Jewish Educational Alliance: The Levy Building

Article by Jennifer Vess. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

Side Bar 1: The Levy Building

Missed parts 1 – 5? Start from the Beginning.

The JEA came into its own four years after it opened, when it moved into 1216 East Baltimore Street, a new building designed specifically for the needs of the organization. Until then, JEA workers had struggled to live up to the ideal of a strong, influential settlement house, offering a wide range of programs in small, inadequate spaces. They provided what programs they could and the neighborhood came to them by the thousands.

The Levy Building, headquarters of the JEA. JMM 1992.231.105
The Levy Building, headquarters of the JEA. JMM 1992.231.105

It was no surprise, then, when a large crowed crammed themselves into the stately new building on an intensely warm June day in 1913, to hear leaders of the Baltimore Jewish community and local officials dedicate the new headquarters of the Jewish Educational Alliance. The speakers described the JEA as a model settlement house, listing the activities that the JEA had already brought to the poor, heavily immigrant neighborhood and laid out plans for future change and growth. William Levy, whose family had constructed and donated the building in honor of his father, Michael S. Levy, gave the first speech of the day, emphasizing the Jewish nature of the organization.

Lewis Putzel, photo by Bachrach. JMM 1992.70.10
Lewis Putzel, photo by Bachrach. JMM 1992.70.10

The first president of the JEA, Lewis Putzel, waxed poetic about the settlement house’s activities, saying, “The street urchin need not be told to ‘move on’…but will here find a bright room . . . with books and games to meet his needs. . . . Men of all ages will assemble here . . . to prepare themselves for naturalization as citizens.” These themes of care, keeping children off the streets, providing education, and integrating immigrants reappeared in all of the speeches that followed. The mayor of Baltimore, the governor of Maryland, and the president of the United States (who sent a letter) praised the work already done by the JEA and the work that it would do in the future, expressing their own confidence in the work of this settlement house and of all settlement houses.[1]

Michael S. Levy, photo by Bachrach and Bro., JMM 2002.79.251
Michael S. Levy, photo by Bachrach and Bro., JMM 2002.79.251

The Levy building functioned as the headquarters of the JEA for nearly forty years.  In 1952, after the JEA closed, the building was purchased by the Seafarer’s Union. It later became an adult day care center. It still stands today, near the corner of East Baltimore Street and Central Avenue, its original brick façade obscured by later renovations, but the same building that served thousands of Jewish Baltimoreans.

Continue to Side Bar 2: The Library


[1] Jewish Comment, June 20, 1913.

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