A recent visit to the newly opened Centro Culturale Italiano di Buffalo (CCI) was a real treat, in more ways than one. First off, I must say how nice it is to see this particular corner at Hertel and Delaware salvaged. It would be interesting to know what this entire corner once beheld, before it became a series of strip malls and fast food joints. Thankfully, due to a group of people with passion, gumption, and vision, the northeast corner has been rescued from the grips of similar development, which continues to plague Hertel Avenue heading westward.
Who would have thought that the former North Park Branch library building could be repurposed in such a way? The front courtyard – a mini piazza – is a sight for sore eyes… and it’s not even complete yet. There are still benches, plantings, and a grand fountain to look forward to, as well as a bocce court. I anticipate that 2022 will be another anterprizing year for the CCI, which will culminate in a first rate destination for anyone looking to immerse themselves in a true green, white, and red authentic Italian setting.
The interior of the CCI is just as impressive as the outside. Not only does it look sharp, it’s also mapped out with plenty of interactive settings that all flow together nicely. During my visit, I started off with a cup of espresso at Café Curcio, expertly prepared by Maria Garozzo-Payne (lead image). Other menu items include Americano, cappuccino, coffee, tea, and San Pellegrino. Baked goods are also available, and soon there will be beer and wine to choose from. The more popular the café gets, the more rounded out the menu will become. Eventually, this pleasantly surprising café will be the buzz of North Buffalo.
From there, I paid a visit to The Jacqueline Vito LoRusso Gallery, where an exhibition (Buffalo My City) by renowned watercolorist Roger Lalli was on display. From there I headed, espresso in hand, into The Donna Fiorella Fireplace Room, which came together very nicely – it’s a relaxing place to sit and enjoy the company of friends, or to host intimate gatherings.
Eventually I made my way downstairs to The Renzi-DiLeo Cucina (community kitchen), where I happened upon the “Feroleto Chef’s Table.” The last time that I saw the space, it was still in the process of being built out. Seeing it for the first time in its completed state was pretty neat. I could just imagine the cooking classes, the traditional recipe sharing, intimate community dinners, and the like.
While downstairs, I popped into the lecture, discussion, and performance space, where a wide range of events and classes are already being held (see calendar). Anyone looking to learn the Italian or Sicilian languages (beginner to conversational) can sign up. Other events of interest that I noticed on the calendar include an Italian-American Film Festival and an Italian Painting in the Age of Unification Lecture (both past events, but there are plenty more on the horizon).
Also located on the kitchen level is the “Story Booth,” where families are able to document their immigration stories, and their genealogical lineages (family trees), along with family photos.
Want to preserve an authentic Italian recipe that has been passed along for generations, to pay respects to the matriarch or patriarch of the family that deserves credit for the creation? The Story Booth is the place that will preserve this type of invaluable information, that might otherwise be lost over time. It’s also nice way to share with others, who would appreciate the kind gesture. And what better way to honor a gesture of this nature, than whipping up one of the culinary creations at the CCI cucina?
My final stop during my visit was to The Michael J. LoCurto Gift Shop, where I purchased a silk neckerchief. The addition of a gift shop to the mix is, well… a nice little addition! Considering that Hertel is such a bountiful shopping district, it only makes sense to further contribute to the vibrancy (and the walkability) of the street.
What I enjoy most about the CCI is that there are so many cultural points of interest all under one roof. After my whirlwind visit was over, I felt thoroughly informed and refreshed – happy that I had encountered more than I had bargained for.
Personally, I can’t wait until next summer, when I can sit outside with some friends, enjoying a glass of beer or wine, while playing a game of bocce in the courtyard. It’s these types of gratifying experiences that are commonplace overseas, where they have lively public piazzas (public squares) that become the epicenters for community gatherings. Someday, I would love to see this type of urbanist setting replicated – supersized in a public space in the heart of downtown. In the meantime, CCI’s efforts to create an authentic sense of place should be lauded and heralded.
“It’s been gratifying meeting so many guests who have remarked how the Italian Cultural Center has given this space new life,” said CCI Executive Director John Vecchio. “Dorothy Neubauer visited recently with two friends who were the former Library’s branch manager and a member of the clerical staff. To see the delight in their eyes as they rediscovered their former workplace was truly an inspiring moment for all of us! Our friendly staff and volunteers want to give everyone who walks through our doors a welcoming and meaningful visitor experience. The CCI has become a place where everyone- visitors and staff alike- feels welcome and open to the transformative potential of cultural exploration.”