Around my neighborhood, the fall sounds of buzz-saws and hammers on ply-wood herald the coming of the annual San Gennaro Festival. Deep-fried oreos and all-night repetitions of the Godfather theme by amateur brass bands are sure to follow shortly.
Something new this year on Mulberry Street, though: The opening of a relocated and expanded Italian American Museum. The Times reported yesterday that the museum’s new digs, at 151-155 Mulberry, corner of Grand, originally housed the Banca Stabile, a neighborhood bank that operated from 1882 to 1932. The museum purchased the buildings from Stabile family descendants for over $9 million. The history of the bank itself will form the core of the inaugural exhibition:
The vault’s contents revealed that the neighborhood elite also
banked with the Stabiles. A ledger card shows that Antonio Ferrara, who
in 1892 founded the pastry shop that is still in business across the
street, closed his account on Jan. 31, 1931, taking his $211,131
fortune with him. Before that, a telegraphic receipt from April 3,
1920, shows that Mr. Ferrara wired 75,000 lire from Banca Stabile to
the Hotel Londres in Naples to reserve a vacation room there. Two years
later, Mr. Ferrara bought two first-class steamship tickets from New
York to Naples for a total of $110.
“It was very rare that people
traveled first class in those days,” said Maria T. Fosco, a member of
the museum’s board who has been researching the history of Little
Italy. “Obviously, Mr. Ferrara was doing quite well.”
said that at its peak, the neighborhood was a cluster of enclaves
within an enclave, with various streets representing various regions of
the old country.
“Most people who lived on Mulberry Street were
from Naples,” she explained. “Those who lived on Elizabeth Street were
from Sicily, those from Mott Street were from Calabria, and anyone
north of Broome Street was from Bari.
“So if a boy from Mulberry
Street married a girl from Elizabeth Street,” Ms. Fosco said with a
grin, “that was considered a mixed marriage.”
Two other additions to immigrant history in the neighborhood to keep an eye out for: The Tenement Museum has just launched a new module focusing on the Moores, an Irish family who occupied the museum’s building at 97 Orchard in the 1860s.
Another much-awaited expansion comes in December, when Museum of Chinese in America reopens in its new location at 211-215 Centre Street.