226 S Main-The Swanfeldt Building

The photo on the right shows the Swanfeldt Building as it appeared in the late 1920s, with its northern half still occupied by the Swanfeldt Awning & Tent Company. The southern section is home to the Union Rescue Mission (URM).

In 1926, the URM purchased the southern half of the Swanfeldt building for $100,000. The City’s seizure by eminent domain of the URM’s building at 145 N. Main forced them to make a quick move to new quarters. The structure demolished, the old 145 N. Main property is on what is now the southern lawn of City Hall.

The Swanfeldt family operated Catalina Island’s celebrated “Tent City” from 1895 to 1902, and were the canvas kings of Los Angeles. Even after the tent concession monopoly was relinquished to the Santa Catalina Island Company, the Swanfeldts continue to set the bar for tent manufacturing in the southland. It is of peripheral interest to note that in its earliest days (circa 1893) the Union Rescue Mission operated out of a massive tent on 2nd Street near Main.

By 1931, with the URM still occupying only the southern half of the three-story Swanfeldt Building, 300 to 400 people were fed daily, with the number swelling to well over 500 on Sundays. 100 men were bedded nightly in the third-floor dormitory. The dining room was in the basement of the structure, and could accommodate 325 people at a sitting. Meals were served each morning and evening, with breakfast provided to those who had spent the night. The clothing commissary, which offered donated items including suits, work clothes, hats, shoes, neck-ties and socks, was on the second floor. The laundry, which in 1931 was a very recent addition, was on the ground floor. The URM’s managers immediately made note of the savings in time and money that this new laundry facility provided.

As the depression proceeded and the first hints of war were heard, the URM felt the need of more space. In 1938, the URM purchased the northern half of the Swanfeldt Building, and the Swanfeldts moved their plant to North Figueroa Street. In early 1942, the URM purchased The Oddfellows Club Building just to the north of the Swanfeldt—note the the “IOOF” in the upper coursework— and it became the Victory Service Club, a social club and assistance center for young Christian servicemen and their friends, which will be the subject of several forthcoming blog posts.

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