The end of the nineteenth century witnessed large-scale immigration of Poles to the United States. They came to America for economic and political reasons. Between 1795 and 1918, Poland disappeared from the map of Europe as the result of three consecutive partitions by Russia, Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many Poles were forced to leave their country and look for freedom and opportunities in other parts of the world, especially in the “New World” of the United States.
The first Polish immigrants arrived in Washington State in the 1870s, mostly settling in the mining and logging communities at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, as well as in the fast-developing port towns. Due to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 and the construction of the transcontinental railroad, Seattle started experiencing an economic boom. Along with San Francisco, Seattle became the transportation and supply hub for stampeders heading to Alaska. As the prospects of striking it rich brought thousands of people to Seattle to buy goods and arrange for passage to the North, Poles joined in. However, many decided to stay in Seattle which was rapidly developing and offering all kinds of jobs and business opportunities.
For over a century, Polish immigrants have been contributing to the local fabric of the society. Arriving in several waves, the community evolved over the years. Following the first wave of immigrants at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the next wave, consisting of post-World War II immigrants, arrived in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Solidarity movement brought the third wave of immigration in the 1980s. The current wave of Poles arriving in Seattle is related to the growing tech industry, attracting new generation of educated, professional talent.
Polish organizations in eastern parts of the United States started emerging in the 19th century and soon they moved westward. Polish National Alliance (PNA) Lodge, Polish & Lithuanian Society Lodge No. 489, was established on September 17, 1899, in then an independent city of Ballard. In 1904, the society purchased a lot at an address of what is now 2025 NW 62nd Street in Seattle. Two years later, the first “Polish Home” was ready to open its doors. It was not a big house, but it gave the society a place for meetings and small gatherings in Ballard.
When Ballard was annexed to Seattle in 1907, the Polish community became part of a larger municipal body and came into closer contact with other local countrymen. Groups merged and started envisioning a gathering place for the rapidly growing Polish community. This led to the establishment of Towarzystwo Domu Polskiego (Polish Home Association) which was incorporated on November 7, 1918 in the State of Washington. Soon, the Polish Home Association(PHA) organized a campaign to promote the idea of purchasing a place that could become a “Polish Home” for the growing community. In 1919, an opportunity presented itself when the former Renton Hill Improvement Clubhouse became available for purchase, for a seemingly unreachable sum of $12,000. An intense fundraising campaign started and, only six months later, on June 30, 1920, the purchase was finalized. To celebrate the achievement, the community held a week-long grand opening of the Polish Home, “Dom Polski,” at 1714 18th Ave, where it still stands today.
During its hundred-year history, the PHA and the Polish Home experienced many ups and downs. Despite going though challenges throughout different periods of time, in the end, the building has been kept in a good shape and the Association has been fulfilling its mission toward fellow countrymen and its community.
Each influx of immigrants has injected new talents and energy. Over the years, the Polish Home became host to many organizations and clubs, as well as a place for meetings, festivals, bazaars, celebrations, anniversaries, holidays, dances, and casual gatherings.
We are proud to have the following organizations associated with the Polish Home (Polish Community Center in Seattle):
Polish Women’s Club (Koło Pań) was founded in 1962. Ever since, it has been organizing annual Spring and Fall bazars, and generously supporting the Polish Home and our community.
Seattle Polish Foundation (SPF) was created in 2000, and from its inception has been playing an important role in our community as a fundraising arm. The foundation’s fundraising campaign was essential in the 2008-09 renovation and expansion of the Polish Home. The foundation partners with other organizations when staging or sponsoring events promoting Polish culture and language to the general public in our area. Produced by SPF, Polish Festival Seattle has been part of Seattle Center’s Festal lineup since 2012.
Juliusz Słowacki Polish School in Seattle, funded by Jan Cieslar, has been offering Polish language to children and adults since 1951. The Library, which expanded over the years, was created soon after. With the Polish population growing on the east side of Lake Washington, in 2005, Anna Cholewinska and Aneta Lasek-Czerwinska opened Jan Twardowski Polish School in Bellevue.
In 1986, Scoutmaster Martha Golubiec organized the first scout group, Hufiec Kaszuby, in Seattle. Soon, the third generation of scouts will be taking over leadership!
Barbara Strutynska formed Young Polanie (Młodzi Polanie) dance ensemble in 1962. In 1992, Young Polanie – Ladybug Theater gave its first performance. Barbara also established Kabaret To i Owo (Cabaret This and That).
In 2004, Barbara Niesiulowski formed Vivat Musica! Choir which is bringing Polish songs and joy to numerous ceremonies and gatherings in the area and beyond.
In addition, the Polish Book Club, Dance Club, Film Club, and Poetry Salon meet at the Polish Home on regular basis.
Poland’s impact on our community extends beyond the Polish Home-based organizations. The Seattle-Gdynia Sister City Association has been organizing the Seattle Polish Film Festival since 1992. Since 2005, the UW Polish Studies Endowment Committee has been raising funds for an Endowed Chair along with sponsoring the Distinguished Speakers Series, bringing Fulbright Scholars to the University of Washington, and providing scholarships for students.
Radio Wisła, a community-oriented Internet radio founded in 2004 by Lena Wrozynski, Leszek Chudzinski, and Andrzej Turski, reports on local Polish events and other projects.
Polish American Chamber of Commerce PNW, for the past 10 years, has been facilitating connections between Polish and American businesses, promoting economic development, hosting trade delegations and seminars, and creating business opportunities for its members.
With the increasing visibility of Seattle’s Polish community and growing needs for citizenship services for Poles in Washington State, a Consulate of the Republic of Poland was inaugurated in 2014 and Teresa Indelak Davis was sworn-in as Honorary Consul. The Consulate is facilitating promotion of culture, science, business, tourism, and providing consular services for Polish citizens residing or visiting Washington State, such as legalization of documents for use in Poland, emergency assistance for Polish travelers or coordination of consular passport outreach in Seattle.
As we reflect on the 100 years of our history, we could not be more grateful to our founding fathers who, with their vision, determination and sacrifices, established the Polish Home Association and purchased the club’s building that has been the cornerstone of Polish life in Seattle from the day it opened its doors. After a recent modernization of the facility, and continuous maintenance, the Polish Home, now known as the Polish Cultural Center, continues to serve as a place for gatherings for Poles and the community.