If it Ain’t Dutch it Ain’t Much: Rochester’s Holland-American Club

 

merchants wood fired pizza

A familiar site in the Culver-Merchants neighborhood, the building now housing Merchants Wood-Fired Pizza and Bistro was originally the home of the Holland-American Club.

The organization initially formed in 1921 as a theatrical group seeking to stage plays in the Dutch language. The club held its first performance that November at the Turn-Halle on Clinton Avenue. The program included a three act play called Jan Ongeluk (John the Unlucky) and a klompendans (wooden shoe dance) performed by three young women.

A reporter from the D&C remarked that the dance “was striking. Eccentric and individual, it had a certain grace and rhythm which won instant appreciation.”

A membership drive following the show sought to enlist as many Hollanders into the organization as possible with the hope of one day building of a proper clubhouse where Dutch culture and social affairs could be celebrated.

Though the membership drive was swift and successful, construction on the club’s headquarters  was not as prompt.

For several years, the club ended up hosting its outings and Dutch-language performances at other area venues such as the Labor Lyceum on Clinton Avenue and the Ukrainian Civic Center Auditorium on Joseph Avenue.

Many of these shows and outings were fundraising ventures for the much desired clubhouse. Construction on the edifice finally began in 1947. When the stucco structure at 564 Merchants Road opened its doors four years later, Rochester ‘s Holland-American Club was the only chapter in the country to have its own permanent building.

Since new immigration had stalled during the 1930s and most of the city’s Dutch immigrants had been Americanized by the time the clubhouse opened, the group largely functioned as a social organization in its latter years.

hAC 1954

Club members, 1954

President William Wyngarde explained, “It’s a club for friendship and enjoyment. Its members come from every province of the Netherlands. Politics or religion are no part of the club in any way.”

The group’s affability extended to accepting fellow European emigres into their clubhouse.

In 1954, the venue hosted the Hungarian –American Club’s centenary celebration of Hungary’s independence. Two years later, when Rochester received a number of Hungarian refugees following the country’s revolution, the Holland-American Club once again welcomed their European brethren with open arms, hosting festivities and fundraisers for the exiles.

Tragedy struck the convivial clubhouse the following decade when a fire sparked by a cigarette butt engulfed the building’s interior and tore through the roof before firefighters managed to bring it under control.

In 1964, two years after the conflagration, the club expressed interest in converting their headquarters into a restaurant and cocktail lounge, but the plan did not come to fruition. The organization left the building in 1966 and entered a somewhat dormant period. A newly reformed Holland-American Club arose in the 1990s, during which the Dutch Market on Park Avenue played host to club meetings and events .

Meanwhile, the group’s former clubhouse on the corner of Merchants Road and Wyand Crescent  underwent a series of vastly different incarnations, housing Local 210 of the National Association of Letter Carriers for over two decades, then serving as the home of an Ahmadi Muslim mosque before being repurposed as an Italian restaurant in 2008.

-Emily Morry

 

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Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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