On December 8 the future seat of the Emigration Museum celebrates its birthday.
On December 8, 1933, when the opening ceremony of the Marine Station in Gdynia took place, no one had a shadow of doubt that it was a historical moment.After having endured many years of infrastructure problems, the port of Gdynia gained a lively gate to the world and one of the most beautiful landmarks one could imagine. It's no wonder then that the attendance during the ceremony was exceptionally high – even the most important people in the country were there: Ministry of Industry and Commerce Ferdynand Zarzycki, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Józef Beck, as well as other representatives of the Cabinet of Poland, governmental institutions, military and clergy.
It was high time. The dynamically developing port of Gdynia and continuously increasing passenger traffic both required a true passenger terminal. From August 1923, when an ocean liner visited Gdynia for the first time ever – the French steam ship "Kentucky" – until the end of the 20s, the passenger traffic in Gdynia amounted to 24 thousand people per year.It was soon concluded that the temporal emigration terminal needed to be replaced with a building disposing with appropriate logistic background – a purposeful, yet representative one.
On engineer desks the dream began to materialize. It was decided to place the Station by French and Dutch Quays.The design was prepared by Dyckerhoff & Widmann S.A., Katowice Branch, and the functional layout was elaborated by the Department of Port Construction of the Gdynia Maritime Office.The documentation was ready by December 1932.The construction was underway.
The works advanced with an impressive pace.It was possible thanks to two Gdynia companies joining forces – Biuro Budowlane F. Skąpski i S-ka Inżynierowie (F. Skąpski Construction Office and Engineers Associated) and Spółka Techniczno-Budowlana Wolski, Wiśniewski Inżynierowie (Technology and Construction Partnership – Wolski, Wiśniewski & Engineers). The 2.5 thousand square meter Marine Station together with an even bigger Transit Warehouse were ready in only twelve months.
The building itself was not only functional – right from the start, an effort was made for it to compose well with the modernist architecture of the city.The intricate façade of the building was decorated with two bas-relief of Polish eagles.On the roof, a quadrangular dome was placed, equipped with a lantern providing lighting for the main hall.Two additional stories were erected around it. Thanks to this construction, ever passenger – even those visiting the Station for the first time – could easily find their way despite the crowd and unceasing traffic. Most of the laborious formalities – regardless of whether one was arriving or setting off – were to be handled in the Emigration Camp situated in Grabówek, one of the northern districts of Gdynia.For passengers arriving to the Marine Station by sea, it was supposed to be a symbol of a country that deserved its presence by the Baltic Sea.
The main exit led to the city, a smaller one – situated in side walls – to railway ramps. The interior of the Station was carefully thought out.A stairway to upper levels was situated opposite of the entrance. A post office was on the left side, and a railway baggage pickup on the right.This spot was always the busiest – many passengers arrived to the Marine Station by train.After picking up their baggage, passengers could post a message about their arrival, go to the city or complete their embarkation formalities on the upper floor.
The first floor housed the emigration inspectorate. The customs Office was situated on the left (looking from the main entrance) – probably the most important office in the building. On the right side one could check in their baggage for a ship or train, depending on their travelling direction.
Finally, the last floor offered passengers some breathing space.It accommodated two restaurants, where one could rest, eat something, and await their departure or arrival of, for example, a relative. Similarly to the first floor, one could observe the main hall of the building from a gallery. Passenger comfort was surely aided by toilets on every floor – women in one corner of the building, men in the other.
On the right side of the last floor, the part of the Station that no one wanted to visit was located.It housed various services overlooking safety and order in the Station.Some of the quarters were occupied by the police, others by an investigative unit necessary at such a place as a passenger port.It dealt mostly with criminal cases like smuggling, however it is fair to assume that, due to the particular international situation, this place was also monitored by intelligence and counterintelligence services.The police has three single jail units at their disposal for arrested persons.
Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people went through the Station on a daily basis. It served as harbor to seven Polish passenger ships sailing all over the world – their destinations included both Americas, among others.Assuring seamless operation of this complicated infrastructure would not be possible without the hospital in Babie Doły, which received ill persons from ships arriving to the port."Samarytanka" ("Samaritan") – the first boat designed and built in the local shipyard – ensured fast communication between the Station and the hospital.
However, the everyday life of the Station did not end with passenger service and control. The beautiful, spacious building was home to the port parish, "Stella Maris". In few months from the grand opening, the Station became a vital and integral part of Gdynia's cultural landscape.Citizens organized parties, conventions of various organizations and associations took place here. The Marine Station saw its share of political rallies, sport competitions and artistic events.New Year Balls featuring the city elite were particularly famous.
All this was brutally interrupted by the war. The German occupation deprived the Station of its original functions – the edifice was converted and adapted to office building tasks. All the features connecting it to the Polish nation obviously disappeared. In 1942, Kriegsmarine offices were transferred here. The most painful blow came in October of the following year, when the building was hit by bombs of an Allied air raid. The north-western part of the main edifice was severely damaged – a thorough reconstruction wasn't undertaken until 2013.Interestingly, German authorities – not willing to acknowledge the suffered losses – retouched all distributed photos of the Station for a long time afterwards.
The end of the war did not bring the Marine Station as many changes as its fans would have wished for.The new authorities located the port administration and a post office there. Passenger traffic wasn't reestablished. Instead, the building turned into a silent witness of that particular era.Security services blocked maritime passenger traffic for a long time. Although the ocean liner "Batory" continued to set off from the port of Gdynia and sail to America, this voyage was very limited for Poles. Lastly, due to Cold War tensions, the ship's route was altered and it would sail to Canada, instead of the United States.
The history of the Marine Station was however tightly connected to the history of the city and of the country.In the second half of the 50s, political thaw had to arrive here too, and – in 1957 – the building regained its past function, but not its former position.During a couple of years, some changes took place that couldn't be undone. A large portion of the building was handed over to the Post Office, migration was strictly controlled, and huge changes in transport and in character of passenger navigation took place. With passing time it became increasingly excusive – airplanes flying on intercontinental routes effectively pulled passengers away from it.Only those remained, who had more time and money, perhaps even some sentiment for sea voyages. Among those were also people, who decided to run away – some for economic, some for political reasons.
Subsequently, the building was populated by various institutions and offices.Besides the Post Office, Customs Office, Department of Navigation Services of the Port of Gdynia, it housed Polish National Railways (PKP) and Maritime Agency in Gdynia. 1988 was the end of the Marine Station as a terminal of Polish passenger navigation and end of the last Polish ocean liner – "Stefan Batory". From that moment it was merely an office building, with Transit Warehouse turning into a regular warehouse.The Station shared fate with other buildings of this type all over the world – their roles were taken over by airports.After a couple of years, the building's exceptional contribution to the history of Gdynia was appreciated and on April 24 of 1990 it was included in heritage registry.
The following two decades gave birth to many ideas as to how this unique edifice should be used. The Emigration Museum gives hope, that after a long time the Marine Station can regain its importance and the memory of the millions of Poles who came through it shall be preserved.It is important to stress, that it should not only resonate the echo of their steps, but also should allow for the meeting of the people scattered all over the world. Some of them might feel inspired to take one more journey, an intellectual one – in search of their own identity.