Polish Museum of America and Polish Roman Catholic Union debut sparkly new entrance and gift shop


Unlike many ethnic museums which have closed their doors, the Polish Museum of America (PMA) is opening theirs even wider at 984 N. Milwaukee Ave. (Augusta Blvd and Milwaukee Ave.).


In honor of the new entrance that welcomes all to the Museum and the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA) more than 100 attended an afternoon of celebration on Jan. 26. 

The highlights of the latest changes are the new entrance doors, each crest emblazoned on a door; a new museum shop, which has one window wall near the doors; a welcoming reception area which includes a desk, seating and newly framed space in front of the elevator entrance; and a meeting room. This latest renovation increases the amount of museum space to include parts of four floors. 


New Gift Shop is in the process of setting up

Renovations began in 2009 with a makeover of the second floor Paderewski Room that were so well done and innovative that other museum professionals came to observe and admire. 


The Stephen and Elizabeth Ann Kusmierczak Art Gallery is home to primarily pre-WWII works of art

The Stephen and Elizabeth Ann Kusmierczak Art Gallery on the fourth floor was renovated in 2011 as a result of major funding from Stephen Kusmierczak. The gallery was named in honor of his parents. His father had died before the gallery opening but his mother, who lives in St. Louis, MO, was able to attend. "My mother was shocked and speechless when she saw the Gallery during its opening. I wish my dad could have been there too," said Kusmierczak. 


Father Robert Bedzinski is giving a blessing in the new reception area*

"I'm interested in raising the standards of the museum." This latest renovation not only provides for a more inviting appearance but allows for greater security. Many of the items in the Museum's collection belong in the National Polish Museum, explained Kusmierczak, so the PMA is interested in keeping them safe and permitting a proper presentation of them. 

Many items in the Polish exhibit in the 1939 World's Fair in New York, were brought to Chicago for safe keeping because of the War. In 1966, the Communists told the museum that they could permanently have the collection. 


Jamie and Stephen Kusmierczak (l) and Judith and Joseph Drobot (r)*

Kusmierczak's interests also include having younger generations step up to continue their heritage by supporting and promoting the Polish culture. Setting an example for those actions, Kusmierczak and his wife Jamie once again stepped up to make the current changes a reality with the help of others. 


Jan Lorys gave his historic remarks in Polish*


Maria Ciesla surprises Chris Jaworowski with a birthday cake*

Joseph Drobot, Chairman of the PMA Board and President of PRCUA, expressed great enthusiasm for making the Gift Shop Area visible and accessible to people whether or not they visited the museum collections. He also pointed out that the new entrance configuration makes access to the entire building much easier. "Where once we had two doors [one for the PMA and the other the PRCUA] with a wall in between, we now have one large entrance. Closer to the parking lot, it is more convenient and has better accessibility for the handicapped.

"The spaces where the Gift Shop and Meeting Room are were part of our PRCUA underwriting department, housing only four employees. By reconfiguring our office space upstairs, those people are now more efficiently located with the rest of the staff." 


Early photo shows the multiple doors at street level*

Jan Lorys, PMA Director, and Maria Ciesla, PMA President, provided a brief history of the building and the Museum. Built in 1913, the building had many doors to accommodate the uses of the time. In order to pay the mortgage the PRCUA rented out  spaces to doctors, dentists, lawyers and others. Several other fraternal organizations also called 984 N. Milwaukee Ave. home. It was placed on the National Register for Historic Places on Jan. 2, 2013. 


This gift shop on the 3rd floor was having it's last sales on Sunday

The Museum was founded in 1935, opening its doors to the public 1937 as the Museum and Archives of PRCUA. Today it continues to be a repository of a collection size never dreamed of. 


This stained glass window is in the Great Hall on the 3rd floor. It is one of the many items from the Polish Pavilion

"It began with one organization's collection of documents, small mementos and memorabilia. But the PRCUA had a larger vision for the entire Polonia*. In 1941 it received the Ignancy Jan Paderewski collection and the Polish Pavilion from the 1939 World's Fair in New York,"Julita Siegel, PMA Photography Collection Curator explains. 

"Now there are over 100,000 items in the library, close to 26,000 photographs and many collections of art and graphics including a large poster collection. People in Poland are just learning that we have works by artists whose work in Poland were totally destroyed during World War II." 

She went on to point out that in addition to being a repository of treasured works, PMA serves as a cultural center. They offer seasonal classes in traditional crafts and activities, have lectures, concerts, celebrations and exhibitions

The Sunday celebration included a blessing by Father Robert Bedzinski from Holy Trinity Church, 1118 N. Noble St., welcomes by Drobot and Ciesla, a brief history by Lorys and recognition of the renovations contractor Chris Jaworowski's 50th birthday. Visitors enjoyed refreshments and had an opportunity to tour the entire building. 

"Everyone, regardless of nationality, is welcome to be a member of the PMA," encouraged Ciesla. PMA membership maybe attained online. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday thru Wednesday. They are closed every Thursday as well as on major holidays.

*Photos courtesy of the PMA and Julita Siegel



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