The Hannah Schloss Building

Detroit's First Jewish Community Center

In 1899, a number of Detroit’s Jewish community leaders formed the United Jewish Charities, an association formed to save funds and resources and combine the work of all of the various charitable and educational entities that had been formed to serve the community. While the focus was, initially, on serving refugees and education, the number of agencies and causes that collaborated and fell under the guidance of United Jewish Charities grew rapidly and considerably. Needing a home in which to house all of the activities associated with these organizations, including classrooms, training rooms, and office and meeting space, a Real Estate Committee, chaired by Henry Butzel, secured a piece of land on High Street East (E. Vernor Highway). Seligman Schloss provided construction funds for the building, which would be named in memory of his late wife, Hannah. The cornerstone for the Hannah Schloss Memorial Building was laid in 1903, and Blanche Hart, founder of the Fresh Air Society, was retained as superintendent.

The number of activities conducted in the building was dramatic. Classes – nearly all designed to help in the “Americanization of recent Jewish immigrants” – were offered in arithmetic, spelling and stenography. There were piano classes and dance lessons, and for girls, myriad “domestic skills” classes ranging from sewing to cooking and hygiene.  Within a few years, the Hannah Schloss building also had temporary housing for children whose mothers were ill and required hospitalization. In 1908, an addition to the building was completed. Named the “Jewish Institute,” the addition housed a large gymnasium, a library, an auditorium, a day nursery, additional class and training rooms, and a medical clinic.

A gift from Mrs. Leopold Wineman in 1925 enabled the community to build a free-standing health center which would become known as the North End Clinic. That gift, plus the continuing growth and movement of the community – and apparently the poor condition of the building – led to the decision to cease operations and services at the Hannah Schloss building and Jewish Institute. A history of the community, published in the 1950 Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit Annual Report, reads: “A landmark [Hannah Schloss building], held in fond memory of countless members of Detroit’s Jewish community, passed from use during the same period, as the Jewish Institute-Schloss building was condemned by the city of Detroit and the Charities Board began to seek new offices.”

While the Jewish Institute and Hannah Schloss buildings are no more, clearly these two united spaces and the services they provided were forerunners of today’s Jewish Community Center.

Photo courtesy of Jewish Community Archives

Learn More: United Jewish Charities, Henry Butzel, Blanche Hart, Fresh Air Society, Jewish Community Center

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