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.