DVOŘÁK AMERICAN HERITAGE ASSOCIATION
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF CELEBRATING COMPOSER ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK
AND HIS AMERICAN LEGACY
Highlights of History: 1990-2015
1990: Dvořák American Heritage Association (DAHA) founded in order to designate the Dvořák House at 327 East 17th Street a New York City cultural landmark. Dvořák lived and composed at the house during his American residency, from 1892-1895. Founding members include: Jack Taylor, Jan Hird Pokorny, Susan Lucak, Charles Salaquarda, Maurice Peress, Rex Wasserman.
1990-1991: Letter Writing Campaign. Letters in support of the Dvořák House designation were written by Czech President Václav Havel, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, conductors Rafael Kubelík and Kurt Masur, soprano Jarmila Novotná, baritone William Warfield, pianist Rudolf Firkušný, violinist and great-grandson of Dvořák – Josef Suk, theater producer Joseph Papp, Archbishop of Prague František Cardinal Pomášek, and many others.
July 10, 1990: Hearing of the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) chaired by Laurie Beckelman related to the Dvořák House. More than 40 persons testify in favor of landmark designation.
February 26, 1991: Dvořák House designated as a New York City cultural landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Laurie Beckelman, the Chair of the LPC, fought courageously for this designation.
1991: New law goes into effect requiring New York City Council to approve landmark designations of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Mayor of New York City has the veto power to overturn a decision by the New York City Council.
1991: Beth Israel Medical Center, the owner of the Dvořák House, hires a public relations firm, Rubenstein Strategic Communications and Media Relations, and a law firm, Rosenman & Collin, LLP, a firm well connected to the New York City Council.
March 7, 1991: The New York Times publishes an editorial, “Dvořák Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” against the landmark designation of the Dvořák House.
March 19, 1991: Brendan Gill, a cultural critic, responds to the New York Times editorial scathingly.
May 19, 1991: DAHA mounts a “Celebration to Save the Dvořák House” including a walking tour, rally at the Dvořák House, and a gala concert at St. George’s Church on Stuyvesant Square.
June 19, 1991: Numerous testimonials presented at the hearing of the New York City Council, including singing of Dvořák-inspired spiritual “Goin’ Home” by baritone William Warfield.
June 20, 1991: New York City Council reverses the landmark designation of the Dvořák House by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission with a vote of 20 to 16 against the designation. On June 21, 1991, the New York Times publishes an article “For the First Time Council Uses Power to Block Landmark.” Mayor David Dinkins has the power to overturn the City Council’s decision but, despite pleas from supporters of the Dvořák House for landmark designation, he does not exercise it.
August 1991: Dvořák House is demolished. The Memorial Plaque affixed to the façade of the Dvořák House in December 1941 by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of Dvořák’s birth, and a marble mantelpiece from Dvořák’s apartment, are salvaged by preservation architect Jan Hird Pokorny and donated to DAHA/BBLA.
November 1991: DAHA campaigns to co-name 17th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues “Dvořák Place.” Mayor Dinkins signs into law this change in street name.
February 7, 1992: 17th Street ceremony naming “Dvořák Place” takes place.
February 27, 1992: The New York Philharmonic donates the Dvořák Statue by Ivan Meštrovic to DAHA, an effort encouraged by the Czech soprano Jarmila Novotná and Carlos Moseley, former head of the New York Philharmonic.
1992 to 1997: DAHA campaigns and fundraises to install Dvořák Statue in Stuyvesant Square Park, near the site where the Dvořák House once stood. Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association is a supporter and a fiscal agent in the effort to raise funds for the restoration and the $50,000 endowment required by the New York City Parks and Recreation Department. Jan Hird Pokorny designs the granite pedestal for the Dvořák Statue.
Among the Dvořák Statue Fund Benefit Concerts are two at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church: February 27, 1994, featuring baritone William Warfield and the Guarneri String Quartet, and April 14, 1996, presenting Czech opera soprano Eva Urbanova and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.
September 13, 1997 at 3PM: Official Dvořák Statue Dedication takes place in Stuyvesant Square Park. The day was declared “Dvořák Day” by a proclamation of the City of New York. The gala event includes the official statue unveiling with many dignitaries including Donna Hanover, the wife of Mayor Giuliani; Miloš Forman, the film director; Antonín Dvořák, III, the grandson of Antonín Dvořák; and Josef Suk, the violinist and the great-grandson of Antonín Dvořák, among others. A free public concert follows at St. George’s Church on Stuyvesant Square, with overflow attendance.
2001: DAHA becomes an Associate and then a Full Member of the Bohemian Benevolent & Literary Association (BBLA). Jan Hird Pokorny, as President of BBLA, advocates for the establishment of the Dvořák Room in the Bohemian National Hall at 321 East 73rd Street in New York City. Bohemian National Hall was built in 1896-1897 (Architect: William C. Frone) to serve the Czech and Slovak community in New York City as a social, educational, and cultural center. The façade was restored and the building designated an architectural landmark in 1994.
2001 – 2008: The Czech Republic Government assumes ownership of the Bohemian National Hall and completes the restoration of the building in 2008.
2006: Dvořák Room in the Bohemian National Hall established. The marble mantelpiece salvaged from the Dvořák House is installed in the Room. DAHA is “resurrected” and begins monthly meetings in the Dvořák Room. Its goals are reiterated in the mission statement:
The Dvořák American Heritage Association (DAHA) commemorates, celebrates, and continues to explore composer Antonín Dvořák's extraordinary musical contributions, with a special emphasis on his influential residency in the United States in the years 1892-95. From its home in the beautifully restored Bohemian National Hall in New York City, DAHA offers concerts, lectures, and educational programs. At the heart of these activities is the Dvořák Room, a newly created exhibition and study space with adjacent performance venues, that will inspire present and future generations by preserving the composer's American legacy.
December 1, 2006: DAHA begins music and lecture programs with a “Musical Tribute to Antonín Dvořák” featuring jazz masters Jimmy Heath and Jeb Patton, and the Orion String Quartet.
2008: The Dvořák Commemorative Plaque salvaged from the façade of the Dvořák House is placed in the third floor foyer in the Bohemian National Hall, adjacent to the Dvořák Room.
October 2011: The Dvořák Room officially opens with the exhibition: “Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony and The New York Philharmonic,” highlighting Dvořák’s American masterwork and its world premiere by the New York Philharmonic in 1893.
2013: DAHA purchases and exhibits the contract signed by Dvořák in 1892 that brought him to America to be the Director of the National Conservatory of Music of America. The contract was obtained from one of the descendants of Jeanette Thurber, founder and President of the Conservatory.
December 2014: DAHA is awarded the Silver Jan Masaryk Honorary Medal by the Czech Republic Government for its contributions to the exhibition of the original manuscript of the ‘New World’ Symphony that was brought from Prague to New York City for the first time in 119 years. DAHA collaborated on this project with the Czech Center and the Consulate General of the Czech Republic in New York, among others.
Based on archival material contributed by Jack Taylor and written by Susan Lucak and Majda Kallab Whitaker, April 2015.