Ceska Sin Sokol Hall

The Birthplace of Northeast Ohio College Gymnastics

In the early 1940s, before he was even old enough to cross the street, young Joe Bachna gazed at Ceska Sin Sokol Hall from his father's photography studio at 4203 Clark Avenue. The three and one-half story building located down and across the street at 4314 Clark Avenue, loomed large, both in the immediate neighborhood and in his imagination. Joe dreamed about the day when he too, like his older brothers Alfred, Rudy and Gilbert, could go to the Hall and become a Sokol member, a gymnast.

At the time that Joe Bachna was growing up in this west side neighborhood of Cleveland which was then heavily populated by Czech, Slovak and German-Americans, Ceska Sin Sokol Hall had been home to a number of west side Sokol organizations for nearly 40 years. The Sokols ("Falcons"), a physical education and cultural program founded in Prague in 1862 to promote national solidarity and pride, was part of the culture that Czech immigrants brought with them to America in the second half of the nineteenth century. The first Sokol in America was organized in St. Louis in 1865, and by the 1870s Sokols were being founded among the growing Czech population living in Cleveland.

In the 1890s, Cleveland's west side Czech Sokols--Nova Vlas ("New Country") and Ceska-Zbavny ("Czech Entertainment")-- began purchasing property and building gyms in the Clark-Fulton area. In 1903, they and a number of lodges, clubs and other men's and women's ethnic organizations pooled their resources for the purpose of acquiring a single large hall for all of their activities. Forming a patronat ("board of managers"), they purchased Hungaria Hall in 1907. The hall, which had been built in 1890 by wealthy Hungarian-American magnate Theodore Kundtz, was renamed Ceska Sin Sokol Hall.

During the the years that followed the purchase, thousands of west side neighborhood boys and girls undertook gymnastic training at Ceska Sin Sokol Hall. They also imbibed the Sokol creed of developing strong minds and sound morals to go along with their strong bodies. They practiced, put on exhibitions, engaged in competitions, and, on special occasions, participated in slets (literally "rallies," but actually festivals), where hundreds and sometimes even thousands of Sokol members performed elaborately choreographed gymnastic routines. The Bachna family became involved in these and other Hall activities starting in the 1920s. Joseph Bachna, Sr. and his wife Angela, immigrants from what became Czechoslovakia, were members of a number of clubs and other organizations at the Hall, and their boys at early ages became members of the Slovak Gymnastic Union Sokol.

While all of the Bachna boys developed life-long relationships with Sokol organizations and with Ceska-Sin Sokol Hall, the relationship that one of them developed was to have an enormous impact on the development of college gymnastics in northeast Ohio. Rudy Bachna, whose competitive career was derailed at age 9 when he suffered a crippling injury to his left hand, founded the gymnastic program at Kent State University in 1959. It was the first such college program in northeast Ohio and it quickly became successful, serving as a model for college gymnastic programs across the country. Rudy trained a number of Pan-American and Olympic gymnasts, including Betty Jean Maycock, who won a gold medal at the 1960 Pan-American games and participated in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. In 1980, in recognition of his contributions to college gymnastics, Rudy Bachna was inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame. In 1993, two years after his retirement, he and his wife Janet, also a gymnastics coach, were inducted into the Kent State University Hall of Fame.

Today, Sokol gymnasts still train at Ceska Sin Sokol Hall and are still competitive, much like the Bachna boys were more than a half-century earlier. And while their numbers are smaller, these Sokol-trained gymnasts have continued over the years to contribute to northeast Ohio, sometimes in fields other than gymnastics. In 1969, when 17-year-old Peter Sikora, a west side Sokol member of Ceska Sin Sokol Hall, suffered a trampoline accident at St. Ignatius High School that left him a quadriplegic for life, his days as a gymnast were over. But in the Sokol tradition of developing a sound mind as well as a sound body, Peter went on to college and then to law school. He became a lawyer and then a Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court judge in 1989, where he served for 23 years until his death in 2012. Like Rudy Bachna, Judge Sikora too found a way to contribute to his community despite his physical limitations, just as his early gymnastic training at Ceska Sin Sokol Hall would have taught him to do.

Images

Ceska Sin Sokol Hall

Ceska Sin Sokol Hall

Built in 1890 by wealthy Hungarian-American Theodore Kundtz, it was originally known as Hungaria Hall. Purchased by a group of Czech societies in 1907, the building was renamed Ceska Sin Sokol Hall, although for years thereafter many still called it "Hunkie" Hall. This photo taken in circa 1934 shows the the hall at a time when a restaurant operated out of the first floor store-front and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, which had just unionized the Joseph & Feiss Company on West 53rd, had an office on the second floor. Image courtesy of Gilbert Bachna View File Details Page

Hall and Grounds

Hall and Grounds

This 1903 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map depicts Hungaria Hall and Grounds as they existed prior to their sale in 1907 to the Patronat of Ceska Sin Sokol. The Dance Pavillion shown in the center of the property was later enclosed by the new Czech owners and converted into a gymnasium. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library, Digital Maps View File Details Page

A Celebratory Event

A Celebratory Event

The dedication of Ceska Sin Sokol Hall on May 6, 1907 was an important event to the west side Czech community and was attended by ethnic leaders as well as by Cleveland city officials. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collecctions View File Details Page

Nova Vlast Sokol

Nova Vlast Sokol

Three members of the Nova Vlast Sokol girl's team--Adeline Stedronsky (17), Elsie Bohdal (15) and Martha Chaloupka (14), pose at the August 7, 1927 Czechoslovakian Festival, held on the grounds of Ceska Sin Sokol Hall. The festival was sponsored by several Czech and Slovak American organizations to promote solidarity between the two ethnic groups. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

Prague Sokol Slet

Prague Sokol Slet

Beginning in 1882, on the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Czech Sokol Society, large festivals--called "slets," were periodically held at stadiums in the city of Prague. The above photo is of the 1932 Sokol Slet held in Strahov Stadium. There, crowds of up to 135,000 visitors watched 15,000 gymnasts perform complex and synchronized routines over the course of the 17-day festival. View File Details Page

Bachna Studio

Bachna Studio

A fixture at 4203 Clark Avenue for decades, Bachna Studio was owned by Joseph Bachna, Sr., a professionally trained photographer, who photographed many events at Ceska Sin Sokol Hall beginning in the decade of the 1920s. His four sons all became Sokol gymnasts and one, Rudy, in 1959 founded the renowned Kent State University college gymnastics program. Image courtesy of Gilbert Bachna View File Details Page

Parading for the Czech Legionnaires

Parading for the Czech Legionnaires

On July 25, 1938, these Sokol gymnasts marched in a parade on the grounds of Ceska Sin Sokol Hall on Clark Avenue in honor of the Czechoslovak Legionnaires. Formed during World War I, the Legionnaires were a military unit under the command of famed Slovak hero, General Milan Stefanik. The unit, which included Americans of Czech and Slovak ethnicity, fought effectively during the war and helped to persuade the Allies to actively support the creation of the first Czechoslovak Republic in 1918. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

Czechoslovak National Day

Czechoslovak National Day

Women of the west side Slovak and Czech community dressed in traditional folk costumes march in a parade down Clark Avenue past Ceska Sin Sokol Hall on September 4, 1940. The parade--held two years after Czechoslovakia had been dismembered by Adolph Hitler, was organized to show continued support for the Czechoslovak cause and to aid refugees who had fled the country. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University View File Details Page

Ceska Sin Sokol Grounds

Ceska Sin Sokol Grounds

An auxiliary committee of a Czechoslovak women's society poses for a picture on the grounds of Ceska Sin Sokol Hall in 1945. Prior to 1958, there were extensive wooded grounds--often referred to as the garden, immediately to the east of the Hall. In that year, the land was sold to People's Savings and Loan Association which built a building and parking lot there, effectively eliminating the garden grounds. Image courtesy of Gilbert Bachna View File Details Page

The Bachna Boys

The Bachna Boys

In this circa 1948 photo, members of the Slovak Gymnastic Union Sokol (today known as "Sokol USA") pose with their coach, Rudy Bachna, next to Ceska Sin Sokol Hall. Among the boys pictured are Rudy's brothers Gilbert (fourth young boy from the left) and Joseph (second from the right). All three brothers--the youngest now 75 years old, remain active in events at the Hall. Image courtesy of Gilbert Bachna. View File Details Page

Inspiring a Younger Generation

Inspiring a Younger Generation

In this photo which appeared in the February 15, 1960 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, gymnast Joseph Bachna, then a student at Kent State University, performs a routine on the pommel horse at the gymnasium at Ceska Sin Sokol Hall. After graduating from college, Bacha began a decades long career as a gym teacher in the Cleveland school system. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

A Gold Medal Coach

A Gold Medal Coach

Rudy Bachna founded the gymnastics program at Kent State University in 1959 and served as head coach until his retirement in 1991. Over the course of these 32 years, his teams compiled a record of 262-103-1. His program at Kent State became a model for college gymnastics across the United States. In the 1960s, Bachna coached two women to gold medals at the Pan American games. He is shown in the 1963 photograph above returning from the Pan American Games with one of those two gymnasts, Marie Walther. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Jim Dubelko, “Ceska Sin Sokol Hall,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 28, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/655.

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