“The Campaign to Create the Julius Rosenwald and Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park has released a report identifying sites in Chicago associated with Julius Rosenwald, a highly influential Jewish businessman and philanthropist of the early 20th century. The report will eventually be presented to the National Park Service (NPS) to assist the agency in performing a special resource study of the sites associated with Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Schools, the first step in developing a national park.
“The Campaign envisions a National Historical Park with a visitor center in Chicago that would interpret Rosenwald’s contributions to Sears, Roebuck & Company as well as highlighting his innovative and important philanthropic activities. The Park also would include a small number of Rosenwald Schools in their original locations in the South, to be selected by the NPS.
“The report entitled ‘Analysis of Sites in Chicago Associated with the Life and Legacy of Julius Rosenwald’ covers six locations: the Sears, Roebuck and Company Administration Building; former Wabash Avenue YMCA; Museum of Science and Industry; Rosenwald Courts Apartments; South Side Community Art Center; and Rosenwald Home. The first five sites are considered possible candidates for the park’s visitor center.
“‘This report is a key piece in the effort to create the park that would be the first in the National Park System to honor a Jewish American,’ said Dorothy Canter, President of the Campaign’s board. ‘Julius built his career and raised his family in Chicago and conducted most of his philanthropic activities there. It is entirely appropriate that the visitor center that would tell his inspiring story be located in Chicago and educate people about this part of Chicago’s varied and vibrant history.’
“Rosenwald earned his fortune by transforming Sears, Roebuck and Company into the retailing powerhouse of the early twentieth century. He used the great wealth he amassed to assist many groups and institutions and, in particular, to expand the opportunities available to African Americans.
“In addition to the former Sears, Roebuck and Company Administration Building at Homan Square, four other sites were studied as possible visitor center locations in Chicago.
- “The Wabash Avenue YMCA was established with support from Rosenwald who gave the project a $25,000 challenge grant, subject to the raising of an additional $75,000 from other donors. Rosenwald believed the Young Men’s Christian Association was an important ‘power for good.’ However, he was concerned that most YMCAs did not welcome African Americans. When YMCA leaders approached Rosenwald in 1910 to develop a Y specifically for African American Chicagoans, he immediately pledged his support.
- “Rosenwald conceived of and fully funded the establishment of the Museum of Science and Industry in the only remaining building from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, located in Jackson Park. Rosenwald was inspired by several innovative science museums in Europe he had visited on a family trip in 1911 and recommended saving the historic building and converting it into a modern science museum.
- “During the late 1920’s, Julius Rosenwald sponsored the development of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments to provide high-quality affordable housing in the Bronzeville neighborhood. At that time, restrictive housing covenants and other racially-discriminatory housing practices had caused a severe dearth of housing for black Chicagoans. Rosenwald was the only investor in the project. For a number of years a vibrant community lived there. But over time the facility deteriorated and was eventually abandoned. Recently an award-winning restoration of the complex was completed. Now called Rosenwald Courts Apartments, the complex houses 239 units and is helping to revitalize this community.
- “The South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) has a meaningful association with the Julius Rosenwald Fund, whose Fellowship Program provided $1.65 million to support the work of mainly African American artists, scholars, and professionals between 1928 and 1948. A number of those artists’ careers were launched at the SSCAC.
- “The Rosenwald Home, located in the Kenwood neighborhood and privately-owned, was built in 1903. Following Rosenwald’s death in 1932, the home became the headquarters of the Julius Rosenwald Fund until its dissolution in 1948, in keeping with his instructions. He believed in the “give while you live” approach to philanthropy.
“In 2018, the Campaign sponsored a historic context study that concluded that Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Schools are of national historic significance and that a National Historical Park would be an important addition to the National Park System.
“The Campaign also solicited recommendations of Rosenwald Schools for inclusion in the park from the 15 states in which the more than 5000 school facilities were built. These schools educated one-third of African Americans in the South prior to the end of segregation. Fifty-six school facilities were nominated by 14 states, and board members have visited 34 of them in 12 of the states.
“In addition, the Campaign is working with the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and a number of other partners to pass The Julius Rosenwald and Rosenwald Schools Act of 2019 in this session of Congress. The bill, which would be a key first step toward creation of the historical park, would require the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study of the sites associated with Julius Rosenwald, with a special focus on the Rosenwald Schools.
“‘In these troubled times, the nation needs stories such as that of Julius Rosenwald, the son of German Jewish immigrants who didn’t finish high school but went on to become richer than his wildest dreams. Rosenwald invested in people, and his investments are still paying dividends.’ Canter added.
“Please join the Campaign by visiting the website at www.rosenwaldpark.org.”
Please “Follow” the Rosenwald Campaign at www.facebook.com/CreatingRosenwaldPark
Preservation Chicago has been working to support this vision with Dorothy Canter and the Rosenwald Campaign honoring Julius Rosenwald and Rosenwald Schools for several years. We were the first Chicago organization to sign on as a sponsoring partner and hope to see a strong Chicago presence for the Julius Rosenwald and Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park.
Read more about the Legacy of Julius Rosenwald at the Chicago Tribune
Chicago Philanthropist Julius Rosenwald’s Dollars and Sense, Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune, 10/30/15