Refurbished Bohemian National Hall in New York reopens after two decades

Bohemian National Hall, photo: CTK

After years of discussion, planning and extensive renovation work, New York’s Bohemian National Hall finally reopened on Thursday evening in a lavish gala event. The imposing five-storey building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side first opened in 1896, but closed in 1986, and was left unused for many years. Now it’s ready once again to serve as the centre of Czech cultural and social life in the Big Apple. Radio Prague’s director Miroslav Krupička was at the opening.

Bohemian National Hall,  photo: CTK
It was a fairly festive night really – the building was illuminated and there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony. There were a number of journalists from the Czech Republic, the ribbon was cut by the Czech deputy prime minister Jiří Čunek, there was a dance show and a musical performance by the Czech artist Iva Bittová. Of course all the guests were shown around the building and finally there was a big reception. So it was a fairly big event.”

The building looks pretty impressive in the photographs – can you describe it?

Ája Vrzáňová and Jiří Čunek,  photo: CTK
“Yes, it’s really very well restored. There are a number of facilities in the building. You may have seen the picture of the cinema which is on the ground floor. There’s also supposed to be a restaurant on the ground floor – that’s being restored at the moment but we’re told it will be ready soon. Then there are some very modern offices on the first floor, which house the Czech consulate and Czech Centre. Then there’s a large exhibition on the second floor, which is currently showing an exhibition about the victims of communism in Czechoslovakia. And then there’s the ballroom, which is the largest room in the building, and this is where many cultural events will take place.”

So the Bohemian National Hall is designed as a centre of Czech social and cultural life in one of the world’s most vibrant cities.

“Yes, exactly, and that’s what most guests mentioned in their speeches, that the Bohemian National Hall should become what it once was, what it used to be in the late 19th century and throughout most of the 20th century – to be a centre of Czechoslovak life, a meeting place for the Czech and Czechoslovak expatriate community, for various institutions. So all this combined together – a Czech place, a Czech centre, for New York and a part of America.”