Italian Cultural Garden

With the dedication of a bust of the poet Virgil, the Italian Cultural Garden was opened on October 12, 1930 before a crowd of 3000 local Italians celebrating Columbus Day and the 2000th anniversary of Virgil's birth. Over the next decade, the Italian Garden Delegation added sculptures, and designed and constructed the formally landscaped space. On September 14, 1941, the Italian Cultural Garden was officially dedicated. It cost over $100,000 to build the garden, with the city contributing approximately $18,000 and the Federal Government contributing over $94,000 through WPA funds.

Cleveland's Italian community started to slowly form during the Civil War. The U.S. Census of 1870 shows a very limited Italian presence in the city, as only 35 Italian immigrants were registered. The next 50 years, however, saw a far more explosive growth as 20,000 Italians moved to the city. By the late 1920s, 6 Italian neighborhoods were established in Cleveland; Big Italy, between Woodland Ave. and Orange Ave. from E. 9th St. to E. 40th St., was the largest community. Another neighborhood grew up around the St. Marian Church at E. 107th St. and Cedar Ave., and Collinwood also housed a significant number of Italians. On the west side, Italians took up residence in two areas; one near Clark and Fulton Avenues, and one on Detroit near W. 65th St. At the end of the 1920s some Italians moved out of Big Italy to an area at Woodland Ave. and E. 116th St. After WWII many Italians moved to the suburbs while others kept the Italian neighborhoods viable into the 1970s.

In 1960 there were still 19,317 foreign-born Italians in the city. By 1990 this count was 1,429 though still the second largest European immigrant group in Cleveland.Today, Little Italy, centered at Mayfield and Murray Hill Roads is Cleveland's identified Italian community.

Designed formally, the two-level Italian Cultural Garden was, to borrow Clare Lederer's phrasing, "grandly conceived in the spirit of the Italian Renaissance." The upper level of the garden has a large circular marble fountain, a stone parapet, and a bronze bust of the poet Virgil. Mounted on a stone column taken from the ancient Roman forum, this sculpture was a gift from the Italian government under Mussolini. The upper level also includes a block of stone extracted from the side of Monte Grappa in northern Italy. This is in honor of the many northern Ohio members of the 332nd Regiment of Infantry who fought on Italian soil during World War I. There is also a table that recalls the flight of Italian General Balbo from Rome to Cleveland in 1933.

The lower level is accessible from above by two curved staircases that flank a semicircular, brick-paved court. Set into a thirty-foot, decorated retaining wall is a double shell fountain. Six medallions of carved stone adorn the wall and represent six Italian cultural figures: Giotto di Bondone, a painter, sculptor and architect (1267-1337); Michelangelo, a painter, sculptor, architect and poet (1475-1564); Petrarch, a scholar, poet and humanist (1304-1374); Guiseppe Verdi, an operatic composer (1813-1901); Leonardo da Vinci, painter, sculptor, draftsman, architect, engineer and scientist (1452-1519); and Guglielmo Marconi, an inventor best known for his work in radio technology (1874-1937).

Images

Marker Dedication, June 1934

Marker Dedication, June 1934

The original marker at the Italian Cultural Garden was dedicated on June 29, 1934. The caption for this photograph reads: "Left to Right: Domenic Montori, Representing Jr. Order Sons of Italy; Joseph Suto, Artist who created marker; Constame Corso; Wm. A. Milliken, representing the Public Works of Art Program (P.W.A.P.); Supreme Venerable, Order Sons of Italy - John DiSilvestro of Philadelphia; Philip Gardo, Pres. Italian Cultural Garden; Constame Fina; Mary Diagono; Angela Trorato; Frank Zammataro, Grand Venerable Order of Sons of Italy." Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Amphitheater Construction, June 1939

Amphitheater Construction, June 1939

Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Virgil Dedication, Oct. 1930

Virgil Dedication, Oct. 1930

Members of Cleveland's various Italian fraternal and church organizations gather in front of the bust of Virgil (at left, a gift from the Italian government) on the occasion of the bust's official dedication on Columbus Day - October 12, 1930. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

WW I Memorial Rock Dedication, 1932

WW I Memorial Rock Dedication, 1932

Dedicated in 1932, the World War I memorial rock at the Italian Cultural Garden has a plaque inscribed with the following words: "In this garden, sacred to the glories of Rome, the Italian War Veterans of Cleveland have placed this rock taken from the torn slopes of Monte Grappa, a lasting memorial to the mutual sacrifice that in the heroic moments of WWI bound America and Italy, effecting a bond of imperishable friendship in the fruitful work of peace cemented by the blood of some fifty soldiers of Ohio's 332nd Infantry who fell on Italian soil." Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Crowd at 1932 WW I Memorial Dedication

Crowd at 1932 WW I Memorial Dedication

This image shows the crowd gathered for the dedication of the World War I Mt. Grappa rock memorial at the Italian Cultural Garden. The rock was sent to Cleveland to remember the Ohio-based 332nd Infantry Regiment, who fought on the Italian front in 1918. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Restored Renaissance Fountain

Restored Renaissance Fountain

This photograph shows the restored Renaissance Fountain (completed in 2007) in the upper level of the Italian Cultural Garden. Also pictured are some of the 13 decorative lampposts (also completed in 2007) which can also be found on the garden's upper level. Image courtesy of Joyce Mariani View File Details Page

Opera in the Italian Garden, 2009

Opera in the Italian Garden, 2009

A crowd gathered in the upper level of the Italian Cultural Garden to hear opera on Sunday August 9, 2009. Image courtesy of realneo.us View File Details Page

Audio

Renewed Interest & A Desire to Improve

Alfonso D'Emilia speaks in 2005 about renewed interest in the Italian Cultural Garden, a need to replace a missing bust of Virgil, and debates over which other Italian figures ought to be added to the engraved stone medallions in the garden. View File Details Page

Opera in the Italian Garden

Joyce Mariani describes the popularity of the opera performances that have been held at the Italian Cultural Garden. View File Details Page

"I Felt Like Rocky"

Joyce Mariani describes some of the complications she faced in trying to add new lampposts to the Italian Cultural Garden. View File Details Page

"Destiny Again..."

Joyce Mariani describes the series of events that led to the commissioning of sculptor Sandro Bonaiuto to create a statue of the poet Dante at the Italian Cultural Garden. View File Details Page

Giuseppe Verdi

This is an excerpt from Italian composer, Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, Act I: Un di, felice eterea. Found at International Music Score Library Project View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

“Italian Cultural Garden,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 20, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/115.
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