Five outstanding members of the Hungarian community—Peter Schell, Ede Neuman de Végvár, Károly Pulvári, Ferenc Chorin and Tibor Eckhardt, operating within the framework of the Széchenyi István Society, the Hungarian Catholic League, and the American Hungarian Library and Historical Society—established the American Foundation for Hungarian Literature and Education (AFHLE) on August 23, 1963, which was officially registered as a non-profit organization by the State of New York on April 16, 1964.
With the generous support of their founding members, the three organizations purchased the building of the future Hungarian House from the German athletic club Central Turnverein of the City of New York at 213-215 East 82nd Street on September 9, 1966, when the AFHLE assumed responsibility for its maintenance. Over the years, the Catholic League handed over its ownership rights to local Hungarian Franciscans, who in turn passed it on to the Hungarian Scout Association in Exteris, which has been the third co-owner organization ever since.
The founders of the Hungarian House made sure the House would always stay in the hands of the Hungarian community. According to the Articles of Incorporation, the co-owners can only pass on ownership rights to organizations with similar objectives, and strictly with the consent of the other two co-owners. Furthermore, in the event the AFHLE were to be dissolved and the Hungarian House sold, none of the co-owners shall benefit from the proceeds, and the entire amount is to be offered to organizations engaged in Hungarian scientific and cultural activities.
As one of the central community establishments of Hungarian immigrants in New York, the Hungarian House has welcomed numerous leading personalities over the years. It was among these walls that József Antall, the first democratically-elected Prime Minister of Hungary after the fall of Communism in 1989, greeted the Hungarian-American community, as did Presidents Árpád Göncz and Pál Schmitt, Cardinal József Mindszenty Prince Primate of Hungary, Member of the European Parliament Otto von Habsburg, nuclear physicist Edward Teller, Nobel laureate physicist Dennis Gábor, Cardinal Péter Erdő Primate of Hungary, László Köver President of the Hungarian Parliament.
From the very beginning, thanks to the work of hundreds of generous supporters and volunteers, thousands of visitors could learn about slices of Hungarian culture in the Hungarian House. Numerous lectures, concerts, film screenings, productions, folk dances, exhibitions, fairs, dinners, gatherings, Hungarian and English language classes took place in these halls, all of them serving both the Hungarian émigrés and the host country. Between 1974 and 1975, for example, 24 Hungarian organizations utilized the Hungarian House, according to the minutes of the AFHLE.
The operating costs of the Hungarian House are covered by personal donations, facilities rentals, and proceeds of fundraising events, and sometimes we receive benefits from estates. The maintenance costs of the building are at least $50,000 a year. In 2006, under the patronage of former New York Governor George Pataki, the House received a $450,000 state grant, which was used to repair damaged parts of the building, upgrade certain areas, as well as install central air conditioning.
Times have changed, and so have the visitors and supporters of the Hungarian House been renewed generation after generation. Today’s immigrants and visitors come from different backgrounds and have different needs than Hungarians of the major immigration waves did. Yet the goal remains the same: to maintain Hungarian culture and acquaint American society with it. To achieve this goal, the Hungarian House, its co-owners, as well as old and new immigrant communities, seek—and find—common ground; for the Hungarian House is currently the only active Hungarian cultural center in New York City, and as such, one of the most important bridgeheads of the local Hungarian community.