Little Italy

One of Cleveland's most enduring ethnic neighborhoods, Little Italy was established in the late 19th century by immigrants largely from Italy's Abruzzi region. Giuseppe Carabelli, an Italian artisan came to Cleveland via New York to open a sculpting and stone masonry business. Carabelli's early employees developed reputations as expert stonemasons due to their contributions to monumental works at nearby Lake View Cemetery. The residential space to the south of the cemetery became occupied with numerous Italian families near the turn of the century.

Neighborhood life in Little Italy revolved around both the Holy Rosary (Roman Catholic) Church and the Alta (Settlement) House. Holy Rosary parish was commissioned by the Cleveland Catholic Diocese in 1891 when the Scalabrini Fathers were summoned from Italy to serve Cleveland's eastern Italian residents. During the ensuing years the parish grew, built two churches and served as the central religious and social hub of the neighborhood.

The Alta House began as a nursery and Kindergarten agency for the neighborhood. Carabelli approached the agency about expanding social services to the community. By 1898, contributions from John D. Rockefeller provided programs and facilities in the name of his daughter, Alta, to serve the immigrant community assimilating to American society. Both Holy Rosary and the Alta House remain as central religious social forces in the neighborhood today.In recent times, Little Italy has been able to capitalize on its ethnic heritage and has become a popular shopping and dining destination for people from all over Northeast Ohio.

Interestingly, Little Italy was not the only Italian neighborhood on Cleveland's east side. The Woodland Avenue/ Central Market area defined the "Big Italy" neighborhood in Cleveland. It was an older and much larger home to Italian and Sicilian immigrants. This area fell into decline after World War II and, by the 1960s, had been essentially destroyed by encroaching freeways and urban renewal.

Audio

Little and Big Italy Nancy Phillips explains the origins of Little Italy and its relationship to Cleveland's other Italian community Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
The Feast of the Assumption Nancy Phillips talks about how the Feast of the Assumption has changed over the years Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
The Little Italy Neighborhood Develops Mr. Frank Fiorilli and Mr. Richard Gallitto describe local institutions that most influenced the residents of the Mayfield Road neighborhood. Holy Rosary Church, the Alta House, and Murray Hill School combined to unite the residents of the neighborhood during the first half of the twentieth century. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection Creator: James Lanese

Images

Feast of the Assumption, 1962 In August of each year, Roman Catholics celebrate the Assumption of Mary. Feast of the Assumption celebrations in Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood have taken on the character of a street fair, with food vendors and entertainment lining Mayfield Road. The holiday, which has been observed in Little Italy since 1950, draws thousands of visitors each year from throughout the Cleveland area. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1962
Frankie and Johnnie's Bar, 1962 The local bars and restaurants that once served a majority-Italian population in Little Italy now serve a more diverse clientele that reflects changes in the neighborhood's demographic makeup. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1962
Mayfield Road, 1968 Although many different businesses have come and gone in the neighborhood, the built environment in Little Italy has changed very little over the years. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1968
North Italian Club House Cleveland's Italian community was originally centered in Big Italy near the Central Market along Woodland Avenue. Cramped and deteriorating conditions prompted residents to move to Fulton Road on the west, Collinwood to the northeast, and Kinsman Road to the east. This Club is located on West 32nd Street. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Italian War Ministry Cup, 1930 A Silver Cup donated to Cleveland by the Italian War Ministry in 1930. Like many Italian-Americans, Little Italy residents first saw the rise of Mussolini as a positive development for their homeland. However, by the time the United States entered World War II, most Italian-Americans were ready to fight on the side of the Allied forces, and against their native Italy, in the war to defeat fascism in Europe. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1930
Little Italy Watercolor Watercolor painting by Martin Linsey, 1973 Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections Date: 1973
Holy Rosary Church Holy Rosary Catholic Church & Parsonage was established in Little Italy in 1892, becoming Cleveland's second Roman Catholic parish for Italians. The church seen here was dedicated in 1909. Source: Cleveland State Library Special Collections

Location

Metadata

Michael Sharaba, “Little Italy,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 8, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/35.