About the Film
Once Upon a Time at 55th and Hoover tells the story of the Sephardic Jews from the island of Rhodes who arrived in Los Angeles in the first half of the 20th century and established a community in the area around 55th st and Hoover, what is today South Central Los Angeles.
The Sephardic Jews are the descendents of Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 after the Spanish Inquisition. These exiles settled mostly in what is today Turkey and the Balkans, including the island of Rhodes. Despite five centuries of forced separation from Spain the Sephardim maintained their Judeo-Spanish dialect, also known as Ladino, and their unique Hispano-Jewish culture.
In the first decades of the 20th century a considerable number of Sephardim from Rhodes moved to Los Angeles in search of a better life. They concentrated in the area south of Exposition Park where they established a synagogue and continued many aspects of the life they had left behind in the old country (traditions, celebrations, food, songs, and the Judeo-Spanish language).
When the Nazis took over the island of Rhodes towards the end of WWII and exterminated those Jews who had remained behind, the Los Angeles group became an important repository of the island’s unique Sephardic cultural heritage. However, as the immigrants prospered and moved to other areas and their US born children embraced American language and culture, the old traditions faded away. Eventually the community disbanded and the synagogue was sold to an African Methodist Episcopal congregation.
Through compelling interviews with two immigrants born in Rhodes --what will probably be the last recorded testimony from this generation-- and one second generation Rhodesli who grew up in the area we learn how the Sephardim of Rhodes, as all immigrants of that era, were torn between assimilating into mainstream American culture and maintaining their identity. The film is also a valuable historical document: filled with seldom seen movie footage and previously unpublished archival photographs it brings to life a little known aspect of the history of Los Angeles.
Once Upon a Time at 55th and Hoover reveals the intimate connection between community, language and culture. "In many ways," notes Andrés Enrique-Arias "Spanish-Ladino language is at the heart of a unique, rich Jewish culture." Once this generation of Ladino speakers is gone many of the stories, legends and memories that have accompanied the Sephardim for centuries will be gone forever.