James R. Toberman founded the Homer Toberman Deaconness Home and Hospital at Sunset Boulevard and Custer Avenue in Los Angeles in 1903. (A deaconness is a female Protestant church deacon.)
Born in 1836, Toberman came to Los Angeles from Virginia in 1864 when President Lincoln appointed him a government revenue assessor for the area. He would go on to win six one-year terms as mayor of Los Angeles (1872-74 and 1878-82). He died in 1911.
During his tenure, he oversaw many developments in the city, including the founding of the Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles Herald newspaper. Streets began to be paved, new electric lights and telephone lines were installed and the city’s first water and sewer systems were designed.
Toberman and his wife, Emma, named the center in memory of their son, Homer, who died from the flu at age 28 in 1901. The center’s original services included housing for working women, a dental clinic and various services assisting newly arrived immigrants and transients.
Operated by the Women’s Division of Christian Service of the Board of Missions of the Methodist Church, the center moved to 115 N. Grand Ave. in San Pedro in 1937. (Its current address is 131 N. Grand.) A committee of San Pedro citizens lobbied for the move to a site in the community’s Barton Hill area.
Buildings on adjoining land were added in 1942 and 1945 to keep up with the demand for services. At the time, an estimated 800 people daily availed themselves of the center, which was renamed the Homer Toberman Settlement House.
Most of the original wood-frame buildings were replaced by new structures in a major $100,000 renovation in 1952 that included a new gymnasium. The revamped Toberman facility was dedicated on Sept. 28, 1952; it would celebrate its 50th anniversary a year later in November 1953.
Over the years, Toberman Settlement House would broaden its mission to include providing food and clothing for the needy, information on finding jobs, classrooms for language and vocational education and Head Start programs, and a wide range of additional child, young adult and family services.
Though it continues to be partially funded by the Methodist Church, its services offered to anyone in need, regardless of religious or social standing. The center conducts gang outreach programs, offers teenage pregnancy assistance and child care services and a variety of services to the homeless.
It also spawned a housing advocacy organization. The Barton Hill Neighborhood Association grew out of a group that met at Toberman, and has worked on a variety of fair housing and rent issues in the area.
The Toberman Neighborhood Center took more giant strides after celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2003. In November of that year, it announced plans to tear down most of its facilities and build a new $6 million community center.
in 2006, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles gave Toberman Settlement House its Nonprofit of the Year award. Toberman by then had become Los Angeles’ oldest continuously operating charitable organization.
The new buildings opening on June 28, 2007. A name change came along with them; the Toberman Settlement House became the Toberman Neighborhood Center, now a 36,000-square-foot facility.
The organization has become known for its annual gala dinner held annually each January. Recent editions have had sports themes. A basketball themed dinner in 2008 included legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden, along with Lakers Bill Sharman, Tex Winter, Jamaal Wilkes, A.C. Green, Keith Erickson, Luke Walton, Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar.
2009’s dinner featured a baseball theme, and included Tommy Lasorda, Vin Scully, Don Newcombe and Sparky Anderson.
Events such as these, along with support from the Methodist Church and various other charitable grants and funding sources, allow Toberman Neighborhood Center to continue helping the community cope with some of life’s most serious problems, including drug and alcohol abuse, AIDS, gang warfare, homelessness, poverty and child abuse.
Among its many other programs, Toberman annually fulfills thousands of requests for social services to low-income individuals and families in the South Bay-Harbor area.