The Polish Club – In San Francisco’s Historic Mission District

 

The Polish Club of San Francisco is located in a district rich with cultural diversity and historic significance.  It is located in the Mission District of San Francisco -- originally the home of the Ohlone Indians.

 

During the mid-19th Century came the great European and Asian immigrations.  The mid-19th Century was marred by political turmoil and great famines.  Poland was among the countries that suffered great political upheaval.  The ancient state of Poland was conquered and divided by three imperial powers—the Russian, Prussian, and Austro-Hungarian empires.  The national identity of Poles came under harsh attack by these hostile imperial regimes, but Poles were unified by their belief in their right to independence and freedom of worship and in their distinct identity as a people.  Oppression and the difficulty of maintaining Polish identity under hostile regimes led many Poles to seek freedom and refuge outside their homeland.  Many settled in the United States.

 

At the turn of the 20th Century, Polish immigration exploded.  With imperial repression, land shortages, religious repression and chronic unemployment making life more and more unbearable for the Poles of Europe, they left for America by the thousands and hundreds of thousands.  By the mid to late 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, the majority of Polish immigrants settled in the eastern and mid-western states of the U.S. but many also ventured further west in search of opportunity.

 

After the great 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco, many of the City's displaced businesses and residents moved to the Mission District, making Mission Street a major ethnic commercial thoroughfare -- a characteristic it retains to this day.  Much of the Mission District was saved from the 1906 conflagration by a fire hydrant known today as “the little giant” – water from which is credited with stopping the 1906 fire from thoroughly destroying the Mission district.  One building saved from the conflagration was the local Baptist church located at 22nd and Shotwell Streets that later became the Polish Club.

 

The Polish Club building continues to have great significance for Polish-Americans today.  The original Polish settlements in Northern California did not have a place to meet, so society meetings took place in private homes or in spaces rented from other organizations.  The oldest San Francisco Polish society, founded in 1863 by Rudolf Korwin Piotrowski and Kazimierz Bielawski, known as the Polish Society of California, rented office space at 273 Golden Gate Avenue in a building that no longer exists.  The Polish St. Stanislaus Benevolent Society, founded in 1889 in San Francisco, held its meetings at St. Boniface Catholic Church, established as a place of worship by the local German community.  The Polish Community in San Francisco, seeing the great necessity to establish a meeting place of their own for social events and for the preservation of their culture and language, began to look for a permanent meeting place.  The result of their collective efforts is today’s Polish Club at 3040 22nd St. in San Francisco’s Mission District.

  --Halina Grochowska-Jimenez

More about the Polish Club Polish Club Anniversary Booklet 2006 Historic Newspaper Articles & Photos