08 April 2012

The Russian People's Home of Greenpoint

I was passing through Clay Street, an obscure little side street in northern Greenpoint, near the BQE overpass, when I came by a simple brick building with a curious little off-center, hand-painted sign over the entrance. What, pray tell, is the Russian People's Home of Greenpoint? And why is it so small? And why is it in the middle of nowhere?

According to New York Shitty, this is an artifact of previous waves of Greenpoint immigration. We tend to think of the Brooklyn neighborhood as the home of many Catholic Poles. But, prior to that, there were many Polish and Russian Jews. The sign is a favorite of NYS's Miss Heather, who has mentioned it many times. She seems quite obsessed with it, actually. I get that. It happens to me.

I don't know when the Russian People's Home was established or if it is still in operation—there are no records of its operation anywhere—but I know that this address used to be a saloon in 1902 run by one Stephen Kerkens. He was arrested at that time for kicking a little girl who lived in the same building. A lot of people who lived and/or worked here at that time were arrested, including: Frank Ferkel, who was taken in for firing shots at a wedding, including one that struck a six-year-old boy; John D. Gaul, another saloonkeeper, who was in the country illegally; and the parents of eighteen-month-old Frank Salinsky, who fell from the third-story window in 1895 and died.


Heather said...

It's no longer in operation. Hasn't been for some time (since at least 1962 methinks). Unless things have changed the first floor is an artists' studio.

Still, it is a truly lovely remnant of a lost piece of Greenpoint's history. It makes me happy you saw fit to give it props!

Bill Schweikert said...

106 Clay Street

Wouldn't it be nice to have the street addresses or GPS coordinates of these neat places?

Marissa said...

It's highly unlikely that Russian and Polish Jews would call their meeting place "The Russian People's Home." They mostly identified as Jews not Russians. This might have been a gathering place for Russian immigrants (read Orthodox Christians) who had no problems living next to their Polish Catholic brothers and sisters. I'm thinking along the lines of the Ukrainian National Home on the LES.

Anonymous said...

It certainly wasn't small on the inside, I lived there in the mid 90's. It still had the refrigeration system in the basement, the stage had been converted into a master bedroom, but it still had the stage pullouts with VERY old and long wooden tables. Six skylights. The first floor extended to the block, behind it pretty much, from the skylights you could see the back of the building that is the front entrance.

We put in three bedrooms upfront.

I have some shots of the inside if ever interested.

George B said...

This club was in full operation at least until the early 70s. I used to belong to a Russian Folk Dancing Group called YULA that practiced there on Friday nights and performed there.

Anonymous said...

My parents wedding reception was held there in 1955. I took dance lessons from Freddy Klimovich there on Saturdays in the early 1970's. Most of the members were shareholders of a family camp called Arrow Park in upstate Monroe NY. Every Saturday was a dance at both places. Referred to as simply "Clay Street", it was a place where everyone stopped in to connect and share friendship and lots of love! Like an old movie. Religion wasn't specific, everyone did the right thing back then. I remember lots of food that everyone made there and lots of drink too. They sang and they danced, they laughed and cried, it was so nice. You would have loved it!