When the first Polish immigrants began to arrive in Seattle in the year 1870, they naturally carried with them the desire to perpetuate the culture and customs they had left behind. During the gold rush in Alaska, Seattle was inundated with prospectors, among them Poles. As a sort of “last stop” before Alaska, Seattle became home to many would-be prospectors, many who later became active in the Polish community. Railroading, fishing, mining, and logging brought more Poles to Seattle, and by the 1890s several cultural groups had been established in the area.
The Eastern United States had experienced success with an organization called the Polish National Alliance, and in 1899 the first Lodge 489 was started on 62nd Street in Ballard. This office was called The Polish Hall, and much like today, was used to conduct meetings, celebrations, dances, and festivals. However, as Seattle grew, the Polish community decided a newer, larger, and more accessible hall was needed. In 1919 The Renton Hill Club was put up for sale at $12,000, and through the hard work and strong spirit of the Polish community, the Polish Home was opened in July of 1920.
Three waves of Polish immigration affected the growth and evolution of Seattle: the first, in the early 1900s; the second, a wave of post-war immigrants the 1940s and 50s; and the third, in the 1980s when the Solidarity immigrants arrived.
In the early years of the founding of the Polish Home, the first wave of immigrants saw Poland gain freedom, supported the victims of two world wars, became a contingent to the American Red Cross, and stood as a sponsor and a job prospect for new immigrants. The Polish Hall, however slight their provisions, made it policy to always provide work — as it’s manager.
The Hall itself survived many trials and tribulations. During the Depression, the Hall nearly closed due to debt; again, the strong spirit and diligence of the Polish community prevented closure by individual and group effort. In 1937 the home was damaged by fire, but was rebuilt by the community. Improvements were added such as a dance floor, and the formation of an Immigration Committee, which was partly responsible for bringing in the second wave of immigrants.
The second wave of immigrants brought with them new ideals and reasons for immigration. Many of the immigrants came hoping to escape political oppression, or because of their dissatisfaction with the political climate in Poland. The first generation embraced them wholeheartedly, eager for any scrap of news of their homeland. The community grew steadily. The full 1919 Constitution of the Polish Home Society was printed in 1954, and the property was expanded to include a much needed parking lot. Community interest waxed and waned, but in the end the community always provided the support and hard work that the Hall needed. The Ladies’ Auxiliary became a prevalent force in the activities and efforts of the Polish Home, as they remain to this day.
The third wave of immigrants came not only to escape conditions in Poland, but to combat them from the outside. The Solidarity Association was established in 1983 and dedicated to support the Solidarity movement. The Polish Home secured a liquor license and Friday nights became a meeting place for those who wanted a drink and a Polish dinner. In 1993, the Hall once again caught fire, this time due to arson. Luckily, the quick reactions of the people present and a fire truck in close proximity minimized the damage, and the damage was eventually repaired.
The Polish Home Association has celebrated 98 years of establishment. The Hall is a place for celebration, festivals, meals, meetings, and evolving into new generations. Today, as yesterday, it is a hub of activity and a place for people of Polish nationality and descent to come together and celebrate common ground.