The Pride of Judea Orphans Home
Formerly known as "Idle Hour" and St. Paul's Lutheran by the Sea
This early mansion stood on the west side of Washington Blvd between Beech and Penn Sts.
Photo by Dr Kenneth Tydings
The Pride of Judea as it appeared in the 1950's
One of the most imposing early homes in Long Beach was actually not built in Long Beach at all ! The Pride of Judea Orphan Home started its life, and was constructed, on Riverside Drive in Manahattan. Built by Charles "Silver Dollar" Smith, most likely in the late 1800's or very early 1900's, the massive and ornate structure was torn down by Smith's wife after he died and moved to Long Beach in 1908. There it was re-constructed over the course of 2 years . It became a gambling house and speak easy though the prohibition years and the Roaring Twenties. Smith was a powerful politician and Jewish gangster associated with Tammany Hall. His last name was changed and was believed to have been Solomon originally, though a number of other variations exist and no one is positive what it really was.
In 1930, during the Great Depression, the home was acquired by its next occupant for a completely different use. St John's Lutheran by the Sea took possession of the mansion and had it heavily renovated to seat several hundred people in church, with living quarters for the pastors and offices for staff. Much of its original mahogany covered and ornate interior was ripped out. Then again, about 1943, the building came into the hands of the Pride of Judea Orphanage in Brooklyn. Donated by Long Beach philanthropist, community figure and vice-president of Long Beach Hospital Bernard Sharp , the structure was once again renovated. It is unknown to me how Sharp came into possession of the property.
Bedrooms, play spaces and other functions needed to care for the children were constructed, further destroying what original elements of grandeur was left of the interior. During summer the children would come by the busload from Brooklyn to escape the city heat. And then about 1959, the orphanage, like many others, closed their doors and the once grand structure sat as a vacant monument to the past. Like many other magnificent early mansions, the cost of upkeep was too high, no one wanted these behemoths of another era anymore, and Long Beach, along with the rest of the country, was in an economic downturn. These decaying shells of a bye gone era could be found all over Long Beach , many now appearing as burned out shells, gutted by suspicious fires. The grounds and dark, spooky rooms became the clubhouses for Long Beach kids, or flop houses for Long Beach's homeless. This is where Scott Podells recollections start, and as a kid who also played around these "haunted houses", his memories jog many of mine own. Enjoy his story.
The Pride of Judea Children's Home - Cherished Memories from Different Circumstances
by Scott Podell
In the "Gone But Not Forgotten" department, Long Beach certainly has no shortage. It seems that there was a time when an iconic landmark could be found on every street. Ask an "old timer" about the kiddie rides on Edwards Boulevard, Castles by the Sea on National, and the Municipal Pool on Lafayette, and a warm smile of nostalgia will appear. But ask that same person if they remember an orphanage on Washington Blvd between Penn and Beech streets, and the response may very well be a puzzled look and a mumbled "are you sure?". But make no mistake about it: the Pride of Judea Children's Home stood on that very spot from around 1940 - 1960.
It was the site of one of the earliest structures built in Long Beach - a magnificent home, pictured on this page, which was owned by a succession of famously powerful men, including Arnold Rothstein, best known for allegedly fixing the 1919 World Series. Bernard Sharp , a wealthy philanthropist who owned the edifice as well as a building across the street during the early 1940's, decided to donate both buildings to the Pride of Judea, a home for children who either were orphaned or whose parents were unable to care for them. The Pride was located in Brooklyn, and heretofore the children's summers were spent on the steamy concrete blocks of the city. Suddenly, these same children were living in a gorgeous mansion, complete with basketball and handball courts on the grounds, which was located just one block from the beach and a boardwalk that was enjoying its heyday.
By the 1960's, with the advent of foster care, orphanages throughout the country were downsizing or closing, including the Pride. However, after the last of the Pride's children left Washington Blvd for good, the building and grounds remained for many years. Although in a continuous state of decay, for the neighborhood children of that block, the Pride took on a new identity: social club, playground, and haunted mansion. For we children of the 1960's, there was no PAL or Boys Club. Nor did we need one. After school every day we simply changed into our play clothes and met at the Pride. It was there that we developed our athletic and social skills. The path which separated the home from the grounds was where we learned to roller skate and ride a 2-wheeler. We played basketball and handball there, and when someone removed the wall and the nets, the entire area became a makeshift baseball field. And the old structure provided us with the world's greatest the hide-and-go-seek venue, complete with hidden alcoves, tunnels and porches. Endless games of imagination were played there. Oh, how we loved the Pride!
A few years ago, when I received my copy of the Long Beach Historical Society newsletter, I read that someone named Stan Friedland, who was one of the Pride's residents during the 1940's as a child, was coming to the museum to speak. I immediately called some of my pals from the old neighborhood (yes, after almost 60 years we are still friends) to let them know about Stan’s visit, and a few weeks later there we were, listening to Mr. Friedland tell us about life in the place that was his home before it was our's. We saw through his magnificent photographs how the decrepit grounds which we remembered were once pristine and immaculately cared for. The packed house hung onto every word of his fascinating lecture about day to day life at the Pride and how it gave so many children a sorely needed new beginning. Mr. Friedland also provided the audience with a brief yet very thought provoking overview on the current debate between children’s homes such as the Pride and foster care, and which truly can provide a better environment for children - an issue of great discussion to this day.
I left the Historical Society museum that afternoon with new friend. Dr. Stan Friedland (who, ironically, was the vice principal of Long Beach High School during my senior year ) and I share a bond – we are both forever inextricably linked to the Pride. At the end of his book, "An Orphan has Many Parents”, Stan writes that "The Pride of Judea...was an indispensable part of my life; a 'safe haven'....and more. It was my home and I look at it now with warmth and gratitude".
For me and my childhood gang, truer words were never spoken.
The Pride of Judea being renovated about 1943 for use as an orphanage.
The Pride of Judea and its grounds as it appeared in the 1950s. (photo by Dr Kenneth Tydings
A segment of a 1914 Estates of Long Beach map showing the location of the home. Note the owner's name, Emma Smith, on the property
The home as it appeared while being used as St Johns Lutheran by the Sea. c1940
Click an image to open a larger copy
An article from the Brooklyn Eagle in 1943 detailing the transfer of the property to Pride of Judea.
A busload of children leaving Brooklyn for a summer in Long Beach.
This still existing home on the SE corner of Penn and Washington is believed to be the second home donated to Pride of Judea in 1943
A larger photo of the Pride in the 1950s. photo by Dr Kenneth Tydings
This full page story from the Brooklyn Eagle in 1930 describes the transfer of the property to St Johns Lutheran by the Sea and also gives a detailed description of what the home looked like inside.
A group on the steps of the Pride, the name is visible above the columns in this magnified crop.
This photo, believed to be in the mid or late 1960's shows the corner where the Penn St. entrance of the Pride was. The ornate columns and twin lions that guarded the gate, along with the historic mansion, have been bulldozed.