DAHA, the Dvořák American Heritage Association, was founded to rescue from demolition the 1850s row house on East 17th Street in Manhattan's Stuyvesant Square neighborhood where Antonín Dvořák and his family spent three notably productive and adventuresome years (1892-95). While living in the house Dvořák composed the "New World" Symphony, the "Biblical Songs," the most famous of the "Humoresque"s and the Cello Concerto, among other works, and met with students and important musical dignitaries. The rescue crisis was one of the most bitterly fought battles in the history of New York City's Landmarks Law. Through the extraordinary efforts of DAHA and the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, the Dvořák House was officially designated as a cultural landmark in early 1991; this was overturned later that year in an unprecedented move by the New York City Council, and the house was immediately demolished by its then owner, Beth Israel Hospital. Fortunately, several artifacts were removed and stored, and DAHA turned its efforts to finding other ways to perpetuate and commemorate Dvořák's American legacy.
In 1997, after six years of concerted efforts, DAHA oversaw the naming of an appropriate portion of East 17th Street as Dvořák Place, and the installation in Stuyvesant Square Park of a life-size bronze statue of Dvořák — within sight of where the Dvořák House stood. The unveiling of the Dvořák monument, designed by the distinguished sculptor Ivan Meštrović , generously donated by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and placed on a base designed by the Czech-born architect Jan Hird Pokorny, was a festive civic and musical occasion that reminded all those involved of their ties to the Czech-American musical tradition — whether through Dvořák's creative life in America or through the Czech heritage that many of DAHA's members share and to this day strive to honor and commemorate.
It became clear that DAHA had a permanent mission, to tell future generations the amazing story of Dvořák's American adventure: his witnessing the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the New World; his summer sojourn in a small Czech-speaking village in Spillville, Iowa; his triumphant appearances at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and at New York's Carnegie Hall; his musical achievements as well as his work with students, who in turn became the future teachers of the American musical giants Ellington, Copland, and Gershwin.
In the late 1990's DAHA began to focus its activities on the long-sought restoration of the Bohemian National Hall (Národní Budova, 1895/97) on Manhattan's East 73rd Street, for which Dvořák himself helped raise funds. Designated a New York City landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1994, and sold for the nominal fee of one dollar to the Czech Republic by the Bohemian Benevolent & Literary Association (BBLA) in 2001, the building was stabilized and restored in stages, with the official opening taking place in November 2008. Its facilities include a state-of-the-art recital hall on the third floor, a grand ballroom/auditorium/meeting space on the fourth floor, and a film screening room on the ground floor.
DAHA presents an annual concert and lecture series to highlight the music of Dvořák and the masterworks of his American students and followers as well as the broad scope of Czech musical culture of the past and present. The first event, in December 2006, featured the Orion String Quartet and the jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath. There have been annual musicales and orchestral performances; chamber groups and soloists; holiday concerts and musical tributes; as well as exhibitions and lectures on topics such as "Dvořák's 'New World' Symphony and the New York Philharmonic" and "The Contract That Brought Antonín Dvořák to America," featuring the original signed document acquired by DAHA for its growing archive. Walking tours of the Stuyvesant Square district where Dvořák lived from 1892 to 1895 have also been offered.
The artifacts from the Dvořák House — the mantelpiece from his living room and the marvelous commemorative plaque placed on the house in 1941 by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia — are now located in the Bohemian National Hall, the former installed in the Dvořák Room, and the latter placed in the reception area adjacent to the Dvořák Room. Part exhibition space, part study room and home to the Dvořák American Heritage Association, the Dvořák Room houses memorabilia and artifacts from Dvořák's years in America and especially New York City.
DAHA has dedicated itself to illuminating the story of Dvořák in America and invites all to participate in its exciting future.
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