Hamtramck Historical MuseumFr. Lawrence Ventline interviews Greg Kowalski

hamtramck muzeumHow did it evolve?
The Hamtramck Historical Museum traces its roots back to 1998 when the Hamtramck Historical Commission was formed. At that time the Commission didn’t have a single document or historical item. But it did have a vision that saw the creation of a local historical museum as a vital part of the community, which was lacking at that time.
Over the next several years, the Commission focused on gathering historical items and chronicling the rich history of Hamtramck. There were no comprehensive archives of the city’s history then, just an assortment of files at the Hamtramck Public Library.
As the collection grew, space was set aside in city hall to house it, but it was clear that was not what was needed or wanted. A real museum was required. Some steps were taken to achieve that. The Friends of Historical Hamtramck was formed. This is a 501-c-3 tax exempt organization that was able to begin fundraising for the Historical Commission, and several proposals were made for establishing the museum. But these all failed for a lack of funding. In 2010, the museum took a major step toward reality when then-Governor Jennifer Granholm initiated the Cities of Promise program. This was designed to benefit several economically troubled cities by promoting a cultural project selected by the city. Each project was designed to promote the community and contribute to its heritage and even the economy. In the case of Hamtramck, the historical museum was chosen as the “Signature project.”
Through the program, the city received a grant to buy a building on Holbrook Avenue to serve as a museum site. But it soon became apparent that the building would not be suitable for use as a museum. It needed extensive renovations. That could have left the city with the daunting task of raising an enormous amount of money to renovate the building. But even as that was being considered, Hamtramck businessman Jack Iden proposed giving a building to the Friends for use as a museum. It took a year of legal work involving the Iden and Fink families to complete the transfer of ownership and another year of renovations to be done before the museum could be opened to the public. In the meantime, the Holbrook building was sold and the proceeds were directed toward renovating the new building, at 9525 Jos. Campau.
On Labor Day weekend, 2013, the Hamtramck Historical Museum officially opened.
Vision, mission, aim
Now that the museum is open, and even as building renovations continue, the focus of the museum is moving in a new direction. While most community museums are content to put a few things on display in cabinets, the vision for the Hamtramck Historical Museum is to be much more than that. It is designed to be a community center, a welcoming place that will offer a continuing stream of programs. That part has already begun. Late last year and early this year, the museum hosted a two-month display in conjunction with the Polish Mission at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s on the immigrant photographers of the early 20th century. Our ultimate goal is to turn the Hamtramck Historical Museum into a metro Detroit center that will serve as a hub for a variety of cultural and historical activities serving the whole metro area.
When is it open
The museum is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and by appointment. Call (313) 893-5027. There is no admission fee.
How can readers support it?
The most important thing you can do is to become a member of the Friends of Historical Hamtramck. Memberships rates vary from $10 on up and are tax deductible. All membership dues, as well as any other donations received, go to the Museum. All persons associated with the museum are volunteers. None receives a salary of any sort. For information, go to our website www.hamtramckhistory.org or email hamtramckhistory.com. Or write to the Hamtramck Historical Museum, 9525 Jos. Campau, Hamtramck, MI 48212

Roots, relationships, job
I have been chairman of the Hamtramck Historical Commission since it formed in 1998. I am a lifelong resident of Hamtramck, and have a degree in journalism. Over the past 40 years I have been editor of the Hamtramck Citizen newspaper and Birmingham Eccentric newspaper as well as dozens of other publications. I have written eight books on Hamtramck. All are in bookstores now. Currently I am the director of Community Relations for Bloomfield Township and general manager of Bloomfield Community TV.

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