Alku 1 and 2, Finnish Coops in Brooklyn New York, are Historic Sites

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is a state agency within the New York State Executive Department charged with the operation of state parks and historic sites within the United States and New York State. As of 2014, the agency manages 335,000 acres of public lands and facilities and 35 historic sites. There are now additional historic sites.

Title picture: Tree guard was made by Tom Mazzone of City Tree Guards.

Alku Toinen Door

Alku 2 building entrance

On March 21, 2019, on Peebles Island in Waterford, upstate New York, the Review Board of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, voted unanimously to recommend Alku & Alku Toinen for nomination to the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Both Alku 1 and Alku 2, 816 and 826 43rd Street, Brooklyn, New York, will be formally listed on the State Register. The application has been mailed to the National Park Service. It is anticipated that in the summer of 2019 the National Register of Historic Places with also approve the listing of the first two Finnish coop buildings in the USA to be included on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Robert Alan Saasto

Robert A. Saasto

Robert Alan Saasto, Esq., born in Finntown in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, NY, was very active in the process of securing the historical documentation for the Board of Alku 1 and 2 to submit in the request for historical designation. In addition to furnishing extensive historical references himself, he was able to direct the Board to other sources in the USA and Finland to secure additional historical proof to establish that in fact, (1) Alku 1 and Alku 2 were the first Finnish coop buildings in Brooklyn NY and in the USA; and (2) that the Finnish immigrants brought the concept of cooperative ownership to the United States.

 

“The Finns should be recognized not just for saunas, but also for bringing to the USA the concept of cooperative ownership, whether it be buildings, food markets, banks, credit unions, etc. This is a first step towards that recognition!”

 

Letters of support from the Finnish American community were submitted with the application. They included the following: Finnish American Lawyers Association by Robert Alan Saasto, Esq., President; Amerikan Uutiset by Mikko Koskinen, Editor; The Finlandia Foundation New York Chapter by Eero Kilpi, President; Finland Center Foundation by Jaana Rehnstrom, President; and Finnish Sibelius Masonic Lodge by Robert Alan Saasto, Trustee.

 

The Board of Alku 1 and Alku 2 worked very hard to get the historical designation. Valerie Landriscina, a licensed architect, was very active in securing the hard data necessary for the application for historical designation. Robert Alan Saasto proposed to her the following questions via e mail and received the following answers:

1) What inspired you to take on this great project? Was it to preserve the architectural status or to memorialize the Finnish connection or both or some other reason?

For me, I was inspired by architecture. When I moved into the building, I was told that it was the first Finnish co-op but didn’t fully understand what that meant. At the time, I appreciated the spatial layout of the apartment which we later learned was heavily influenced by Finnish design.

 

It was during my involvement in an exterior facade restoration project in 2013 and 2014 that I came to further appreciate the art that Eric O. Holmgren, Alku Toinen’s architect, designed into the apartment building. This is an art that is lost today — that even working class people deserve beautiful homes. We replaced Alku Toinen’s decorative parapet wall and I was tasked with not only making sure waterproofing was done correctly, but that the contractor salvaged and reinstalled decorative limestone elements and that Holmgren’s playful brick patterns were duplicated. Holmgren’s brick patterns at Alku Toinen’s parapet wall were like his maker’s mark. I can clearly identify his other buildings in the neighborhood.

 

2) I know there are no longer any Finns in Alku 1 but does that apply to Alku 2 as well

Unfortunately, our last Finnish member this passed away summer. Her name was Greta Tolamaa. Greta was a great resource to the current board. She and her husband volunteered as board members during their membership. (Greta was also the neighbor who told me, ”You have to contact Saasto” for more Finnish history.)

 

3) Who are the Board members involved in this project other than yourself

Cecilia Feilla and John Amman are fellow board members. John is our board president. The three of us were the most heavily involved in the research project.

 

4) Are you planning some event perhaps in the courtyard to celebrate this? maybe have local press? maybe even the Consul General of Finland to NY ??

I think this is a great idea but we will need to speak as a board first.

 

The Board is also considering putting a plaque in the wall to recognize the historical designation. You can be sure that Robert Saasto will encourage them to recognize the Finnish immigrants who made it all happen. There is presently a fence around the tree outside the building which spells out Alku 1 in the gridwork.

 

 

Robert Alan Saasto