When Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander set about to establish Touro College over forty years ago, one of the first and most formidable challenges he faced was securing a building to house the new school. In a densely populated and high-priced city like New York, this was no easy task. After considering other locations, he was able to obtain an historic 11-story building at 30 West 44th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues in Manhattan.
Exterior of Touro’s first home, at 30 West 44th Street. This image was used extensively in early promotional materials for the new college.
Originally built as the Yale Club in 1901, the Beaux-Arts structure was designed by architects Evarts Tracy and Egerton Swartwout. The partners, both Yale graduates, designed the building to provide new quarters for their fellow alumni, who had outgrown their previous club on East 26th Street. Yale hedged their bets and overbuilt their new club with six additional floors of bachelor apartments (which were in high demand at that time for the many young single men flocking to jobs in Manhattan), just in case supplemental revenues were required. The magnificent results towered over the rest of the block and Yale’s many rivals in the “Clubhouse District” near Grand Central Station, which had grown rapidly in the late nineteenth century.
The Yale Club, as pictured in the March 1901 edition of The Brickbuilder, an architectural review periodical. Compare with the 1970s image above and note how the new structure towered over its original neighbors!
Nevertheless, by 1915, Yale had outgrown their new home, and moved to a yet larger building on the other side of Grand Central Station. They left behind not only six residential floors, but five levels containing an oak-paneled grill room, a kitchen and several dining halls. The second floor featured extra high ceilings and was designated as the club’s library.
The second floor library & lounge area of the Yale Club, as it appeared between 1901 and 1915 (photo found on Daytonian in Manhattan.blogspot, source unknown).
After serving as the national Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity house beginning in 1916 and the Army and Navy Club from 1925 to 1933 the building sat unused for a decade, until it was procured by the U.S. government in 1943, serving as a Maritime Service Center for the remainder of World War II. By 1948, the old club had become the headquarters of the U.S. Army Organized Reserve Corps, a role it would play for the next 23 years. Decommissioned as government surplus, the building was given to Dr. Lander and his new educational venture, chosen from a field of several applicants. Touro College opened its doors to the first class of 35 students in the fall of 1971.
Touro administrators and students pose at the entrance of 30 west 44th street in 1971, for the ceremonial affixing of a mezuzah to the door frame. At front, from l-r are Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander, Dr. Leon Reich, Mr. Eugene Hollander and Rabbi Emanuel Gettinger.
Dr. Lander and his team worked hard to fulfill his vision for the newly created academic venture. Its first librarian, Max Celnick, made numerous efforts to purchase volumes and increase Touro’s holdings; a letter from Touro’s first Dean, Dr. George Cohen dated December 15, 1971 instructs a Touro humanities professor to travel to northern California to appraise various library collections up for sale. The following spring, Dr. Lander pursued a grant from the Helena Rubenstein Foundation, with the aim of growing Touro’s library to 100,000 volumes and adding audio-visual materials. The proposal noted that Touro then possessed funds sufficient for only 10-12,000 volumes.
Dr. Lander’s fledgling school was off to a good start, with a strong faculty, eager students and a capacious building with a prestigious history…but challenges lay ahead for the library. Stay Tuned for Part Two!
All images provided by and property of the Touro College and University System Archives, unless otherwise noted.