WHITE EAGLE HALL
THE HISTORY OF A JERSEY CITY THEATER
Nestled in The Village section of Downtown Jersey City, White Eagle Hall is now known for cutting-edge music, theater and dance performances as well as an event and meeting venue. But the origin and storied past of this restored, historic structure is uniquely remarkable.
White Eagle Hall opened in 1910, constructed by Polish immigrants and craftsmen under the leadership of Father Peter Boleslaus Kwiatowski, who was driven from his native Poland by Russian occupiers just before the turn of the 20th century. Father Kwiatowski built half a dozen churches and parishes throughout Hudson and Essex Counties, but he called Jersey City home, serving as a priest and later pastor of St. Anthony of Padua, a Roman Catholic church still in operation on Monmouth Street.
During the depression, but before his death in 1934, Kwiatowski transferred the ownership of White Eagle Hall to St. Anthony’s Church. The parish managed the venue throughout the 20th century. In addition to church-related and other community activities, White Eagle Hall was a leading rental facility during this time, but theater and concerts were more the exception than the rule.
On the facade of the building above the entrances is the emblem of the hall’s namesake – the White Eagle has symbolized the Polish nation since the dark ages. White Eagle Hall exemplified community pride in Poland’s unique role in both American history and International Arts and Culture and in its first decades was used as a meeting place for that community, as well as a union hall and a theater, hosting musical recitals and sporting events, such as wrestling and boxing matches.
Adorning the White Eagle Hall exterior are four busts commemorating Polish luminaries (left to right) – Jan Paderewski (1), a world-famous pianist and composer who later became the Prime Minister of Poland; two American Revolutionary War heroes – Casimir Pulaski (2) (the Pulaski Skyway Bridge connects Jersey City to Newark) and Andrzej Kościuszko (3) (the Kosciuszko Bridge connects Brooklyn to Queens) – and Henryk Sienkiewicz (4), a novelist and 1905 Nobel Laureate whose most famous work Quo-Vidas? was made into an award-winning 1951 film.
Embedded in the White Eagle Hall ceiling are two spectacular, hand-crafted stained-glass skylights – one commemorating Frédéric Chopin, the classical music composer, and the other Marcella Sembrich, an internationally renowned opera star. Sembrich sang 11 seasons with New York Metropolitan Opera; 1909 was the silver jubilee of her Met debut, which coincided with the construction of White Eagle Hall. During the major construction phase of the restoration, these exquisite stained-glass fixtures – by then covered with a thick film of grime – were removed, fully restored and missing glass pieces have been replaced.
In the 20th century, White Eagle Hall hosted recitals, concerts, theater productions, sporting exhibitions and other community events. Thousands attended weddings, dances, dinners, graduations and other social gatherings at White Eagle Hall. The venue hosted the weekly St. Anthony’s Bingo Game, which ran continuously into the 21st century. The original St. Anthony’s Bingo Game sign now hangs inside White Eagle Hall's Newark Avenue service entrance.
From 1968 to 1975 ongoing performances returned to the White Eagle Hall stage. Young, local music promoters were given permission by the parish to organize concerts, dances and “battle of the bands” nights. These Rock & Roll shows made White Eagle Hall a weekend hot spot for Hudson County teens and young adults. Out of this short-lived music scene emerged Frank Infante and his band World War III. Frank Infante is a Jersey City native and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee as a guitarist for Blondie.