The cultural history of New Orleans has been enriched by the contributions of many nationalities over the cityâ€™s 300-year existence. Among the more recent arrivals, starting in the late 1800s, the Italians have left their mark on the city in many ways that can be seen, heard and experienced today.
The American Italian Cultural Center in the heart of downtown New Orleans is a repository of priceless information and memorabilia celebrating the contributions of the sons and daughters of Italy to the cityâ€™s cultural life. Musicians Nick LaRocca and Louis Prima, opera singer Marguerite Piazza, champion boxers Tony Canzoneri and Willie Pastrano, former mayors Robert Maestri and Vic Schiro, and noted doctor John Adriani all called New Orleans home and made their impacts on the world in which they lived.
But the collection is about more than just famous Italian-Americans. Itâ€™s also about the millions of everyday Italians who settled throughout Louisiana and the American Southeast and made their mark in other ways. At one time unique New Orleans neighborhoods like the French Quarter and the Ninth Ward were predominantly Italian, and Italian-Americans owned and operated many of the business establishments, a number of which survive today. The popular muffaletta sandwich that is enjoyed from Central Grocery is a product of that era, as are the mouth-watering confections and desserts of such local, century-old institutions as Angelo Brocatoâ€™s and Gambinoâ€™s. Famous restaurants like Carmeloâ€™s and Tony Moranâ€™s still serve Italian specialties made from recipes handed down through generations.
Among the treasures that greet the visitor to the American Italian Cultural Center are
The gown worn by Marguerite Piazza as the first Queen of the Virgilians, the Italian Mardi Gras ball
Displays of Nick LaRocca and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who cut the first jazz record in 1917, and other famous local Italian-American musicians
The Giovanni Schiavo Collection, a genealogy library consisting of tapes, newspapers, vertical files, a music library, naturalization records, photographs, family histories and other Italian-American memorabilia
The Dr. John Adriani Collection (named after a noted anesthesiologist who developed many procedures in anesthesiology which are in use today and author of several important textbooks on the subject) consisting of medical records, personal journals, textbooks and other artifacts
A St. Joseph Day altar display, telling the colorful local history of the tradition
As an added bonus, the museum opens up to the Piazza dâ€™Italia (Italian Plaza). The piazza is a pleasant way to relax and enjoy the soothing sounds and sights of water cascading over and through reproductions of classic Roman arches and aqueducts, amid the hustle and bustle of downtown New Orleans.