The buildings that house the Italian American Museum are threatened with the museum’s plans to sell to a developer.
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.
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.”