President Sauli Niinistö Visits Finntown, Sunset
Park, Brooklyn New York

The Consul General of Finland to New York, Mika Koskinen, requested that I accompany the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, on a tour of Finntown Sunset Park Brooklyn NY, on Monday, Sept. 21, 2021. The President requested the tour to take place when he would have an opportunity to make time for it, while he was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting. Because of his brief visit and very busy schedule, the actual tour had to be limited to 30 minutes. Plans were made and coordinated for a driving tour with brief stops at the following: Alku 1, the first not-for-profit coop in the USA which received historic designation; Finlandia Street sign, memorializing the street where the Finn Halls used to be; the former Imatra Hall; and the courtyard at 673-683 41 Street, Sun Garden Homes, one of the many Finn coops surrounding Sunset Park. Unfortunately, due to the strict time constraints, this stop had to be aborted, although the drive by presented a view of the two Finnish flags at the two building entrances, and the courtyard. There was an additional Finnish flag at the Finn coop, Riverview Homes, at the corner of 41 Street and 7 Avenue, clearly visible for the President to see as the motorcade proceeded to go around the park.

It is quite significant that there are 21 plaques scheduled to be installed in October 2021 on the walls at the entrances of the former Finn coops, as well as at the former Imatra Hall and the Finnish newspaper. The wording for each plaque varies to suit each building. However, each one sets forth that over 30 coop buildings were built or converted into coops by the Finns in the early 1900s, and that the Finns brought the concept of cooperative ownership to the United States. That fact was the reason why the plaque at Alku 1 was chosen as the first stop for the President to see. All of these plaques will exist for future generations to see.

The two separate buildings, Alku 1 and 2, were placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of The Interior on May 20, 2019. That designation resulted only after extensive documentary proof was submitted to confirm the significant contribution to American society made by the Finnish immigrants. It is indeed a source of pride for all Americans of Finnish descent, and for Finns visiting from abroad. Actual plans are being made by Finlandia Foundation National, a supporter of this project, to enable visitors to Finntown to have an audio tour via an application to be downloaded into their smart phones. The concept of Finntown as a tourist stop is no longer a fantasy!

The President read the plaque at Alku 1. He took particular interest in the photos presented of the original building, when Alku 1 and Alku Toinen were the only buildings on the block in 1917. Valerie Landriscina, the architect who is to be credited for her tremendous work on the application for historical designation, and John Amman, the Board President, were present and answered questions that the President posed about the buildings.

I had the opportunity to ride with the President and present background information about Finntown as it was, while pointing out the numerous Finn coop buildings surrounding Sunset Park. A brief stop was made at 40 Street and 7 Avenue to see the Finlandia Street sign, which I had secured in 1992 when Imatra Hall celebrated its 100 year of existence. At the dedication ceremony, I had noted then, in a speech before numerous dignitaries including the then Ambassador of Finland to the United States, that one day the Finns would be gone, but the sign would remain.

The thought never entered my mind then that almost 30 years later, I would be showing that sign to the President of Finland!

Robert Alan Saasto, Esq.