On a hot summer day, a story of helping entertain kids in the summer of 1953:
On June 19, HIAS President Ben Touster wrote to Harry Brandt, the owner of a chain of movie theaters. Touster was clearly acquainted with Brandt, although from the file it is not clear how Brandt was affiliated with HIAS.
HIAS began in 1884 (date of origin to be explored in a later post) as a “sheltering society”, providing temporary shelter for recent immigrants. By 1953, in addition to all the other immigrant and refugee assistance HIAS offered (according to the 1953 annual report, these services included documentation, reception at ports and airports, and “immigrant sheltering”), immigrants were still rotating through their shelter. The shelter was then located in the HIAS administrative office building at 425-437 Lafayette Avenue. Also from the annual report that year: “Sheltering service is furnished not only to immigrants entering the United States under HIAS’ auspices, but also to those sponsored by other agencies or helped here by private individuals.
“The HIAS shelter is a Jewish dwelling place in the strictest tradition of the Jewish people. The kitchens and dining rooms are under the supervision of an ordained and experienced rabbi, insuring proper observance of the kashruth; sleeping quarters are comfortable; medical and dental service are provided for those who need such care; there is a synagogue on the premises, and all religious functions and holidays are observed in the orthodox manner. A kindergarten, under the supervision of adequate and competent directors, serves pre-school children.”
So it seems that what was needed was entertainment for the kids (and the adults, when they weren’t tracking down paperwork or looking for work) in the summer, and what better way to entertain kids in the summer than by sending them to an air conditioned movie?
Touster requested a block of movie tickets every week for kids in their care from Harry Brandt, who was the founder with his brothers of Brandt Theatres. Here is Brandt’s reply:
Someone pencilled in three movie theaters near the shelter on Lafayette Street:
The Charles, at 193 Avenue B near 12th Street, opened in 1926 as the Bijou Theater. It became a church in the 2000s, and the building was demolished in 2012. The Greenwich was at the corner of 12th Street, just west of 7th Avenue, and is now an Equinox health club. The Palestine on Clinton Street became the Winston in the 1960s and was partially demolished in 1971.
Touster’s response is below:
No further correspondence is in the file; one can only hope that Harry Brandt was able to supply HIAS clients with movie tickets in the summer of 1953.