Little Italy, Manhattan
People in Little Italy celebrating, one hour after the Italian soccer team won the 2006 FIFA World Cup
|County||New York County|
|City||New York City|
Little Italy is a neighborhood in lower Manhattan, New York City, once known for its large population of Italians. Today the neighborhood consists of only a few Italian stores and restaurants. It is bounded on the west by Tribeca and Soho, on the south by Chinatown, on the east by the Bowery and Lower East Side, and on the north by Nolita.
History and description
Little Italy on Mulberry Street used to extend as far south as Worth Street, as far north as Kenmare Street, as far west as Lafayette and as far east as Bowery. It is now only three blocks on Mulberry Street. Little Italy originated as Mulberry Bend. Jacob Riis described Mulberry Bend as "the foul core of New York’s slums."
Bill Tonelli from New York magazine said, "Once, Little Italy was like an insular Neapolitan village re-created on these shores, with its own language, customs, and financial and cultural institutions." Little Italy was not the largest Italian neighborhood in New York City, as East Harlem (as Italian Harlem) had a larger Italian population. Tonelli said that Little Italy "was perhaps the city’s poorest Italian neighborhood". In 1910 Little Italy had almost 10,000 Italians; that was the peak of the community's Italian population. At the turn of the 20th century over 90% of the residents of the Fourteenth Ward were of Italian birth or origins. Tonnelli said that it meant "that residents began moving out to more spacious digs almost as soon as they arrived."
After World War II, many residents of the Lower East Side began moving to Brooklyn and Staten Island in New York City, and Long Island and New Jersey. Chinese immigrants became an increased presence after the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965 removed immigration restrictions. In 2004 Tonelli said "You can go back 30 years and find newspaper clips chronicling the expansion of Chinatown and mourning the loss of Little Italy."
Prior to 2004, several upscale businesses entered the northern portion of the area between Houston and Kenmare. Tonelli said "Real-estate prices zoomed, making it even tougher for the old-timers—residents and businesspeople alike—to hang on." After the September 11 attacks in 2001, areas below Houston Street were cut off for the rest of the fall of 2001. The San Gennaro feast, scheduled for September 13, was postponed. Business from the Financial District dropped severely and residents in Little Italy and the Manhattan Chinatown suffered. Tonelli said the post-9/11 events "strangely enough, ended up motivating all these newfangled efforts to save what’s left of the old neighborhood." In 2004 Tonelli said "Today, Little Italy is a veneer—50 or so restaurants and cafés catering to tourists, covering a dense neighborhood of tenements shared by recent Chinese immigrants, young Americans who can’t afford Soho, and a few remaining real live Italians." This sentiment has also been echoed by Italian culture and heritage website ItalianAware. The site has called the dominance of Italians in the area, "relatively short lived." It attributes this to the quick financial prosperity many Italians achieved, which afforded them the opportunity to leave the cramped neighborhood for areas in Brooklyn and Queens. The site also goes on to state that the area is currently referred to as Little Italy more out of nostalgia than as a reflection of a true ethnic population.
As of the 2000 U.S. Census, 1,211 residents claiming Italian ancestry lived in three census tracts that make up Little Italy. Those residents comprise 8.25% of the population in the community, which is similar to the proportion of those of Italian ancestry throughout New York City. Bill Tonelli of New York magazine contrasted Little Italy with the Manhattan Chinatown. In 2000, of residents of the portions of Chinatown south of Grand Street, 81% were of Chinese origins.
In 2004 Tonelli said "Little Italy may always endure as an open-air theme park of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European immigration to the Lower East Side... But you’ll spend a long time in the neighborhood before you hear anyone speak Italian, and then the speaker will be a tourist from Milan." Tonelli added "You have to slow your gaze to find the neighbors in this neighborhood, because they’re so overwhelmed and outnumbered by the tourists. But once you focus, you can see them, standing (or sitting) in the interstices, taking in the scene, like the group of men, mostly senior citizens, loitering contentedly under an awning on Mulberry Street."
Tourism and recreation
Little Italy was home to dozens of restaurants that serve authentic Italian cuisine. Between March 2013 and March 2014, eight eateries closed down.
The Feast of San Gennaro originally was once only a one-day religious commemoration. It began in September 1926 with the new arrival of immigrants from Naples. The Italian immigrants congregated along Mulberry Street in Manhattan's Little Italy to celebrate San Gennaro as the Patron Saint of Naples. The Feast of San Gennaro is a large street fair, lasting 11 days, that takes place every September along Mulberry Street between Houston and Canal Streets. The festival is an annual celebration of Italian culture and the Italian-American community. In 1995 Mort Berkowitz became the professional manager of a community group that had been formed to take over management of the San Gennaro feast. Since then, Berkowitz became involved in other recreational activities in Little Italy, including the summer, Carnevale, Columbus Day, and Christmas events.
Richard Alba, a sociologist and professor at University at Albany, SUNY (SUNY-Albany), said "The fascinating part here is the way in which ethnic tourism—not only by Italian-Americans but by people who want to see an authentic urban village—keeps these neighborhoods going."
Other Italian American neighborhoods in New York City
The other Italian American neighborhoods in New York City include:
- In Manhattan - East Harlem (Italian Harlem)
- In the Bronx - Arthur Avenue in Fordham, Morris Park and Pelham Bay
- In Brooklyn - Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, South Brooklyn, and other various neighborhoods in Brooklyn
- In Queens - Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Middle Village and other various neighborhoods in Queens
- In Staten Island - the borough has the highest proportion of Italian Americans of any county in the United States. Over 200,000 residents claim Italian heritage (over 40%), with Rosebank being the first Italian enclave.
Organized crime and the Mafia
Little Italy residents have seen organized crime since the early 1900s. Powerful members of the Italian Mafia operated in Little Italy.
- Ignazio "The Wolf" Lupo (a Morello crime family boss operated in Little Italy from late 1890s-1920s)
- Michele "Big Mike" Miranda (a Capo in the Genovese crime family operated in the neighborhood from the 1950s into the late 1960s)
- Peter DeFeo (a Genovese crime family capo who operated an illegal Italian lottery in the 1960s into the 1970s)
- Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello (a Genovese crime family capo operated from his restaurant Umberto's Clam House in the 1970s)
- John Gotti (boss of the Gambino crime family operated from the Ravenite Social Club in the late 1980s into the early 1990s)
In popular culture
Little Italy was the locale of the fictional Corleone crime family depicted in the novel The Godfather and the three movies based on it. Little Italy also appears as a small district in Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto 4. This district also has presence of the Italian Mafia. It is likely that the Little Italy in Grand Theft Auto 4 was based on this one due to the facts that Manhattan is in New York and Liberty City is based on New York.
- Feast of San Gennaro
- Italian Harlem
- List of Italian American neighborhoods
- List of Little Italys around the world
- Lower Manhattan
- Little Italy | Italy
- Little Italy NYC - The Official Website for New York City's Little Italy District
- Tonelli, Bill. "Arrivederci, Little Italy." New York. September 27, 2004. p. 1. Retrieved on April 10, 2013.
- "Littl-er Italy in NYC". ItalianAware. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
- "National Register of Historic Places listings for February 19, 2010". National Park Service. February 19, 2010. Retrieved February 19, 2010.
- Tonelli, Bill. "Arrivederci, Little Italy." New York. September 27, 2004. p. 2. Retrieved on April 10, 2013.
- Little Italy New York City