The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Historic GR building faces potential closure

GVL/ Sydney Lim

The story of immigrants defines America, yet a vital piece of Polish history is now on the verge of closure. 

The one of the oldest Polish Halls in America, Jackson Street Hall in Grand Rapids, Mich. is in dire need of renovations and restoration, facing major financial requirements that threaten the center’s operation.

Jackson Street Hall was built in 1888 as the Polish National Aid Society’s new home. The purpose was to assist incoming Polish immigrants with adjusting to their new lives in Grand Rapids. Additionally, the club was instrumental in constructing churches near the area and helping the community to prosper and grow. 

“The reason that the majority of these Halls went into place (was) when Polish immigrants came into this country,” said Michelle Kershner, the chairperson of the Pulaski Days Festival. “(Jackson Hall was) a place to go to be Polish, be with your friends and gather.” 

The Polish National Aid Society’s Polish clubs today don’t limit membership to Polish individuals, they are open to community members to join. 

“You do not have to be Polish to join. If you want to be part of an outstanding group that has and supports Polish roots, it’s time they open the doors,” Kershner said.

Polish cultural centers and halls were struck particularly hard by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kershner said the impacts of COVID-19 and the city’s construction on their street created a difficult combination of conditions that put Jackson Street Hall in a difficult position financially despite fundraising efforts.

“We did a lot of campaigns and pledging to save our Halls,” Kershner said. “Then on top of COVID, they had construction on that road for the past six months, the road was entirely shut down.”

Construction has been rampant in Grand Rapids, with the city spending around $28 million in street and sidewalk repairs in the past year. With the 2014 Vital Streets mileage passed almost 10 years ago, GR has completed construction on over 500 miles of street.

Jackson Street was no exception, yet the impact of this construction has reverberated in not just the street’s community, but the Polish community as a whole. 

“It’s just an accumulation,” Kershner said. “So when you don’t have money, how can you pay for the building? There’s just a lot of getting by.”  

Even with the struggle to preserve Jackson Street Hall, Polish culture continues to be celebrated in Grand Rapids. Pulaski Days is a celebration and festival where the Polish and non-Polish people come together to celebrate Poland’s traditions and customs. Taking place Oct. 6 through 8, the event aims to connect with the community and form friendships. 

Kershner frequently sits outside during Pulaski Days and welcomes people, watches eating contests and partakes in other festivities. 

The Pulaski Days Festival brings support for Jackson Street Hall and other Polish traditions. 

Participation and engagement with Jackson Hall and the Polish National Aid Society can help to keep the historical facility open to the public. Jackson Street Hall has many activities like pool and has special rates for students. Additionally, the public can attend the 2023 Pulaski Days to play games, enjoy the festival and participate in competitions.  

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