Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

New York City, New York

New York (pop 8,5 mln., 14 mln. with suburbs) is undeniably one of the centers of the world. Between 1930 and 1950 (when the Lithuanian refugees arrived) it was the world's largest city and it has been the US top city throughout its history. By the time it received its first 100-floor building in 1931 the tallest "skyscraper" of Lithuania stood at 7 floors. New York must have truly impressed the contemporary immigrants from agricultural Lithuania (of which there were 15 000 in 1930). Unlike some other once-industrial US cities New York continued to be important and its Lithuanian community constantly renews itself.

Even before World War 1 Lithuanians had their churches in New York. Queens has a Transfiguration church (64-14 Clinton Avenue). First constructed 1908, twice rebuilt (once after fire and after WW2 due to expanded Lithuanian community). Current building dates to 1962, both Lithuanian and English mass are held. The modern glass-clad building that ingeniously incorporates Lithuanian vernacular architectural details (a form of village barn, rooftop horse ornaments) and modernized historical symbols (e.g. Vytis cross, St. Casimir sculpture, merged sun-cross) has been praised by contemporary architects. It is sometimes considered a magnum opus of architect Jonas Mulokas and interior designer V. K. Jonynas who also collaborated on multiple Lithuanian American churches in 1950s Illinois.

Transfiguration church incorporates Lithuanian details into modern architecture. Google Street View.

Brooklyn Annunciation Lithuanian Roman Catholic church is a century older (built 1863, 259 N. 5th Street). It has been constructed by Germans and acquired by a Lithuanian parish in 1914. The interior has been redecorated the Lithuanian way: Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis and Gate of Dawn altars created. The mass is held in Lithuanian and Spanish (as the neighborhood has large Hispanic population).

Like many Lithuanian churches the Annunciation church of Brooklyn has traditional wooden chapel-post and wooden cross (a UNESCO inscribed ethnic art form), even if there is very little place for them. Google Street View.

Brooklyn also had a St Mary of the Angels Lithuanian church (corner of 4th S St. and Roebling St.), closed 1981, now El Puente academy devoid of any Lithuanian marks. A simple neoclassical edifice it was famous for the stained glass windows by sculptor V. K. Jonynas it had, which were then moved to Our Lady of Vilnius church in Manhattan.

The most "infamous" Lithuanian church in New York is the gothic revival Our Lady of Vilnius (1910). This only Lithuanian church in Manhattan but it has been closed in 2007. The diocese plans to demolish it and sell the expensive land, triggering the largest Lithuanian community protests since independence. It included mass prayers, vigils, demonstrations attempting to save this "shard of Lithuania", among the last Our Lady of Vilnius churches of Lithuania. Even the Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus, himself a former Lithuanian-American, protested to the Pope against the church closure. However, all these were unsuccessful and the church was demolished.

Our Lady of Vilnius church squeezed between massive skyscrapers. It no longer exists. Google Street View.

New York is also a home to a major Lithuanian secular institution. The Lithuanian Alliance of America HQ (307 W. 30th Street) is its small but well-located heart. The Lithuanian Alliance publishes the oldest Lithuanian newspaper ("Tėvynė", since 1896) and has also recently opened a Sla 370 gallery on its ground floor, which celebrates the Lithuanian history and art of America. The Lithuanian Alliance was founded in 1886 by the Lithuanian-American nationalists and leftists who dissented against the central role the Catholic church and its parishes played in many Lithuanian-American activities. Lithuanian Alliance has also served as a life insurance company for Lithuanians. Its membership has declined over the time, however, as the new generations of Lithuanians were less likely to join. It went down from 11948 in 1955 to just 2446 in 2007.

Between the 2nd street, Hewes street and Union Avenue in Brooklyn there is Lituanica square, also known as Lithuania square, a small patch of land with a monument and flagpole. It is dedicated to pilots Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas who became the first Lithuanians to cross the Atlantic in air and the pioneers of Transatlantic air mail. Sadly their 1933 flight which departed from New York Floyd Bennett Field ended up in a tragedy near their destination in Kaunas, making them martyrs of both Lithuania and Lithuanian-American community. Lithuania sought to build a symbolic wing in that airport in 2013 (70th anniversary) but the airport administration denied this. Only a memorial plaque reminds of Darius and Girėnas.

On the New York stock market in Broad Street (Manhattan), there is a commemorative plaque for the first famous Lithuanian-American Aleksandras Karolis Kuršius (better known in Latin as Alexander Carolus Cursius-Curtius). This nobleman established the NYC's first Latin school on the location (at the time New York was still a Dutch colony known as New Amsterdam). The plaque for him was created in 1976 for the US 200 anniversary and has been a part of a Lithuanian American struggle to widen the knowledge of the name "Lithuania" and its Soviet occupation.

Before the massive immigration from Eastern Europe began in the late 19th century such isolated noblemen were the only Lithuanians to set foot on New York shore. One of them - Tadeusz Kosciuszko (Lithuanian: Tadas Kosciuška) - fought for US freedom before unsuccessfully attempting to defend his homeland Poland-Lithuania (united at the time) from European great powers. A commemorative plaque for him has been jointly funded by Lithuanian and Polish Americans in 1997.

Another Lithuania-related memorial plaque is on the floor of the New York Library at 476 5th Ave. It cites Martin Radtke, an immigrant from Lithuania, who had a few opportunities for formal education and so educated himself in the library, amassing a fortune he then bequeathed to the library. There is next to none information available about him online, however, save for the plaque. "Radtke" surname was, however, somewhat common among Lithuania's Germans, so it is likely Martin Radtke hailed from that community.

The first leader of both Poland and Lithuania, ethnic Lithuanian King Jogaila lived at the time America was not even discovered (1348-1434). However, New York Central Park includes Jogaila statue, created by S. Ostrowski. Symbolically it is a copy of a sculpture in Warsaw (Poland) that had been destroyed to make WW1 bullets. The Central Park sculpture was made to decorate Polish pavilion in 1939 New York Expo but while that Expo was still ongoing Poland itself was invaded and occupied by Soviet Russians and Nazi Germans. The property of Polish pavilion has then been transferred to the Polish museum but a joint request of New York mayor and Polish consul made it a gift to New York City. As the sculpture has been built by Poles the Polonized version of king's name is used (Jagiello) and the word "Poland" inscribed.

Jogaila monument in Central Park. Google Street View.

New York consists of five massive boroughs. Queens has ~6000 Lithuanians, Manhattan ~5000, Brooklyn ~3000, Bronx ~500, Staten Island ~750.

New York is also a political center. It is the location of United Nations HQ and thus the Lithuanian representative office to the UN.

Map of Lithuanian heritage in New York City.

 

Click to learn more about Lithuania: New York, USA No Comments

Upstate New York

Many may associate "New York" with the city but unlike the small neighboring states the State of New York is truly expansive (larger than the entire New England save for Maine) and merely a half of its population live in the NYC. The state's remaining part is nicknamed Upstate New York. It consists of smaller cities where the population has halved since 1960s (total regional population remained the same).

Many of these cities have old Lithuanian communities with old churches. Unfortunately, the recent years have been sad to them: local dioceses have been hastily closing the Lithuanian parishes that survived a century or more. Not only the Lithuanian mass would be canceled but the buildings themselves were sold to other religions in many cases, destroying the Lithuanian-inspired interiors.

St. Casimir Lithuanian church in Amsterdam, Upstate New York, is now Buddhist-owned. Google Street View.

The number of parishes is lowered as the population falls. ~2010 a parish reform in Niagara Falls left 9 Catholic churches open out of the previous 21 (in 1960 the city had a population of 102 394, 2010 census counted merely 50 193). Niagara Falls St. George Lithuanian church (1910 Falls Street) has been among those closed. Built in 1928 its congregation peaked in 1971. The building has been sold to Anglo-Catholic who turned it into their pro-cathedral. Atypically, this small Christian community left the St. George dedication untouched and even invited the Lithuanians to continue using the premises. No interior details have been destroyed; on the contrary, Anglo-Catholics felt sad that Roman Catholics removed some pieces upon closure. 14 pretty stained glass windows survived.

Vytis (Lithuanian coat of arms) detail on the fronton of the Niagara Falls St. George church. Google Street View.

Other Upstate New York Lithuanian churches have been less lucky. Amsterdam St. Casimir church has been sold to Buddhists after its closure; they established the Five Buddhas Temple there. The community leader Lucas Wang (a.k.a. Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi) claimed that he received a revelation to purchase the church. United into the World Peace and Health Organization the local Buddhists plan a massive expansion that will even include theme park - but the fate of Lithuanian details of the St. Casimir church is likely sealed. Previously the church area hosted other Lithuanian institutions such as Pakėnas laundry, Piliponis grocery. Today their owners are probably resting in the St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery (Park drive).

St. Casimir sculpture with a Lithuanian inscription 'Bažn. Šv. Kazimiero' ('Ch. of St. Casimir') adorns the tower of the Amsterdam church. Google Street View.

Rochester attracted most of its ~400 Lithuanians ~1900 as they have been fleeing hard labor in Pennsylvania mines. In 1935 they constructed St. George church (545 Hudson Avenue) which has been closed in 2010 (up to the final days the Lithuanian mass has been celebrated). The parish was not destroyed however and it meets in another church at Brighton suburb (Our Lady of Lourdes, 165 Rhinecliff Drive); unfortunately, that building lacks Lithuanian details and history. In order to perpetuate Lituanity, ~100 Rochester Lithuanains have established a Lithuanian Heritage Society. In 2010 the city established sister ties with Alytus, Lithuania.

St. George church of Rochester may look modest but the parish owned multiple buildings (all the ones visible here) and the Lithuanian mass survived long. Google Street View.

Lithuanians (~500) also live in Binghamton. This community's history is similar to its many "siblings" in Upstate New York. It began before World War 1 and the highest point of Lituanity was in the 1930s. This golden era is still reminded by a dusty inscription "Lithuanian Natl. Assc. Inc." on a non-descript ~1917 building at 315 Clinton Street. City landmarks list also lists "Sokolvonia" building (~1939) as Lithuanian although a likely Slavic name may indicate a mistake. Subsequently, the membership of many Lithuanian organizations grew older, the usage of Lithuanian language grew limited to ethnic events. However, many still guarded cherished folk customs and amber jewelry as something that reminded them of their homeland. The arrival of refugees after the occupation of Lithuania (~1950) triggered a limited rebirth of Binghamton Lituanity. However, the DPs left the Upstate New York for work-laden major cities once they could.

Former Lithuanian National Association Inc. in Binghamton, now a Tri-Cities Opera. The fact that the old inscription was made of bricks saved it. Google Street View.

Like elsewhere the church life survived the longest in Binghamton. The modern facade of St. Joseph Lithuanian church (1 Judson Ave) still has a Lithuanian inscription over its doors. However, the building has been sold to Grace Tabernacle church in 2008. Multiple ethnic parishes have been consolidated into a single Holy trinity parish in the former St. Ann church. Some things of St. Joseph have been moved in there: electric organ, carillon, the Last Supper.

Former Lithuanian church of Binghamton looks the most modern of Upstate New York Lithuanian churches. Google Street View.

Another Lithuanian church stood at Utica (St. George; closed as recently as 2007 but there is nearly no information about it available online, likely it has been destroyed; if you know more please write a comment). The Lithuanian church building with a dome survives in Schenectady (Holy Cross church, 19 N. College Street) but the information on it is also scarce. Schenectady is a suburb of state capital Albany.

The domed Lithuanian church of Schenectady. Google Street View.

Albany itself had a Lithuanian church of St. George once (corner of Thornton and Livingston streets). Built in 1917, it has been closed in 1986. Today the building is used as a community center / soup kitchen dedicated to Sister Maureen Joyce. Blessed Mary statue from the original church as well as a plaque reminding of Lithuanian history remains.

Former St. George Lithuanian church in Albany, New York. Google Street View.

Source, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4

Literature: Bygone Binghamton – Remembering People and Places of the Past (Jack Edward Shay).

Click to learn more about Lithuania: New York, USA 2 Comments

Map of Lithuanian heritage in Mid-Atlantic

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in Mid-Atlantic (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC) and western Ontario.

More info on Lithuanian heritage in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, Ontario.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC No Comments