Estonian House Inc. Chicago was founded in 1964. Fundraising commenced immediately in order to buy a “home” for the Estonian community. By 1967, a large plot of land with a private residence was identified in the suburb of Prairie view. The site was very overgrown, but this did not deter the founders who bought the property. Part of the purchase included 16-17 rattlesnakes, mostly small, but one which measured 2 meters in length. Volunteers cleared the land on weekends and during vacations. They were kept fed by kitchen crews that cooked every Saturday and Sunday. Very quickly organizations began sprouting up, such as the Estonian School, theater groups, summer camps for children and the elderly, choirs, an Estonian library, card-playing groups and of course the “heatujuring” – “good spirits” group (bar).
From early on, the original private residence was not large enough to accommodate the growing number of members and guests. To remedy this situation a building committee was formed to study proposals and raise funds for an addition (especially a banquet hall). Much discussion and analysis ensued with multiple proposals being considered by the membership. The winning design was by Estonian architect Jakob Viks whose proposed new structure merged the original building with a new mid-century modern style hall. Construction occurred between 1970 and 1972 mostly with our own volunteer workmen (and “perenaised” who kept the men fed).
The backbone of the Estonian House has been the groups of people who serve lunch almost every Sunday of the year. Special larger events over the years have included many local and visiting choirs, theater groups, musical ensembles and prominent guests from America and Estonia. Annual highlights have included the Mid-Summer Night Celebration (Jaanipäev/Võidupüha), Christmas (complete with childrens‘ presentations, Santa Claus and traditional Estonian food) and New Year’s Eve. The Estonian House has had 5 presidents since 1964: Peeter Elias, Oskar Kookla, Enno Toomsalu, Mehis Vahtra and Eero Pikat. Each of them have relied heavily on the members and volunteers that have made a comfortable and on-going home for the Estonian community in and around Chicago.
Activities at the Estonian House continue to evolve. We now have our own in-house dance band, a sauna and continue to maintain and renovate the house so that it is an appealing place to visit. Other ethnic groups have also begun to use the Estonian House for their activities, including Finns, Latvians and Norwegians. Community-based organization also use the Estonian House. We have hosted the “Theater in the Woods” for the village of Riverwoods, Boy Scout troops and are a popular rental space for weddings and corporate meetings.
Thank You to the Chicago Eesti House Founding Members:
AASA, MANIVALD JA HILDEGARD