Filed Under Immigration

The First Catholic Slovak Union

If you are driving south on East 55th Street near its intersection with Broadway Avenue, you will notice on the left at 3289 East 55th Street a beautiful art-deco style grey limestone building that seems oddly out of place with the single family houses that surround it. The building, which has above its front entrance the single word "Jednota," was built during the Great Depression as headquarters for the First Catholic Slovak Union, one of the largest and oldest ethnic fraternal organizations in the United States.

Founded in Cleveland in 1890, the First Catholic Slovak Union ("FCSU") is often referred to as the "Jednota" which, in the Slovak language, means "Union." The original purpose of the organization was to provide insurance and other benefits to immigrant Slovaks and their families living and working in America, especially in and near Pennsylvania's dangerous mines and Cleveland's factories. In 1892, the organization also began publishing a newspaper in English and Slovak--similarly called "Jednota." It continues to be published to this day as a bi-weekly newspaper with a masthead motto: "Za Boha a Narod"--for God and Nation.

From its very beginning, the First Catholic Slovak Union has had strong ties to the Roman Catholic Church. Its founder, Father Stephen Furdek, was a Slovak immigrant priest and long-time pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Cleveland. Father Furdek founded the organization because of his concerns that the National Slovak Society ("NSS"), founded in Pittsburgh earlier that same year, was too secular in its approach to addressing issues and problems in the American Slovak community. More than a century later after he founded "Jednota," Father Furdek is still respectfully referred to in the Cleveland Slovak community as the father of their community.

Incorporated with the State of Ohio in 1892, the FCSU grew quickly and by 1928 had 58,000 members nationally, as well as an additional 38,000 members in its junior organization. By the early 1930s, membership in the national organization exceeded 100,000. Meetings of the organization were originally held and the organization's records and files were originally kept in the homes of its officers who lived in the lower Buckeye Road area of Cleveland. But as the organization grew as above noted, it soon became apparent that the organization required larger and more professional administrative offices. In 1919, a step was taken in that direction when the FCSU purchased a large house in Slavic Village at 3289 East 55th Street. The house both served as the residence of its president and provided the organization with the additional space it needed for its growing business.

In 1932, while the United States was in the depth of the Great Depression, the FCSU undertook a major renovation of the house at 3289 East 55th Street, converting it from a single family residence into the art-deco style office building, which is the centerpiece of this story. Cleveland architects Warner, Katonka and Miller designed the new structure to have "mankato hone-finished stone of golden tint" and increased the floor plan of the building to 51 feet by 57 feet. The interior of the new addition, which was labeled "modernistic" by the news media, featured marble floors of two alternating colors and walls, ceilings and cornices made of American walnut.

The art-deco style renovation and building expansion was completed in 1933 and the new headquarters was dedicated by Cleveland Bishop James A. McFadden in September of that same year. The building served as headquarters for the First Catholic Slovak Union for the next half century plus-- from 1933 until 1988. In that latter year, the FCSU sold the building and moved to a new headquarters building located in the Cleveland suburb of Independence, Ohio.

Images

An Art-Deco Style Headquarters for Jednota In 1932--one of the worst years of the Great Depression, the First Catholic Slovak Union undertook to modernize its administrative offices located in a house at 3289 East 55th Street in what is today the Slavic Village neighborhood. The Cleveland architectural firm of Warner, Kotanka and Miller designed this beautiful art-deco style addition which was constructed onto the front of the house in the years 1932-1933. Source: Slovak Institute
Simple Beginnings The First Catholic Slovak Union was founded in Cleveland in 1890. Its first offices were in the house of Jacob Gruss located at 98 Corwin Avenue (East 92nd Street) just across the street from St. Ladislas Roman Catholic Church. Jacob Gruss--considered by some to be Cleveland's first Slovak immigrant, is shown in this circa 1896 photo with his four children--John, twins Annie and Thomas, and Philip. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
A Glimpse into early Industrial and Ethnic Life This section of the 1892 Atlas of Cleveland provides a glimpse into early industrial and ethnic life in the Lower Buckeye Road neighborhood of Cleveland. Outlined in blue is the location of Slovak immigrant Jacob Gruss' home on Corwin Aven (now East 92nd Street). His house served as the first offices of the First Catholic Slovak Union. Across the street is St. Ladislas Roman Catholic Church--the first Slovak Catholic Church in Cleveland. A few streets west of the Gruss house and depicted as a collection of grey buildings is the site of the Eberhard Manufacturing Company, an iron processing facility, which employed thousands of Hungarian and Slovak immigrants in this neighborhood in the late nineteenth century. All of these buildings--the Eberhard Manufacturing Company, the Jacob Gruss house, and St. Ladislas Roman Catholic Church, have been, over the course of the last century, razed. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Digital Collection
The Founders of Jednota This group of Slovak immigrants founded the First Catholic Slovak Union, also known as "Jednota," in Cleveland in 1890. A number of them were from activists from industrial cities in Pennsylvania and Illinois, while five were from Cleveland. Among those shown in this photo from Cleveland are Father Stephen Furdek (sitting, second from right), who is considered the father of the American Slovak community, George Onda (sitting, last on right), who was the first president of Jednota, and Jacob Gruss (standing, last on the right), whose house served as the first offices of Jednota. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
Father Stephen Furdek (1855-1915) Born in what is today the Slovak Republic, Father Stephen Furdek came to Cleveland in 1888. Although he was Slovak, he was appointed to serve as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes church, a Bohemian parish, because, at the time, the Bohemian Roman Catholic population in Cleveland was much larger than the Slovak one. While he remained pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes until his death in 1915, Father Furdek became active in numerous Slovak events and organizations, including the founding of the First Catholic Slovak Union in 1890. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
George Onda, First FCSU President A Slovak immigrant, Juraj (George) Onda (1859-1912) came to Cleveland in 1888. A carpenter by trade, he settled on Corwin Avenue (now East 92nd Street), just down the street from the home of fellow immigrant and fellow founding member of Jednota, Jacob Gruss. In 1890, Onda was elected the first President of the First Catholic Slovak Union. He served as President from 1890-1893, and then again from 1901-1906. He later served the organization in other official capacities until his death in 1912. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
Moving to Slavic Village In the early years of its organization, the offices of the First Catholic Slovak Union were located in the homes of its officers who lived in Cleveland's Lower Buckeye Road area. Later, the organization rented office space for a time in downtown Cleveland. In 1919, the FCSU purchased this house located at 3289 East 55th Street just north of the intersection of East 55th Street and Broadway Avenue in what is today the Slavic Village neighborhood. The house served as the administrative offices of the FCSU, and for a time as the residence of the President of the organization, until it was replaced by a new modern office building in 1933. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
The Conference Room In 1933, the First Catholic Slovak Union renovated and constructed an art-deco addition onto the front of the house at 3289 East 55th Street, which had served as its office headquarters since 1919. The interior of the new addition, which was described in a Plain Dealer article as very "modernistic," featured marble floors and walls and ceilings of American walnut. In this photo of the conference room in the new addition, the grandeur of the design of the interior of the building can be seen. A portrait of founder Father Stephen Furdek overlooks the conference room table. Image courtesy of the Slovak Institute
Looking for a New Owner The Jednota Building at 3289 East 55th Street as it appears today. In 1988, the First Catholic Slovak Union sold the building and moved to a new headquarters in Independence, Ohio. The new owners of the building, All-Tronic Medical Systems, occupied the building from 1988 until recently. Image courtesy of Google Maps.
New Home of the First Catholic Slovak Union In 1988, the First Catholic Slovak Union moved from the Jednota Building at 3289 East 55th Street to this new building located at 6611 Rockside Road, in Independence Ohio. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Location

3289 E 55th St, Cleveland, OH 44127

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “The First Catholic Slovak Union,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 5, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/593.