| Four stories high
with seven windows on each floor across the front, it is a solid, imposing
looking building. There is no street number or name on it and a
stone arch over the boarded up central doors is one of the few
architectural ornaments. You can climb up on the grassy rise
of the vacant lot and get a look at the breadth of this structure which
extends for a good hundred feet to where it backs on the modest houses one
Is this the building we are looking for? It
is in about the right place, and the presence of other contemporary
structures -- the Miller School, the synagogue, is a hopeful sign.
Some descriptions had said "the corner of Miller and Reed" and this is
one lot up from the corner?
Is there any way to confirm or disconfirm the
identity of the building?
On the right front corner of the building on the
level of the second story there is a large circular
stone emblem in the form of a seal (probably 2 feet in diameter).
Getting a closer look at it, the seal or emblem is partly broken off or
eroded so that only about half of the design remains. However, you
can make out the numbers 9, then a few spaces, 16. The building must
have been dedicated in 1916.
There is also a motto which ran in a circle or
semicircle at the bottom of the seal, underneath what appeared to be a
design of a globe: The motto is of course incomplete, but what
remains says: "of the world unite". It must have been "WORKERS
of the world unite"! Part of the famous phrase from Marx and
Engels' Communist Manifesto of 1848. The socialist inspiration was
clear. It is equally clear that this is indeed the building we are
looking for -- the Labor Lyceum."
The Labor Lyceum
The Labor Lyceum was dedicated in 1916, but
funds for its construction had started to be raised as early as 1907.
As the Irene Kaufmann Settlement House was the most significant general
community center for the Jews of the Hill, the Labor Lyceum was the
center, the beating heart, of the immigrant Jewish labor movement in
Pittsburgh, with its predominantly socialist political/philosophical
outlook and its cultural commitment to the Yiddish language and culture.
Following its opening in the middle of WWI, an array of politically left
working class institutions used this building; including the Jewish
Socialists (Third Ward Branch of the Allegheny County Socialist Party),
the Arbeiter Rings or Workmen's Circles which were insurance, burial and
pro-labor fraternal and political formations active in labor struggles
(1919 Steel Strike, acted as collection point for Jewish aid to the
striking steelworkers and organized caravans of foods to the miners; they
also have their own cemeteries in Reserve Township in the hillside above
Millvale), and the Jewish Communists who emerged into focus only after the
Russian Revolution of 1917, but always a significant presence down to the
1950's. Also, the Labor Zionists or Poale Zionists met in the
Labor Lyceum for a time rather than the Zionist Institute on Center Avenue
where other more politically mainstream Zionist groups met. There
was also for a time A Jewish day school to teach Yiddish.
There were several Jewish unions in Pittsburgh --
part of larger unions but with an overwhelming immigrant Jewish
membership: Garment Workers, Local 65 of Amalgamated Clothing Workers,
Stogie Workers Local 101, IWW, Jewish Bakery
All of these unions were founded before the LL
was built, and before WWI they primarily served the Jewish immigrant
workers who crowded into the Hill District -- from Russia, Hungary,
Romania, etc. Some of the socialist, pro-labor ideas came from the
old country, where the socialist parties had been the most willing to
invite Jews to participate in their revolutionary aspirations. Of
these the Jewish Bakers were the longest lived and best documented.
We know for certain that they used the Labor Lyceum.
The Lyceum was sold in 1930. Today, as mentioned,
the building is sound but boarded up. While it flourished it was evidently
a scene of great vitality, embodying a vision or several visions of
economic justice and human betterment. That vision based on a recognition
of class difference and conflict and a loyalty to Yiddish culture,
probably stood in its day as something of a contrast and counterpart to
the Irene Kaufmann Settlement House up the street, which provided many
services to the immigrant population but with the aim more to raise them
up and help Americanize them.