Campaign Underway to Landmark Historic LES Settlement House Buildings
A grassroots campaign is now underway to landmark three historic Lower East Side settlement house buildings.
University Settlement (1898) at 184 Eldridge Street, Educational Alliance (1891) at 197 East Broadway, and the former headquarters of Grand Street Settlement (1905) at 311 East Broadway are part of the pitch. All three are exemplary for their architecture and cultural history.
Spearheading the initiative is the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, whose past efforts include work to preserve the East River track house and tennis center comfort station, plus the creation of a Lower East Side historic district (both pending).
“Designed by well-known architects of their day, these three settlement house buildings are steeped in beautiful classical detailing, and evoke a sense of respectability, strength and dignity that must have reassured those newly-arrived immigrants who participated in their programs,” LESPI noted in its mailer.
“LESPI believes that they deserve the recognition and protection offered by Individual Landmark designation.”
Settlement houses were initially conceived in the late-nineteenth century as hubs to assist immigrants who first settled the neighborhood. The providers learned about the needs of the community by embedding themselves, or “settling,” and providing social services now handled by government programs. In fact, it was settlement workers, like Henry Street Settlement founder Lilian Wald, who instigated many of the governmental social reforms still in place today.
By 1910, New York boasted a population that was roughly 40-percent foreign-born, much of it corralled in the crowded Lower East Side. In response, the settlements presented wide-ranging programs, including in education, the arts, health, hygiene, and recreation, and also offered financial, legal, and employment assistance. And they continued their charge for over a century – to present day – still supporting the neighborhood.