Celebrating the revival of the Upper East Side's Bohemian National Hall
The restored Bohemian National Hall. (Photos: Czech Cultural Center)
Special to amNewYork
The Bohemian National Hall, an Upper East Side landmark and a center for Czech culture in the early 20th century, is celebrating the completion of a six-year renovation that has revived the building to its original splendor.
The Renaissance Revival building on East 73rd Street was also home to a milestone in Liza Minnellis career before falling into disrepair. Thursday at 7 p.m., the buildings new era was celebrated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Guests included Czech Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek, Czech Ambassador to the United States Petr Kolar, and members of the Czech Senate and Parliament. The evenings host was Tomas Hanak, a famous Czech movie star and voted the most handsome man in the Czech Republic.
The Bohemian National Hall will contain offices of the Consulate General and the Czech Center to maintain ties with the Czech Republic. There will also be a Czech restaurant and the Czech Center exhibition space.
The five-story Bohemian National Hall was constructed between 1895 to 1897 to the designs of architect William Frohne. The German architect is known for his construction of other ethnic halls, notably the German Shooting Club on St. Marks Place.
The building served as an epicenter of Czech and Slovak culture in New York City as Central and Eastern Europeans immigrated in high numbers. The Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Society (BBLA) owned the building and oversaw all of the social and cultural events that took place there. The Narodni budova (Czech for Bohemian National Hall) also became an epicenter of political activity, particularly for the establishment of a Czech state during World War I.
After World War II, the Czech community moved from the Upper East Side to Astoria, Queens, and the National Hall began to fall into decline. As the younger generations of Czech-Americans lost touch with their roots, events became less frequent. Attendance and funds dwindled as the halls popularity declined.
The BBLA rented out some of the rooms to theater companies in order to keep the building in use and to bring in rent. As a result, the hall was the venue for Minnellis debut, in the musical Best Foot Forward.
In 1986 the building was declared unfit for occupancy. The hall was declared a New York City Landmark in 1994 with help from Jan Hird Pokorny, a Czech member of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee.
In 2001, the BBLA sold the building to the Czech government for a ceremonial one dollar. The nation took over and funded renovations on the building under the condition that the BBLA can have the entire third floor free of rent for 396 years.