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Florida

Taip pat skaitykite: Augustino Žemaičio straipsnis apie kelionę į Floridą, kurio metu buvo padarytos šios nuotraukos ir surinkta informacija.

Over the recent century, Americans have been attracted to Florida in large numbers, often to spend their retirement.

Most of Florida's Lithuanians arrived there after living in other states (rather than directly from Lithuania). After earning money in northern cities some of them began exchanging their former homes into ones at the Floridan seaside. There Lithuanians have attempted to recreate what they left in New York, Chicago or Boston: Lithuanian religious and secular organizations and clubs. However, the times of grand buildings had already passed by that time and so the Florida Lithuanian heritage is more modern and modest.

Some 32 000 Lithuanians call Florida home today (only Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, Massachusetts and New York have more). Such growth in Lithuanian numbers coincided with general growth of Floridan population. In 1900 (when Lithuanians were already arriving en masse to America) Florida had merely 500 thousand people while today it hosts 20 million (in comparison Pennsylvania, the top Lithuanian destination during the first migration wave, only grew from 6 to 13 million during the same era).

St. Pete Beach sunset. The sun and the beaches attract people to Florida, while Lithuanians are also fond of sandy beaches and sunsets into the sea as they seem similar to Palanga, Lithuania's top resort

St. Pete Beach sunset. The sun and the beaches attract people to Florida, while Lithuanians are also fond of sandy beaches and sunsets into the sea as they seem similar to Palanga, Lithuania's top resort

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club

The largest Lithuanian community of Florida is located in and around St. Petersburg, which has the sole Lithuanian club of the state (4880 46th Avenue North). The building is modest but rather lively as Florida still attracts new Lithuanian-Americans (often relocating from the north). In the club, Lithuanians gather for Lithuanian lunches, library, and school. The heart of the club is its great hall and small hall, both decorated with works of major Lithuanian-American artists.

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club

The club was established by the first wave of Lithuanian-Americans (those immigrated before World War 1). After World War 2, many of them were elderly. It coincided with the time it became popular for Americans to retire in Florida. St. Peterburg became the conurbation most popular for that among Lithuanians. In 1960, some 300 Lithuanians already lived there.

The main hall of St. Petersburg Lithuanian club during a community meeting

The main hall of St. Petersburg Lithuanian club during a community meeting

Being accustomed to having their own Lithuanian clubs in the northern USA, in 1963-1964 they also built such a club in St. Petersburg. The existence of this club and the articles in the Lithuanian-American press written by St. Petersburg Lithuanians attracted more Lithuanians to the area. ~1970 the DPs (Soviet genocide refugees who fled Lithuania ~1944) also began settling in Florida, as they too were aging. They gradually took the organization of the club.

Entrance to the Lithuanian club of St. Petersburg adorned with a Lithuanian flag

Entrance to the Lithuanian club of St. Petersburg adorned with a Lithuanian flag

In the years 1976, 1980, and 1989 the Lithuanian club building was expanded. Initially, it consisted only of a single great hall, so the annexes included another (smaller) gall, a bar, a library, restrooms, warehouses and more. The club was expanded from 451 sq. meters to 970 sq. meters. The building is functionalist in style, without Lithuanian architectural details (previously there was a large wooden Columns of Gediminas symbol near the entrance but it was removed as it decayed). During events a Lithuanian flag is masted near the door while a commemorative plaque there declares that the club is dedicated to Charles Bliza who was instrumental in its construction.

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club as it looked soon after its construction in 1964

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club as it looked soon after its construction in 1964

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club after the expansions in 1992, with Columns of Gediminas on the facade

St. Petersburg Lithuanian club after the expansions in 1992, with Columns of Gediminas on the facade

Some third of the club members live in Florida in winters alone and they go back to their homes in the northern USA for the rest of the year. There, they are also members of the local Lithuanian parishes and clubs. In total, St. Petersburg and its suburbs has some 3000 Lithuanians and they make 2% of the population in St. Pete Beach. However, not all Lithuanians participate in the club activities. Historically, some of the St. Petersburg Lithuanians from the pre-WW1 migration wave were radical leftists; they had their own organizations and did not participate in establishing the club. Some of the third wave immigrants (those arrived after 1990) did not join the club either.

The bar of St. Petersburg Lithuanian club

The bar of St. Petersburg Lithuanian club

One of the patriotic Lithuanian artworks inside the club. This artwork depicts a Lithuanian pagan god Praamžius. Painted in 1979 (by V. Vaitiekūnas), while Lithuania was still under a deep Soviet occupation and the liberation of Lithuania was the topic that unified all Lithuanian-American communities and clubs. The text on the painting means: 'I call the mighty Praamžius! I call, arise, oh heroes,.. I see a Fatherland that is becoming free'

One of the patriotic Lithuanian artworks inside the club. This artwork depicts a Lithuanian pagan god Praamžius. Painted in 1979 (by V. Vaitiekūnas), while Lithuania was still under a deep Soviet occupation and the liberation of Lithuania was the topic that unified all Lithuanian-American communities and clubs. The text on the painting means: 'I call the mighty Praamžius! I call, arise, oh heroes,.. I see a Fatherland that is becoming free'

The club is open on Sunday afternoons.

St. Pete Beach Lithuanian sites

St. Pete Beach is the most Lithuanian town of the area. There, ~1975 Lithuanian Franciscan priests established a St. Casimir Lithuanian Catholic mission which has acquired a modest two-floored house on 555 68th Ave. At the time, Lithuania was occupied by the atheist Soviet Union which had banned Lithuanian monasteries and friaries. Many priests and monks were killed, tortures or expelled as the Soviet Genocide progressed. In 1944, some of them managed to flee to the USA, staffing the Lithuanian parishes there.

The story of the Lithuanian mission is thus similar to the story of the entire Florida Lithuanian community. ~1975 many of the refugee Lithuanian priests were aging and the mission was a place for them to retire. In this retirement, however, they would still provide services for Florida Lithuanians - some of them, perhaps, retired members of the priests' former parishes up north.

The mission building had two apartments with four bedrooms. The garage of the house was transformed into a small chapel, decorated in Lithuanian style by the famous Lithuanian-American artist Rūkštelė. Lithuanian priests of the mission also used to hold Lithuanian mass in the non-Lithuanian church at Gulfport.

Lithuanian mission of St. Petersburg

Lithuanian mission of St. Petersburg

The chapel and mission have been closed in 2017. Since then, the Lithuanian mass in the area is only held in Gulfport and only in special circumstances such as the main holidays.

Near the former chapel, a Lithuanian Jonas Valauskas has built two apartment buildings named in Lithuanian. "Venta", named after a Lithuanian river, was constructed in 1972 while "Nida", named after one of the most famous Lithuanian resorts, was built in 1976. Initially, most of the residents there were Lithuanians but now Lithuanians no longer live there, although the Lithuanian names and plaques remain.

Apartment building 'Nida'

Apartment building 'Nida'

Apartment building 'Nida' sign close-up

Apartment building 'Nida' sign close-up

Apartment building 'Venta' in St. Pete Beach

Apartment building 'Venta' in St. Pete Beach

Other Lithuanian communities in Florida

In the rest of Florida Lithuanians mostly live in coastal towns and resorts as well. The communities exist in Daytona Beach, Miami, Cape Coral, Pompano Beach, Palm Beach, formerly also existed in Sunny Hills.

Lake Worth Historical Museum has Lithuanian exhibits in addition to Polish and Finnish exhibits.

There is no additional Lithuanian heritage in Florida that is known to us.

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