What better way than a heart-bombing on the eve of Valentine’s Day to honor WW2 freedom fighter and humanitarian Ms. Walentyna (Valentina) Janta-Polczynska? The event, conceived of by members of the Elmhurst History and Cemeteries Preservation Society (EHCPS), along with preservationist/educator Kelly Carroll, and Community Board 4, consisted of making arts-and-crafts hearts, and writing personalized sayings on them, in the fellowship room of the Elmhurst Baptist Church, a block away. The EHCPS applied for landmarking of the home, and helped promote the Janta story into the media spotlight, garnering international letters of support by this time, without any decision by the Landmarks Preservation Committee, other than that they are still collecting research for their files. Ms. Janta and her husband, poet, author, journalist, and humanitarian, Aleksander, purchased the home in 1959. While he passed away of cancer in 1974, Walentyna remained in the home until her passing in 2020, at the age of 107. (See prior Juniper Berry articles; Fall 2020, Winter 2020, Winter 2021 for info.)
The concept of ‘heart-bombing’ is described as a public display of love and affection towards historic sites by placing hearts on them by a group effort with those of the same mindset. The Janta House in Elmhurst has become a cherished site, and despite the soft flurries that fell steadily on this day, the occasion drew well over forty people.
New District Director Weilai Rice from Councilman Krishnan’s office said, “I loved seeing the community coming together to fight for this good cause. I share the sentiments written on many of the Valentine Hearts during the event. It was wonderful to see people of different age groups and backgrounds coming together to show support in preserving an important part of history. It’s a great reminder that preserving history is not just about saving the past, but creating new bonds for the future.”
Longtime supporter Lisa Marie Mazzara, Education Director at Catholic elementary Notre Dame School, and Girl Scout 4601 Troop Leader said, “When a Community comes together, we show our power and strength through numbers, and we have proved time after time how much the Janta House means to us! Many of our troop members attended St. Bartholomew Catholic Academy, and the Janta House is right outside their school windows, a piece of history that should be preserved and shared with everyone!”
As the craft making session ensued, people mingled, took photos, and shared thoughts. Looking over some of the creations, there was clearly a purity of purpose and intention. A few of the sayings: “Ms. Janta, you were a brave light of inspiration and wisdom,” “Roses are red, violets are blue, please save this house for me and you. Love troop 4601,” “This place matters. Polish history is American History,” “Janta’s gifts of love: respect, perseverance, education, justice.” After the group proceeded to the Janta House, and photos were taken by partnering Polish Media, a decision was made to let go of the actual heart-bombing ritual, due to the moisture which would rapidly ruin the display, as well as the sense that so many of these sweet endearing sayings should be saved, as mementos for this occasion.
Polish journalist/photographer Andrzej Cierkosz said, “I’m delighted you are keeping Walentyna Janta’s story alive. It’s important and necessary. Congratulations on your persistence. The fact that it was a great idea is best evidenced by the inscriptions on the hearts created by the participants. Unfortunately, as you know good things do not happen by themselves and immediately. Certainly, an event such as this is a good step towards creating an important and needed place for the young and future generations for education regarding Walentyna’s home.”
Recently, there has been activity surrounding the Janta House. The side garden is now barren, and the back garages stripped. Ownership (which purchased the home several years before Ms. Janta’s death) plans to demolish, but have yet to file a permit as of this writing. The past two years have seen rallies at the home, print and TV news coverage, and a street co-naming for the Janta couple. The house itself, a 1911 home, an early Cord Meyer home, served as a beacon for learning, and a way station for the spread of intellectual and creative ideas for the Polish elite, remains in decent condition, so the sense of urgency is apparent for the LPC to stand up to the plate and take action. Send support letters to Chair Sarah Carroll@lpc.nyc.gov as well as the Research Dept at email@example.com.
James McMenamin is the Vice President of both the Elmhurst History and Cemeteries Preservation Society and the Newtown Civic Association.