Renovation of Bohemian Hall in Manhattan gets underway

The historic Bohemian Hall in New York City became the property of the Czech state in December. The Hall, sometimes referred to as the "Czech National Building" was built at the end of the 19th century from the funds of Czech-American associations. Now, three months after the purchase, renovation work has got underway on the building which enjoys the status of a Landmark of the City of New York. Pavla Horakova has more.

The Czech state bought the building for the symbolic price of one dollar but another 8 million dollars will have to be spent on its renovation. The former owner, the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, could no longer afford the maintenance costs, and the building on East 73rd Street was empty and neglected for some time. The end of the renovation is scheduled for 2004 and I asked the Czech Consul General to New York Petr Gandalovic what the Czech Republic intends to do with the Bohemian Hall after that.

"After the reconstruction is finished in 2004, the Czech Republic intends to move the Consulate and the Czech Centre in the building. As you know, one entire floor is reserved for the Czech-American communities under the umbrella of the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, the organisation that has sold the building to the Czech Republic. So in return, they will enjoy the rent-free use of a floor and they can also use the ballroom together with the Czech Republic. There is a two-storey ballroom - a unique facility in this neighbourhood in New York and we are looking forward to using it together with the Czech-American communities."

In its heyday the Bohemian Hall used to be a true centre of Czech and Slovak life with 39 various organizations meeting there. There also used to be a restaurant and four bars in the building. After the renovation a Czech pub will be reopened there and I asked Petr Gandalovic whether he though Americans would be interested in Czech cuisine.

"This neighbourhood used to be called 'Little Bohemia' and there were plenty of Czech restaurants, some people say more than 20. So there is a tradition which we want to tie on. This is a place where people go out for dinner, so not only Czech but also Americans, I hope, will be interested in ethnic cuisine and given the number of American who have already visited Prague I guess the attendance will be quite big."

Several hundred people attended the ceremony marking the beginning of the renovation. Addressing the crowd, the Czech minister of culture, Pavel Dostal, said a piece of Czech culture in the United States was being saved.