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Italian American Museum-NYC-Little Italy-Chinatown-Mulberry Street-181 189 Grand StreetThe buildings that house the Italian American Museum are threatened with the museum’s plans to sell to a developer. Image by by rfzappala

Preservationists and historians are seeking to save the building that currently houses the Italian American Museum from, ironically, the museum itself. The 19th-century brick row at 181-189 Grand Street in Little Italy was previously the Stabile Bank (Banca Stabile) and still retains its vintage interior, which includes the vault, tin ceilings, marble counters and bronze grilles. Tour guide Justin Ferate  says the building “radiates an Old World intimacy.” The Stabile family owned the buildings until 2008, when it was sold to the Italian American Museum.

The bank’s director and president, Joseph Scelsa, recognizes the historic value of the three brownstone buildings but the museum just doesn’t have the finances to hold onto it.  “The bank represents the type of entrepreneur who made it possible for Italians to come to America,” says Scelsa. The current plan is to sell the buildings to a developer who will replace the current buildings with a larger structure inside which the museum will find a new home.

Banca Stabile-Stabile Bank-Italian American Museum-NYC-Little Italy-Chinatown-Mulberry Street-181 189 Grand Street

Sadly, if the buildings are demolished, the special care Dr. Jerome Stabile III, a great-grandson of Francesco Rosario Stabile, the bank’s founder, took in preserving the interiors would be all for naught .“Everything in there, from the marble floors to the tellers’ cages and the gold writing on them, are original,” said Dr. Stabile, “I never removed anything from the bank or its vault because I had hoped all along that the space would one day be used as something more significant than just a restaurant or some other store.”

Sign the petition here. Special thanks for tour guide Justin Ferate for alerting us to this news.

17 Comments

  1. Jean Standish says:

    Stabile Row is an iconic part of Little Italy and should be preserved. To demolish these buildings would be to destroy an important part of history of this community.

  2. michael zwack says:

    This seems like a no brainer. Little Italy is one of the most visited neighborhoods in Manhattan. This building was instrumental in the creation of an Italian culture in NYC. To destroy it is to destroy part of the important history of the United States.

    • Melinda says:

      Those building will be recreated in the new larger IAM building.
      The 19th century buildings have no Architectural merit.

  3. C Schwob says:

    Preserving iconic and historical buildings shouldn’t just be of importance to the Italian-American community in Little Italy – it should be important to everyone who professes to care about New York City. If 181-189 Grand Street is demolished it will mean the sad loss of public access to an interesting part of history of this area. Save it and give it landmark status, and put someone in charge who will keep the museum open, publicise it and make it more accessible for everyone.

  4. Elliott Hurwitt says:

    This is the only intact corner of Little Italy, and the remaining historic buildings on and near the corner of Mulberry and Grand should be preserved in their entirely as an ensemble. They are beautiful as they are, and losing more of this–now very scarce–original Little Italy street scape would be a tragedy. I say this not as an Italian American but as a native New Yorker who has lived a block away from the Stabile Row for 35+ years and used to pay my rent to the Stabiles in cash every month. Save Stabile Row!

  5. Joyce Mendelsohn says:

    The historic bank building in its entirety, exterior and interior, stands as the heart of the museum and should be protected by landmark designation.

  6. Lynn Umlauf says:

    I’m very happy to sign a petition to save 181-189 Grand street from demolition. I hope the city will landmark it, or until that happens, that some other historically interested firm will help the museum save itself. I live in the area of Soho and didn’t know we had that museum, so I’ll visit it. Thank you

  7. Lillian Tozzi says:

    My family has been on Mulberry Street for more than 12 decades. I was born here nearly seven decades ago and have wonderful memories of going to the Stabile Bank as a child with my grandmother -my head didn’t even reach the wrought iron “cage. It was my first exposure to money orders and Western Union telegraphing which they did there as well. In fact, I recently found an original telegraph that my mother had sent to her friend who got married dated June 25, 1938 time stamped 9:19 PM. yes – “PM”. Stabile Bank was a staple in this community. I’ve come to accept that “regular people” cannot stop change today with the amount of money that today’s developers have and can get their hands on but we should try to preserve at the very least a small era which is part of our (Italians) heritage – no matter where they may be living today. It doesn’t always have to be a mass demolition of the days gone by because someone has a “better idea” in their heads of how an area should “look”. This building speaks for itself. Its gracious lines and quiet appearance. As if, it’s watching over the community. The entrance way, greeter to what is left of Little Italy and the way it was. I know it hasn’t been easy for Dr. Scelsa with issues that came with that property through no fault of the Stabile family and I want to believe that he will never do anything to that building. I’ve seen the plans and I did see, I believe, that an eight story building looks like it may be trying to get on the “table” to replace what is there now but to keep a small piece of the front and to try to get an additional floor. Wow, I thought. So sad. You decide. Check it out for yourselves and get all the facts before attacking people who have and are trying to preserve what little there is left now. Is t his really too much to ask for this community. I don’t think it is. Please don’t destroy this corner. Thank you, Lillian Tozzi

  8. Tony Romano says:

    I’m a little confused. Was this story fact-checked? I was just in Little Italy the other other day, visited this charming museum and spoke to the two lovely gals who were serving as docents. They made NO mention whatsoever of plans to sell the place; in fact, they told me the museum hopes to *expand* its space & collections into the adjacent buildings! That would be great, of course–a bigger presence for them to honor and preserve our Italian heritage. So yeah..this story doesn’t quite jibe with what I personally saw & heard, with my own senses, from the proprietors. I agree with Vincent LaCaruba who posted the other day: don’t just believe everything you read on the Web!

  9. Lorenzo Jovanotti says:

    Get the facts – the actual documents are on file with the city. You can also speak with the people who actually know the true story. Joe Scelsa, aka the President of the “Italian American Museum”, purchased the property as a private investor with two other partners with the intent to develop luxury condos. He used the “Museum” as a backdoor in negotiations with Dr. Stabile, who gave the “Museum” a good price (below market value). In fact, a well-known architect donated his time, thinking he was actually assisting the Museum, and prepared the comprehensive package that Dr. Stabile required before selling. This package was represented as being from the Italian American Museum. Nothing new here, but three greedy developers who want to cash in. The “Museum” was just a ruse. Get the facts.

    If you want to voice your concern contact:
    Council Member District #1: Margaret Chin Email: chin@council.nyc.gov,
    Community Board DM #2: Bob Gormley, Email: Gormley@cb2manhattan.org
    Mayor De Blasio –
    Raffaele Tramontana President of LIMA,
    Robert Li Mandri: NYC Buildings Commissioner
    John A. Fratta – Order Sons of Italy in America
    Get the facts.

  10. Vincent LaCaruba says:

    It is highly disappointing to see the author, and this blog as a whole, pander to such a dubious and anonymous effort. Unlike the vast majority who have signed this “petition,” I actually live in Little Italy and have been here for 37 years (moved here from Jackson Heights in ’76). And I wonder how many have actually visited the Italian American Museum, despite proclaiming their Italian ethnicity. When someone posts anonymous petitions, it is obvious they don’t want to divulge their true motives. My guess is that this is being fomented by a commercial or residential tenant who has a sweet deal, and doesn’t want to face the prospect of moving. As I see it, the Museum and its president (whom I’ve met) are dedicated to preserving Little Italy’s Italian history more than perhaps anyone else. Otherwise, why would they have relocated the institution there in the first place? Also, there is nothing exceedingly remarkable about the three buildings, other than the first floor of the corner building, which holds what remains of the Banca Stabile. I cannot believe that will ever perish. And by the way, the Museum is in the midst of expansion at the site, as I discovered last week. A word to the wise: Don’t sign anonymous petitions.

  11. Samuele Pardini says:

    Don’t do it. Keep history alive.

  12. Giuliano Lorenzini says:

    This is such a shame that an Italian American is looking to get rid of important icons of our heritage.

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