The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Home Lands

October 31, 2010

Polski Dom 'was a gathering place for the people'

Many Polish immigrants who settled in the Cambria City section of Johnstown socialized at St. Casimir’s Polski Dom.

The 116-year-old clubhouse, which is located at 306 Power St., was established by St. Casimir’s Society on March 31, 1894, and had 22 charter members.

“The club was established as a social hall and you had to be Catholic, Polish and speak Polish to be a member,” said Charles Alt Sr., the current club president and 20-year member.

“It was a gathering place for the people,” Alt said.

“It was a close-knit family.”

The founding members of the club had Walter Myton, a local architect, design the building in 1915.

It was built close to St. Casimir’s Roman Catholic Church to be convenient, but far enough away to avoid scrutiny from the parish priest or disapproving parishioners.

Myton planned the first floor to be used for society rooms and for club purposes, while the second floor served as a ballroom.

The ballroom had elaborate painted murals that adorned the walls and ceiling.

“They also would hold Mass upstairs because there is an altar and a stage,” Alt said.

“Many of these organizations would hold meetings and have worship in the same place.”

At one time, there were showers in the basement, Alt said, and coal miners who worked in Rosedale and Bethlehem mines would come to the club after their shifts and be covered in dirt and soot.

“They would take a shower and come drink beer or wine or just take a shot,” he said.

Funerals for deceased members were held in the club until the 1960s.

In 1972, Polski Dom was renovated and the original bar was replaced.

Smaller renovation projects followed giving the club a more modern look.

“We don’t use the ballroom anymore, but we’ve added a pool table and TV in the basement,” Alt said.

As times changed, club rules became less stringent. It is now open to anyone, but the organization maintains its core values of commandery and fellowship.

“All ethnic backgrounds are welcomed, but we have remained family-oriented and we know people by name and we are ready to pitch in if someone needs help,” Alt said.

“A majority of our members have been here for years.”

Today, the club has 525 social and active members.

Dances are held once or twice a month, as well as a Christmas party for children. Members hold fundraisers throughout the year.

There also are officers and a board of directors.

“We hold monthly meetings and continue to do everything we can to benefit the club,” Alt said.

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