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Arts & Culture

Former North Park Library reborn as Italian Cultural Center

WBFO's Mike Desmond

A North Buffalo landmark is getting a new life, as the North Park Library is to be the new home of the Italian Cultural Center of Buffalo.

The announcement Monday brought a large turnout of Italian-Americans, many waving Italian flags on the building's lawn at Hertel and Delaware avenues.

Sponsors said this reflects the Italian community in the city and especially in North Buffalo, as the building is located at one end of the former longtime site of the Italian Heritage Festival. Mayor Brown said the city has designated Central Culturale Italiano di Buffalo as the developer for the site.

"There have been many different ideas of how to reuse this building over the years," said Brown, "and what Councilmember Feroleto and I decided to do was to really let all of those ideas be aired by the public, let all of those ideas hit the table because we wanted to come up with something that the entire community could embrace."

It is not clear how much development will cost, as the structure - built in 1928 - was closed in 2008 for lead paint, asbestos and other problems. Over the years, it has had renovations - including a substantial renovation two decades ago - to make it attractive as a site for the cultural center.

Architect Tomasso Briatico said the building's original plans have already been delivered to his office, just up the block, and he is already planning how to make necessary repairs. Timing of the re-opening depends on a fundraising drive and renovations, estimated to cost around $1 million.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond
ICC President Dr. Frank Giacobbe (front) said the former North Park Library will now reflect the city's Italian-American heritage.

Center President Dr. Frank Giacobbe said the planned facility will unite the area's Italian community and recognize its role in building the city.

"The Italian Cultural Center promotes Italian language, its culture and traditions," said Giacobbe. "Our focus is children and family and the children's education. We plan to have a museum also of Italian immigrants to Buffalo and our center is open to everybody."

This saves a longtime city landmark that had been on the possible demolition block, to be replaced by commercial space on one of the city's most prominent intersections. As the city looked for reuses, preservationists fought a struggle in court to have the building designated as a landmark and block demolition.

Preservationist Tim Tielman said re-use of the building is a victory for history in the city.

"It's a gigantic victory for historic preservation in Buffalo, for the citizens of North Buffalo who really fought very hard over a year-and-a-half to overcome the resistance of the administration and the councilman to actually save this building, because there was an RFP that would have resulted in the demolition of this building," he said.

The North Park Library now operates in a shopping plaza down Hertel.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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