Thirty years ago, Vytas Maciunas spent hours inside a room at the Lithuanian Music Hall in Port Richmond lobbying Congress and sharing information about what was going on 4,400 miles away.
Maciunas oversaw a telephone switchboard team of volunteers who, during Lithuania’s fledgling independence movement, called on federal lawmakers to support the country’s break from the Soviet Union.
On Jan. 13, 1991, when Soviet troops killed 13 civilians in the Lithuanian capital, they stayed up all-night inside the building on Allegheny Avenue.
“It was a real center of activity to do what we could here in America to make that voice of what was going on in Lithuania heard here,” Maciunas told Metro.
In the decades since, the 113-year-old music hall has remained a cultural hub for Lithuanians, but its future, like so much else, is threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.
Maciunas, the president of the nonprofit that runs the music hall, launched a fundraising effort last month to help keep the building open.
All of its operating revenue is generated from hall rentals, especially weddings. The facility has three event spaces, including a grand ballroom that can accommodate 300 guests.
“So when the pandemic came, I mean, it’s zero. There’s nothing,” said Maciunas, who had to cancel his own daughter’s wedding at the site.
However, at least right now, the Lithuanian Cultural Center of Philadelphia is not at risk of losing the building, he said.
“Our taxes are paid. All of our bills are paid,” Maciunas added. “Our insurance is up to date, but, you know, here comes another year. Here comes another chunk of money that we need to come up with.”
There are no plans to begin scheduling new events. Indoor catered parties, such as weddings, are currently prohibited in Philadelphia, and Maciunas estimated the music hall wouldn’t hold another until the latter half of 2021.
He is crossing his fingers that they will be able to run the annual Lithuanian Fair, known as Muge, in early November. Last year, the festival, which covers a substantial portion of the center’s budget, was canceled for the first time in 44 years.
The fundraising campaign, which includes a GoFundMe, has raised nearly $20,500 as of Sunday.
Local residents raised $32,600 to build the hall, which opened in 1908, according to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
In the past, the association raised money for Lithuanians during both world wars, and it launched several relief efforts for people in the country during the Cold War.
Prior to the pandemic, the hall hosted Lithuanian concerts, choir rehearsals, language classes, club meetings and practices for three dance groups.
It also serves as the home for a cultural center that documents the Lithuanian American experience in Philadelphia and the coal mining towns of Pennsylvania. The collection includes books, records, artifacts and music dating back as far as the 1890s.
There’s also a folk art institute that meets at the hall. The group focuses on maintaining customs, such as weaving and making Christmas ornaments and traditional clothing, Maciunas said.
Maciunas said the nonprofit has sought to open the building up to the community, as well. For decades, the now-defunct Theatre Company of Port Richmond used it, and, recently, an Argentinian tango school has sponsored events there.
For more information on the fundraiser, go to lccphila.org.