14 August 2008

Carbon Canyon History: Camp Kinder Ring

I had the opportunity to drive out to Los Angeles today and pay a visit to The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring's Southern California District office. I spent about an hour and a half talking with Executive Director, Dr. Eric Gordon, who shared the history and purpose of the organization and a particular component directly connected to Carbon Canyon.

The Workmen's Circle is a fascinating organization and, as the district website states, was "founded in 1900, [and] fosters Jewish identity and participation in Jewish life through Jewish, especially Yiddish, culture and education, friendship, mutual aid and the pursuit of social and economic justice." After its start in New York, with significant support from garment workers working in notorious sweatshops, a chapter of the Circle was founded in San Francisco. A month later, in January 1908, a branch was created in Los Angeles and is celebrating its centennial later (maybe this post can be seen as a small token to help commemorate one hundred years for the Workmen's Circle.)

One of the longest lasting legacies of the local chapter was the purchase in late 1913 of 10 acres in Duarte for a sanitarium. At one time, the foothill communities of the San Gabriel Valley, including Monrovia and Duarte, were renowned for their sanitaria, treating people with tuberculosis and other health problems (seems now, with all the smog, locals leave for Palm Springs or Nevada and Arizona to deal with their lung issues!). The Workmen's Circle sanitarium morphed eventually into the City of Hope, one of the greatest medical facilities in the Los Angeles Region.

Because Boyle Heights was the first major center of the Jewish community in the region, the Workmen's Circle maintained an active presence there from its beginnings, although by 1950 the organization moved to downtown Los Angeles and, then in the early 60s, to the west side. Among its many programs, the Workmen's Circle operated schools and cultural centers, had a cemetery department, a credit union, and others. Its particular emphasis on political and social issues fostered a strong grass-roots activism that extended beyond Jewish causes and embraced those of other ethnic, racial and cultural groups. While time has brought many changes to the organization, it continues to offer concerts, art exhibits, and other cultural programs while maintaining its century-long commitment to social and economic equality and justice.

In the late 1920s, the organization as a direct connection to its school component, decided to acquire land in far-off Carbon Canyon to build Camp Kinder Ring, one of seven such facilities around the country operated by branches of the Workmen's Circle. As its name implies, the facility was geared towards children as a summer season extension of their education, although families generally spent much of their summers at the camp. In 1947, an adult section was created to expand the services that Camp Kinder Ring had to offer. Unfortunately, providing water was always a difficult situation without piped-in supplies and, by 1958, it was decided to close the camp and sell the land. Today, the property, at the northeast corner of Carbon Canyon Road and Canyon Hills Road, is utilized as a horse and stock ranch, but I would imagine that some of the buildings that were part of the camp may well be there--a subject I'll try to investigate in future.

The three images above are courtesy of the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring, Southern California District. The first is the entrance to the camp, the second shows portions of camp buildings against the backdrop of the Chino Hills, and the third appears to be a 1920s era image of Circle members against one of the neighboring hillsides. At the bottom of the blog page are more images obtained with the help of Dr. Gordon.


Anonymous said...


I thought you might be interested in contacting me in connection with the history of Working Man's Circle. My grandmother was in a mandolin orchestra called Working Mans Circle, and I have made a CD of the old record recordings. Do you know anything about this orchestra, would you like a copy of the CD? - I'd be happy to send you one.
you can contact me at my website:


Jean Gornbein Elchoness Strauber said...

In the summer of 1944 I, along with my sister and two cousins, spend two weeks at Camp Kinder Ring.
However, we called it the Workman's Circle Concentration Camp for Children in Chino...
Wasn't that bad, really, but you know how tweens are

prs said...

Hello Mrs. Strauber, thanks very much for stopping by and leaving your comment. I like the name you and your friends concocted! Ironic humor does have its place, though!