped the brick envelope with white fiber-reinforced concrete mesh, except for swaths on all the elevations, which are now glazed. Flooring is pale wood-look vinyl planks or sand-colored porcelain tile. A slatted-oak screen forms an entry canopy around the reception desk, its surfacing a triangular pattern of laminates in graphic white, gray, and metallic. In the adjacent community room, the slatted wood transitions into an acoustical ceiling system of more triangles. The roof trellis is another composition of triangles. Clearly, the shape is integral to the project. Extrapolated from the Star of David, it is the firm’s subtle reference to Judaism. Sustainability was a factor, too. “Making use of its coastal ad­jacency,” Belzberg notes, BA installed operable windows for natural ventilation as well as energy-efficient appliances and fixtures.

Yet BAR’s undisputed standout is the facade—one that bravely sidesteps the Venice norm. “Typically, projects here integrate with the fabric. This does not,” Belzberg explains. “It’s meant to attract people and not disappear.” Its dimensional aspect comes from steel-framed panels of aluminum powder-coated white. Utilizing four software programs to devise the pattern, the six panel types are, again, triangular in form and mounted on a hexagonal base. They join a glass curtain wall patterned via a sandwiched laminate. The world being what it is today, the glass is ballistic, and the aluminum is treated with an anti-graffiti coating; should vandalism occur, panels can be removed and replaced. “We were posed with a paradox: How to make it open and community-based, yet secure,” Sherman Contento comments.

Combined, the elements form an abstracted Star of David in varying scales, as does the glazing pattern. At night, it’s all backlit by a system of color-changing LEDs. It’s not immediately identifiable, but, as Leese says, “If you look for it, you can see it.”

An oak acoustical system forms the 12-foot ceiling in the community room.
An oak acoustical system forms the 12-foot ceiling in the community room.
the community room functioning as a yoga room
With vinyl floor tile, the community room can function as a yoga studio.
oak slats screen the reception area
Oak slats screen the reception desk, a custom composition of laminates.
The building exterior.
Detail of dimensional panels made of powder-coated aluminum.
stairs leading to the deck
Beyond a series of four-panel bifold and swing doors, stairs lead to the deck.
Custom perforated-steel canopies provide shade on the new roof deck.
Custom perforated-steel canopies provide shade on the new roof deck.
Panels of steel-framed ballistic glass wrap a corner of the building
Panels of steel-framed ballistic glass wrap a corner of the 7,000- square-foot building.
the deck with its trellis overhead
Porcelain tile floors the 1,500-square-foot roof deck, furnished with Africa stools and chairs by Eugeni Quitllet and Chipman tables by Robert Chipman.
the top of the building with a man sitting in a chair
The building’s top floor is a three-bedroom apartment that provides housing for recent college grads working the center.
a look up at the roof trellis
Belzberg calls the roof trellis “the fifth facade.”
The panels are backlit with programmable, color-changing LEDs.
The panels are backlit with programmable, color-changing LEDs.
the structure lit up at night
The three-story structure stands out on the Venice boardwalk.
belzberg architects: jennifer wu; josh hanley; jessica hong
rsm design: custom graphics
nous engineering: structural engineer
novus design studio: mep
kimley-horn: civil engi­neer
pulp studios: glasswork
del amo: general contractor
from front
allemuir: chairs (community room)
Steelcase: tables
koncept: pendant fixtures
Wilsonart: desk surfac­ing (reception)
vistosi: pendant fixtures
vib: floor tile (deck)
landscape forms: tables
studio tk: stools, chairs
Blu Dot: coffee table, lounge chairs, sofa (apartment)
source international: stools
pablo design: pendant fixtures
arktura: custom facade, custom windows
wow: facade tile
ceilings plus: ceiling systems, entry screen
sound-tec: vinyl floor tile
architectural surfaces: porcelain tile
premier steel structures; jea bim structural steel detailing: custom roof trellis

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