The big history of Little Italy

PODCAST Little Italy is the pocket-neighborhood reminder of the great wave of Italian immigration which came through New York City starting in the late 1870s.  This was the home of a densely packed, lively neighborhood of pushcarts, cheese shops, barber shops and organ grinders, populated by thousands of new immigrants in dilapidated old tenements.

The area has some of New York’s oldest still-operating shops, from Ferrara Bakery to Di Palo’s.  But there’s also a dark side to this neighborhood, memories of extortion plots by the Black Hand and a perpetual presence of organized crime.

The present-day Little Italy is completely charming but constantly shrinking. How long can the neighborhood survive in the face of a growing Chinatown and the threats of gentrification?

PLUS: Our love/hate relationship with Nolita — REVEALED!

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The Bowery Boys #177: Little Italy: La Grande Storia

An Italian boy on his way to school in New York, taken between 1910 and 1915.
An Italian boy on his way to school in New York, taken between 1910 and 1915.
A street musician and a cop on Mulberry Street, 1897. (Courtesy Museum of City of New York)
A street musician and a cop on Mulberry Street, 1897. Notice the banks in the background.  Mulberry Street was known as ‘the Italian Wall Street’ for all the banks which assisted in Italians saving and sending home their earnings.  (Courtesy Museum of City of New York)
Children dancing on Mulberry Street as a man plays a barrel organ. (No monkey in sight!) 1897 (Courtesy Museum of the City of New York)
Children dancing on Mulberry Street as a man plays a barrel organ. (No monkey in sight!) 1897 (Courtesy Museum of the City of New York)
Playing on the street in Mulberry Bend, 1897. This was the year Mulberry Bend Park opened (see below) so hopefully they got out of that filthy street! (Museum of City of New York)
Playing on the street in Mulberry Bend, 1897. This was the year Mulberry Bend Park opened (see below) so hopefully they got out of that filthy street! (Museum of City of New York)
Mulberry Bend Park in 1900, replacing a set of the worst tenements in this area of Five Points
Mulberry Bend Park in 1900, replacing a set of the worst tenements in this area of Five Points
Elizabeth and Broome Streets -- June 18, 1904
Elizabeth and Broome Streets — June 18, 1904
Street vendors on Mulberry Street, 1898 (Library of Congress)
Street vendors on Mulberry Street, 1898 (Museum of City of New York)
Elizabeth Street near Houston Street 1912 (Cleaned up image courtesy Shorpy)
Elizabeth Street near Houston Street 1912 (Cleaned up image courtesy Shorpy)
Mott Street all fancied up for a religious festival in 1908. It's May 16, so perhaps Ascension Day? (Cleaned up picture courtesy Shorpy)
Mott Street all fancied up for a religious festival in 1908. It’s May 16, so perhaps Ascension Day? (Cleaned up picture courtesy Shorpy)

 

An Italian bank at Lafayette and Spring Streets, damaged in a Black Hand dynamite attack, 1915 Nov. 6 (Courtesy Library of Congress)
An Italian bank at Lafayette and Spring Streets, damaged in a Black Hand dynamite attack, 1915 Nov. 6 (Courtesy Library of Congress)
Another view of the damaged bank (Courtesy Library of Congress)
Another view of the damaged bank (Courtesy Library of Congress)
A sample extortion letter from the Black Hand. "“You dog, spy, informer. If you do not do what we say, we have a shot gun prepared for you. What a fine feast for the rats your fat carcass will make. Do what we say, it will be better for your skin.” (Courtesy the National Law Enforcement Museum)
A sample extortion letter from the Black Hand. ““You dog, spy, informer. If you do not do what we say, we have a shot gun prepared for you. What a fine feast for the rats your fat carcass will make. Do what we say, it will be better for your skin.” (Courtesy the National Law Enforcement Museum)

 

149 Mulberry Street, near Grand Street. 1932. Banco Stabile which is off-picture to the right is the home of the Italian American Museum today. (Courtesy Museum of the City of New York)
149 Mulberry Street, near Grand Street. 1932. Banco Stabile which is off-picture to the right is the home of the Italian American Museum today. (Courtesy Museum of the City of New York)
San Gennaro Festival, 1948, taken by Sid Grossman
San Gennaro Festival, 1948, taken by Sid Grossman
Bella Napoli (taken from a great Facebook feed called 'Mulberry Street 1900s)
Bella Napoli (taken from a great Facebook feed called ‘Mulberry Street 1900s)
Umberto's Clam House, site of the infamous mob hit on gangster Joe Gallo in 1972 (Courtesy New York Daily News)
Umberto’s Clam House, site of the infamous mob hit on gangster Joe Gallo in 1972 (Courtesy New York Daily News)
Oddly enough, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan appeared at the San Gennaro Festival in 1980. (New York Daily News)
Oddly enough, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan appeared at the San Gennaro Festival in 1980. (New York Daily News)