Anchoring the corner of Mulberry and Grand Streets in New York City’s Little Italy is an attractive 19-century brick building that is the home of the Italian American Museum.
The idea for a museum to document the history of the Italian community in New York came about after the highly acclaimed exhibition, The Italians of New York: Five Centuries of Struggle and Achievement, which opened at the New York Historical Society in October 1999.
The museum founder, Dr. Joseph Scelsa received its charter in 2001. It operated initially on W44 Street before moving in 2008 to its permanent home, 155 Mulberry Street, after museum officials bought the Banca Stabile building from Dr. Jerome Stabile III. Dr. Stabile’s family started the bank in 1882.
Banca Stabile, which was founded by Francesco Rosario Stabile, was a fixture in Little Italy at a time when Mulberry Street was described as the Italian Wall Street, for the number of banks that were there.
The bank became a one-stop community center, providing financial, translation, insurance, travel and money transfer services. It was a link between the immigrants in New York and their relatives and friends back home.
When Banca Stabile closed in 1932, the family kept the building, including its vault, tin ceiling, marble floor and counters, bronze grilles, and teller cages intact. They also retained items such as steam ship tickets, safe deposit boxes, bank books, passports, and deeds.
The 1,000 square foot museum is bursting at the seams with memorabilia from the bank and those that families have donated. Among the items on exhibit is the gun that retired NYPD police officer, Francesco “Frank” Serpico owned. Serpico was the cop who blew the whistle on police corruption in the 1960s and 70s.
There are also several marionettes from Miguel “Papa” Manteo, photos and other information about Luigi del Bianco, chief carver at Mount Rushmore, and assorted other items that illustrate the history of Italians in New York.
The Italian American Museum, at 155 Mulberry Street, is opened on Saturdays 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., on Sundays from noon to 6:00 p.m., and by appointment during the week. For a $5.00 suggested donation, visitors to the small storefront museum are shown a short film and are able to see these memorabilia up close.
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