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Dormant for most of the last year, over the summer this blog will be TAKING OFF. Literally. In a car. Somehow, I have been fortunate enough to win a travel grant for my studies in architectural history which will support my field research over the next two months. My blog is about to become a journal for my field research.

My hope is to explore how the legacy of immigration to the West Coast has shaped our built environment. Roadtripping through the historical conurbations of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, I’ll be hunting down social halls and meeting houses built by immigrants and their ethnic communities before WWII. These buildings are still standing many many decades later and in some cases, new generations are keeping these communities active. Ethnic Halls are all over the place!

“Ethnic Halls”: a purpose-built meeting space for a secular, ethnically self-defined society. The records are sparse so my research relies on historic phone directories and newspapers to identify where these communities organized. Many of the clubs I identify will be straightforward, for example: Germania hall, or the Uniao Portuguesa. Some addresses are listed several times under different names, and the records reveal that multiple ethnic meeting groups rented a single facility and would meet there on different days of the week.

What does an ethnic hall look like? Are there communal or spatial differences between different immigrating groups? Is this a social phenomenon which originates in America? How are these ethnic halls different from fraternities like the Mason’s or Elk’s which were so popular at the time? I hope to identify and photograph these halls today in order to compile a contextual record of the scope and scale of this type of community building in the urban landscape.

“major urban centers” on my list: Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, San Jose, Stockton, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Spokane, Portland, Eureka

what will I do with my “research”: I’ll be posting pictures and descriptions of these Halls to Flickr but this may take some time. This fall, I hope to use this field research to inform a comparative study between two or three Bay Area Ethnic Halls. Perhaps this can be my own small contribution to the recent history of our diversity on the west coast.

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