CROATIAN AMERICAN CULTURAL CENTER
Home of the
SLAVONIC MUTUAL and BENEVOLENT SOCIETY
OLDEST CROATIAN SOCIETY IN AMERICA
In March of 2004 the Board of Directors of the Slavonic Cultural Center and the Slavonic Mutual and Benevolent Society of San Francisco, California voted unanimously to change the name of the cultural center to Croatian American Cultural Center.
Vice-President: Adam S. Eterovich
HISTORY OF SOCIETY
On November 17, 1857, at 56 Government House near the present waterfront of San Francisco, California a group of Dalmatians, Istrians, Bokelje and Hercegovinans from Croatia and Hercegovina organized the oldest Croatian Society in America then called the Slavonic Illyric Society. Illyric was a patriotic movement in Croatia. In 1923 the name was changed to Slavonic Mutual and Benevolent Society as Illyric had lost its historic meaning.
The Slavonic Illyric Society, organized and purchased the Slavonic Plot Croatian Catholic Cemetery in 1861; founded a Library in 1869; was the prime organizor of the Croatian and Slovene Catholic Church of Nativity in San Francisco in 1900.
The Society built the first home and cultural center in America at Sutter Creek, Amador County in 1873. Our Gold Rush pioneers had a branch of the Society in the Amador; a branch in Sacramento in 1859; and a branch in Watsonville, California.
The Society has constructed a 1.5 million dollar center in San Francisco in1975 and is now adding $400, 000. in renovations and when completed will be called the Croatian American Cultural Center.
The Society had over 700 members in the 1870’s. Our membership includes six generations of Californians. Our Logo or Coat of Arms incorporates the American Flag, the red, white and blue Croatian Flag; a fox and star as found in the Arms of Slavonia.
The Society is not interested in your political or religious beliefs. We welcome all men and women of good will who have a desire to preserve our ethnic culture in America.
CROATIAN CEMETERY IN SAN FRANCISCO 1861
On April 11, 1861, the first Catholic Bishop under the American administration, Bishop Aleman, granted the Slavonic Illyric Society of San Francisco the honor and right to a separate cemetery plot to be known as the Slavonic Plot. This plot, called Sclavonic Terra at the time, was 46’ x 19’ in size and was purchased for $400.00 in gold coin in perpetual care.
No other Catholic ethnic group in the San Francisco Bay Area was granted an autonomous cemetery within the Holly Cross Catholic Cemetery. Our plot was located approximately on the site of present day University of San Francisco. The New Calvary Catholic Cemetery was organized on the 18th of October 1860 with 84 acres. The cost of a grave was $1.00 per square foot and $12.00 for an adult opening and $8.00 for openings for children.
Our society would bury any Catholic Slav, but since all of the Slavs in the Society and in San Francisco were Croatians from Dalmatia, the first burials were Croatians and by the 1900’s, Slovene Catholics were being buried. Catholic Croatians in 1861 were subjects of Turkey, Hungary, Italy, and Austria; this relationship lasted on and off from 1000 AD until the formation of Croatia in 1991. The good bishop Aleman understood the plight of South- Slavs for ethnic identity and a last resting place of their own far from their beloved Dalmatia.
The Slavonic Society purchased the Slavonic Plot in advance so as to provide a burial site for members, indigents, priests and other circumstances Croatians who were not in a position to pay for their final resting place.
Because of the Great Earthquake and Fire in 1906 that consumed San Francisco, all burial sites in San Francisco were required to locate outside the city in Colma, except those cemeteries, determined to be historical sites, such as Mission Dolores. The Society made removals on a selected basis of family preference to the new Holy Cross Cemetery at Colma. All other Slavonic Plot burials were put into a common grave.
The 46’ x 49’ plot purchased in 1861 was exchanged for a 65’ x 65’ plot in 1910. They gave up all rights to the San Francisco deed and accepted a new deed and contract. In 1911 they expanded the 65’ x 65’ to 100’ x 100’ and paid gold coin for the land and perpetual care. In 1926 they negotiated a new additional contract for an additional 100’ x 100’ and 50’ x 200’ in size. They maintain the Slavonic Plot in the sizes described to this day. The Contracts were tested in court and our contracts were upheld. The rights to a Slavonic Plot extend to the year 2200 AD. A review of some historic burials made in the 1850’s and 1860’s by our Society are of interest:
Mission Dolores Cemetery on January 15, 1860
Ovdi Pocivajo costi pociniega Fortunala
Fermicha rodom od Brucia u Dalmaziu
viecku niegovu 23 ga dine i svercia
niegov xivot new 15 Genura 1860 u
Svetoinu Franc. (San Francisco).
Erected by the Slavonic Illyric Society for his memory.
Rest in peace. Amen.
Mission Dolores Cemetery on July 18, 1860
Ovdi pocivajo costi Johan Provisso koisse
rodi godine 1818 u Boka Kotor u varoscu,
Erzeg Novi, Provinza Dalmatia I poge
sovogna svieta na 28 luglia 1860
koi ostavi nankonsebe 2 sina, 2 kceri
l svoju sprugu u zernu do vieka.
Resquienscant in pace.
Erected by the Slavonic Illyric Society to his memory.
In 1862 Marco Milinovich and Marco Zenovich were brought from Virginia City, Nevada for burial. Marco Milinovich was shot and killed by an Irish gunfighter in his San Francisco Hotel and Saloon. In 1866 Antonio Sassovich, a sailor, murdered Basilio Vlahovich. Antonio was hung. Both were buried by the Society, although not members. Virginia Rasol, age 1, was the first child buried in the Slavonic Plot in 1871. The Society buried all Priests who had served the Croatian Church of Nativity. The Slavonic Plot has played a very important part in the society.
USAGE OF SLAVONIAN
When the Republic of Venice controlled Istria and Dalmatia they called their Croatian subjects Schiavoni (Slavonians). Next to the Piazza San Marco in Venice is the large dock called Riva Degli Schiavoni and behind this dock was the Slavonian Quarter also known as the Castello. In this Quarter you will find the Scola Degli Schiavoni (Guild Hall of the Slavonians), Church of the Schiavoni and the homes of the Cabots who discovered North America and the burial place of the Marco Polos. This rule lasted from 1400 to 1800 and in Istria longer. During this time Croatians in Spain were known as Esclavons or Aragusa; in England and Europe as Sclavonians, Illyrians, Dalmatians or Ragusans. Croatians started to come to America in the 1750’s; they came as Slavonians to the Southern and Western United States.
All of the above was done to divide the coastal Croatians from their brothers inland.
Adam S. Eterovich