Bars and Churches

This weekend I photographed on the NW side of Grand Rapids, in the 4th Street NW and Stocking Avenue NW area. Historically it was a Polish Catholic immigrant neighborhood and blue collar. Today it looks to be diverse economically, ethnically, and culturally, with a blue collar and artsy character. The area around 4th and Stocking has a variety of businesses and institutions, among them notably places of “spirits”–churches and bars.

First the church buildings. One is the Basilica of St. Adalbert, named for the medieval Bishop of Prague (born with the name Vojtěch), who was a missionary to the Poles and Hungarians and was martyred during a mission to convert Baltic Prussians. The other looks to be a Spanish-language evangelical congregation, using an old building associated with Polish immigrants. You can see in the brickwork an old sign for the St. H.R.C.B. Society [St. Hyacinth Roman Catholic Benevolent Society]. St. Hyancinch was a medieval Polish Dominican known as the “Apostle of the North,” who did wide-ranging missions and helped establish monasteries and convents.

The two buildings are a reminder that Grand Rapids has been and is a city of immigrants, even as the ethnic and religious origins of immigrants continue to change.

My favorite images of the places with other kinds of spirits are a coffee house and a couple of bars. I love the old buildings, the colors, and the evolving persistence of neighborhoods.

Happy Labor Day everyone! People are back in school already, and the end of summer does not come until later in September, but to me Labor Day feels like the official start of a new season. I hope it’s a good one for everyone, with Fall colors and cooler weather.


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