The Home for Destitute Jewish Children is a well-preserved, early to mid 20th-century institutional building in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and has a period of significance from 1910 to 1964. The building meets criterion A for its association with the development of religious-based orphanages in the Boston area at the turn of the century, and its later association with community development as a mid-20th-century industrial training school and community center. The Home also meets criterion C as a well-preserved example of early 20th-century, Classical Revival-style institutional architecture, and as a well-preserved example of Modernist-style architecture for an institutional use. The Home is significant as the first purpose-built orphanage created for the care of Jewish children in Boston, and later as a Hebrew industrial training school. The importance of this building to the community is further evidenced by the involvement of the Kennedy Foundation in the construction of a new gymnasium wing addition to the Young Men’s Hebrew Association-Hecht House in 1959, when it was expanded for use as a community center. A 1973 fire caused the loss of the building’s front porch; nevertheless the building retains its integrity of location, design, setting, materials, feeling, workmanship, and association. It is significant at the local level.
ARCHITECTURE: Designed by Boston-based architect John A. Hasty in the Classical Revival style, the redbrick and cast-concrete original building is a well-preserved example of institutional architecture in Boston, and of dependent-child institutions found throughout the United States. The 1959 addition of an entrance pavilion and gymnasium is significant as a well-preserved example of reinforced-concrete, Modernist-style institutional architecture in Boston, designed by Isador Richmond and Carney Goldberg. Interior modifications to the 1910 building in 1945, following the plans of S. S. Eisenberg, and, in 1959, following plans by Richmond and Goldberg, represent the physical alterations required to meet the changing use of the building from an orphanage to a community center.
ETHNIC HERITAGE: The large influx of European immigrants to the Boston area began in 1830, with a second wave of German-born Jews, Austrians, and northern Europeans in 1860. The third wave occurred between 1890 and 1920, and included Polish- and Russian-born Jews, Italians, and Greeks. These ethnic groups created, funded, and maintained a variety of institutions to serve their own groups in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Home for Destitute Jewish Children was developed to provide an alternative to public institutions for orphaned Russian and German Jewish children.
SOCIAL HISTORY: The Home for Destitute Jewish Children was intended to exemplify a model community, in which the Home’s founders and directors exercised complete control in molding their youth’s identities as Americanized Jews. Oftentimes, those employed at the Home had prior experience in American nonsectarian arenas and applied that knowledge to Jewish Americanization. The process of acculturation began during the youngsters’ formative years, at which time they were shaped into loyal and productive American citizens.
Development of Dorchester
Dorchester is a neighborhood in the city of Boston that occupies approximately 9.7 square miles along Dorchester Bay and the lower Neponset River. Defining Boston’s southern boundary, Dorchester is roughly bounded by the neighborhoods of South Boston to the north and Roxbury to the west and northwest. Dorchester Bay defines the eastern boundary, and the Neponset River separates Dorchester from the city of Quincy to the southeast and the town of Milton to the south. The neighborhood of Mattapan is situated to the southwest. First settled in 1630, Dorchester was established as one of the largest towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and included present-day South Boston, Hyde Park, Milton, Wrentham, Stoughton, Dedham, Sharon, Foxborough, and Canton. The town’s initial meetinghouse was located on Allen’s Plain near the current intersection of Cottage Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and East Cottage Street. In 1679 it was relocated roughly one mile south to Meeting House Hill, prompting the town center to shift to the intersection of Bowdoin and Hancock Streets. Concurrently, the Neponset mill sites, Lower Mills, and Hyde Park continued to develop through the Colonial period. Major industry along the Neponset River began in 1709 at Upper Falls (Mattapan), followed by a paper mill in Milton in 1728 that initiated the paper industry in other Neponset and Charles River locations.
The town remained a sparsely populated rural farming community of roughly 12,000 until construction of the steam-powered Boston & Providence Railroad was completed in 1834. Industry continued to expand into the mid 19th century with the Dorchester Cotton and Iron Company’s cotton mill, followed by the Hyde Park Woolen Company. Though industrial growth continued to prompt residential development, the expansive town remained sporadically populated. It was annexed to Boston in January 1870.
By the 1880s, Dorchester was considered a relaxing getaway from the busy downtown. Though the steam-powered railway served as a convenient mode of transportation between the larger cities such as Providence and Boston, the horsecar allowed for a more readily accessible type of transport from the city to the surrounding suburbs. By the 1800s, horsecar lines ran down Washington Street in Dorchester, terminating in Codman Square and providing convenient service to the area east of Blue Hill Avenue.
It was not until the electrification of the streetcar at the turn of the century that Dorchester evolved from a country retreat to a streetcar suburb. In 1906, the electric streetcar tracks replaced the former horsecar lines and extended further along Blue Hill Avenue to Mattapan Square, with additional tracks laid along a roadside streetcar reservation on nearby Seaver Street to form a new line, the 29/Mattapan-Egleston. The electric line brought with it reliable and efficient transportation, allowing middle-income families to live outside the densely settled urban core of Boston. By 1910, Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester was growing steadily, with a series of apartment buildings and new storefronts constructed along the avenue south of Franklin Park, near Morton and Walk Hill Streets. As the local population became more compact, the previously abundant house lots became a rarity. In order to meet the growing housing demand, new wood-frame, three-story, three-family houses, later known as three deckers or triple deckers, began to spring up, along with multifamily apartment buildings in and around the commercial centers along Blue Hill Avenue. As of 1885, there were 20,700 residents living in Dorchester; by 1920 the number soared to 150,000. Many of these new residents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, who settled in Dorchester to avoid the dense urban city core and have easier access to employment.
Immigrant Groups in Dorchester
The first great wave of immigration to Boston occurred in the 1840s, following the potato famines in Ireland. Irish Catholic immigrants settled in the city, primarily in the North End, and by 1875 there were approximately 60,000 foreign-born Irish living within the city limits. Concurrent with the Irish migration, a large number of German Jews left Europe ca. 1850. Migration was largely due to the Revolution of 1848’s failed attempt at unification of all German-speaking states. As growing German nationalism manifested itself in discrimination against Jews, the Jewish population began to emigrate from that country. Initially, German Jewish immigrants settled in the North End alongside the Irish, though by 1860 they began migrating to the West and South Ends of the city.
It was not until the final decade of the 19th century that a new surge of immigration from Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe began. Those of Jewish and Italian heritage made up the largest percentage of the new immigrant class. Between 1875 and 1925, roughly 75,000 Jewish immigrants fled their native lands in Eastern Europe and Russia to settle in Boston. Many migrated to the Lower Roxbury neighborhood, where family and friends had already settled in the first wave of Jewish immigration during the mid 19th century. In the 1890s, the demand for housing in the area increased as the emerging Jewish immigrant population sought out better living conditions outside the crowded and unsanitary city center. Synagogues were constructed to serve this population, which steadily moved from the present-day Theater District, through the South End, and finally into Lower Roxbury and Dorchester.
By the first decade of the 20th century, one of the earliest Jewish settlement areas was in Grove Hall and Blue Hill Avenue at the northern end of Dorchester. It was followed by a second large Jewish influx to the Dorchester neighborhood, in an area roughly bounded by Franklin Park to the west, Franklin Field to the south, Bowdoin Street to the east, and Columbia Road to the north, generally following one of the primary roadways through Dorchester, blue Hill Avenue. Jewish settlement then took root in the area south of Franklin Field, roughly between blue Hill Avenue and Washington Street, and south into Mattapan along Blue Hill Avenue and Morton Street.
At the turn of the 20th century, Dorchester and Upper Roxbury had only 100 to 200 Jewish families living in the area, served by the Congregational Adath Jeshurun in Roxbury’s Dudley Square. The growing Jewish community expanded to roughly 4,000 people by 1905, mostly located in the Grove Hall section of Dorchester. By 1900, the Franklin Park and Blue Hill Avenue section of the neighborhood had become a well-developed, middle-class neighborhood with single and multifamily dwellings. Blue Hill Avenue was a corridor of Jewish households and businesses, extending from the Highland Park section of Roxbury, south to Mattapan Square. Serving this expanding community were four of the five synagogues built in Boston neighborhoods by 1915.
Many of the earliest Jewish settlers in the Dorchester neighborhood were members of the Beth El congregation, which met in a public hall on Washington Street near the railroad between 1908-1910, and later in a new synagogue on Fowler Street (northeast of the Home for Destitute Jewish Children). Between 19111915, the Hadrath Israel met in an apartment just east of Franklin Park on Blue Hill Avenue. That congregation migrated south to Mattapan, and the Chai Odom congregation located to the Franklin Park area in 1915, moving in 1916 to a site off Talbot Avenue just north of Franklin Field, and blocks from the Home for Destitute Jewish Children. After these initial congregations located to this area, several Jewish congregations and schools followed suit in and around the Franklin Park and Blue Hill Avenue section of the neighborhood, placing the Home for Destitute Jewish Children at the center of a thriving Jewish community.
By 1920, 44,000 people, or 22% of the population, of Dorchester and Upper Roxbury were of Jewish decent. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Jewish community numbered approximately 77,000, which consisted of half of the Jewish population in the Boston area. At its height, there were 40 synagogues in Dorchester and Upper Roxbury, together with numerous Hebrew schools, Jewish day schools, a Hebrew high school and college, the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA), community centers and function halls, and the Home for Destitute Jewish Children. The Jewish population of Dorchester remained high into the 1940s and 1950s. At the same time, however, the Jewish community began migrating to the suburbs in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood and to Brookline and Newton, taking with them the institutions, schools, businesses, and associations they founded. The African American community began settling in the Dorchester neighborhood in the mid 20th century. Today, this neighborhood remains a stronghold of the African American community, with new immigrant groups from locations such as Haiti and Puerto Rico adding to the multifaceted culture of the neighborhood.
The Establishment of Orphanages in the United States
Orphanages for dependent children were founded in great numbers across the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to provide separate accommodations for children who were once housed in public almshouses with adult paupers. Until the last quarter of the 19th century, Roman Catholics were the leading founder of orphanages in the United States. The Catholic Church considered itself a minority in the Protestant-dominated American society. As a result, it founded parochial schools and children’s homes as an instrument of religious preservation. The great number of Civil War orphans, coupled with the growing number of orphans from immigrant families in the latter half of the 19th century, required alternatives to the almshouses and the placing out of individual children with families. The passage of the landmark New York State Children’s Law of 1875 mandated the removal of all children aged 3 to 16 from the almshouses, and for their subsequent placement in separate children’s institutions, including provisions for placement in religion-based institutions. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts followed suit, passing its own legislation in 1879. The law precipitated the expansion of religion-based orphanages in Massachusetts.
In addition to these state-mandated regulations, a period of social activism and political reform deemed the “Progressive Era” paid particular attention to the nation’s population of dependent children, specifically those of immigrant descent. The movement, which flourished between 1890 and 1920, emphasized that the future and strength of the nation was dependent upon the immigrant child’s development, education, and successful assimilation into American society. Successful Progressive Era measures made on behalf of the nation’s youth
included neighborhood-based educational and recreational programs, the “Playground Movement,” juvenile courts and probation systems, the establishment of the federal Children’s Bureau in 1912, and a vigorous campaign waged against child labor.
The Home for Destitute Jewish Children
Jewish orphanages constructed in the United States followed a long tradition of charity to the poor by the Jewish people. Taxes were levied to aid both the poor and homeless, as many practicing Jews believed that wealth emanated from God and the more fortunate honored both God and himself by acts of charity, called “mitzvot.” Furthermore, several passages in the Bible and Talmud reference aid for widows and orphans. Minors, when left little or no property from their father’s estate, were to be supported by the Jewish community. The highest form of charity was the anonymous donation for the care of homeless children. Jewish philanthropic organizations were established to undertake this task, and were responsible for the construction of the Home for Destitute Jewish Children in 1910.
Historically, every synagogue formed charitable societies, called chevra, though the growing German Jewish population in America resulted in a rapid increase of Jewish philanthropy that soon separated it from the synagogue. Each synagogue community maintained a Hebrew Benevolent Society and an equivalent charitable association of Jewish women, for example, Boston’s Hebrew Ladies Sewing Society. Unlike their Catholic and Protestant counterparts, which were operated by the clergy, these societies were run by the Jewish community at large. In 1864 Boston’s Jewish population formed the United Hebrew Benevolent Association (UHBA), independent of the three local synagogues and comprised of “assimilated bourgeois Jews led by elite Bavarian and Westphalian Germans.” The existing German Jewish population in the United States in the 1880s sought to protect the new wave of Eastern European Jewish immigrants arriving on American shores from a potential anti-Semitic backlash. The UHBA assumed responsibility for the care of newly arriving families by providing charity both humanely and efficiently. Led by Jacob H. and Lina Frank Hecht, the UHBA joined the Federation of Jewish Charities of Boston in 1895. The Federation, considered the first coalition of Jewish social agencies in the United States, included the Leopold Morse Home for the Aged and Infirm Hebrews and Orphanage, the Free Employment Bureau, and the Charitable Burial Association. The Federation enabled a mutual sharing of resources for those charities involved. By 1908, the original Federation of Jewish Charities of Boston became incorporated as the Federated Jewish Charities (FJC) and provided services to members of the Jewish community who resided outside of Boston as well as those in the city. Three new organizations were added to the original five, including the Helping Hand for Destitute Jewish Children, Mount Sinai Dispensary (Beth Israel Hospital), and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
Although the established German Jewish community was successful in helping to establish the new Eastern European and Russian Jews in Boston, there was a need for additional care for the second wave of Jewish immigrants. To meet this need, Russian-born lawyer and politician Samuel Borofsky founded Boston’s second Jewish orphanage in 1897, known as the Home for Destitute Jewish Children. The first was the Leopold Morse Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews and Orphans, which began operations in Mattapan ca. 1890 and catered primarily to German Jewish orphans. Borofsky’s Ladies Helping Hand Society opened the Home for Destitute Jewish Children at the corner of Beech Glen Street and Fort Avenue in Roxbury, across the street from the Boston Nursery for Blind Babies. It was home to 65 boys and girls, most of whom were half-orphans whose parents were paid low weekly fees and brought their children home when they remarried or their poor economic situation improved.
By 1908, the Helping Hand’s Home for Destitute Jewish Children had outgrown its quarters. For the purposes of raising funds to build a new orphanage, the Hebrew Ladies Helping Hand Society and the Ladies Auxiliary formed a new organization, named The Ladies Helping Hand Auxiliary of the Home for Jewish Children. The Auxiliary successfully raised the $100,000 needed to construct and fully furnish the building upon completion. The Auxiliary raised the funds through private donations and by holding dances, concerts, and fairs. At the time of the opening, the group was only $30,000 short of its goal.
Deemed the Home for Destitute Jewish Children, the building was designed by architect John A. Hasty. Hasty first opened a practice in Cambridge, MA, moving to Milk Street in Boston in 1904, and later to offices at 46 Cornhill Street in Boston. Hasty designed numerous private residences, commercial buildings, and industrial complexes, many of which are listed in the State and National Registers. These include the Eagle Bowling Alley (1902) in Roxbury, located within the Dudley Station Historic District (NR 1985); Temple Ohabei Shalom Cemetery Chapel in East Boston (1903, NR 2008); 20 Elmwood Avenue (1892), located within the Old Cambridge Historic District (NR 1983); three buildings within the Central Square Historic District in Cambridge (NR 1990); and 153 Naples Road (1908) in Brookline, located within the Graffam-McKay Local Historic District (LHD 2004). He also designed the Temple Beth El located on Fowler Street in Dorchester, in 1911. It was the first synagogue built in the neighborhood, a Neo Classical-style building with a domed roof, and the only wooden temple constructed in Boston. It was sold by the congregation in 1967, and was demolished in 1998. Hasty’s multistory apartment and commercial buildings were designed in a variety of revival styles popular at the turn of the century, and the Home is consistent with the character of his other works. Hasty was likely awarded the commission for the Home due to his ongoing association with the Jewish community.
Designed in the Classical Revival style, the building is typical of many late 19th– and early 20th-century institutional buildings in Boston. Stemming from the Beaux-Arts tradition, which celebrated the composition and symmetry of Greek and Roman architecture, the Classical Revival style in the United States was often selected by architects for its more refined and restrained expression. While many Classical Revival-style buildings were constructed of cast stone, Hasty selected brick as the primary cladding, likely for its local availability and warmer tones more appropriate to a residential building. Classical Revival-style character-defining features of the building include the symmetrical facade, monumental central entrance, and cast-stone quoins, sills, lintels, and pediment.
The new building opened in 1911 with great fanfare (see Figure 1, 1913 photograph). Boston Mayor John F. Fitzgerald addressed the large audience at the opening ceremony, along with Rabbi Harry Levi of Temple Israel, who stated his desire for Jewish children to be sent to the Home over public institutions to allow Jewish beliefs and traditions to be carried on by the children. At its opening, the Home provided shelter to scores of children under the age of 16. By 1912, the then underpopulated Morse Home merged with the Home for
Destitute Jewish Children, thereby turning over its assets, claims to FJC funds, and ties to the affluent German Jewish community to the Home for Destitute Jewish Children.
It was noted by the Jewish Advocate in 1919 that many of the Home’s children came from different classes, resulting in a wide variety of habits, propensities, and lifestyles. The Home was run much like a boarding school of the day, including rules and regulations. The new orphanage provided housing to roughly 200 boys and girls annually, aged 6 to 18. During its early years, the Home struggled to provide for the young children, as donations during the lean years of World War I were scarce. When funds were tight, the children often assisted the small staff in preparing meals and maintaining the property. This changed after the war ended, when funds were more readily available to hire additional staff.
Many of the children arriving at the Home came from immigrant parents who had died. Health care was a major concern of the institution. Physicians and nurses made routine checks of the children. In addition to the Home being well maintained to prevent epidemics, the children were schooled on cleanliness, were properly clothed, ate wholesome meals, and had plenty of indoor and outdoor exercise.
Children attended public schools for their education, though those too young for public schools were educated on the Home’s grounds until they were of age. The Headmaster of the Dorchester High School noted that the majority of the pupils who came from the orphanage received grades of A and B. Hebrew school occurred within the Home. Generally, each child received five hours of schooling on Jewish history and religion per week, over the course of three or four sessions. When it began, Hebrew school was limited to children ages seven years old and up, but by 1919 a kindergarten class was added to ensure all children within the Home received a Hebrew education. The Home also held daily and holiday services, congregational singing, bar mitzvahs, and other religious entertainment.
Initially, daily activities for the children included music lessons, participation in a marching band, and publication of a monthly magazine. Unfortunately, few children were adopted from the Home. Some were placed out as foster children, but the facility remained home for most until they were able to support themselves. In an effort to assist the children in finding meaningful employment upon leaving the Home, a trade school was also created. The trade school was slow to start due to a lack of funds, space, and teachers. Eventually, portions of playrooms were partitioned off for trade-school activities, tools were donated, and teachers volunteered. Classes included stenography, typewriting, millinery, dressmaking, printing, carpentry, machinery, and woodworking. Small, wood-frame buildings (no longer extant) were also constructed on the property to provide workshop space.
Recreational, club, and sports activities were also a large part of the Home. The Home had an active Boy Scout troop as early as 1913, which explored Boston’s outdoors from the Blue Hills to Bumpkin Island in Boston Harbor. The Home also supported a Girl Scout troop, literary and social clubs, and athletic outings. Socials, parties, plays, dances, musical instruction that gave rise to the Home’s own brass band, and field trips were a common occurrence at the Home. Garden plots were laid out on the Home’s property, which allowed children to plant and maintain their own gardens.
The girls were housed on the second floor and the boys on third floor. Each dormitory floor was divided into two sections, one for those under twelve years of age and one for ages twelve to sixteen, the age at which children were required to leave the orphanage. The dormitories were large, with colorful rugs, curtains, white bedspreads on twin beds, dressers for the girls, and chifferobes for the boys. Each dormitory had its own piano and small gathering space. Each child was responsible for making his or her bed in the morning and neatening their area.
In 1934, a new Home for Jewish Children was established in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston. Within two years, the original Home in Dorchester was sold to the Hecht Neighborhood House. The idea of the Hecht House was first established in the Commonwealth Avenue home of Lina Frank Hecht, who served as a guide into the American community to Russian Jews arriving in the United States at the turn of the century. Realizing that there was a greater need to assist new immigrants in becoming Americans, she facilitated the creation of the Hebrew Industrial Training School. Later known as the Hecht House, the organization served the Jewish community in Boston for decades. The organization was first located in rented rooms in a Hanover Street building in the North End (exact location is unknown). After a series of moves, the school settled in at 22 Bowdoin Street (no longer extant) in Boston’s West End, and officially became the Hecht Neighborhood House. The mission of the Hecht House was to “foster democracy and citizenship,” “advance Jewish ideals,” “conduct relevant programming to promote physical, cultural, moral and educational well-being,” and “promote understanding among all community groups.”
The organization followed the Jewish community’s relocation to the streetcar suburbs, and moved from the West End of Boston to the vacant Home on American Legion Highway in 1936 to serve the greatest number of Jewish residents as possible. When the Hecht House took ownership of the Home, interior remodeling of the property was needed to meet the needs of the community center. With more than 2,000 members by 1945, modifications included alterations to the gymnasium, as well as the creation of an assembly hall, game room, arts and crafts room, nursery school, Jewish library, and a theater with rehearsal and dressing rooms within existing spaces throughout the building. The building housed a gymnasium, exercise rooms, health club, science laboratory, and photography darkroom in the basement. A dance hall, kitchen, nursery rooms, classrooms, adult lounge, and canteen were on the first floor. At the second floor, the building contained a game room, children’s library, sewing room, and additional nursery rooms. A young adult lounge, art and ceramic studios, theater, and additional club rooms were located on the third floor. Two outbuildings (no longer extant) provided space for a wood shop and social club meeting space (see Figure 3, 1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map).
The 1945 renovations were designed by Boston-based architect Samuel Saul Eisenberg. Eisenberg immigrated to the United States with his family in 1900 and settled in Chelsea, MA. He received a certificate in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1915 and also attended the Boston Architecture Center. In 1919, he founded the firm of S. S. Eisenberg, Architects and Engineers, in Boston. Eisenberg was active from 1921 through 1980, and worked closely with partner Herman L. Feer. His firm was responsible for at least 75 buildings in Cambridge, and at least 71 additional buildings in eastern Massachusetts
between 1916 and 1973. His Russian Jewish roots put him firmly within the Jewish community, and this is likely how he secured the job of renovating the Home in 1945.
The firm’s portfolio included single- and multifamily housing, commercial and industrial buildings, parking garages, theaters, synagogues, schools, a fire station, and a library. Eisenberg’s works include: the 1928 S. S. Kresge Five and Dime Store, a Colonial Revival-style, one-story commercial building at 1-11 Pleasant Street, within the Newburyport Historic District (NR 1984); the 1926 Beth Hamidrash Synagogue, a Late Romanesque Revival-style building at 575 Warren Street, Roxbury; the 1923 Classical Revival-style Chelsea Hebrew Free School at 48 Washington Avenue in the Bellingham Square Historic District in Chelsea (NR 1985); renovations to the 1866 William Parker-Amory House at 90 Charles Street in the Beacon Hill Historic District (NR 1966); the Colonial Revival-style Jacob Sorkin House within the Moreland Street Historic District in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston (NR 1984); and 1923 garage additions to several late 19th-century apartment buildings within the Beacon Street Historic District in Brookline (NR 1985). Most of Eisenberg’s known works are from the early 20th century; however, his lengthy career indicates he continued his practice, and more Eisenberg buildings and renovations will be uncovered when more mid 20th-Century Modern buildings are surveyed in the Commonwealth.
In 1959, the Hecht House merged with the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) to become the YMHA-Hecht House. The YMHA was founded in 1881 and operated out of Minot Hall in the South End, and later on East Concord Street in that neighborhood. Like the Hecht House, the YMHA soon followed the migration of the Jewish community from the center of the city to the streetcar suburbs, and relocated to the old Hetty Green Mansion (extant) on Warren and Howland Streets in Roxbury in 1911. By 1918, the YMHA had moved to a building on Seaver Street at Humboldt Avenue, where it remained until the two organizations, which had similar missions, merged under the umbrella of the Associated Jewish Community Centers (AJCC).
To better meet the needs of the community, the new YMHA-Hecht House began fundraising for the construction of a gymnasium addition with handball courts, as well as remodeling of the original building. In 1959, the cornerstone to the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Memorial Gymnasium was laid to honor the fallen brother of then-Senator John F. Kennedy. The new gymnasium would have a regulation size basketball court, handball courts, exercise rooms, lockers, a modern health club, and administrative offices. The new gymnasium was designed by Boston architects Isidor Richmond and Carney Goldberg.
Isidor Richmond (1894-1988) and Carney Goldberg (1907-1981), of Richmond and Goldberg, formed a partnership in 1946. Both men were born in Chelsea and studied architecture at MIT. Richmond graduated in 1916, and Goldberg received a Master’s degree in architecture in 1929. Both traveled abroad as Rotch Traveling Scholars: Richmond from 1923-1925, and Goldberg from 1931-1933. Richmond apprenticed in the office of Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, and worked as a draftsman and designer for Bellows & Aldrich and Guy Lowell. Goldberg was a draftsman for D. Leland & Co. and a designer for Coolidge, Shepley, Bulfinch & Abbott. He also served as an instructor in architecture at MIT between 1927 and 1930.
Richmond and Goldberg designed several municipal buildings and temples, many of which were in Brookline. An example of their work includes the Stanetsky Schlossberg Solomon Memorial Chapel at 1668 Beacon
Street, constructed in 1953. Designed in the International style, it is within the Beacon Street Historic District in Brookline (NR 1985). The firm also designed the International-style Temple Emeth (1948) at 194 Grove Street in Brookline. In 1951, the firm designed a two-story, International-style addition to Sydeman Hall at Brandeis University in Waltham (demolished 1998). It was also responsible for the Egleston Square Public Library of 1953 and the Roslindale Public Library of 1960, both designed in the International style. The two practiced together until 1973. Their associations within the Jewish community and prior works likely resulted in their award of the design of the new addition.
The mid 20th-century Modernist movement was well established in Boston by the 1950s. It was championed by the schools of architecture at MIT and Harvard University. The location of these institutions made Boston and its surrounding communities a laboratory for new, International-style designs. This was particularly true for those schooled at or teaching in these universities, including Richmond and Goldberg. The use of steel-reinforced concrete construction together with traditional materials was typical of this period of design in the city. This style of architecture included elevation of the first floor (usually on piers), curtain-wall construction, open floor plans, and large expanses of glass. The curtain-wall construction allowed the YMHA-Hecht House’s new addition to have a transparent appearance, as designed for the original entrance pavilion, or a solid wall with large expanses of glass, as seen in the gymnasium––elements that are character-defining features of the Modernist styles. The main floor of the gymnasium was elevated above the basement, which was subdivided into individual rooms, leaving the wide open gymnasium above. The streamlined design and modest architectural embellishments of the 1959 addition, including the character-defining features of simplified engaged piers, an elevated basement, and wide ribbon windows, are cornerstones of the Modernist movement.
At the cornerstone laying ceremony, the president and 1,500 members of the YMHA-Hecht House were joined by the president of the Jewish Centers Association (who helped with the merger of the two organizations), the president of the Associated Jewish Philanthropies, the president of the Boston City Council, and, notably, future Senator Edward Moore Kennedy on behalf of the Kennedy Foundation, which helped to support the project.
The new gymnasium and remodeling of the old building was completed in the spring of 1960 (see Figure 2, 1960 photograph). Remodeling included a refurbished social hall, library-lounge, theater, nursery school wing, and fourteen club meeting rooms. Upon completion, the YMHA-Hecht House was one of the largest, if not the largest, Jewish community centers in New England. When the original building was constructed, it contained a large gymnasium on the south side that extended from the basement through to the first floor. A viewing balcony for the gymnasium was located at the southwest corner of the first floor. With the construction of a new gymnasium, the original gymnasium was no longer needed and was subdivided by installing a floor at the balcony level. The newly divided basement and first floor were each further subdivided with the installation of vertical partitions. The plaster partition at the fifth bay of the basement allowed for the creation of a hobby room at the southwest corner and a scout room at the northwest corner; the “modernfold” partition at the sixth bay of the first floor created a library-lounge at the southwest corner, and a lounge and meeting room at the northwest corner. The original dormitories on the second floor were converted into a game room and nursery spaces. The rooms at the east end of the north wing were removed and the space repurposed as an auditorium.
On the third floor, the old art room and hall were subdivided into club rooms, with corridors installed along the north and south walls to provide access to each area.
Lena Park Neighborhood Service Center
In 1970, the YMHA-Hecht House was sold to the Lena Park Community Development Corporation (CDC), a nonprofit community development corporation in Dorchester. Lena Park CDC was formed in 1968 by members of the Mattapan and Dorchester communities and representatives of two local churches, the Church of God in Christ and St. Leo’s Church. Although there continued to be a vibrant and active Jewish community in Dorchester, the neighborhood, like many parts of Boston, was experiencing a changing demographic in the late 20th century. In the late 1960s and 1970s, a growing African American community emerged in the neighborhood. Lena Park CDC established a new community center, known as the Lena Park Neighborhood Service Center, in the building. The community center continued to serve the residents of Dorchester, but with a multicultural focus.
The AJCC continued to provide ongoing services to Jewish residents, including a senior center and kosher kitchen within the new community center. Funds from the sale of the building were utilized by the AJCC for other community centers under its umbrella. The new community center provided health and welfare services, job training, referral services for the handicapped, and recreational programs. The acquisition of the center by the CDC was made possible in part through a grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was announced by Mayor Kevin White in 1970. Then-mayoral aide Barney Frank, later a Congressman from Massachusetts, was also instrumental in the purchase of the center. In 1973, the three-story, monumental front porch on the original 1910 portion of the building was destroyed by fire. In the following decades, the 1960 connector was subject to a minor renovation that infilled the glazed wall of windows with brick.
The building served as a community center, operated by the Lena Park CDC until 2006. The building suffered some deferred maintenance, but overall is in good condition despite being vacant for several years. Vandals broke into the building in 2012, setting a fire in the gymnasium that required the fire department to remove several windows in that section of the building. In 2014, the building underwent a historic tax-advantaged rehabilitation to convert the majority of the building into a charter school, known as the Edward W. Brooke Charter School. As part of the 2014 project, the basement of the gymnasium was rehabilitated and returned to use as the headquarters of the Lena Park CDC.
The project included exterior masonry rehabilitation, replacement of the windows with new windows more closely resembling the original sash, roof replacement, introduction of new windows in the connector that more closely resemble the original sash, and retention and repair of the main stairs in the 1910 building, as well as the rehabilitation of the interior of the gymnasium. The interior rooms are still accessed from the central stair, and a new elevator and stairway addition were constructed in the rear courtyard. All work was reviewed and approved by the National Park Service as consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and the Federal Historic Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit Program, and by the Massachusetts Historical Commission as part of the Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program.
Potential archaeological resources described above may contribute to important social and cultural information related to Native American and poorhouse-related activities, though their potential lies only in deeply deposited cultural features and remains.