Liberty Buildings as Victory Monuments, December 1918 Also known as: The Community House--An Element in Reconstruction, December 1918 Also known as: Liberty Buildings, November 1918


(Reprinted from THE AMERICAN CITY, Tribune Building, New York)

Liberty Buildings as Victory Monuments

Suggestions to Communities Planning Memorials to Heroes of the Great War

THE custom of commemorating the dead is older than history. Special honor has always been paid to the heroic dead -- those who have rendered great service or made great sacrifice for the general welfare. Every village has its churchyard filled with costly marble; every city has its statues, monuments, or other memorials.

Form of the Memorial

More than any other war of history, this one has been fought for a principle -- for liberty and the safety of democracy. Principles may be depicted in stone or pictured on canvas but such representations, however beautiful or symbolical, will not have life. A principle can live only in the lives of men, and if it is our purpose to perpetuate the cause for which the great war was fought, we must constantly reiterate and teach the principles of liberty and democracy to each succeeding generation.

This suggests that a memorial worthy of the recent conflict be dynamic; it must be a building that shall honor the dead by immortalizing the principles for which they made the supreme sacrifice; it must be a building commemorating the service of the living by giving service, rather than a statue or a shaft in which there could not pulse the life blood of a new day.

Name of the Memorial

Liberty more than any other word expresses the principle for which the war has been fought, and which is to be perpetuated by the proposed memorial. Therefore the name Liberty should distinguish the building: Liberty Hall, Liberty Building, Liberty House, Liberty Lyceum, or some other such name would be appropriate.

Object of the Building

The building would serve two main purposes:

(1) As a memorial to the heroic dead, and to all from the local community who joined the colors during the war;

(2) As a community center to afford headquarters and a meeting-place for such community agencies as the

Chamber of Commerce
Red Cross
War Veterans' Associations
Patriotic and Defense Societies
Local Charities
Playground and Recreation Associations
Fraternal Organizations
Farm Bureau
County Grange
Rotary Club
Civic Organizations
Women's Clubs
Boy Scouts
Boys' and Girls' Clubs
Literary Societies
Musical Societies
Study Clubs

The Building Site

The building should be centrally located and easy of access by all means of transportation. The site should, if possible, be large enough to separate the building on all sides for at least fifty feet from other structures, and free from unusual noises. More open space would be desirable, and in some cases provision could be made for community tennis courts or other outdoor recreational features immediately adjoining the building. The site should be chosen with reference to the future, so that the growth of the city will not remove the center of population too far away. The nature of the enterprise is such that a municipality might well donate the site or permit its erection upon ground where private buildings would not be permitted. In very large cities several neighborhood buildings would be preferable to one central structure.


The building should be architecturally beautiful, featuring the best building material of the particular locality, the style to be impressive but not over-ornate. The size and cost of the building, the equipment which it will contain and the service which it will perform will depend upon local needs and local spirit. In every community some of the following facilities and equipment should be embraced in the plan:

Offices and committee rooms for the Chamber of Commerce and other local organizations
Headquarters for Farm Bureau [page 2]
Auditorium for public meetings, entertainment and motion pictures
Memorial hall with engrossed records under glass, and tablets and trophies
Reading room (or complete library if the town has no public library building)
Exhibit rooms for art exhibits and for products of local industries and resources
Farmers' rest room
Community kitchen
Music room
Dance hall
Swimming pool
Room for billiards and pool
Game rooms and club rooms for boys and girls

In small towns and villages where there is no adequate town hall, it may prove desirable that the building should include headquarters for the local government, and perhaps in some cases, for the local fire department. A combination of public school building and social center will be desirable in some of the smaller places.

Use of the Building

The building should be open to the whole community. It should be dedicated to community fellowship and unity, so greatly advanced by this war. Every non-sectarian and non-partisan movement to promote community progress, welfare and happiness should find sanctuary within its doors.

The meetings of the various organizations mentioned above, lyceum courses, night schools, motion picture entertainments, dances, musicales, debates, etc., should keep the building constantly in use.

Cost of the Building

For the building alone it is recommended that a minimum sum equivalent to $3 per capita in towns of 10,000 and above be provided. An additional minimum sum of $1 per capita ought to be provided for furnishings and equipment. In small communities we believe that a minimum of $30,000 for the building and $7,500 for furnishings and equipment would be appropriate. Rapidly growing communities ought to take into consideration the probable increase in population for the next ten years and build accordingly.

Raising the Money

The entire cost of the building and equipment should be raised by popular subscription in a campaign conducted along the lines of a Red Cross or United War Work drive. To exact the funds by taxation would rob the building of its true nature as a thank-offering. In some cities a public-spirited citizen can be found who will donate a suitable site for the building. The building should be erected without encumbrances on either building or site. Liberty Bonds should be accepted at par from all who wish to make payments in that form.

In some cases it will be possible to secure large gifts from relatives of men who have given their lives in the war. Such a gift could, if desired, be used to provide a gymnasium, or a library, or some other special feature for which funds would not be otherwise available and which might bear the name of the donor.

Lodges or societies which are to have rooms in the building might be invited to provide the furnishing for such rooms at their own expense.


The nature of this building and its uses place it in the class of all other public buildings and, naturally, should exempt it from taxation of all kinds.

Three methods have been suggested for the financing and maintenance of the building:

(a) An annual municipal appropriation to cover the cost of upkeep and of heat, light and janitor service; such appropriation to be made in consideration of the free use of the building by the public generally and its dedication to the welfare of the entire community.

(b) The building could be made self-supporting by charging adequate rental to organizations occupying offices in the building and a reasonable charge for the use of the auditorium and of the club facilities.

(c) An endowment fund to be raised by popular subscription and to be supplemented by bequests from time to time.

Title and Control

The placing of responsibility for the fullest possible use of the building in the interest of the entire community should be given the most careful consideration. Local conditions will determine which of the following plans will be preferable:

(a) Where there is one dominant organization, such as the Chamber of Commerce, which has the confidence of the community, a campaign for funds might be conducted by such [page 3] organization, which would retain title to the building and be responsible for its administration.

(b) The building could be dedicated to public use under the trusteeship of a representative Board of Trustees. Such Board might comprise from twelve to sixteen individuals, depending upon the size of the city and the local groups to be represented. The trustees might be elected by popular vote of all citizens contributing $5 or more to the building fund.

A safer plan might be to have an agreement made in advance between the leading local organizations cooperating in the campaign, that each would be entitled to elect annually a specified number of members of the Board of Trustees. In that event it would be desirable to have the City Council choose representatives equal in number to that of the largest organization, the representatives of the city to include the mayor and leading officials interested in public welfare, recreation and education. County officials might be similarly represented in some cases.

(c) The title to the land and building might be transferred to the municipality, the management of the structure and supervision of activities to be under the direction of a Board of Trustees chosen as suggested under "b."

For proper maintenance of the building, it is most desirable that there be a secretary in charge who shall devote all of his time to community service. In most cases, this might be the Chamber of Commerce secretary. In small communities which cannot maintain a Chamber of Commerce with paid secretary, there might be formed a community association to which men, women and children would be eligible for membership and which would employ a community secretary who would take charge of the building and who would devote his or her time to the industrial, civic and recreational needs of the entire community.

Now is the Time for Action

While the sacrifices and achievements of the war and the conditions of permanent peace are still the main topics of public discussion, is the time for action. The project should be launched at once, therefore, and the funds pledged by the time the peace treaty is signed.

A community meeting, called by the Chamber of Commerce, might well start the movement. Following such meeting, a Liberty Building Committee of representative men and women from all spheres of influence might be appointed and be made responsible for the campaign. Every community now has its organization of war workers for Liberty Loan, Red Cross, United War Work and other campaigns. These organizations can, with practically no difficulty, secure funds necessary for this memorial.

The erection of these buildings will afford employment to a great number of returning soldiers and war workers, and will help in the process of industrial readjustment. The movement should be immediate also in order to preserve the splendid spirit of service that has been created in the various war activities. The spirit of unity, the subjugation of selfish interest, and the exaltation of spiritual values must be perpetuated in order to preserve the greatest fruits of the war.

The soldiers and the boys from our various communities have been enjoying in camp and in the near-by cities the facilities of the Y.M.C.A., K. of C., Red Cross, War Camp Community Service, and other agencies. They have been uplifted and ennobled by the wholesome influence thrown around them by a thoughtful government and a patriotic people. They must not return home to find sordidness and a lack of all the things that made their army life pleasant and memorable.

There should be a Liberty Building in every community by the time the last troops are demobilized.

The Campaign

As stated above, the funds to provide this building and its furnishings and equipment should be given as a thank-offering rather than exacted in the form of taxation. Not the least cause for thankfulness should be the fact that more than 97 [percent] of the two million Americans who went overseas will return alive. This is a special reason why the war should be commemorated by living memorials.

To raise these funds the veterans of all the war-time campaigns should unite in one body and put into this final effort all the zeal and enthusiasm that is justified by the great victory our boys have won. The appeal can be made irresistible from a patriotic standpoint. It is also strong from a selfish standpoint, for the reason that the money can be spent at home with local contractors and dealers, for home labor, and to provide a structure for the enjoyment of home people and the home boys. [page 4]

The Community House -- An Element in Reconstruction*

How Chambers of Commerce Can Promote Sane Progress and Honor Their Townsmen Who Have Served in the Great War, by Raising Funds for "Liberty Buildings" as Soldiers' Memorials

By Samuel Wilson
Manager, Chamber of Commerce, Kansas City, Kansas

THE drift of world thought is toward democracy. In fact, in many countries it has gone far beyond this and even outreached socialism. In Russia there has been a demonstration of the results of turning the social structure bottom-side-up. Those who give attention to this are alarmed by the uncertainty of the future as regards political and social conditions. Wholesale substitution of lower-class rule does not bring a millennium for the worker. The new order requires leadership, and it is unfortunate that the lower social stratum affords no trained leaders. The immediate result is anarchy.

The Opportunity for Leadership

For perhaps ten years, the drift of thought in the Chamber of Commerce world has been toward democracy in organization. The modern Chamber of Commerce in the medium-sized city is quite as much an institution of civics as of commerce. In this we have a tremendous advantage over the European countries in so far as we already have a considerable group of trained leaders who represent all classes of society -- barring perhaps the lowest. When the Chamber of Commerce of the medium-sized city became active in matters of public welfare and surrendered its smaller trade restrictive work, it was preparing in a way for the day which has now come upon us. Yet we have made but a very small start. We are still looked upon as organizations of business and professional men. The history of our work in connection with labor disturbances has not always been of a kind which we are inclined to advertise. Happily the day has passed when a Chamber of Commerce will let itself be trapped into defending an employer solely because he is an employer. However, we are a long way from truly representing our whole cities; in many instances we must live down a reputation for selfishness and must bend every effort to regain the confidence of the worker.

If we look ahead to the coming days of adjustment with some measure of fear, let us not forget that along with the grave problems of reconstruction will come wonderful opportunities for advancement. Every community will be faced with problems; the broadly organized community alone will enjoy the fruits of the opportunities. While the idea of the community center has not been very sharply defined, and there has not been sufficient experience from which to predict its final form, nevertheless it promises to be the vehicle for the realization of the broader hopes of community organization. While nothing has yet occurred which would warrant the prediction that the Chamber of Commerce in the medium-sized city would sooner or later evolve into a community center, yet the tendency is distinctly in that direction.

The Community House the Home of Common Interests

The Community House becomes at once the focal point of the community center. In defining the community center movement, Dr. Henry E. Jackson, Special Agent in Community Organization of the United States Bureau of Education, quotes President Wilson and adds brief comment. To quote Dr. Jackson:

"President Wilson says that our present need is 'to arouse and inform the people so that each individual may be able to play his part intelligently in our great struggle for democracy and justice.' This is a proven statement of the aim of our movement. With [page 5] the addition of one word it would become a complete description of it. That one word is 'organize.'"

Taking Dr. Jackson's statement of the case, it would seem that the commercial organization secretary becomes a necessary factor at the point where the need of organization is encountered. Our Chambers of Commerce have endeavored to typify public organization. The secretary is experienced and skilled in the technique of organization. Unfortunately the limitations of the Chamber of Commerce in membership, and in the classes which are represented within the membership, have frequently prevented its truly representing the community in the broader problems. For this reason I doubt whether the Community House of the future can be the enlarged headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce and nothing more. Rather, it should be a physical plant which, as well as housing the Chamber of Commerce, furnishes offices to women's organizations, shelters the Farm Bureau and other governmental extension agencies, to say nothing of being the home of Labor itself.

Such a plant, being the headquarters of all factions and classes, would automatically become the common meeting-ground and furnish a multitude of points of contact.

The Community House, as a common center and meeting-place for the community movement, multiplies and increases the points of contact between the various classes which go to make up the community. Again, [through] the organization of the community center the whole people may give voice to their opinions. Instead of having an expression from a single class, the organized community in the new sense of the community center may reach conclusions which are the true "least common divisor" of public opinion.

For Cities of All Sizes

The applicability of the Community House idea to cities both large and small is obvious. In the small city, one Community House will serve the entire municipality and centralize all effort on all public undertakings. In the large city, perhaps a half-dozen such "homes" will be required, each serving the people of a limited district.

The building of Community Houses seems to have had its inception in smaller cities, one of the first instances being that of Washington, Pa. In this case the Community House served as headquarters for the Chamber of Commerce and offered facilities for the accommodation of farmers and their families while on shopping trips to town. In addition, it furnished a common meeting-place for the people of the town. This Community House had as its primary purpose the bringing together of the people of town and country and the development of a cooperative spirit. But whether the Community House is designed as an attraction for the farmers of the surrounding territory, or whether it is intended as a meeting-place for the people of a small district within a large city, its broad general purpose is the same, -- "to serve those interests which all have in common."

In the case of the small city, when the Chamber of Commerce builds a Community House it accomplishes the double purpose of securing headquarters for the community center, and at the same time makes of the Chamber of Commerce a permanent institution. The Chamber of Commerce without property is only a volunteer association held together by the weak ties of common interests; the Chamber of Commerce which owns adequate and comfortable headquarters is a permanent institution with all the strength of a corporate body.

Financing the Undertaking

In reducing the Community House project to a practical undertaking, one of the first problems encountered would be that of financing it. Since there is no fund of experience in this particular line, it would be necessary to be guided by experience in financing other public buildings and public organizations.

It may be safely said that any endowed public organization is in danger of becoming unresponsive to public opinion because it is independent of the public's continued support. The public organization which must go back to the people at regular intervals is the one which will serve them best.

A community home for a particular district might be financed in much the same way as a Y.M.C.A. This would provide the building free from debt, or practically so, but would necessitate annual contributions or subscriptions from some source. It is a safe presumption that such a project [page 6] would be best supported by a very small number of very large subscribers, and a very large number of very small subscribers. Perhaps this would not make for pure democracy in the organization, but by keeping the control in the hands of a minority the effectiveness of the whole organization might be greatly increased so far as propaganda work is concerned. The history of our government affords ample justification for such minority control up to the time when a well-established policy becomes generally known and accepted. Such was the history of our Colonial and early Union days. Against this, during our present war, such projects as food and fuel conservation have been accomplished almost entirely [through] the action of a thinking majority. Thus, an organization which is first directed by a minority, may soon attain to broad democracy.

The Community House in Industrial Welfare Work

In measuring the value of the Community House as a factor in reconstruction in the larger cities, we might take a single illustration of the purposes which such a house could serve. In the very large city, the field of operation of any one house would necessarily be confined to one particular district. Let us suppose that it is located among the homes of industrial workers. Its patronage and use would be restricted to the men whose only club has been the corner saloon, and to the women whose social contact has been limited to gossiping across the back fence. It would be a sort of poor man's club where he and his family were offered clean, healthy recreation and were schooled in the social and political problems of democracy. It might house night schools in Americanism. If it were directed by competent men and women, it would become the common meeting-place of all the welfare workers of the industrial plants in its neighborhood.

The fact that welfare work in the individual factories has encountered so many obstacles, strengthens the hope that cooperative welfare work, such as might be provided at the Community House, would be free from the paternalism of the individual employer's efforts, and would meet with much greater success. As things now stand, the industrial plant which makes an effort in organized welfare work more often than not suffers equally with neighboring plants in any labor disturbances which occur. It is an unfortunate fact that the progressive plant is penalized for the unprogressiveness of its neighbor. The stability of the labor situation in any locality is merely the average of the worst plants with the best.

Cooperative welfare work [through] the agency of the Community House in the industrial district, is only a parallel to the work of the War Camp Community Service, the Y.M.C.A. and the K. of C. in the army. These organizations have had a wonderful influence in maintaining the morale of our soldiers. The problem of the industrial manager is that of maintaining the morale of his [employees].

Industrial managers of America must find some middle ground between Prussianism in the handling of labor, and Bolshevism in being handled by it. The world is on fire with a new idea of liberty. Whether the excesses of extremists shall lead to reactionism, or whether it shall be a normal upward development, depends in great measure on "informing the people so that each individual may be able to play his part intelligently in our great struggle for democracy and justice." The Community House and the Community Center offer that bigger and broader agency [through] which the common people may be informed. The Community House may be the means of developing the Chamber of Commerce into a Chamber of the People.

A School of Democracy

Let us consider the possible usefulness of the Community House in meeting another problem, which, like that of labor, is not new but is likely to be encountered in a more aggravated form during the coming days of adjustment to new conditions, viz., the need of a common school in democracy.

In the days which have passed, the Chamber of Commerce has been the only popular institution which consistently directed public attention to broad political problems. [Through] its agency business and professional men have been gathered together to listen to national leaders who had a message calculated to better the political structure. [Through] committees and otherwise, attention and study has been given to problems affecting the nation; and [through] the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States [page 7] these collective opinions have been brought to the attention of our executive and legislative officers. But the great majority of the populations of our cities have thought little and cared less about the problems of state.

If it is true that the strength of democracy lies in an intelligent citizenship, this condition is dangerous. The circle of those who think on public problems must be greatly expanded. Law and the action of courts must be supported by thinking majorities. If this is to be, we must have a new school of democracy, wider in scope and purpose than the present Chamber of Commerce.

Fortunately, service of country in all sorts and capacities from wearing the khaki to selling Liberty Bonds, has prepared the public mind for this broader undertaking, in a way and to a degree which would not have been attained in twenty-five years of normal evolution. The soil is ready; we need only sow the seed and tend the crop. Even our non-English-speaking populations have been reached with the message; Americanism has come to mean something, not relative, but positive. There are only two classes of citizens -- those who are Americans and those who should be interned.

The Civic Force of Public Problems

If this new Americanism is to be developed, if the concept of the community center as a school of democracy is to be realized, we must have big problems on which to work. The Liberty Loan and War Work Funds were ideal undertakings, because the very bigness of them gripped the public imagination and held in close union tremendous bodies of workers heretofore unknown to each other and wholly unaccustomed to cooperation. Unless there are other equally large problems yet to be solved, then we shall find difficulty in keeping the broadened Chamber of Commerce or Community Center functioning.

As an illustration of the possibilities, may it not be, that the community organizations of [tomorrow] could be used in the promotion of a popular bond issue which would build a great system of permanent highways under federal control, so that our domestic commerce would be rapidly increased as an economic forerunner of the needed expansion of foreign commerce to utilize our newly constructed merchant marine? Or, may not these organizations secure public support and popular subscriptions for municipal bond issues for the building of cities in keeping with the new day? May we not [through] these, and in this way, continue 22,000,000 people as stockholders in their government? Or, may not these community centers be the means of realizing a new brotherhood of man?

The Value of Uniting the Community in Service

Only a few years ago much time was spent in state and national meetings of secretaries in discussing the advisability of using non-members on committees. With the great problems of organization which were brought to us by the war, we soon discovered the complete futility of attempting to do the work of the community [through] the agency of a limited class. The organization of the bond and loan drives made necessary the mobilization of hundreds of men and women who previously knew the Chamber of Commerce only as a name. [Through] service, these people have learned the technique of organization and the effectiveness of cooperative effort. The butcher in the packing-plant has learned that he and the banker have some common interests. Is the Chamber of Commerce of the future going to so limit its field of action as to destroy this new-found acquaintance and comradeship between widely divided classes? If it is not, the time has come when we must so modify our organizations as to make the broader appeal and warrant us in the claim that the voice of our organization speaks for the whole community.

The suggestion has been made that we should construct "Liberty Buildings" as memorials to our soldiers, rather than spend the money for monuments of no usefulness and of questionable artistic merit. What could be better than such a memorial to those "who have made the world safe for democracy"? In the symbolism of its name there would be an appeal to the finest idealism of the community, while the building itself would afford the physical plant for the solution of the problems of the "days of adjustment to new conditions." [page 8]

Liberty Buildings -- By Dr. Frank Crane

A Copyrighted Editorial Which Appeared in the New York Globe and Other Leading Newspapers [Throughout] the Country Which Use Dr. Crane's Material

WHEN the war is over and the boys come home, every community will feel like doing something to perpetuate the memory of their participation in the most stupendous enterprise in history. Unless something is done to prevent it, there will probably be an extensive building of monuments of stone and bronze such as now adorn the public squares of so many towns as memorials to the soldiers and sailors of the Civil War.

The sentiment which built these monuments is commendable. It was the effort of a community to do honor to its heroes. The judgment, however, that was displayed in selecting this form of commemoration is open to criticism.

Monuments to great men and edifices to commemorate great occasions are as old as civilization. Even our graveyards at present are full of elaborate tombs. But thinking people have often doubted whether a mass of useless display is the best form of doing honor to a useful life.

Common sense would indicate that the most fitting way to do homage to the dead is to construct something that shall serve the living.

THE AMERICAN CITY, a magazine devoted to civic ideas, now comes forward with the suggestion that after the war each town shall erect a "Liberty Building."

Such a building should include facilities for recreation, culture, fellowship, and public service. It might include a municipal auditorium, which could be used for entertainment and drill work.

A bronze tablet in the lobby, as the Reading Herald suggests, "should sound the note of memory, proclaim the deeds and names of the home boys and tell of our pride in them." Such a building should revive the memory of the Y.M.C.A. buildings and similar structures in the camps and cantonments. Soldiers speak gratefully of the light and cheer that they have received in these huts. They will carry this memory forever. Why not put this memory into brick and mortar?

This war has speeded human progress in many ways. Why should it not mark our progress also in tomb building? Would not a memorial building in every community, constantly used by the living, be a more practical and even a more beautifully sentimental object than a pile of stone or bronze?

Anyway, the erection of statues and shafts and mausoleums belongs to the era of kings. The appropriate monument for a democracy is a warm and useful structure that shall be an integral part of the people's life.

Mr. Howard Strong, Secretary of the Minneapolis Civic Association, says: "The war is not being fought for material victory alone. That victory is but the means to an end. The war will be [worthwhile] only as the way we utilize our victory shall serve the ends of real democracy. I know of no better medium for the working out of a common fellowship than the community center which THE AMERICAN CITY suggests."

It is sincerely to be hoped that this idea will receive the enthusiastic support of the towns and cities of the United States. This is, or ought to be, as President Wilson says, "the birth of a new day," and the manner in which we show it forth in our architecture should signify something of its meaning that hereafter the energies of government as well as of science, art and religion are to be devoted to giving the struggling mass of men and women a better chance.

* From a paper read before the annual convention of the National Association of Commercial Organization Secretaries, at Rochester, November 19, 1918.