GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the Grand Rapids Polish Festival comes to a close, an effort continues to save the oldest Polish hall in the country.
It’s located right in Grand Rapids. But after 135 years, it’s in danger of closing.
Jackson Street Hall was built in 1888 as a new home for the Polish National Aid Society. The center, located on 921 Jackson St. NW, helped Polish immigrants adjust to a new life and find jobs in Grand Rapids. The club also helped build churches on the West Side.
“It’s got some treasures that belong to the West Side of Grand Rapids that are remarkable,” said Anna Tylzynski, the society’s president.
Nearly a century and a half later, the building’s age is showing today. It hasn’t been maintained well. Tylzysnki said it hasn’t been updated since the 1940s.
“The building is solid, the structure,” she said. “But we need a roof. We need siding. We need windows. We need fire doors. We need concrete. We need chimney work. We need furnace work.”
They’re currently operating month to month. Tylzysnki said the Polish National Aid Society has a “small reserve” in its building fund but needs a lot more.
“We need a substantial amount of money just to survive for (135) more years,” Tylzysnki said.
Tylzynski isn’t sure yet exactly how much money they need, but it’s likely hundreds of thousands of dollars.
John Theisen, the co-chair of the Grand Rapids Polish Festival, said “there’s always a danger” of the building closing.
“With the upkeep of a building that size, you have fire codes to deal with,” Theisen said. “Taxes. Insurance. You’re trying to keep the whole history of the club alive.”
This weekend was the perfect time for the group to ask for the community’s help. Thousands celebrated Polish heritage over three days at the Grand Rapids Polish Festival. Organizers posted flyers around Calder Plaza with a QR code to donate to the effort to save Jackson Street Hall.
“People have come in and said, ‘we want to help out, how can we donate?’” Theisen said.
Festival organizers helped raise money for a local Ukrainian church in 2022. Theisen said helping out the Jackson Street Hall effort this year was an easy decision.
“They’re a vital part of all of our group,” Theisen said. “If one goes down, we all go down. It would be very devastating.”
They’ve already lost one Polish Hall in Grand Rapids.
“Years ago we lost Lexicon club, that was another one of the Polish clubs,” Theisen said. “We’re part of 14 clubs. We used to be 15. Lexicon burned down and they didn’t have insurance.”
The Polish National Aid Society actively keeps a roster of its members at Jackson Street Hall. Some names from 1907 are still there today.
“You can come in anytime and see if your family was a member there,” Theisen said.
No matter what, Tylzynski insists they will find a way to keep Jackson Street Hall going for another 135 years.
“We will not close,” she said. “I don’t care if the members have to chip in to pay the gas bill. We are not going to close.”
If you missed the chance to stop by the festival, organizers say you can donate to the Jackson Street Hall preservation effort by visiting Credit Union One on Walker Avenue Northwest.
“Let’s save some culture,” Theisen said. “Let’s save the oldest Polish Hall in the United States. Who would’ve thought it was in small Grand Rapids? Let’s keep that history, that culture alive.”