October 6, 2013 04:10PM
By Kimberly Primicerio
MERIDEN — Members of the Polish Falcons Nest 68 feel bittersweet about their future. With a buyer interested in purchasing their Olive Street facility, the reality of losing a piece of history is setting in.
The Polish Falcons Nest 68 has been for sale for four years, but only during the last year did the club stop using the facility, meeting instead at a local business owned by a club member. Many potential buyers looked at the aging two-story building with a large banquet hall, but few were serious about buying. A church, La Iglesia De Dios, currently on Church Street, has shown interest in the building and this week received a parking variance from the from the Zoning Board of Appeals to operate a church in the Falcons building. Members are sad to lose the building, but are pleased it will become a church.
“It would be nice if we could keep it,” said Kathy Hansen, the first female president of the Polish Falcons. “It had its good times. Things just changed.”
Hansen, who was born into the Falcons and grew up not far from the club on Crown Street, said fraternal organizations and social clubs have trouble attracting members and as a result many are closing or selling their buildings and moving to smaller quarters. Polish Falcons Nest 68 will continue, holding monthly meetings and raising money for scholarships and other causes, she said.
The Polish Falcons established a branch in Meriden in 1906 and in 1912 bought property and built the building that stands on Olive Street not far from St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, said Bob Billings, the group’s vice-president. It served as a social and athletic club and did things like offer insurance policies to its members.
In 1937 the club formed a drum corps that continued until 1980, Billings said. Members played basketball and performed gymnastics in the hall. Track and field as well as football was also offered. Games were often played at Falcon Park, 30 acres of land off of Westfield Road, now known as Falcon Field. The land once belong to the Falcons.
“The idea was that when the guys came back from service, there was something here,” Billings said of the club and its offerings.
At Falcon Park, picnics and dances were held as well as the many sporting events. Billings said many city men who fought in World War II were Falcons.
At its peak the club had about 600 members, today it has about 200, but they’re not all active and many don’t live in the area any longer.
“This neighborhood was once 90 percent Polish,” Billings said standing outside of the nest Friday morning, pointing to the neighboring streets. “People just used to walk here.”
With people moving away and membership dwindling, Billings said things had to change
“There was a big Polish population in the area, it’s not what it was,” said Former Police Chief Robert E. Kosienski, a Falcon.
Plus with more people driving, parking became an issue, he said.
“It was an outstanding club,” said Kosienski, whose brother-in-law talked him into joining the club. Kosienski’s sister was a member of the women’s auxiliary, which eventually merged with the men’s group.
Billings and Kosienski recalled many of the New Year’s Eve dances, ceremonies, polka concerts and gatherings that were held in the hall.
“It’s just a sad turn of events,” Kosienski said.
If the church does buy the building, the club will then begin to think about what to do next. Hansen said they’ve been using Billings’ business to meet as well as Polish Falcons clubs in other towns.
Kosienski said whether or not the club buys a new building comes down to finances. Members are waiting until they know for certain if the church will buy the Olive Street building.
“We had some good times there,” Kosienski said. “It’s a great organization.”