Jul 21 2021

A Building with a Mission: The Analysis of the Kossuth House as a Cultural Landscape

A Building with a Mission: The Analysis of the Kossuth House as a Cultural Landscape


[Excerpts from a term paper written for the class "AMST628L: Cultural Landscapes" in the Department of American Studies, Winter 1997]

Copyright © 1997 by Sandor Vegh

"Whenever you and your family visit the capital city of our nation, be sure to include a stop at the Kossuth House, Dupont Circle. You can't miss it - the American and Hungarian flags fly from the top of the building. This building stands for the same ideals Kossuth proclaimed more than one hundred years ago - liberty and human rights for all people of all nations."


The main purpose of this study is to describe the Kossuth House, analyze it as a cultural landscape, and attempt to draw conclusions through the process on the Hungarian people of American and their culture. The Kossuth House plays a significant role in the life of the Hungarians in the Washington area in particular, and across the U.S. in general. The history of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America, the owner and occupant of the building, "cannot be separated from the history of the Hungarian people migrating to the United States, and the development of American Hungarian immigrant communities."2 So much true it is for the buildings it occupied in Washington, all of them named after Kossuth. The current Kossuth House is the culmination of a long history, closely associated with the Hungarian ethnicity in Washington. Its physical appearance, artifacts, function, and its bare existence is a symbol of a distinct culture with forever faithfulness to the mother country and respect to the New World which accepted it as well as it was accepted. I believe, therefore, that examining the Kossuth House will shed light on the uniqueness and wholeness of a culture integrated into another, while it may bring to surface unpromising tendencies among the Hungarian Americans. Ultimately, through its findings, this paper shall attach yet another piece to the great American mosaic, or rather take one out, examine it, and return it in a revived format. It is undoubtable that this landscape has cultural significance, the only question is to what extent. To me, as a Hungarian with profound exposure to American Culture, this landscape is dear and replete with cultural value. While my bias drove me with enthusiasm to research and absorb information about this landscape, it was inevitable that I overlooked certain details which a purely American eye would not have. However, with every paper I write I attempt to contribute to the understanding of American Culture, symbolically following the path of great Hungarians who have contributed to America itself.
The working definition of a cultural landscape in this paper will be as follows: "Cultural landscape is a distinctive, definable, human-altered portion of the physical environment, including natural, human, and artifactual elements and the dynamic interactions between them, offering multiple interpretations, since it is cognitively perceived in inherently different ways by people(s) of different cultures." The cultural landscape this paper addresses consists of the Kossuth House, the building itself, its surroundings, the interior, artifacts, people, and nature, to some extent. Since it is an urban landscape, focusing primarily on a single building, a slightly altered version of the Korr-model will be applied to describe and interpret it.

Chapter 1

The Kossuth House is located at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 20th Street in Northwest Washington, D.C. (Figures 1-3) The building has been owned by the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America (HRFA) since 1986. HRFA is a fraternal life insurance company founded in 1896 in Trenton, NJ, and chartered by Congress in 1907. It was organized by Hungarian immigrants to help each other out in case of injuries or deaths. Later, it naturally evolved into an insurance company. It was granted tax-exempt status 11 years after its foundation. Apart from its non-profit commercial nature, the HRFA is also active in organizing the cultural life of the Hungarian-American community, supporting meetings, and social gatherings, fostering Hungarian American relations, and providing space for cultural and political events. Although its name suggests a strong Protestant religious affiliation, it has not been organizationally related to any church - apart from regular donations to Hungarian-American congregations - and its membership has never been restricted to Reformed Christians.3 As a landmark and a sign of change, a layman was elected president for the first time in the almost 100-year history of the Federation in 1992.
The building was named after the great Hungarian freedom fighter, Lajos Kossuth who became famous in America after his tour of the U.S. in 1851-52. Why was the building named after Kossuth? According to the present President of the Federation, "it is a genuine desire to pay reverence to the name of Kossuth and to keep the spirit of 1848 alive in America. [italics mine]"4 What Kossuth fought for was political and cultural independence, freedom and democracy - the exact reasons the "45ers" and the "56ers" - the majority of the Hungarian immigrants - left the country for the New World. It is by no accident then why they cherished these values and the name which was most closely attached to them. Naming the building after Kossuth was a part of their lives, the reinforcement of their decisions, the justification of their past. Kossuth, however, was admired as well by the American public. A current survey indicates seven streets, four avenues, two roads, one place, one park, five towns, one county, six statues, four plaques, and two buildings named after him, or dedicated to his memory, across North America.5

Chapter 2

The urban neighborhood of the building is significant. It is just off Dupont Circle, which is a vivid, colorful, and socially diverse section of the city. There are many restaurants, shops, and book stores around the area which makes it attractive for intellectual entertainment as well as nightlife, since it also serves as an access point to Adams Morgan. The importance of the place for the building lies in the convenient downtown location and the easy accessibility both by car, metro, and bus. The area northwest of the building holds another significance which is closer to the role of the Kossuth House. The section of Massachusetts Avenue marked by the Kossuth House on one end and Nebraska Avenue on the other hosts many foreign embassies, consulates, and ambassadorial residences (Figure 4). The two buildings immediately neighboring Kossuth House are the Colombian Embassy and the building of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. In this internationally colored environment, the building delicately represents the presence of an ethnic Hungarian community in Washington and in the United States.
The Kossuth House is a two-story, gray, stone building in modest Art Deco style. The horizontal plan of the building is trapezoidal with the corner facing Dupont Circle rounded (Figure 5). The western side is built against the bordering, 3-story, narrow, redbrick building. The northern side is separated from the stone-wall protecting the territory of the Colombian Embassy by a narrow alley currently used for storing the garbage cans. Because of the rounded corner, the other two sides of the building along Massachusetts Avenue and 20th street form a continuous front side, separating the building from the sidewalk by a front yard protected by a 3-feet high fence. The fence does not run all the way along 20th street, leaving a certain asphalt-covered area belonging to the building on the northern end which serves as a parking place accommodating a maximum of four cars at the same time. This parking lot is contiguous with the alley mentioned above which can in fact be used also for parking, thus, increasing the available spaces by one. Apart from the building itself, of course, the only significant man-made object inside the fence is a memorial marker devoted to Kossuth (Figure 6). It is easily readable from outside the fence and it bears a famous thought from Kossuth which was borrowed and slightly altered by, and often credited to Abraham Lincoln.6 There are two plaques attached to the eastern wall of the building: one is dedicated to Kossuth, and the other one is to Theodore Roosevelt who signed the charter of the HRFA, passed by Congress on March 2, 1907. Both plaques bear an important message with relevance to the mission of the Kossuth House. The Roosevelt plaque recites a quote from him, "Only he can become a good citizen who remains true to the heritage of his native land"; while the Kossuth plaque reads, "This house is dedicated to the fraternal and cultural endeavors of freedom-loving Americans of Hungarian ancestry and to the living memory of Lajos (Louis) Kossuth, champion of liberty, fraternity, and equality; Governor of Hungary during the fight for Hungarian Independence, 1848-49." These bronze plaques were made by the world-renowned sculptor and painter, Sandor Bodo, and unveiled at the dedication ceremony of the building (Figure 7).
The building is lower than the adjacent ones, interestingly symbolizing the smallness of Hungary itself, but its extremely important geographical and political location. The facade of the building is plain. The only decorations are the name of the building inscribed on the front side facing Dupont Circle in proportionally sized, readable letters, and two copper plates next to the main entrance with "Kossuth House" and the logo of the organization on one, and "Hungarian Reformed Federation of America - since 1896" on the other. The amalgamation of the HRFA and the Kossuth House is well symbolized that the logo of the Federation is on the plate bearing the building's name, and not the organization's. Also, the American and Hungarian flags had always been displayed on the top front of the building until a few months ago, when they were removed to be repaired, but have not yet been reinstalled. Their absence now reminds those who have always seen the Kossuth House with the flags on of their importance . Temporarily, it has definitely lost an integral component, a symbolic sign, a cultural and ethnic identity. When the flags are displayed, especially the Hungarian one, it conspicuously identifies the Kossuth House, symbolizes its role in the life of the Hungarian-American community, and attracts and invites Hungarian and other tourists accidentally or purposefully passing by the area.
It is important to know that the lot the building stands on - except for the alley - belongs to the City. The HRFA was given lease of the lot free provided it complied with the conditions set forth by the City.7 How seriously the City maintained its rights was clearly demonstrated by an incident a few years ago when the HRFA almost lost its privilege to use the city-owned areas around the building when one of the national officers contacted a city officer in order to receive a permit to cut off the curb in front of the parking spots.8 The conditions set forth included the pre-authorization of any modification on the building and the obligation to landscape the garden and keep it aesthetically pleasing. The Federation met this requirement in the spring of 1992, by hiring a professional landscape designer (Figure 8). The front yard was planted with sod of grass, and with different kinds of shrubs9 along the wall of the building. The southern end of the garden had hawthorn and mulberry bushes. Although the designer's original plan did not include any other plants in the front of the patio, one may find a separated area here today planted with a number of small trees, bushes, and flowers. This tiny area donated back to nature is the only green spot around the block. It is managed by the inhabitants of the building who mostly take care of this small section of the yard (watering, planting flowers), and by hired professionals who handle the front side (mowing the lawn, cutting the shrubs). There is an unfortunate effect on the natural component of the landscape by people not belonging to it: partly because the fence is extremely low and widely grated, and partly because of the bus stop immediately outside the fence a few pieces of trash always end up inside either directly thrown in by people, or blown in through the fence by the wind.

[. . . .]10

Nature's presence is "naturally" more dominant outside the building; inside it exists only in a strictly controlled and limited manner. The building is air conditioned. Conspicuously, in two out of the eight used offices, the air hole was covered by the occupant with hard paper to minimize its effect; while in two other offices separate heaters are in use to compensate for the air conditioning system. It seems obvious that one central unit cannot be equally convenient for all the users of the building. The building and its equipment have to mediate an inherently natural element to humans inside in unique ways to each individual. Water, however, is provided alike to everyone - through a purifying filter, of course. There are only a few potted plants in the office windows. Except for the President's office and the conference room, the office windows face west, which means that they do not get direct sunlight most of the working day. Also, the shades are usually pulled down to protect the workplace from direct exposure to passers-by, therefore, the workers rely heavily on artificial neon lighting, which are disturbing to some of them.
The building has nineteen windows altogether. The biggest windows are on the rounded corner side. The building has six doors, of which four are locked and not used. One used to provide access to the basement, one to the second floor through wooden stairs outside the northern wall, and two to certain rooms of the building. One of the active doors is the main entrance glass security door from the 20th street, equipped with a doorbell, mailbox slot, and an alarm system (Figure 9); the other is a less protected glass door on the Massachusetts Avenue side opening to the small garden. This door is rarely used. The only practical function it presently has is for ventilation, and a more convenient access to the garden, but mostly in the summer. The relatively high number of doors and windows points to the fact that the building was originally built for a different purpose, something else than a single office space. Vertically, the building stretches from the basement, which is used as a storage place, to the flat top accessible by stairs from the second floor. The top is scarcely used; however, it provides a nice view over Dupont Circle (Figure 10).

[. . . .]

Chapter 3

[. . . .]

Chapter 4

As I indicated at the beginning of this paper this site has three manifestations in one: the building itself, the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America that inhabits it, and "Kossuth House," as a concept that links the former two and saturates it with cultural meaning. Therefore, the histories of the three autonomous components, the three separate paths, will converge into the existing cultural landscape being investigated. The history of the HRFA has been touched upon earlier in the paper - let us now turn to the other two.
The building was originally built in 1922. It served a double function. The first floor, as the public space, hosted the offices of the Turney&Turney law consulting firm, while the second floor, the private place, was the residence of the Turney family. There is manifold evidence for the existence of the residential area on the second floor until the desertion of the building in the mid-1980s, including a floor plan by "Swaney & Kerns" architects from January 1977 (Figure 11), video footage shot during the interior construction of the building in 1986, and personal interviews with people who participated in the selection of the building for the HRFA. Since the firm grew in size in the 1950s, there were several attempts to expand the public space in the building, even at the price of eliminating the residential area. The "Alterations & Plans for Turney&Turney" dated January 11, 1954, by Mills, Petticord & Mills Ass. (Figures 12-14), indicate plans for major interior restructuring, which would have resulted in 8 separate office rooms and 3 secretary offices, as well as a reception area, on the first and second floors. Furthermore, the plans included the excavation of the southern half of the basement to accommodate 4 more offices, a small closet, and a toilet, and the addition of a third story to expand available office space, which would have profoundly changed the exterior of the building. According to the existing blueprints, these plans were revised by the same architects and engineers - without the excavation of the basement - on August 7, 1957, and finally dropped in 1958 (Figures 15-18). As an additional undated blueprint shows (1958), there were alternatives for the restructuring of the building, one, for example, by "Thomas Manion AIA" architects, who proposed 2 more stories to add (Figures 19-20). The reason for finally dropping the plans is unknown. However, these plans were later reconsidered by the Federation as possible alterations. As mentioned above, the Turneys moved out of the building in the mid-1980s and left it to deterioration. The "For Sale" sign had been displayed for at least a year when the then President of the Federation noticed it accidentally.
The Kossuth House is now more than just a building. Since the HRFA and Kossuth's name has accompanied the four buildings the Federation owned and headquartered in, it may be helpful to look at this Kossuth House for a moment as the fourth reincarnation of the Kossuth House as an idea and briefly revisit the other three houses to get a better picture of what this building means to its inhabitants and the Hungarian community. The Federation had not had a centralized national office until 1935. The "national" offices of the President, Secretary, and Treasurer were where those officers resided. In June 1932, however, the U.S. Congress passed a law that required institutions incorporated in the District of Columbia to open offices in Washington or be chartered in another state. The Federation voted unanimously for the former option at its 1935 Convention. The decision for the move was interpreted as a sign of the viability, financial strength, and confidence in the future of the Federation.11 They sent an officer to D.C. who rented a desk in the Columbian Building on 5th Street. Later in the same year, she rented an efficiency apartment at 2002 P Street, N.W., which served as the "headquarters" and her residence as well until 1936 when the office was moved to the ninth floor of the Chandler Building, 1427 I St, N.W. The first building the Federation purchased stood at 1726 Pennsylvania Avenue. This "Kossuth Building" was by far the most prominently located, just across the White House (Figure 21). Besides being a source of pride for the Hungarian-Americans and the members of the Federation, almost 20,000 at that time12, it certainly symbolized the significance of immigrants Hungary gave to the U.S.13 It is important to see that visitors became part of the building's history, sometimes more than the people who worked there. Furthermore, the Kossuth House, as the institution, carried its visitors with it from one physical manifestation to the next. For instance, Archduke Otto Habsburg14, the son of the last Hungarian king, with his brother Felix, paid a historic visit to the Kossuth House, the first one (Figure 22; for the only picture that made it to Life magazine, see Figure 23). The building was sold because it became small for the increasing operation. The second Kossuth House, dedicated on March 17, 1952, was located at 18th and P Street, N.W. The Board decided to sell the building because [. . .] It was sold to the Iraqi Embassy on May 26, 1961, and is still in use by them (Figure 24). The third Kossuth House, at 3216 New Mexico Avenue, N.W., was the only one that had been originally built for the Federation in 1963 (Figure 25). It was dedicated on May 31, 1964, and served as the headquarters until 1978. It had many high-ranking visitors, among them Cardinal Mindszenty in 1973. The Board of Directors made a motion to negotiate the sale of the building15 in 1977 for ambiguous reasons. As it can be inferred from the personal interviews, the sale of that building was a result of "inner politics." There was a rumor that the HRFA would soon merge into a larger fraternal organization, the William Penn Association (See Figure 26 for WPA's advertizement of the merger); therefore, the building was going to be superfluous. [. . .] The decision was made on September 9, 1977. The first written offer for purchase was made on February 1, 1978; on March 13, the Kossuth House was sold to the Republic of Finland for [. . .] The Federation finally moved out of the building and was released of any claims regarding its condition on June 12. Today, it hosts the Organization of East Caribbean States and their embassies (Figures 27-28). Although immediate attempts were made for the planning of a new Home Office Building, the HRFA had to move out "temporarily" to a leased office space located in the Manosi Building, 11428 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD, and seven years passed until the Federation finally purchased the Turney building and moved back to D.C., to its current location.

Chapter 5

The HRFA had been headquartered in a rented office on Rockville Pike, in Maryland, for six years then. Since the HRFA was chartered in D.C., time was pressing to move the office back to the District. The Board of Directors agreed to the relocation in 1985 and appointed a committee to look into the possible sites and report it to the Board at the next meeting. The present location was not the only proposal for the new office; members of the committee suggested several more possibilities; the ones between February and August were 1415 Eliot Place, W Place, 2100 Wisconsin Ave., and 1525 18th Street. These sites were eventually declined after visits by the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee.
The conditions for the new site were manifold: it had to be in the District of Columbia; it had to be easily accessible by car as well as by public transportation. It had to have parking spaces. It had to be the right size: big enough to host the offices for the 3 national officers and the maximum 7 staff members, as well as a conference room which is able to accommodate 100-200 people on occasions, and sufficient public facilities. Of course, it needed to fall into a reasonable price range.
These conditions were based on the same ones set forth for the previous Kossuth House on New Mexico Avenue which had been built for the Federation. It must be pointed out that the previous Kossuth House eventually failed to satisfy the conditions prescribed. It had a conference room only the size to accommodate the Board of Directors. The reason was the decision to have four large offices with separate bathrooms (!) for the four national officers at the price of a large conference room. These debatable decisions also resulted in placing the janitor of the building in the attic, and installing no elevator in the building. Alternative plans for that building, however, included 13 offices altogether on the two floors, one 125-person conference room, a library, an enclosed terrace, living area in the cellar, and an elevator.16 All of these features are important to the role of the building and the consequences of their absence in the current Kossuth House will be described in more detail later. The Turney building seemed to be a "middle road" between the ultimate desire and the present rented office place in 1985.
The Executive Committee decided to purchase the Turney Building at its September 6 meeting and advanced the motion to the Board of Directors. The Board initiated an affirmation vote before the legal signing of the purchase at its November 25 meeting. The resolution was passed with 11 yeas and 3 nays. [. . .] Despite the split on the Board, another resolution was passed that the decision on the purchase of the Kossuth House would be reported to the newspapers as unanimous.17 While it is an accepted PR custom, it symbolizes the effort of the directors to keep the Federation united in its decisions. "A house divided cannot stand," says the Bible (Matthew 12:25), and with the Kossuth House it was certainly a case to be avoided. The official signing of the Agreement of Purchase took place at 11 a.m., November 26, 1985, at the office of Real Title Co., downtown Washington, D.C.
The building was bought exactly for [. . .] After initial consultations, John M. Sugden and Jo L. Fleming, architect and office planner, submitted their contract proposal for professional services. The scope of work they described encompassed the Architectural and Interior Design Services broken down into phases (Appendix 1). The Board of Directors, after lengthy discussions, finally approved the plans on March 7, 1986. The Federation greatly relied on the suggestions of the Ebner Brothers, two German-Hungarian-American architects, who offered their professional assistance all along the planning and construction process free of charge. For carrying out the construction itself the Federation hired the Kovacs Construction Co. It has always been a custom at the Federation that they tried hiring professionals with Hungarian-American origin, and the construction company was no exception. It must be viewed as a fraternal gesture to help each other in immigration. The total cost of the reconstruction, including architectural services, fence, and landscaping mounted [. . .] In sum, the new Kossuth House and its renovation was covered from the selling price of the previous Kossuth House 8 years before.
While the building originally went through a planning phase, a construction phase, and an operational phase, and maybe a fourth deterioration phase, after its purchase by the HRFA, it essentially went through those three phases again. The planning phase lasted from its purchase until the restoration began, and was directed by a designated Building Committee in close discourse with the designers. The second phase lasted until the occupation of the building in mid-1986. As it was mentioned before, the construction was carried out by the Kovacs Construction Co., assisted by the designers, and supervised by the Building Committee. Although the reconstruction occurred according to the detailed ideas of the Building Committee and was financed by the Federation, it was greatly influenced by what the designer believed to be feasible, what the contractor approved, and what the Building Code of the District of Columbia permitted. The building has been in the operational phase since 1986.
The building was finally dedicated on November 22-23, 1986 (Figures 29-33). Besides the officers and directors of the Federation and the leaders of the Hungarian-American community, the ceremony was attended by the then U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, the Honorable Mark Palmer. His presence undoubtedly indicated the recognized role the Federation and the building had (and to be had) in the life of the Hungarian community in the U.S. as well as the relations between the two countries. The Hungarian prayer told at the ceremony mentioned the designated role of building explicitly: ". . . . You bless this building which will be the center of our beloved work, You bless the Hungarian national flag decorating the Kossuth House . . . . Bless this Building [sic] so that it may become, here in the heart of America, in the capitol, the strong bastion of our Hungarian nationality and our Faith. (translation)18" To see how much symbolic value the Kossuth House has, let one more sentence be quoted here from an article on the dedication ceremony: "A promise for the future as there was strength in the Hungarian immigration, after three Kossuth Houses marking three consecutive eras, to build a fourth one, we shall have strength to protect and preserve our institutions in which we may cultivate our faith, our Hungarian nationality, and national traditions, so we can hand it all to the next generation. (translated by the author)"19 Upon the opening of the Special Meeting of the Board of Directors the day after the dedication ceremony, the Board sang the hymn "My Lord Bless this House" in Hungarian. It is astonishing that the accusative case of the "house" in Hungarian differs only in an accent mark from the accusative of "homeland." In fact, the official minutes of the meeting were written without accent marks20 (Appendix 4). The Kossuth House has preserved its symbolic role and is still well-known in even the highest circles. Just recently, on his visit on the occasion of Hungary's invitation to join NATO, U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen referred to the Kossuth House in his address delivered in the Hungarian Parliament, "[The Independence Day fireworks] also cast flashes of light on the Kossuth House in Washington, which is named, of course, for the father of Hungarian democracy -- Lajos Kossuth."21

Chapter 6

Entering the building, one finds himself in the reception area decorated by a large ornamental tapestry on the wall, hand-woven for the World Exhibit held in New York City in 1939 (Figure 34). The receptionist's desk is now dysfunctional. Unlike the previous residents of the building, the Federation does not need a designated receptionist, since visitors of the building (only) are not many, while business visitors (of the HRFA mainly) are infrequent given that only a small minority of the Federation's members live around the Washington area. The interior of the building is tastefully decorated. The parquet floor and the many framed items on the light-green wall give the mixed feeling of an office space and a museum. Most items displayed on the first floor of the Kossuth House relate to Kossuth's voyage to the United States and his visits to various American cities (Figures 35-37). Original lithographs depict his family, his generals, and other events pertaining to his life in exile. (For a complete list of exhibition items see Appendix 5). Also among the decorations is a copy of the Congressional Charter of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America, as well as a photo of the Kossuth House, another photo of the Kossuth plaque on the outside wall, and a painting of the previous Kossuth House, interestingly duplicating the three-dimensional landscape outside on a two-dimensional representation inside, and establishing the continuity of the Kossuth House buildings in the Federation's history. These artifacts are significant in their own terms; however, for the purpose of this landscape study they will not be described individually, because they express their agency and affect their environment as one group of artifacts conveying the same message in almost identical ways. Nevertheless, there are a number of especially significant items among the exhibited which will be mentioned in more detail.
The first floor has 6 offices, 2 bathrooms, a small room for the copy machine, and a small garderobe. (Figures 38-39). The first room on the left had been used as an office until 1992 when it became the computer room. Computerization began at the Federation in 1982 when the members data was compiled in a database stored on tape. However, this database had not been directly accessible until the 1985 purchase of one IBM PX XT computer. The local network inside the building was completed by 1993 with most daily routine activities done on the computer, but the entire operation was not transferred until as late as 1995. The desktop units have been gradually upgraded; the most recent change just occurred a few months ago. Today, the computer room accommodates two file servers, additional network units, and also serves as a storage place for old membership cards and office supply (Figure 40). The computerization of the Federation resulted not only in the appearance of desktop computers and wires in the landscape, but the disappearance of certain filing cabinets that were not necessary anymore. In one employee's office it enlarged the available space by about 15% (See Figure 41; furniture no. 6 and 6a were removed). The President's secretary occupies the office in the middle. The room is furnished similarly as the other staff offices: a desk, chairs, a desktop computer with printer on a separate desk, fax machine, drawers and filing cabinets, and an occasional plant. The President's office is at the end of the hall (Figures 42-43). This is the largest room, the same size as the conference room above it. The office is suitable for small meetings. The most remarkable items in this office are the two old Hungarian flags, one of which was donated in 1902 by the people of Hungary to the Hungarian immigrants in the United States (Figure 44). The flag ended up in Ligonier, PA, probably during WWII and was found in a basement by the former President of the Federation, was sent back to Budapest for restoration, and finally exhibited in the Kossuth House (See Item 12 in Appendix 5 for history of the flag). The flag bears the words of the "Szózat," the second Hungarian national anthem: "Magyar, to this thy native land/ Ever devoted be!" (translated by W.N. Loew). The other flag was made in 1913 (Figure 45). In the northern wing of the first floor there are three more offices; two for the staff, and the third one for the Secretary of the Federation at the end of the hall.
The second floor (Figures 46-47) - accessible by stairs from the reception area - is dedicated to the founding fathers of the Federation, members of its board of directors, and the orphanage and home for the elderly, both in Ligonier, PA. There are two staff offices on the right, and two on the left; all of them are open offices with no doors. At one end of the hallway is the Treasurer's office; at the other is the conference room. The conference room has hosted many events and celebrations, and had many prominent visitors. Among them are Mátyás Szûrös, President of the Hungarian Parliament, in 198922; Cardinal László Paskai, Primate of Hungary, in 1990; József Antall, Prime Minister of Hungary in 1992, who allegedly repeated his "de Gaulleian" statement uttered in the Hungarian Parliament earlier that "[he was] the Prime Minister of 15 million Hungarians"23; Géza Jeszenszky, former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Gábor Kuncze, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, on December 5, 1995, to meet the Washingtonian Hungarians in the Kossuth House; and the representatives and founders of the Hungarian political opposition in 198924, and leading individuals from the Hungarian national media, as well as the officers of the Embassy of Hungary in Washington, including the Ambassadors (Figures 48-49).
Immediately before the conference room on the left side is the only room that kept its function ever since its construction. It was used as a kitchen by the Turney family as well. It is significant because it makes it possible for the staff and the officers to interact informally during lunch breaks, providing a family atmosphere in the building. It is fully equipped, including a counter, sink, drawers and cupboards, two tables, chairs, a refrigerator, a microwave, an oven, and a copy machine that did not fit anywhere else. In fact, the only modification that was made after the plans for reconstructions had been accepted was the elimination of the workroom for the copy machine to enlarge the kitchen and the addition of a small restroom (See Figure 47). Preserving the function of the kitchen (with an office flavor) - as well as the three separate bathrooms (only the showers were removed) - over the transition from residence to office, the building carries with it a feeling of a home. This notion is confirmed by the occasional accommodation of overnight guests in the Kossuth House which is made possible by the folding bed in the conference room. These occasions have been infrequent lately, however.
The employees regularly use most of the rooms of the building; the less frequented premises are the small storage room on the second floor with the stairs to the roof, the conference room, the computer room, and the basement. Visitors, however, have identifiable paths within the building. All of them are greeted in the reception area; for some this is the only area they visit. More often they are escorted to either the President's office or the Secretary's office for conversations. Along the way, they are shown the Kossuth relics on the wall. If they are interested, they are given the "little tour" which is simply the two offices mentioned above and the hallway connecting them. Visitors are usually not particularly encouraged to see the second floor, although they are certainly welcome to go up if they are interested. This "big tour" usually leads to the conference room and is less interesting since the items on the wall of the second floor pertain to the history of the Federation, as opposed to the more widely known Kossuth story. There seems to be a cognitive boundary between the first and second floors, interestingly resembling the once existing physical boundary between the public and private spaces when the building belonged to the Turneys. Although, the door at the top of the stairs is always open - unlike, of course, when it separated the Turney's residence - the employees tend to socialize with those they share the floor with. There are several factors reinforcing this boundary, such as [. . .] to be explained later - and the inconvenient, high stairs (the average age of the employees is 55).
On the whole, the Kossuth House blends several functions today: an office, a museum, a home, and a community center. As it was already stated, it primarily functions as an office place for those who work there, and for the members, to some extent. For the tourists it is a museum with pictures, paintings, and authentic documents, objects, and other relics. They almost never access the offices. The guests who participate in certain events and are invited to the Kossuth House perceive the building as a community center, a place for Hungarian-Americans for events of different types. On their first visits, they also perceive the building as a museum as well, but this feeling weakens with the increase of the number of visits. It may be useful to mention occasional or regular "users" of the landscape, labeled as "others," including the gardener, the mailman, the repairmen, the accountant, or the auditor, whose limits of access - boundaries - are the garden, the front door, the reception area, or one of the offices. They certainly perceive the landscape as just another place to mow the lawn, to deliver the mail, or to fix something. Or maybe, just a place with a Hungarian name and some "stuff" on display.
The building has hosted a diverse range of events. Every year, there are official HRFA meetings held in the building, including Board of Directors meetings and National Conventions. The local branch (#300) of the Federation holds its official and community events in the Kossuth House. The Federation often hosts political events - organized by other Hungarian-American organizations. These include roundtable discussions, speeches, or informal meetings, often with a high-ranking politician or other visitor from Hungary. The celebration of (Hungarian) national holidays often takes place in the Kossuth House. The politically partial events had been, of course, more significant before 1989, when Hungary was under communist rule, and other forums, like the Embassy, were "occupied territories." Nonetheless, the most conspicuous political role bestowed upon the landscape was when a sign was posted inside the fence for weeks declaring the indignation of Hungarian Americans about the oppression of the human rights of the Hungarian minorities in Transylvania (Figure 50). As it was mentioned, other Hungarian-American organizations use the Kossuth House for non-political events as well. There are also events organized by individuals of Hungarian-American affiliation, the most interesting of which was a wedding in February 28, 1989.25 All of these events contribute to the role the building plays in the life of the Hungarian-American community, as well as in the field of international relations between the two countries.

Chapter 7

[. . . .]

Chapter 8

Every time an observer examines a landscape with a preconstructed idea in mind he will be looking for clues that support his thesis. In the process, however, this preoccupation often makes him overlook significant items in the landscape, or overemphasize the importance of others. It is important, therefore, to analyze those items from several points of view, a major part of which is the interpretation of the user or owner of the item, of course. This was exactly the case with the Kossuth House. The personal interviews with the inhabitants of the landscape shed light on many aspects, explained the meaning and use of artifacts in one case, and shattered seemingly well-working theses about them in the other.
Each employee of the Kossuth House likes the building itself for a variety of reasons, including convenient location, outside architecture, and because is "part of [her] heritage" or because "it is [her] second home." It is important to point out that the physical location and the aesthetic value as reasons for liking the building were given by the two people born in the U.S., while the Hungarian-born people tended to concentrate on more intimate matters, such as heritage and home. As for the building itself, most of the employees preferred the exterior to the interior.
According to their opinion, the ultimate advantage of the building seems to be its downtown location with easy access to the metro. Also, as it was mentioned by the national officers, the building is well exposed to the public which definitely adds to the Hungarian presence in D.C. Among the disadvantages or weaknesses of the landscape the most frequently sited one was the limited parking. Also mentioned were the lack of a covered entry way, a larger conference room (on the first floor with easy outside access), and the recent absence of the flags from the roof. Upon asking what they thought could realistically be done to make the landscape better, the interviewees mostly cited functional changes, treating the Kossuth House as primarily an office this time, including a larger room for the office equipment, changing the size of the offices to more functional ones, and cleaning up and restructuring the basement for more storage place. Tellingly, several of them mentioned that the building could use an overall cleaning, both inside and outside.

[. . . .]


The Kossuth House, as a building, has become "one" with the organization it hosts in the minds of Hungarian-Americans. To understand their culture, thoughts, and beliefs, one cannot disregard the Federation as an organizing force in their lives, a glue that holds them together to help them preserve their heritage and ethnic identity. The Kossuth House has been the center of their community life, as well as a link to the mother country, by the events it has hosted for visitors from Hungary on cultural or political mission. As the organization lost its role as the chief advocate of Hungarian freedom and culture in America in 1989 returning some of its tasks to the Hungarian Embassy, it continues to be in a certain political role as a member of the Hungarian American Coalition, just like the building is a Hungarian cultural island open to the public. Since the democratic changes in Hungary seem to be the natural cause for the decreasing significance of the Kossuth House, there are other reasons, according to one of the employees with considerable insight. She explains:
"In 1986, when we first moved into the building, Hungary was still under the old regime. The Kossuth House, under the [previous] leadership . . . became a meeting place of American-Hungarians who were sympathizers of freedom for Hungary. This meant that the Kossuth House gained respect of the entire American-Hungarian community in the United States, Western Europe, and interestingly enough of Hungary, too. In fact, not only famous American-Hungarians and Europeans visited the Kossuth House, but also notable Hungarians from Hungary itself . . . Therefore, for me personally the Kossuth House meant a lot, because it meant much to and was well loved by Hungarians, both here and abroad. Since times have changed, and Hungary has gained its freedom, the Kossuth House lost its importance. Not because of this, but because of the [. . .].

[. . . .]


As it surfaced during the research this is not the only existing "Kossuth House." There is one in Kitchener, Ontario, owned and used by a Hungarian-Canadian organization; one in Shumen, Bulgaria28, where Lajos Kossuth spent years in exile; and one is currently being built in Akron, Ohio, which will be used as an elderly home for Hungarian-Americans. Each of them could be subjects of further research - to analyze them as cultural landscapes - to gain a more thorough understanding of these "hyperlinked" cultures of Hungarian ethnic communities around the U.S. and the world.

Appendix 5.

Catalogue of exhibition items (lithographs, daguerreotypes, photographs, drawings, paintings, documents, newspaper clippings, and other objects) on the first floor walls of the Kossuth House.

1. Kossuth's Entrance into the Park, New York City, 1851

As the procession moved up Broadway, Kossuth, standing up in an open carriage, his feathered Hungarian hat (soon very fashionable wear for many thousands of liberal Americans, and called a "Kossuth Hat") in his right hand, escorted by some of his Hungarian Hussar officers on horseback, created a lasting impression. "The military display," it was later reported, "was undoubtedly the finest ever seen in our city ... Taken all in all, New York never before gave such a generous ovation to either fellow-countryman or stranger."

2. Emblem Designed by Kossuth (metal)

3. Emblem Designed by Kossuth for the Honvéd Army 1848/49 (copper)

4. Editorial Banquet in Honor of Kossuth, New York City, December 15, 1851

Kossuth, a former journalist who suffered imprisonment for breaking censorship in Hungary, was celebrated by members of the New York press as a champion of the freedom of the press and publishing.

5. Kossuth at the Military Banquet in New York on December 16, 1851

He was presented with a sword once owned by George Washington.

6. Reception of Louis Kossuth and Family on board the U.S. steam-frigate Mississippi by Captain Long at Marseilles, France, Fall, 1851

7. Review of the Troops by Kossuth, Boston, 1852

Kossuth was celebrated in various ways at the Capital City of Massachusetts, April 27-30, 1852.

8. Torchlight procession and serenade in front of Irving House, New York City, 1851

9. Arrival of Kossuth at New York

December 4, 1851 Kossuth arrived in New York on the steamer Humboldt. He was greeted by Dr. Sydney Doane, Commissioner of Health on Staten Island. Two days later, Kossuth was escorted by a deputation of prominent New Yorkers. The entourage arrived on the steamer Vanderbilt, where a procession was formed, moved up the Broadway into the city. Several public addresses were given by Kossuth.

10. Kossuth attended by the spirits of freedom and history, and by guardian genius of Hungary, with his own good angel calmly bearing him through space to America (drawing)

At the proposal of Senator Foote of Mississippi, the United States Government invited Kossuth as "the Nation's guest" as once Lafayette had been invited. Subsequently, the American steam frigate Mississippi was sent to Symrna (now Izmir), Turkey, to provide for Kossuth's safe departure to America.
September 10, 1851 Kossuth and family, with some of his followers, departed from the port of Smyrna. On their journey, a large crowd greeted them at Marseilles, France. October 23, 1851 Kossuth arrived in Southampton, England. Several enthusiastic receptions were held for him. Kossuth's addresses outlined his political philosophy. The progress of his journey was reported in the American press, and accounts of his speeches steered the American public with democratic idealism.

11. Kossuth Lajos Imája a Kápolnai Csata Után 1849. Február 27-én (painting)

Felséges úr! árpád fiainak Istene!
Tekints reánk csillagokkal övedzett trónusodról és hallgasd meg könyörg szolgádat, kinek ajkáról mílliók imája száll eged tündökl kárpitja felé, hogy áldja és magasztalja a Te mindenhatóságod erejét Istenem ! felettem éltet napod ég, s térdeim alatt a szabadság csatájában elhullott vitéz honfiaimnak csontjai nyugszanak - fejem fölött kéken mosolyog az ég, lábaim alatt gyászossá vált a föld, sapáink unokáinak kiomlott vérét l. - óh ! csak had szálljon alá napodnak teremt sugara, hogy virág fakadjon a véráztatott hantokon, mert e porlandó tetemek koszorú nélkül el nem hamvadhatnak. Isten! sapáinknak, s népeknek Istene ! hallgasd meg ágyúink bömböl szavát, melyben vitéz népednek lelke menydörög, hogy széjjelzúzza az önkény bilincset-osztó vaskarjait.
Mint szabad hazánk szabad fia térdelek az újabb temet n, honfiaim, testvéreim roncsolt tetemein. Ilyen áldozatok árán szentté válik e hazának földje, ha b nös volt is, óh Istenem ! mert vérrel megszentelt földön rabnépnek élni nem szabad!
Atyám! satyáinknak védelmez Istene ! mílliók felett hatalmas úr! ég, föld s tengereknek mindenható Istene ! Dics ség n e porlandó csontokból és nemzetem homlokán fog ragyogni.
Szenteld meg e porokat kegyelmeddel, hogy a szent ügyért elhullott bajnokok áldással nyugodjanak, szentelt hamvaikban.

12. National Ornamental Flag

A gift of Hungary to the Hungarian people of America who left their homeland at the turn of the century and before. The flag was meant to visit all the Hungarian colonies in the United States and bring them greetings from their homeland.
A crowd of 3,000 people came to say, "Bon Voyage," to the flag as it started its long pilgrimage leaving Budapest on August 17, 1902.
This National Treasure reached America on August 30, 1902. The official welcoming ceremony took place in New York City. A crowd of 20,000 marched in procession, recalling the jubilant welcome which was extended to Lajos Kossuth in the same city in 1851.
The guardian of the flag is the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America. At the request of the leaders of the Federation, the flag was sent to the National Museum of Budapest for restoration in 1992. Upon its return on March 15, 1993, we are happy to welcome this National Treasure in the Nation's Capital before it will once again start its pilgrimage to the Hungarian American communities throughout the United States.

13. The Kossuth House, Washington, D.C., National Headquarters of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America (photo)

14. Kossuth (Photograph, New York, 1851 or 1852)

15. "Eleven of the Exiled Officers in New York" ca. 1851. (daguerreotype)

16. SS Humboldt that Conveyed Kossuth and Family to America in December 1851

17. Kossuth Lajos és Családja (Louis Kossuth and Family) (daguerreotype)

Upper row: László Udvardy-Kossuth, Louis Kossuth's father; Mrs. László Udvardy-Kossuth, née Sarolta Wéber of Tyrling. Middle row: Mrs. Ruttkay, Luiza Kossuth, Kossuth's younger sister; Louis Kossuth Mrs. Lajos (Louis) Kossuth, née Teréz Meszlényi; Bottom row: Ferencz Kossuth; Vilma Kossuth; Lajos Tódor Kossuth (Kossuth's sons and daughter)

18. Prominent Hungarian Officers Serving in the Union Army during the American Civil War: Asboth (Brig. Gen. Alexander Asbóth); Col. C.D. Zágonyi (Col. Charles Zágonyi); Jul. Stahel (Brig. Gen. Julius Stáhel-Számvald). (Portraits with signatures in one frame)

19. Kossuth and his Polish Generals: Henri Dembinski; Kossuth Lajos; J. (Joseph) Bem (with signatures)

20. General Asboth and Staff at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Ark., March 6th - 8th, 1862

Text: "The gallantry displayed by General Asboth in the victory of Pea Ridge gives great interest to the spirited sketch of himself and staff which we present to our readers. Among the officers in the sketch were acting Brigadier General Albert, Brigade Quartermaster McKay, the young commander of the Fremont Hussars, Major George E. Waring, Jr., from New York City, formerly major of the Garibaldi Guards, and the general's aid-de-camps, Gillen, and Kroll, etc. Among general Asboth's most constant attendants was his favorite dog, York, a splendid specimen of the St. Bernard species."

21. A light textile bookmark (?), pasted together, originally in Hungary's red-white-green national colors, in three pieces; the red is entirely faded.

Kossuth's portrait in the center, with the legend:
"Welcome Kossuth, / the nation's guest / to the land of the free / and the home of the brave!"
Translation (typed under it):
"Isten hozott, Kossuth, / nemzetünk vendége / szabadok honába, / bátraknak földére." 1851

22. Kossuth's entrance on the Battery from Castle Garden. New York, December 1951

Kossuth's reception in New York, by emphasizing his character of head-of-state of the new, democratic Hungary, included several events which involved him with the military.

23. Obituary Notice
Issued by the sons of Lajos Kossuth, dated March 21, 1894.

24. "Kossuth and his Family" -- "Kossuth und seine Familie".

Family portrait prepared from various daguerrotypes. Buffalo, New York. Probably 1852. Kossuth visited Buffalo on May 22, 1852, before an excursion to Niagara Falls.

25. The Daily Union, Washington, D.C., December 20, 1849.

The influential paper reviews the Hungarian situation following the collapse of the resistance in the country, including the surrender of the country's last stronghold, the fortress of Komárom (Comorn), and the emigration of its civilian governor, Ladislaus (László) újváry, his family and entourage.
The banner at Kossuth's triumphal reception at Boston declared:
"Governor Kossuth, Welcome to Massachusetts", marking a height for his tour of the cities and historical monuments of New England (April 26 through May 14, 1852).

26. Arrival of Kossuth at the Southhampton docks, England Fall, 1851

27. Barracks at Kutaya (Kutahia), Turkey, the place of Kossuth's imprisonment 1849 (drawing)

Under constant threats against the lives of Kossuth, his family and his companions, the Turkish Sultan directed Hungary's most prominent, exiled refugees to the military barracks of a distant town.

28. Kossuth and his Generals

American print of 1852, published in response to the public need in the United States. Quoting its introductory lines, it says: "The expected arrival on our shores of the illustrious patriot Kossuth, demand from every journal more than a passing notice, but from ourselves the largest engraving we can give, seem insufficient, and pages might easily be devoted to his history and his praise. Yet is not America, is not all the world acquainted with his history? Now, that his advent is so near, do not the very children lisp his name?"

29. General Bem before Hermannstadt

30. Equestrian statue of Kossuth

31. Original letter by Lajos Kossuth written during his exile in Scotland

32. Kossuth leaving the docks at Southhampton

33. Barracks at Kutaya

34. U.S. Steam Frigate Mississippi Passing Punta Triasto

35. Kossuth at the Opera House, New York City, December 1851

36. Kossuth plaque on Kossuth House (photo)


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Fraternity/Testvériség. Washington, D.C.: Hungarian Reformed Federation of America. 1985-1997.

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