The Lavanburg Foundation: Requiem and Beyond

By July 25, 2011blog
The Lavanburg Houses at 124 Baruch Place with exterior repairs underway, July 2011

Fred L. Lavanburg was an early 20th century industrial magnate in the concern of making colors, an alchemic art of mixing caustic ingredients to arrive at beauty. His fortune was built in New York, based on ingredients from all over the world, and as he ascended in wealth his eyes turned to philanthropic architecture.

The principal legacy of this effort is the Lavanburg Homes, a precedent-setting experiment in low-income housing that was completed by his Foundation shortly after his death in 1927 and still exists at 124 Baruch Place.

The Lavanburg Houses at 124 Baruch Place with exterior repairs underway, July 2011The Lavanburg Houses at 124 Baruch Place with exterior repairs underway, July 2011.

A less well known but perhaps more colorful example is the former Lavanburg House for Working Girls and Welcome Home Settlement, built in 1927 at 331 East 12th Street – a building that we came to know while renovating its second floor for The Educational Alliance’s Project ORE.

Built by Lavanburg as a place to house young Jewish working women at a time of few societal safety nets, 331 East 12th Street accomodated various owners and uses in correspondence with the rise of the modern welfare state: Corner House, a home for homeless youth; Youth House, a detention facility for delinquent boys; Callagy Hall, a shelter for girls and young women that slid into intolerable conditions in the late 1960s and was shuttered in 1972; and, finally, reopened by the City nearly forty years ago as the Sirovich Senior Center.

The former Lavanburg House for Working Girls and Welcome Home Settlement, now Sirovich Senior Center, July 2011The former Lavanburg House for Working Girls and Welcome Home Settlement,
now Sirovich Senior Center, July 2011.

The Lavanburg Foundation itself had a remarkable run, providing philanthropic support a full 84 years beyond its founder’s passing – but, as of June 30, 2011, it has closed its doors and transferred its papers to an archive at the Main Library on 42nd Street.

Though the foundation has closed, the handsome, unassuming building it created on East 12th Street remains open, is being adapted and used in arguably its most successful configuration yet, and is poised for many more decades of service – another great legacy for Lavanburg, and a fine example for Architecture.