The Meltzer Sieroty Family
The intergenerational donor activism of the Meltzer Sieroty family inspires us. For three — now going on four! — generations they have been a passionate force in progressive philanthropy and activism in Los Angeles. And each generation of the family has picked up that torch and carried it in their own ways, showing us how donor activism adapts as our movements for social justice change.
Knowing and loving the family as we do, we say to ourselves, “of course she did,” when we hear stories of Jean Sieroty hosting Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Robeson, and Coretta Scott King in her home as her children were growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s, and we wish we could have been there. An immigrant from Poland, Jean made herself at home in Los Angeles, and made an early home for progressive philanthropy in the city. Jean opened a path for the next generation of progressive Jewish donor activists in Los Angeles, who would follow her in branching out from traditional charity to making change. Her support for civil liberties and racial justice would have made her right at home in Liberty Hill, and we embrace her as one of our forebearers, a woman who bravely showed the way forward.
Jean’s son Alan Sieroty was best friends with Wally Marks, who lived across the street when they were growing up. Wally found his own inspiration in the heady, politically charged Sieroty home and spent many hours there absorbing ideas and later putting them into practice. Liberty Hill’s Wally Marks Leadership Institute, a training ground for community organizers and building power, was established in his honor by Wally’s wife Suzy, his sister Marlene Louchheim, Alan, and Alan’s sister Beth Meltzer.
Alan and Beth have continued on the path their mom forged. Alan was a state legislator for 25 years, championing coastal conservation, disability rights, and the arts. Beth worked as a social worker at Vista del Mar and the Thalians Clinic at Cedars Sinai and completed a PhD in clinical therapy while her kids were in high school. And both Beth and Alan have been stalwart supporters of civil liberties and social justice with Liberty Hill, the ACLU, LAANE, and other organizations throughout Los Angeles.
Now a new generation of the Meltzer Sieroty family is stepping up to the challenges of our own time. Julia Meltzer and her husband David Thorne, Julia’s brother Joseph and his wife Michele Asselin, and Julia’s sister Eve and her husband Joseph Thometz are all active members of the Liberty Hill community. Julia is on the steering committee of Liberty Hill’s Environment + Justice Donor Circle and Michele is a member of the circle.
Julia is the founder of Clockshop, a nonprofit arts and activism organization that is helping to transform the way people experience parks and open space on the Los Angeles River. Julia founded and named the organization in recognition of her great-grandfather’s first business which was selling clocks door to door when he arrived in Los Angeles at the turn of the last century. This business grew into the Eastern Dry Goods store on Broadway and 9th Street, which was later transformed into the historic landmark tower of the Eastern Columbia Department Store.
Knowing this history often makes us pause and see that beautiful, turquoise, Art Deco building in a new way. We see not just a historic building, but the story of a family that over generations has contributed to building a progressive Los Angeles. And we can’t wait to see what the next generation brings!