Our History

our-history

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The St. Paul JCC has been a part of the St. Paul community since 1930, and in its present location since 1964. We’re a home away from home, a place where individuals, families and communities come together for Jewish culture, childcare, fitness, recreation and socialization in a safe, inclusive and welcoming environment. Throughout the building, you’ll find a committed staff working together to provide our members and guests with quality experiences, excellent service and a sense of belonging.

For over 80 years, our mission remains to strengthen Greater St. Paul by nurturing physical, intellectual, social and spiritual growth in an inclusive environment defined by Jewish values and culture. Our doors are open to everyone in the community.

 

Our Story

Before the JCC was established, settlement houses met the needs of poor Eastern European immigrants and their children. The Lowertown Community Center (later renamed Central Community House), established in 1921, and Neighborhood House are examples. Early on, these organizations deemphasized their Jewish focus. Instead, they promoted Americanization and service to a broader community.

In 1916, the Minnesota lodge of B’nai B’rith passed a resolution stating the need for a Jewish community center in St. Paul. A committee headed by Jessie Calmenson, a member of a pioneering St. Paul Jewish family, proposed construction of a $100,000 building. In 1926 Calmenson’s family made the first pledge: $10,000. A women’s group raised the remaining $90,000.

In 1930, the Jewish Education Center (JEC) opened at 741 Holly Avenue (at Grotto Street) in the Summit Hill neighborhood. The two-story brick building with Kasota stone entrances was designed in the Moderne style by the architectural firm of Liebenberg and Kaplan. It housed eight religious school classrooms, a library, and a gym.

The building hosted a variety of classes and activities, including Scout troops, orchestras for youth and adults, and a theater group, the Grotto Players. After Hebrew School classes, youths played table tennis and other games. By 1939 over one hundred groups used the building. To house them, the JEC rented space at nearby Mount Zion Temple and Temple of Aaron.

The JEC met an obvious need. But it faced financial problems from the start. One year after the center’s opening, half of the pledges to its building fund remained unpaid. In 1932, as the Depression deepened, the JEC had four hundred members. Few, however, could pay their dues in full. As a result, recreation programs were separated from the Hebrew School. Their mission broadened to serve the entire community. This qualified the JEC to receive funding from the Community Chest (the forerunner of the United Way) and St. Paul’s Park and Playgrounds Department.

The St. Paul Jewish community had begun moving out of the Summit Hill area before World War II. The trend continued when returning servicemen started families and bought houses in the Highland Park neighborhood. In 1948, the Hebrew School that operated in the building moved out. The JEC was renamed the Jewish Community Center of St. Paul (JCC).

In the mid-1950s the JCC sold the building at Holly and Grotto. Two St. Paul chapters of the Jewish War Veterans of America raised funds so the JCC could buy a house and lots on Juno Avenue at Cretin Avenue. The new site extended youth programs into the Highland Park area. Almost as soon as “Highland House” opened in 1956, efforts began to build a new and better home for the JCC.

In 1958 the St. Paul JCC became a beneficiary of the United Jewish Fund and Council, clearing the way to plan a new facility. The Jewish War Veterans alone raised $100,000. The St. Paul Avenue site chosen was in a semi-developed part of the Highland Park neighborhood, though that would soon change. Minneapolis architect Leonard Parker designed the modern facility, which opened in 1964. The physical education department, meeting rooms (including one for the war veterans), library, and auditorium were designed for 1,100 member families. Also in 1958, Jack Butwin Day camp was established. Located on 88 wooded acres on the shores of Lake O’Brien in Eagan, Minnesota, Camp Butwin provided the space and feel of an overnight camp in a close to home day camp setting.

Membership and programming grew through the 70s and 80s- adding nationally recognized programs in Early Childhood Education, services for people with disabilities, and supportive services for older adults and two waves of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Camp Butwin exploded with growth and new programming during this time, as well.

In the 1990s the JCC added the Yale and Sara Johnson Childcare Wing, the Ruth and Irving Perlman Health and Fitness Wing, a teen lounge and new administrative offices. Programming and participation reached new highs thanks to this facility expansion.

Today, the JCC continues to evolve and meet the needs of our changing community, focusing on the mission of strengthening the Greater St. Paul community by nurturing physical, intellectual, social and spiritual growth in an inclusive environment defined by Jewish values and culture.

Courtesy of: MNopedia www.mnopedia.org/group/jewish-community-center-st-paul