"It was a link for the Immigrants in the United States with their relatives in Italy. In addition to a full range of banking services, it also provided the following services: telegraph, travel via steam ships, import-export, notary public, and post office; a kind of all in one immigrant community service center. It has been restored and preserved, and is now open to the public. It now serves as the cornerstone of the Italian American Museum from which we will tell our story in America."
Currently the museum only occupies the first floor of the bank, but what it lacks in space it more than makes up for with its personal, intimate approach. The museum’s founder and president, Dr. Joseph C. Scelsa, keeps his office right on the exhibit floor and is happy to speak with visitors about the museum’s founding and future and is enthusiastic about attracting new visitors to this labor of love. The exhibits largely feature artifacts recovered from the bank itself, and the pay stubs, steam ship tickets and telegrams tell a fascinating story of this turn-of-the-century community.
Frank Serpico, the New York City police officer immortalized by Al Pacino, is also featured in the exhibit. Serpico rose to fame by publicizing widespread corruption within the police department in 1970. In February 1971, he was shot in the face during a routine drug bust, which may have been a set up, as none of the other officers on the scene followed him or radioed for help after he had been shot. Serpico survived the incident and went on to testify before the Knapp Commission to Investigate Alleged Police Corruption later that year, which ushered in huge reforms in the department. For the exhibition, Serpico was kind enough to donate several of his personal effects from his time on the force, including several of his service weapons.
So, the next time you are in the Little Italy, stop by the Italian-American Museum so that they can continue to grow and contribute to the rich history of the Lower East Side.
-- Andrew Gustafson