The Carpathia Chronicles

Part II: Early Days on Elmwood

Part two of this historical series recounts the glory days of the Carpathia

Singing Society at the Elmwood Avenue hall. By Richard W. Gerhardt

 

Sie singen von Lenz und Liebe, von seliger, goldener Zeit,

Von Freiheit, Männerwürde, von Treu’ und Heiligkeit:

Sie singen von allem Süßen, was Menschenbrust durchbebt,

Sie singen von allem Hohen, was Menschenherz erhebt…

(von Andreas Nikolaus)

 

Carpathia Hall, at 3500 Elmwood, was the grand achievement of Peter Schock and the Detroiter Ostschwaben. In only 7 years, they built the Carpathia Singing Society from the very humblest of beginnings in 1913, into a 1400 member organization with an impressive new home. So impressive was the new Ostschwaben hall that many first-time visitors marveled at its grandeur.

 

Carpathia Hall was situated at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Preston, in the heart of Detroit’s East Side German community. Visitors entered the hall from the main entrance on Elmwood. A wide staircase ascended from street level to a large first floor lobby. The lobby had a hardwood floor, as did most of the rooms in the building. On the right side of the lobby were rest rooms and the cloakroom. To the left, two sets of double doors led into Carpathia’s main hall, where all of the big events were held. Straight ahead, another wide staircase ascended to a landing, then turned left and split to feed two doors that led into the second floor dining room.

 

The main hall was designed to function as a theater as well as a dance hall. A high, two story ceiling accommodated the balcony which formed a horseshoe along three of the room’s four walls. In front, centered on the fourth wall and forming the focal point of the main hall, was the stage. Built to be a fully functional theater stage, it sat approximately four feet up from the floor. The stage was equipped with several layers of curtains, a rope and pulley system for backdrops, and lighting. A director’s pit was sunken into the floor directly in front and centered on the stage. The pit was used by the chorus and theater directors to give instructions to the performers on stage. Musicians accompanying the performance were usually situated on the floor in front of the stage. With chairs arranged theater style, the main hall could easily accommodate over 1500 people. For dances, chairs were placed along the perimeter of the room and the hardwood floor was ideal for dancing.

 

At the back of the main hall, off the second floor balcony, double doors led into a spacious practice room that was used by Carpathia’s chorus’s. From the practice room, another set of double doors led into the dining room, which could accommodate over 200 guests. Both rooms were often rented for private parties and wedding receptions. Adjacent to the dining room was the kitchen, which also serviced the main hall via dumbwaiter.

The basement stairs were accessed to the left off the main entrance. At the bottom of the stairs and to the left, was a large meeting room where Carpathia’s board of directors conducted business. In later years, the room was used by the Youth Group and a nickelodeon in one corner provided dance music for the mostly first-generation American born teens.

 

To the right, at the bottom of the basement stairs, was a small bar where visitors could purchase drinks or pay for bowling. Six full-sized bowling lanes were open to the public. In addition, the bowling alley was furnished with six pool tables and a billiard table.

 

Another room off the bowling alley was the members lounge. Equipped with a bar and furnished with tables and chairs, Carpathia’s men spent many hours engaged in cards, smokes, and drinks. Admission to the room was reserved for Carpathia members only and this rule was strictly enforced. Inappropriate conduct was not tolerated and, occasionally, some of the larger male members were utilized as bouncers.

 

The new Carpathia Hall opened for business on Sunday, April 18, 1920, and the May 15 dedication celebration crowned this achievement with 1500 attendees. Yet, despite Carpathia’s success up to this point, much work was still incomplete and more money was needed to pay the mortgage. Fortunately, the Society was able to count on dedicated members and friends, such as nationally known philanthropist, Dr. Carl E. Schmidt. Schmidt, a German-American from Oscota, Michigan, first loaned, then donated $2,000 to Carpathia’s building effort.

A review of the Society’s finances at the general meeting on June 13, 1920 revealed that a total of $81,859.60 had been raised for the building project. Finance Secretary, Jacob Ruttinger. reported that expenses to date were $80,870.60. However, by the time all the interior finish work had been completed, the total cost of the new hall, minus furnishings, came to approximately $93,000. On July 15, the building committee was dissolved and management of the new Carpathia Hall was turned over to its board of directors. This, in effect, completed the first phase of Carpathia’s evolution, and members looked back on their accomplishments with great pride.

The completion of the new hall allowed Carpathia to move forward, from the framework of a small organization, into one with a much broader existence in the public eye. Schock and the Society’s other leaders recognized this as an opportunity to advance German cultural ideals in America. With a natural emphasis on their Östschwaben heritage and traditions, Carpathia pursued its primary charter of nurturing German music and song. But, this could now be done on a grander scale than was previously possible. The advancement of German culture in America was not only an important charter for the Society, but a very difficult one given the political climate of the time. Carpathia fought the ever-increasing negative public sentiment against German art and culture, by presenting ever larger, more spectacular productions. As American public opposition to the Germans increased, Carpathia members worked even harder to make their clubhouse and later, Carpathia Park, a place of congeniality for all.

 

At the end of World War I, Americans rallied to the cause of helping middle Europeans hardest hit by the ravages of war. This movement was enthusiastically embraced by Carpathia, because it gave the Society a chance to use its theater and music for charitable purposes. Members were turned loose to whole-heartedly present their culture through the mediums of theater and song.

 

To this end, Carpathia spearheaded the idea of creating the United Singers of Detroit, in close association with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. In this matter, Peter Schock, once again, proved to be a leader with extraordinary vision. Carpathia’s involvement in the founding of the United German Singers not only furthered the Society’s goals of promoting German culture, but it also brought Carpathia significant recognition from the outside world. In fact, Carpathia’s leadership role was one of the significant contributing factors that finally caused Detroit’s Reichsdeutsche (High Germans) to acknowledge the Society as a legitimate German association. The other undeniable fact was that, with 1470 members, Carpathia was the strongest association in the area and could no longer be ignored. In flattering recognition of the Society’s leadership role, Peter Schock was named first President of the United German Singers.

(Continued on the next page)

 

At this point, it seemed as though nothing could stand in the way of Carpathia’s success and prosperity. With so many performances at home, in Cleveland, and Chicago, the Carpathia Singing Society became well known in cultural circles. In the years that followed, the Elmwood Avenue hall was the site of many great concerts and plays, featuring famous soloists, musicians, and actors.At the General meeting on June 11, 1922, a change in the leadership of the Carpathia Singing Society took place as Peter Schock stepped down as president. From that time on, Schock remained in retirement from the activities of the Society. Instead, he devoted himself to his business and private affairs, through the hardships of the depression, until his death in 1939. In Schock’s place, longtime Vice-President, Jakob Noll, was elected Carpathia’s second president.

 

The accomplishments of Schock and the Carpathia Singing Society during these early years were both remarkable and plentiful: the building of the grand Elmwood Avenue hall; the rapid growth of the organization into a 1400 member society; the countless outstanding performances given by Carpathia members; the great and noble effort to promote German culture in America and help fellow countrymen in need. Yet, of all these accomplishments, Schock’s greatest achievement may have been to restore pride to a people once rejected by their Germanic brothers. It is very important that we not allow Schock’s effort to go to waste. We can do this through our own personal recognition and pride in our ancestry and culture. Don’t we owe that much to Schock and the Carpathia members that built the club?

 

Special thanks to Margaret (Schock) Callewaert, Barbara (Brenner) Knight, John Shemmel, Bill Lutsch, and Evelyn (Wilhelm) Till, who’s first-hand knowledge of the Elmwood Avenue hall has been invaluable._