Places that Matter

Amalgamated Housing Cooperative

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Courtesy of Amalgamated Housing Corp
Courtesy of Amalgamated Housing Corp
Courtesy of Amalgamated Housing Corp
Cooperative housing built in the 1920's and still existing
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Place Matters Profile

By Emma Jacobs

Abraham Kazan did not originally intend to build housing. Working in the garment workers unions in Lower Manhattan at the beginning of twentieth century, Kazan's first political cause was cooperation, a utopian vision that held special promise for progressive thinkers in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Kazan himself organized a string of cooperative projects, from a chain of cooperative groceries to cooperative coal and ice distribution to a cooperative hat shop. In the 1920s, working for Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union (ACWU), one of the pioneers of new unionism--labor organizing which extended its goals beyond the shoproom floor--Kazan started the Amalgamated's cooperative credit union.  Meetings soon became progressive gatherings and weekly conversations kept returning to homes for workers.

Housing, for many, seemed a natural ally with the political idealism and collectivism of the trade-unionism which dominated Jewish life on the Lower East Side, particularly because the movement's low-income constituents badly needed a solution to their living situation. Ultimately, Kazan would be the champion of housing built by the Amalgamated, but he would channel a wider political idealism and utopianism within the labor movement to realize the project.