The social hub of what used to be a sizeable Slovenian community in Fontana, California, will be demolished after the city council decided against renovating the 1937 building, which the community sold to the local authorities a couple of years ago, the local paper Inland Valley Daily Bulletin has reported.
Joe Valencic of the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum told the Slovenian Press Agency that the building, known as Slovene Hall, was sold in 2021 and, after debts were paid off, the remaining funds were transferred to Slovenian-American institutions throughout the US.
According to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the building was sold for US$850,000, and the initial plan was to renovate it. However, this would cost at least US$1 million and city councillors decided they would rather pay US$141,000 for demolition.
The now vacant building served as the cultural hub for Slovenian Americans who started moving to Fontana from the greater Cleveland area in the 1920s.
They were former miners who wanted to farm chickens in California, and many of their descendants and other immigrants later found work in the Kaiser Steel steel mill, which opened in 1942.
The once sizeable Slovenian community in Fontana also built a retirement home in the city along with the cultural centre. Today, the city has around 200,000 residents, mostly Latin Americans.
The Slovene Hall regularly hosted events featuring polka music, with famous accordion players from all over the US visiting it, including Frankie Yankovic (1915-1998), known as "America's Polka King".
The hall also hosted anniversaries of Slovenian independence for many years, but what used to be the most distinct ethnic community of Fontana suffered the fate similar to other European emigrant communities in the US.
Their descendants got "Americanised" and moved away, and the old core of the community has aged and shrunk, the paper noted.