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.

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.

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.

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.


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