South St. Paul staple — The Cro — turns 100


The Croatian Hall, 445 Second Ave. S. in South St. Paul, will celebrate its 100th anniversary Aug. 23-25 with a three-day music and food festival. (Hannah Burlingame photo/Review)

Memorabilia and antiques, like the flag made when the hall first opened, traditional outfits worn for special events and other personal items like immigrants’ bank statements and wills, will be on display to celebrate the centennial of Hrvatski Dom, or Croatian Hall, which opened in 1919. (Hannah Burlingame photo/Review)

(Hannah Burlingame photo/Review)

(Hannah Burlingame photo/Review)

(Hannah Burlingame photo/Review)

Hannah Burlingame
Review staff

Birthdays and anniversaries are always special occasions, but when that special occasion is to celebrate turning 100, only a big party will do. 

That’s exactly what the people behind the Hrvatski Dom, or Croatian Hall, have in mind. The hall’s centennial celebration is Aug. 23-25. 

 

A gathering place
The Cro, as it’s often referred to, was built in 1919 as a gathering place for immigrants who came from Croatia to South St. Paul.

“It was a place to come gather, share their languages, food, traditions,” says Tony Biljan, president of the hall’s board of directors.

The space also served as a place for the immigrants to get a head start. Biljan says The Cro might have given them a stipend to help find housing or something else along those lines.

Eunice Dasovich, board secretary, says people from the Old Country used to work in the plants or up north in the mines.

“They knew they’d have work when they got here, and then later send for their families after,” Dasovich says, adding that many of them lived on First, Second and Third avenues in South St. Paul because they could walk to work. 

The Croatian Hall was the center of those immigrants’ social lives, she says.

The Cro wasn’t alone — there was the Serbian Hall a block over and the Polish Hall not far away. Biljan remembers his dad saying that when he was a kid they would bounce between halls on Saturdays for weddings.

“That’s just what you did,” he says.

 

Changing with the times
Biljan says the hall has been active since its inception, home to a number of lodges. When Lodge 316 existed — it was an organization similar to the Eagles — everyone spoke Croatian. Much later, Lodge 742 was formed and everyone spoke English. 

Such lodges were formed across the country to help spread the cultures of folks’ native countries and to promote fraternalism among members.

The space also housed weddings and funerals — something it still does to this day, along with baby showers and baptisms. “We seem to be having more and more funerals,” notes Biljan.

Over the years, Biljan says some of the ethnic character of the hall has been lost because of the number of people who have passed. 

“There’s not a lot of young people picking it up, which is what our goal is now, to try to get the youth more involved and get to know their heritage,” says Biljan, who points out he was “yea high” when he started coming to the hall. “I basically lived here with my folks.”

Biljan says The Cro is welcoming to the community at large. There’s a bar in the basement, which Dasovich says is packed the night before Thanksgiving with kids home from college.

“Usually,” she says, “if you live in South St. Paul, you know where The Cro is.”

 

Celebrating the legacy
Dasovich says the upcoming anniversary is about honoring history.

“The future will go along ... but it’s the past we’re really celebrating,” Dasovich says. “I think [the founders] would be very pleased to find out its still standing in this good condition 100 years later and is as successful as it is.”

Biljan says there were times in the hall’s 100 years where business was not so good. In the 1970s it was shut down for remodeling.

“They said, ‘We’re going to give this one more shot here to get this thing going,’” he says. “Well, it just took off.”

A three-day celebration is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 23, through Sunday, Aug. 25. Biljan describes the celebration as a three-day music and food fest. There will be a country band on Friday night with five tamburitza, the native music of Croatia, bands coming on Saturday and Sunday. There will be traditional Croatian food, including sarma, barbecued lamb and chevapi. An ethnic dance theater will be performing as well.

More information about the anniversary celebration, including a full schedule, can be found at www.croatianhall.org. The hall is located at 445 Second Ave. S. 

 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingam@lillienews.com.

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