In 1894 the Croatian Association, a fraternal organization to celebrate the culture of the Croatian and other ethnic peoples from the associated Yugoslavian states, was established in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This organization went through various changes and mergers and became the Croatian Fraternal Union of America (CFU) in 1926. In the mid-1930’s a local chapter, Lodge No. 309, was established in Bessemer, Pennsylvania. Many of the Bessemer members were employed in the local brick and cement companies.
Back in the early 1920’s the local Croatians endeavored to build or purchase a building that could be used as a lodge and also a community center. A fundraising campaign got underway but it took some time. The efforts finally came to fruition when the Bessemer Croatian Club was incorporated in June 1935. Marion Vlah was elected as its first president and faithfully served it that role until his death in 1957.
A building was purchased on East Poland Avenue in February 1936 and the club was opened for business in May 1936. The building also became the home of the Croatian Lodge No. 309. The structure was heavily damaged by a fire in December 1937, but was rebuilt after another fundraising effort. In late 1948 the club was expanded and remodeled with a new dance hall, a full basement, and a bowling alley. Its large hall became the scene of civic meetings, banquets, wedding receptions, polka dances, and other events.
The Croatian Club remained a popular gathering place for local and not-so-local residents and in 1975 had a reported 2,300 members. The club was also known to sponsor numerous sporting teams and held well-attended bocce ball tournaments. One of its more popular events is the celebration of pre-Lenten Karnival or Madri Gras, which was abolished just prior to World War II but reestablished in early 1974. The Bessemer Croatian Club, a mainstay in a hamlet hard hit by the declining economy, is still in operation today. The associated CFU Lodge No. 309 remains in operation as well.
The Bessemer Croatian Club, located along East Poland Avenue, was founded in 1935 to cater to the local Slavic population in and around Bessemer. (Apr 2012) Full Size
Teachers, parents, students, and alumni chow down during a Booster Club Banquet, supporting the Bessemer High School football squad, held at the Croatian Club on Thursday evening, November 15, 1956.