The Sabes Jewish Community Center (JCC) began in 1918 as a community center for immigrant youth on the North Side of Minneapolis. Located in St. Louis Park since the early 1960s, in the twenty-first century the Sabes JCC continues to be a mainstay of Jewish cultural life for the greater Minneapolis community.
In 1910, a group of Minneapolis Jewish businessmen were concerned by gambling and petty gang activity among North Side immigrant youth. They consulted with a social worker from Chicago. The solution proposed was to offer "properly supervised" organized activities for youth similar to those at South Side Neighborhood House, which served the Romanian Jewish community.
Fifteen Jewish organizations met in 1917 to plan a community center for North Side youth. They sought financial backing from Emanuel Cohen, a prominent German-Jewish lawyer and community leader. He gave the group his support.
The community center became a new department within the Talmud Torah religious school in 1918. The Social Services Department offered English classes, hosted social clubs, and held Friday night religious services. A gym and swimming pool opened in early 1920. Medical clinics for expectant mothers and babies and a low-fee dental clinic were also available.
The Talmud Torah building at Eighth Avenue and Fremont Avenue North was a hub of activity. By 1922, thirty-four clubs met each week in the school's small classrooms. Children flocked to the pool and gym. Religious school classes, however, were routinely disrupted. A separate facility was needed.
Emanuel Cohen made this possible. In 1920 the childless widower had died suddenly at age sixty-three. He left a major part of his estate to Associated Jewish Charities to aid the center for Jewish youth. With additional help from the Community Chest, precursor to the United Way, the Milstein house at 909 Elwood Avenue was purchased in 1924 to serve the fifteen thousand Jewish immigrants then living in North Minneapolis. The activities of the Talmud Torah Social Services Department moved into the house. It was renamed the Emanuel Cohen Center (ECC).
Like the Talmud Torah, the new ECC was located at the crossroads of the older Jewish North Side neighborhood, centered around Sixth Avenue North, and the newer North Side neighborhood centered on Plymouth Avenue. In ECC's first year, twelve thousand individual visits to the building were made. Two years later, the number jumped to fifty thousand. ECC's athletic activities were still held at the Talmud Torah.
Within a decade, ECC's old frame house was bursting at the seams. In 1936, the ECC Women's Auxiliary purchased a house and lot around the corner, at 915 Elwood. Groundbreaking for a new building on the lot occurred in 1939. The new Emanuel Cohen Center was dedicated in May 1940. The red brick, Colonial-style building was designed by the architectural firm of Liebenberg and Kaplan to match the Oak Park Children's Home they also designed for a site across the street.
The Jewish exodus from the North Side began after World War II. Returning GIs and their families moved in growing numbers to new ramblers in nearby suburban St. Louis Park. By the mid-1950s, almost half the children going to the ECC were non-Jewish. A bus was purchased to bring Jewish kids to ECC from St. Louis Park.
In 1959 ECC merged with the Park Jewish Youth Services and the Jewish Camping Association to form the Jewish Community Center of Greater Minneapolis (JCC). The JCC sold the building on Elwood to the Minneapolis Association for Retarded Children in 1963.
The JCC operated for the next two years in a school building in Golden Valley while it planned a new facility. In 1964 the JCC bought sixteen acres in a corner of St. Louis Park adjacent to Minneapolis and Golden Valley. The new building, designed by architect Austin H. Lange, was dedicated in 1969. The Minneapolis JCC was one of the first in the country to have a cultural arts wing as well as athletic facilities.
In 2003 the renamed Sabes JCC renovated existing spaces and built new wings to create a 195,000-square-foot facility. Bringing the institution's history full circle, the renovation included an addition to house the Jewish Day School and the Talmud Torah of Minneapolis, where the JCC itself had begun some eighty years earlier.
Fenton, Tamar. "Celebrating Lifelong Friendships Formed at the Sabes JCC." Minneapolis American Jewish World, August 2, 2013.
Gordon, Albert I. Jews in Transition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1949.
Emanuel Cohen Center and Jewish Community Center of Minneapolis papers
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Description: Various reports, publications, and typescript papers regarding the Emanuel Cohen Center and Jewish Community Center of Minneapolis.
Sabes Jewish Community Center of Minneapolis.
St. Louis Park Historical Society. Sabes Jewish Community Center.
In 1963, shifting Jewish community population patterns cause the Jewish Community Center of Greater Minneapolis to sell its long-time home in North Minneapolis and relocate to St. Louis Park.
Concern about juvenile delinquency and a desire for a communal social center for Jewish youth on the North Side lead to the creation of Talmud Torah's Social Service Department.
Talmud Torah adds a gymnasium, a swimming pool, and shower baths to its facility at Eighth Avenue and Fremont Avenue North.
A mansion house at 909 Elwood Avenue is purchased with funds provided by the bequest of Minneapolis lawyer Emanuel Cohen for the activities of Talmud Torah's Social Service Department, which is renamed the Emanuel Cohen Center.
The Emanuel Cohen Center Women's Auxiliary purchases a house and lot at 915 Elwood for a much-needed larger center.
The new Emanuel Cohen Center building opens.
The Emanuel Cohen Center, Park Jewish Youth Services, and Jewish Camping Association incorporate as the Jewish Community Center of Greater Minneapolis (JCC).
The Emanuel Cohen Center building on Elwood is sold.
Land is purchased for a future center in St. Louis Park.
A new JCC facility at Cedar Lake Road opens.
The renamed Sabes JCC undergoes complete remodeling. With an addition to house the Talmud Torah and Jewish Day School, the building features more than 195,000 square feet of usable space.