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Chopin Singers' former hall comes down on same day it made locally famous

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Some might consider the timing a bittersweet irony. Just blocks away from where thousands of Dyngus Day revelers were renewing the annual post-Easter tradition, the hall where the Chopin Singing Society first hosted local Polish celebrations more than half a century ago was quietly being torn down.

Demolition crews began work Monday ripping down the former hall on Kosciuszko Street near Broadway. It was the site where the Chopin Singing Society held its first annual Dyngus Day celebrations, a Polish custom marking the arrival of Easter and the end of the Lenten season. Over time, it became a must-stop for many of Buffalo's influential leaders, as longtime Society members recalled Monday.

"During those years, members involved Mayor (Stanley) Makowski, Mayor (James) Griffin was a member of ours," said Chopin Singing Society president emeritus Ann Mikoll. "I remember him waiting in line to get in for our Dyngus Day events. In those days, all the people from downtown government came for lunch at our place or dinner later."

Mary Lou Wyrobek, permanent chair of Polish Culture at Canisius College, joined the Society in the 1980s. She, too, recalled the days when Kosciuszko Street was hopping on the day after Easter. But as she overlooked the Society's Dyngus Day festivities inside a ballroom at the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga, she - and others - admitted that over time, the old hall was no longer big enough to suit their needs.

"It was just a great time because it was the only party in town," Wyrobek said. "It was a home atmosphere, Ted Mikoll and his group of players, the musicians, were just marvelous."

Soon, other establishments in what was a vibrant Polish neighborhood began hosting their own Dyngus Day celebrations. The interest spread and, as they say, the rest is history.

Chopin  Singing Society members noted that they make sure to preserve Polish traditions, from a prayer blessing their opening meal to welcoming Polish folk dancers to perform, on a day where many other celebrations have simply become about wearing red and consuming beer. Ann Mikoll recalled the beauty of the original Kosciuszko Street hall and what it did to preserve Polish culture.

"The entire place was redone by our own members in the style of the Tatra region," she recalled. "The whole bar area and the artwork was very unique."

While many of those artworks were later sold, Mikoll said the Society still possesses a handful of objects from their former venue.

Current Society president Gary Bienkowski lamented the end of the old hall but expressed hope that the demolition would be the start of the revitalization of that neighborhood.

"It makes room for the new and interesting," he said. "We'll see. The neighborhood's changing. Immigration is changing for the city. Let's hope for some new Polish immigrants."

Meanwhile, as the Chopin-hosted event continued in Cheektowaga, thousands were lining up for a Dyngus Day parade and attending several parties at venues just a short walk away from where Buffalo's best-known recognition of the Polish holiday began.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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