A Historic Landmark
National Headquarters of The Polish Roman Catholic Union and the Polish Museum of America Named A Historic Landmark
ILLINOIS – The historic 1913 building that houses the national headquarters of the Polish Roman Catholic Union and the Polish Museum of America has been named a historic landmark. Its listing on the National Register of Historic Places on January 2, 2013 is a fitting tribute occurring at the 100-year anniversary of its construction.
Home to the oldest of the Polish national fraternal organizations, its significance derives from its role in the ethnic heritage of Chicago, the most Polish of American cities. The red brick, four-story commercial block on Milwaukee Avenue in the heart of Chicago’s old Polish Downtown, continues to function today as a cultural and intellectual anchor for the Polish community in America.
Founded in 1873, the PRCUA acted to consolidate its loose network of scattered societies into a central headquarters in 1913. It chose the largest of five principal Polish neighborhoods in Chicago, known to its residents as “Stanislawowo-Trojcowo.” Centered at Division, Ashland, and Milwaukee avenues, it was the city’s largest Polish settlement, with almost half of all Chicago Poles living there.
The first Polish parish in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – St. Stanislaus Kostka – had been founded on W. Evergreen Street in 1867 by Rev. Vincent Barzynski (also a co-founder of the PRCUA) and would come to be considered a “mother church.” Its rival, Holy Trinity, was organized in 1873 just two blocks away — their church steeples within view of each other.
By the dawn of the 20th century, Polish Downtown had become headquarters for almost every major Polish organization in America. St. Stanislaus College, Holy Trinity and Holy Family High Schools, and St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital were located there. Eventually four Polish language daily newspapers were also published there. Polish businesses spilled over from Noble Street to Milwaukee Avenue, displacing older German merchants.
Plans for the new PRCUA headquarters envisioned a “precious community resource” which would include a library and a great meeting hall for community events. The organization’s core business of providing insurance to its membership would be expanded with educational and even more charitable activities of a wide variety. Polish architect John Flizikowski, with a prominent local reputation, was chosen to execute the design. He created a principal facade that gently curves around the southwest corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Augusta Boulevard, with terra cotta ornamentation providing classical accents above the storefronts, surrounding the entrance and corner window bays, and at the cornice level. The words “DOM ZJEDNOCZENIA POLSKIEGO R K” which translate as “Home of the Polish Roman Catholic Union” remain incised at the top, although the original cornice was removed in 1976.
The first floor storefront remodeling dates from 1936, and windows in the Great Hall were bricked in when the Polish Museum of America took over that space. Despite these changes, the building retains rich historic materials throughout its interior offices, meeting rooms, and museum spaces. It continues to be used for the purposes for which it was built – an important consideration in determining its landmark eligibility.
The Polish Roman Catholic Union of America and the Polish Museum of America are among the few remaining Polish institutions in an area where once were clustered the headquarters of almost every major Polish organization in America. The PRCUA building stands as a beacon in Chicago’s Polish Downtown – a lasting reminder of the historic origins of Chicago’s Polonia, which dominated this neighborhood well into the mid-20th century. Recognition on the National Register of Historic Places reinforces what Chicago Poles have known for years – that the PRCUA and PMA are among the most important Polish institutions in America, and they are proud to stay where they grew up. This landmark designation is an honor that we can proclaim to our nation.
Victoria Granacki, a historic building preservationist
of Granacki Historic Consultants in Chicago, IL
For more information, see: National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Polish Roman Catholic Union of America Building by William Ippen and Daniel Ott, 2012; and National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form: Ethnic European Historic Settlement in the City of Chicago, 1860-1930 by Victoria Granacki, Jennifer Kenny, and Greg Rainka, 2008.
(PHOTO) PRCUA Building, 1930s. Photograph by W M Rozanski, Washington Studio. Collection of The Polish Museum of America.