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The Life of Adolph Lewisohn

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Jack is a volunteer at the CCNY Archives. Before retiring, he worked at IBM for over 28 years. His articles have over 100,000 views.

Bronze Bust of Adolf Lewisohn

Bronze Bust of Adolf Lewisohn

Introduction

Adolph Lewisohn was a great man by any measure. I came to learn of his career and his many charities via my connection with CCNY. As an alumni and a member of the Varsity Fencing team, we used to train in Lewisohn stadium, one of his pride and joy.

Now he is long gone and the stadium torn down, it is fitting and proper to honor him with a summary of his life.

- Dec. 2018

updated 7/2020

Adolph Lewisohn (1849-1938)

Portrait of Adolf Lewisohn by Harrington Mann

Portrait of Adolf Lewisohn by Harrington Mann

Background

Adolph Lewisohn was a German immigrant who made it big in America. He lived from 1849-1938.

After meeting Thomas Edison in the 1870s, Adolph pushed the family firm to become involved with copper. Previously undervalued, copper's conductivity made it vital for a world that increasingly depended on electricity. In the 1880s, the brothers were among the first to invest in the copper mines of Butte, Montana. It proved to be a profitable venture, and they later established several new mining companies;

In his long career, he knew 12 American Presidents from Grant to FDR and he served in some of their administrations. He was interested in education and prison reform and served on the Child Labor Committee.

Lewisohn Stadium, CCNY 1970s

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One of His Many Donations.

Lewisohn Stadium was one of his pride and joy. It represents his two main interests, music and sports. He wanted a place where people can enjoy music and live performances like in the old days of Rome, and he wanted a place where children from lower middle class of NYC can train and participate in athletics.

He donated this stadium with a cash amount of $300,000 back in 1915.

Adolph Lewisohn Stadium (1915-1973). Designed by Arnold W. Brunner to resemble a classical amphitheater and constructed of concrete, the stadium was the fulfillment of President John H. Finley's dream.

Among the many celebrities that performed there was Frank Sinatra in 1943. These summer concerts were free to the public, similar to concerts in Central Park of today. The stadium had a capacity of 8000.

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In His Own Words...Taken from his Memoir.

“My growing interest in The College of the City of New York caused me to enter upon what has since proved to be a most satisfactory enterprise. Ever since it was first planned, but especially since we began giving concerts there, the “Stadium” has been a favorite child of mine.

When my attention was first attracted to the College, I learned that the great body of students there, most of them the sons of parents of limited means, had absolutely no facilities for out-of-door athletics except some vacant blocks south of the College and belonging to the City. My friend, Mr. Joseph L. Buttenwieser, an alumnus of the college, who had done such fine work for the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society’s model village at Pleasantvllle, suggested that I might benefit the students by giving five or ten thousand dollars for clearing the available field. This was the small end of the wedge. Dr. Finley followed it up with the suggestion that the site was an ideal one for an open-air amphitheatre, like the Greek Theatre at Taormina, and with this suggestion the project took root and grew in our minds.

Finally, now over fifteen years ago, I offered, if the City would contribute the two blocks of land lying south of the College and extending from Amsterdam Avenue to Convent Avenue and from 136th to 138th Streets, to build a stadium there and present it to the College. My offer was accepted and I selected the late Arnold W. Brunner, who had designed the School of Mines Building, to be its architect. Dr. Finley, Mr. Brunner and I made a very thorough study of the subject, Dr. Finley and Mr. Brunner visiting many places in Europe and examining the amphitheatres both of ancient and modern times. The site, on the crest of Washington Heights with an outlook to the Harlem plain to the east, invited such treatment.

Mr. Brunner prepared a really beautiful model of the proposed Stadium in plaster which was unveiled in the Great Hall of the College at a reception given to Dr. Alexis Carrel, of the Rockefeller Foundation, who had just received a Nobel Prize. Dr. Finley, who was a genius as an impresario, took advantage of the award of the Nobel Prize to use the Great Hall as the scene of the City’s congratulations to its distinguished citizen. The occasion proved worthy of the attention of both President Taft and M. Jusserand, the French Ambassador; and Dr. Finley thought this a good opportunity to unveil the model.

Mr. Brunner had made good use of the possibilities which the terrain offered to give us an impressive and artistic structure, with rising concrete seats for spectators, curving in a great semi-circle after the manner of the Roman amphitheatres, the Stadium encloses ample area surface for football and track athletics and, when flooded in the winter, for skating. Under the inclined seats are the necessary lockers, shower-baths and retiring rooms.

When the structure was completed an impressive ceremony of presentation and dedication was arranged by Dr. Finley in the Great Hall, where a distinguished gathering of college dignitaries and prominent citizens was assembled. After the ceremony the audience was conducted in procession to the Stadium, where Granville Barker’s English players gave a memorable performance of the Trojan Women.

On another occasion when the Stadium was used for the presentation of Percy Mackaye’s poetic pageant play Caliban, the arc of concrete seats was supplemented by a semi-circle of temporary wooden ones, giving a complete circle so that many more thousands of spectators were accommodated.

One May the College devoted its “Charter Day” to the celebration of my birthday, which came near the same date, and took that opportunity to unveil a portrait bust by Chester W. Beach at the top of the arc of the amphitheatre. This was one of the few occasions in my life when I have been embarrassed.

Quite lately we have installed a lighting system in the field so that the students may practice athletic exercises by night as well as by day. On every Charter Day, as part of the exercises, the Reserve Officers Corps of the College gives a review and exhibition drill at the Stadium, and, beginning in 1927, the College has held its Commencement exercises there.”

- Thanks to Sam Reckford for permission to publish this section from Adolph Lewisohn’s unpublished memoir.

Postscript

It is hard to belief that this great man did not publish a memoir or a biography. There exist a manuscript which he wrote in his later years. A copy is located in the CCNY archives.

Through wikitree, I was able to locate a great great grandson of Adolph, Sam Reckford. He sent me a copy of Adolph Lewisohn’s memoir. Modern technology never ceases to amaze me.

Sydney Van Nort with Walter Schwartz at the CCNY Archives

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Adolph Lewisohn - Maxim

  1. Persistent and conscientious attention to business.
  2. To put character and honesty before everything else.
  3. Careful consideration and thorough study before deciding, first whether or not to proceed and, second, how to proceed.
  4. When opportunity presents itself, to have vision and courage, always tempered by caution. Caution is of the greatest importance, for all good results of vision and courage can be lost by carelessness or by speculation beyond one’s means.
  5. As far as possible, to foresee or imagine every difficulty that may arise and to be prepared to meet it if and when it does arise. Many men have had great success and then lost it; many a general has won a battle but lost the campaign for lack of preparation for the unexpected.
  6. It is impossible to attain great lasting success if one depends entirely upon one’s own work and ability. It is absolutely necessary to find the right associates from top to bottom with whom to work,—men who will work for you and with you. This takes a good judgment of character and is of the utmost importance.
  7. After you have once found the right person, you must know how to treat him so that he may keep happy and contented. Give him fair and full opportunity to use his brains and ability. Great success is brought about by having the confidence and enthusiasm of those who work with and for us, so that gradually the fruit of united effort will win the confidence of the master for whom we all work—the Public.

These 7 maxims are still relavant today in 2018. Good ideas and principles never go out of style.

His Final Words...

”I say this without regret because my life today is as happy as it ever was. But as I look back over the seventy-five years of memory, I honestly feel that I would be glad to go back to the old days and the old ways and live it all over again. I do not say this in pride or because I think I have always acted with wisdom. I mean that I would be willing to make my mistakes all over again, to struggle again through the old contests without knowing their outcome, to fight my own fights and meet my own troubles, without knowing, as I do now, that everything was going to turn out all right.

Sixty years and more in America have made me a good American citizen, but of course I have never lost my love for the fatherland or my interest in its welfare.

Nevertheless I am what they call “100 per cent” American. I have felt an affectionate pride in seeing my country grow and, perhaps, a little personal pride in thinking that our business contributed somewhat to the wealth and up building of the United States.”

- Adolph Lewisohn ~1930

Adolph Lewisohn’s House in Ardsley NY - 1914

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Summary

A life well lived. Adolph Lewisohn was the epitome of the successful immigrant. A man who did good and used his fortunes to give back to society and help the people less fortunate. He made his mark and left the world a better place. His legacy will live on in the many lives he touched. He is a true humanitarian and one that we should all strife to follow in his footsteps.

Postscript

The stadium located at 138 Street and Convent Ave. was torn down in 1973 to make room for the North Academic Center.

His masion located in Ardsley NY was sold by one of his decendants and is now currently the site of the Ardsley High School.

Colonnades of Lewisohn Stadium

Colonnades of Lewisohn Stadium

Artist’s rendition

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Birdseye View

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The Fencing Room

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Team Photo

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The Plaque Outside NAC

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The CCNY Seal NAC

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Lewisohn Plaza 2019

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Some Related Info

© 2018 Jack Lee

Comments

Jack Lee (author) from Yorktown NY on December 09, 2019:

Here is contact information for CCNY Archives -

Reference assistance is available by visiting the archives on the 5th floor of the Cohen Library, by calling 212-650-7609, or by emailing us at archives@ccny.cuny.edu.

Jack Lee (author) from Yorktown NY on December 09, 2019:

Lorenza, You can find old photos of our campus and nearby buildings at the CCNY Archives. They are open to the public, and you can make requests to the Archivist. If you find a high resolution image, it costs $20. Here is link to the archives website -

https://library.ccny.cuny.edu/archives

LORENZA VIDRIS on December 09, 2019:

Hi Jack, I've been searching for decades for a photo that shows where we lived, and where I lived my childhood, after we arrived in America. We lived at 490 West 136th Street. It no longer exists but I see the location in this photo!!! I am 67 years old and my heart is still broken that Lewisohn Stadium, our makeshift playground, was torn down. We also played in Jasper Oval--we'd say "do you want to go 'over the oval'?" And the hideous monstrosity that replaced it--ate up the whole residential neighborhood. Who thought THAT was a good idea? We went to Annunciation School on W 131st St--no longer a Catholic school, though the church still stands. Anyway, could you please tell me where I might obtain a copy of the photo, perhaps higher resolution? Thank you for a wonderful history of A. Lewisohn.