Czech Genealogy: First English Translation of Hugo Chotek’s Amerikán Národni Kalendář Article on the Establishment of Bohemian National Hall, Cleveland, Ohio
May 28th in 1975 was a big day for Czechs and those with Bohemian ancestry in Cleveland, Ohio. On this day Bohemian National Hall, located at 4939 Broadway Avenue, was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A well-deserved and important designation for its future preservation and recognition.
If you were at all like me and had Czech roots and lived or grew up in Cleveland you knew Bohemian National Hall. My mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members on my Czech side talked about it frequently and we often made visits there.
Fast forward several decades to my mother’s 90th birthday celebration and there we were again. As part of a weekend of festivities I arranged a family history and genealogy tour of ‘the old haunts’ of my mom’s youth in Cleveland. Houses, parks, streets, restaurants, cemeteries, and of course Bohemian National Hall. It was quite a thrill then, as the family genealogy ‘nut’ to stand in the grand theatre of the Hall and hear my mom talk about her times dancing on that same stage with her cousins while dressed in their traditional kroje.
Almost two years to the day after standing in Bohemian National Hall with my mother while working on the Onward To Our Past® genealogy project of translating from Czech to English the Tables of Contents of each edition of Amerikán Národni Kalendář we happened to come uncover an article by one of our favorite Bohemian-American authors, Hugo Chotek in the 1898 edition of Amerikán Národni Kalendář.
Titled Národni síň v Clevelandu, Ohio this article translates as ‘National Hall at Cleveland, Ohio’. As you might imagine it did not take us long to decide we needed to put this one in the queue for translation.
This translation follows, but first we need to say thank you again to our partner on this effort, Martin Pytr. Martin does excellent Czech genealogy work focusing on Moravia and we simply could not have completed this translation without his exceptional assistance. So – thank you Martin! (Check out his website at http://www.czechkin.com)
Without further ado and for the first time in English, here is the translated article:
“National Hall in Cleveland, Ohio
(See the 2nd cover picture)
The first impulse to build Bohemian National Hall came from the patrons of Bohemian Free-Thought schools in Cleveland, respectively by members of the Lodges of Jednota (Unity) C.S.P.S: Lidumil, Bratri v Kruhu, Kolar, Vitezslav Hajek, Sion, Cechomir, Zizkuv Mec, and Lodge Zizka A.O.F.
Bohemian Sunday schools had problems finding sufficient and permanent space for themselves, and were seeing decreased activities, therefore large number of Bohemian patriots worried that the mentioned schools would soon become extinct. This was especially true in the years 1887 and 1888, when the ethnically intolerant School Board refused to permit a place for Bohemian Sunday schools at public schools.
The patrons did not know what to do. At meetings of the mentioned lodges this case was debated very often, especially by members Emanuel J. Payer, Fr. Jiskra, Jos. Charvat, Ant. Pav and Karel Siskovsky of the Lodge Lidumil; M. Albl, V. Vanek, Jan Burda and Josef Rybak of the Lodge Bratri v Kruhu; V. Kucera and Jos. Charvat of the Lodge Jan Kolar; Alois Zak, F. Cipra and F. Pokorný of the Lodge Sion; Vaclav Kalva of the Lodge Bretislav; Josef Cermak of the Lodge Zizka A.O.F. These individuals agitated tirelessly in support of the building of Bohemian National Hall, which would be a place for Bohemian schools, as well as for other needs for our national and social life.
E. J. Payer, M. Albl, V. Kalva, J. Kucera, J. Cermak, V. Vanek, Alois Zak. V. Rybak, Jos. Burda and other ones, also encouraged people through magazines spending a lot of time and money to realize this nice idea. Thanks to these people was the first large meeting was called on 26 August 1888 at the hall of Vaclava Rybak on Finn street, where were Mr. M. Albl was elected Chairman and Mr. V. Vanek for his Deputy. At the meeting it was also proclaimed that National Hall would be built and the first steps toward this goal would be started immediately.
Enthusiasm was high, a lot of meetings were taking place, and a lot of money was being donated. At the meeting on 27 December 1888 an Incorporation Committee was elected, which consisted of Fr. Jiskra, V. Kucera, Martin Trojan, Hynek Svarc, V. Sanda, Fr. Ptak, Jos. Mulac, M. Fnouka, M. Kus, Jan Ondracek, Fr. Sluka, and Vacl. Vanek.
The corporation was named: “Company for building of National Hall”, and was set up by lawyer J.M. Novak and on 28 January 1889 the papers were recorded in the registers of the authorities of State of Ohio.
Shortly after this land was purchased, located on the corner of Broadway St. and Mead Ave. consisting of an area of 112 feet (on Broadway) and 152 feet on Mead Ave. for $6.700.
Enthusiasm increased, organizations and individuals worked hard and at the end of 1893 the assets of the corporation were $9.487 66.
Additionally to the membership came female Lodges, and their members brought new enthusiasm to the discussions and perhaps without the ladies, the imposing building at Broadway will not standing here today.
Thanks to the votes and the work of the female deputies along with their supporting of the Chairman Mr. J. Vorel and of other enthusiasts the building soon was started.
After fruitless negotiations with Bohemian architects Mr. Mittermiller and Mr. Hradek, the architects of Steffens, Sewrles, & Hirsh were accepted for the building plans because they prepared the plans without charge, and asked for themselves only 4 per cent of the cost.
Shortly after started the realization of the building. It is a nice 3-floor brick building and is actually the jewel of Broadway Street. It is seventy feet large (forefront at Broadway) and one hundred twenty-five feet long (along Mead Ave.). Inside you can enter through the gate, built from massive stone, standing on two, 12 feet tall stone-pillars. Entering the Entrance Hall, its floor and walls are made of marble and is used in reaching a large waiting-room. On the right side we can see a library, on the left side are several tables and chairs, situated here for the comfort of readers; to the rear, toward Mead Ave., are located restrooms for men and ladies
As you continue walking, you will enter a balcony, sixty-six feet long and 12 feet wide, from one you can look below to a large gymnasium, equipped with the most modern gymnastic apparatus. Its proportions are 50′ x 66′ and 24′ of height. Near the gymnasium are situated, also downstairs, large locker rooms for female Sokol members and all ladies. Next are showers, more restrooms, and a swimming pool, 12 feet wide and 40 feet long. The architects say it is the largest indoor swimming pool in the city. Large is also the room for the boilers and pumps, (parní kotle a pumpy), from which provide all the heating for the whole building. If you get to the basement you can see the foundations, holding up the whole large building, consisting of stone and brick walls, some as large as 8 feet, and are sunken to depth of 16 feet under street level. Here you can also see stone pillars here that can hold 180 tons of weight according to the architects.
A theater fills most of the 2nd floor. This room covers an area of 50′ x 76′. The stage is equipped with the most modern equipment and is 50 feet long and 25 feet deep with an arc in front of the main curtain that is 18 feet high. The company that was contracted for the theatre decorations, which will include its curtains, says that our Bohemian theatre will be one of the prettiest ones in the State, and it will be done for $1200.
Side boxes will be decorated with wood-carvings and other ornaments and the corridors are large enough for 250 persons. Of course, there are a lot of restrooms for ladies and men, too. At the right side of theatre are located additional rooms where it is possible to get refreshments, a banquet room, and farther to the back is also a bar.
With the above mentioned rooms are situated accommodations of 6 rooms for the janitor of National Hall.
The third floor consists of reserved rooms for various clubs with the appropriate number of restrooms, etc. Everything will be done in the most modern way – nice and comfortable. Some rooms had to be reserved for school use only, but at the time I am writing this the final decision on this fact is not known.
All of this imposing building will cost somewhere between $32,000 and $35,000 and will be a witness to Bohemian diligence, Bohemian work, and Bohemian concord.”