This parkland honors philanthropist and financier Jacob H. Schiff (1847-1920). Born to a middle-class Jewish family in Frankfurt, Germany, Schiff emigrated to the United States in 1865. Soon after his arrival in New York City, he found success as a Wall Street investment banker. In 1875, Schiff joined the banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb and Company. As a partner in the firm, and later as its senior partner, Schiff helped Kuhn, Loeb and Company to become one of the most prominent investment companies in the world, second only to J. P. Morgan.
Conscious of the plight of many other Jewish immigrants, Schiff became involved in numerous charitable causes. In 1884, he helped found the Jewish Montefiore Home. Originally located on 84th Street and Avenue A (now York Avenue) in Manhattan, the hospital treated the chronically ill among the city’s poor. With Schiff as its second president and primary benefactor, the Jewish Montefiore Home rapidly expanded and later moved to its present location in the Bronx. Throughout the 1890’s, Schiff also financed the work of Lillian Wald and Mary Brewster. Wald and Brewster, two nurses, provided medical care to thousands of immigrants on the Lower East Side. With Schiff’s backing, they created the Henry Street Settlement in 1895. The settlement house offered food, shelter, and medical treatments for the poor, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.
In addition to his charitable work for the poor and sick in New York, Schiff contributed to many educational institutions including Columbia University, Harvard University, Cornell University and Barnard College. Schiff also helped found the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and provided the funds for the establishment of the department of Semitic Literature at the New York Public Library. Five years after Schiff’s death, Harvard recognized his unstinting support of education by creating the first Jewish Studies department in the United States in his honor.
In 1921, shortly after Schiff’s death, the Board of Aldermen named this parkland for him. Schiff Mall runs through the center of Delancey Street from the Bowery to the Williamsburg Bridge. Delancey Street is named after James de Lancey, a powerful New York political figure who served as Chief Justice of New York State’s Supreme Court and as Lieutenant Governor in the 1700s. The de Lancey family estate originally extended from the Bowery to the East River. The street now marks the northern boundary of the family’s former holdings. Once known as Schiff Parkway, Schiff Mall was part of Delancey Street until the Department of Transportation reconstructed the approaches to the Williamsburg Bridge and separated the mall from the street in 1998.
For years, Schiff Mall, has served as a familiar piece of greenery for all those heading to Brooklyn over the Williamsburg Bridge. Parks recently sponsored renovations of this parkland as part of its joint initiative with the Department of Transportation, known as Greenstreets. The Greenstreets program plants trees and shrubs in some of the smaller city parks and squares. Improvements to Schiff Mall include the addition of new shrubbery and the rehabilitation of several trees.