This is my research project for University of Baltimore History of Baltimore Class

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lithuanian Hall and Baltimore Lithuanians: There is Much More to Say Than This

My name is Sandra Avizienyte and I am a native born Lithuanian. I moved to Baltimore at the end of 2002 and I live here since. I have been going to the Lithuanian Hall on Hollins Street for the past seven years to drink some Lithuanian beer, to meet other Lithuanians that I usually do not meet regularly, and to attend various concerts and other events that are being held there.
Lithuanian Hall has been a home for the Baltimore Lithuanian Athletic Club for many years, and this is how I started going there. They used to (they still do) organize basketball tournaments twice a year, in a spring and in the fall, and have after game dinner and award ceremony at the hall. My friend Katrina Vitenas is a president of the Lithuanian Athletic Club in Baltimore and she is also an editor of the Baltimore Lithuanian Athletic Club monthly Newsletter that I write to. Actually, I have the whole last page called Sandros Kampas (Sandra’s Corner) where I share my poetry with the rest of the Lithuanian community, both in Lithuanian and in English.
For the past couple of years Lithuanian Hall for me was just another place where you could go out to, and see shows if there were any. However, when I started teaching History at Kristijonas Donelaitis Lithuanian Saturday School in Bethesda, I realized that Lithuanian Hall originally had another purpose and it obtained a different meaning. According to Emily Emerson Lantz, the Hall was built as an educational, social and political center for Lithuanians in Baltimore.[1] It is sad that everyone because of the suburbanization and because of various neighborhoods’ downfall Lithuanians moved to the suburbs and do not want to come back to the city. There is such a great space we could use to run our school but instead everyone drives down to Washington, DC and uses St. Elizabeth Catholic School’s building. Many might argue that it is more convenient location for both Maryland and Virginia’s residents, but this is not the point I am trying to make.
The point is that people gave up. Everyone is so focused on themselves and making money, on buying better cars or larger houses more than on what is the most essential - a community, a sense of belonging. But who am I to judge? I did not do anything myself. I met and talked with some older generation people, shared their experiences, but, again, went back to my busy life the same way everyone else did. However, I want to take some time and share some things I found out while I did my research.

“Don’t bother searching out Jones Town, Ridgley’s Delight or Little Lithuanian unless your map is museum property,” Jacques Kelly, a News American reporter, wrote in 1974.[2] Cartographers erased the first two locations in the early 1800’s and Little Lithuania never made it. Even though Lithuanian Hall in Baltimore is located on the West side of the city, at 581 Hollins Street, original Lithuanians settlement was established on the east side of the city. Baltimore’s first Lithuanians “settled in what is now called Jones town in about 1800.”[3] Here they organized societies and a church. As the population grew, it moved westward, setting for a short period of time on lower Park Avenue. In 1917 they adopted St. Alphonsus Church on Park Avenue and Saratoga Street corner, and it has been the Lithuanian Church in Baltimore since.
In 1920’s they had moved even more west and arrived at 800 block of Hollins Street and Lombard Street. They established Lithuanian Hall there, even though many families and their children moved to the suburbs, and many members of the older generations still live in Catonsville, Helethrope and parts of Howard and even Montgomery counties.[4] According to the 1978 Maryland Our Maryland, an Ethnic directory data, there were about 2000 Lithuanians living in the metropolitan Baltimore area.[5] However, I was not able to find the current number of people that reside in Baltimore or Maryland.

Dr. William F. Laukaitis in Baltimore Municipal Journal: Baltimore 200th Anniversary, 1729-1929 noted that after the populations of Lithuanians increased after 1900’s Lithuanian hall was build “by the joint contributions of the various beneficial and fraternal orders and the people as the whole, represented an outlay of some three hundred thousand dollars.”[6] The new Lithuanian hall Association was incorporated in 1914, and was opened for services in 1921.[7] Doric in design, it was designed by the architect Stanislaus Russell. On the stone pediment above the front of the building is carved the coat-of-arms of Lithuania.[8] The building is constructed from the Indiana limestone and tapestry bricks. Its dimensions are 66 by 150 feet, fronting upon Hollins Street and extending along Parkin Street to Boyd Street.[9] It is three store building with two store attachment in the back. There is a hall with a stage in the second floor with a seating capacity up to 1500.
There is a pool table room, full bar, kitchen, a conference room and a dance floor in the basement. It also houses the Lithuanian Library, which had its beginnings in 1891, the Lithuanian Museum, which collects the arts and crafts of the Lithuanian culture, the Lithuanian Athletic Club, which participates in the North American Lithuanian games and local competitions, and the Lithuanian Post 154 of the American Legion. The Hall was used by choir Daina for their practices and rehearsals, and it is still used by the traditional Lithuanian dance group Malunas for dance practices.[10]
It also hosts concerts, performances and plays of various local and visiting artists. It is also very important to mention that Lithuanian Melody Time radio program originated here. It has been running for the past 60 years without interruption. I had an honor to meet Kestutis Laskauskas, an original director and announcer, and spend a full afternoon with him sharing his personal life stories and experiences. It was so amazing to hear him in person after I heard him on radio for many times.
There is also another person, Alfonsas Nyka-Nyliunas, born in 1919 that still lives in Catonsville and is Mr. Laskauskas neighbor. Nyka- Nyliunas is one of the most influential writers in Lithuania’s poetry, and one of my favorite authors to read. I hope and pray that I will have an opportunity to meet him too before it is too late.

[1] Emily Emerson Lantz. “Lithuanian Hall Is Fine New Club House On Site Of Old Winans Home: he Lithuanian Hall Association Has Completed A Commodious And Attractive Building That Is Designed To Be A Center Of Lithuanian Social, Educational And Political Activities In Baltimore.” The Sun (1837-1985), September 11, 1921, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed December 4 2009).
[2] Jacques Kelly. “Little Lithuanian, Jones Town and Ridgley’s Delight back on the map.” The News American, July 22, 1974. Enoch Pratt Library: Maryland Room Archives, accessed November 18, 2009.
[3] Ibid, p.1.
[4] Ruth Kent, Carolyn Dunn and Barbara Spencer, Lithuanians. Baltimore City Public Schools Ethnic Heritage Studies Program, 1979, Enoch Pratt Library: Maryland Room Archives, accessed November 18, 2009, p.4
[5] Ibid
[6] William F. Laukaitis “The Lithuanians in Baltimore,” Baltimore Municipal Journal: Baltimore 200th Anniversary, 1729-1929, p. 265-267, ed. Robert Irvin, September 5, 1929. Enoch Pratt Library, accessed November 18, 2009.
[7] Cezaris Surdokas, Lithuania and Lithuanians in Baltimore, 1981 Pamphlet, Enoch Pratt Library: Maryland Room Archives, accessed November 18, 2009.
[8] Lantz, p.1
[9] Ibid
[10] Surdokas, p.3


  1. Hello Sandra,

    I was delighted to come upon your account of Baltimore Lithuanians and Lithuanian Hall.

    Actually, it was quite serendipitous - I was watching a Viennese operetta video which featured the wonderful singer Rudolf Schock. I've long had a great interest in Viennese operetta - Indeed, as a broadcaster on WETA-FM for 14 years, I regularly featured such music. Each time I've seen Rudolf Schock, I've always noted a resemblance to someone I worked with in radio long before my WETA years, Kestutis Laskauskas.

    Memory can, of course, fog the visuals, but I thought I'd try to check my visual memory by Googling his name. While I could not find a recognizable photo, I did fortunately land on your blog, as you mentioned having met and talked to him.

    As a rookie broadcaster, just out of high school, my first radio job was on Sunday mornings at WWIN in Baltimore. The schedule was a mix of public affairs, religious programs...and the fun part - being English language announcer for three ethnic programs: "The Hellenic Hour," Nat Youngelson's "Yiddish Radio Hour," and..."Lithuanian Melody Time," hosted by Albert J. Juskus and Kestutis Laskauskas. I remember Kestutis as a very warm and decent mittel-Europa gentleman.
    I am now with the Voice of America's Special English service and would love to hear your memories of Mr. Laskauskas. If I recall correctly, he escaped Lithuania during the communist take-over, but, sadly, I remember little else. The Lithuanian program was always hectic with lots of music on tapes recorded at the Lithuanian Hall, and it was followed immediately by another live show, so little time to talk to hosts!
    If you'd care to share your memories of this gentleman and his story, I'd be delighted to hear from you.
    You may reach me at emberphoto@hotmail.com
    Kind regards,
    Steve Ember

    1. Hello- you are right about Kestutis Laskauskas in all your memories. I was fortunate to meet with him and read a book about his family, looked at his pictures. We went out for lunch, and I have some recordings of his memories.
      He is well, and lived in Baltimore, MD as of two years ago. The most memorable thing he did after lunch was that he took me to the cemetary and showed his wifes grave and said that if we will never meet again, since I was planning to move after graduation, I will know where to come and find him.

  2. Hello / Laba diena,

    Thank you for the information provided. I am documenting Lithuanian heritage abroad (halls, churches, museums, cemetaries, famous burials, etc.) on my website http://global.truelithuania.com . Your information on the Baltimore Hall was very useful in crating a page on Baltimore Lithuanian heritage.