I must admit that as much as I’ve been covering the arrival of the Centro Culturale Italiano di Buffalo (CCI) until a recent visit I was not fully aware of the impact that this complex would have on the city. And I say “complex” because it is a lot more complex than I imagined. This multifaceted cultural center is a testament to the vibrancy, dedication, and compassion of the WNY Italian community that has painstakingly put this delectable destination together.
During a recent visit to the CCI, I met up with Executive Director John Vecchio (lead image), and various members of his team, who gave me a rundown of the latest and greatest additions to the building and to the grounds.
Before I even stepped through the front door, I was surprised to come across a flourishing community garden that was yielding vast amounts of vegetables. Once inside, John explained that the garden would supply many of the herbs and vegetables that would be used to fortify the kitchen, where cooking classes would one day commence.
John told me that the kitchen came about after a survey to members and stakeholders was issued. The response was that the kitchen would be an important part of preserving family recipes and culinary traditions that might otherwise be lost. To be able to pass down these types of lessons and values was extremely important.
Also important, was the preservation of the Italian language. Therefore, 5 classes will be taught in proper Italian, and due to the demand there will also be a class offered in Sicilian. Already, Zoom classes are underway, with people from all over world signing up. In-person and Zoom classes will both be offered once the CCI’s new home is operational.
Another wonderful component of the CCI will be the “Story Booth,” where families will be able to technologically document their immigration stories, and their genealogical lineages (family trees), along with family photos. “This will be a place where future generations will be able to learn about the Italian families that gave so much to Buffalo,” John told me.
Aside from the various educational aspects, there will also be plenty of ‘fun and games’ at the CCI. To start, there will be a bocce court out on the front lawn, which will second as a courtyard where people will be able to relax and enjoy themselves. Eventually, a gigantic $80K multi-tiered, ornate fountain will also grace the courtyard. The fountain, like so many other significant elements of the CCI, is being donated by an Italian family that lives in “the homeland” (more on that later).
Then there’s the espresso bar called Café Curcio that will serve up coffee, cappuccino and pasties from Romeo and Juliet’s, as well as Italian treats such as biscotti, cannoli, orange drinks, prosecco and Pieroni beer (yes, there will be a liquor license – how can you play bocce without beer?). The CCI will be super family-friendly, but it will also be a place for adults to enjoy themselves… I forgot to ask whether there were going to be chess tables out in the courtyard – it would be great to see some heated matches taking place on this heavily-trafficked corner at Hertel and Delaware.
I bet that CCI founder and President, Dr. Francesco Giacobbe is beyond proud of everything that is unfolding at the site. This is certainly the realization of significant aspirations – to see such a concept come to fruition must be akin to a miracle. It was once a dream of Dr. Giacobbe’s to have a program in place where his grandchildren could learn the Italian language. Of course that was just the seed that led to this vast undertaking.
Once open, the CCI will host lectures and discussions, performances (there is a small stage in the auditorium), there will be “The Michael J. LoCurto Gift Shop,” and a place to listen to vintage Italian records on an old Victrola (donated of course), with events for artists, singers, musicians…
All of this would also not be possible if it was not for a community that came together to fight for this corner, which almost became a strip mall. That would have been the complete demise of this intersection, which would have been so unfortunate. To this day, rescuing these types of corners and intersections from chain pharmacies, gas stations, mini-marts, and the like is still a battle. Just think of the opportunities to redeem the intersection of Hertel and Elmwood… one would think that we’ve learned enough chintzy-development lessons over the years to safeguard our street corners, which are the gateways to our neighborhoods. Not to mention the architecture (a form of culture) that continues to be lost, and the soulless new builds. Thankfully, we can chalk up a win for the corner of Delaware and Hertel – it was a hard fought battle that resulted in the creation of a significant multi-generational development project.
In the case of the CCI and this reimagined North Park Branch library building, we can chalk this up as a “vittoria” for all of Buffalo. This corner will become a destination where people will come to learn about Italian culture, socialize, tell stories, play bocce, garden, learn to cook, and embrace all of the aspects of a city that are important. This will become the gateway to Little Italy.
“This was in the works for years,” John told me. “But when the time came, a real effort was galvanized. The City sold the property and the urgency set in. We’ve put three million plus into this building, and then there are the countless donations. When people first saw the state of disrepair of the building, they laughed. There were plenty of setbacks, like when we found out we needed a new elevator (or a new roof, asbestos remediation…), but we were blessed by the support of the community that came to the rescue every time that we needed them. In the end, it’s a no-brainer – to rescue a building like this that offers so much character on the street. It’s something that we can all be proud of.”