From its humble beginnings in the old Scofield home on South Street to its beautiful expansive facility on 28 acres in North Stamford, the Italian Center has become one of Stamford’s foremost recreational, social and cultural communities, and one of the finest Italian Cultural Centers in America. It is truly, a proud testament to its founding fathers. Learn more below.
December 18, 1909
The Italian Social Institute was incorporated to assist newly arrived immigrants who were dealing with the harsh realities of American life.
Lelio Donatelli was elected the first President.
The Italian Social Institute purchased the old Scofield Home on South Street in Stamford. Membership increased and additional space for meetings, activities, and weddings was needed.
The Gurnsey Street property was purchased.
February 7, the Italian Social Institute and Center dedicated the new Columbus Hall in which numerous dignitaries participated.
On September 21, the Italian Center of Stamford, Inc., was chartered by the State of Connecticut.
- On September 25, the Italian Center was accepted into the Community Chest (now the United Way). During this time, the Italian Center and the Italian Center Institute formalized their stated mission:
- “to conduct, maintain and manage a center where history, culture, customs and laws of the United States of America may be taught to any and all persons of Italian descent residing in the Town of Stamford, Connecticut.
- “to render necessary aid and other relief to the poor and needy, and to administer and dispense funds entrusted to it for such purposes.”
- “to conduct and provide educational, recreational, athletic and social facilities for the spiritual improvement and physical development of young people, as well as for grown men and women.”
- During this time, the center became a hub of activity. Italian classes, basketball and gymnastics events were sponsored; citizenship classes for immigrants were provided and activities with Sacred Heart Church were coordinated through the paster and Board of Directors.
The Italian Center chorus performed at the 1939 World’s Fair, on the radio and at Carnegie Hall.
The first Summer Day Camp was organized.
Renovation of Columbus Hall.
President Nicolas Mercede presented plans for renovation and expansion.
The Italian Institute and the Italian Center became the Italian Center of Stamford, Inc.
The groundbreaking ceremony took place for an addition and renovations and on Columbus Day, 1962, the new Italian Center on South Street was formally dedicated.
Each improvement and renovation brought increased interest and new members to the Italian Center and in 1968, it became necessary to look for a new location. Mario DeCarlo found 29 acres of available land on Newfield Avenue and the search for support and funding began. Union Trust who agreed to hold the mortgage, required that five individuals sign a personal note in order for the mortgage to be approved. The five members who signed were Nick Mercede, Mario DeCarlo, Cleante Pimpinella, Ralph Gervasio and Manuel Vetti.
With the mortgage approval underway, construction began as did numerous fundraising events. The sale of the Dorothy Heroy property and buildings on South and Gurnsey Streets also significantly contributed to funds needed for the new building construction.
Finally, construction of the 58,000 square foot facility with state of the art banquet facilities, gymnasium, preschool, indoor swimming pool and tennis courts, set on 28 acres of prime property was completed.
Thanks to the efforts of Board members, Dr. Walter Orgera and Donal Zezima, the President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, formally dedicated the new building on October 12, 1970. With great pride numerous members of the Italian Community, as well as hundreds of other Stamford citizens and dignitaries attended the dedication ceremonies.
As the Italian Center settled into its new facility on Newfield Avenue, to Board focused on strategic planning for fund-raisers and future improvements to the property. As it had always been in the past, dedication, commitment, sacrifice and hard work of the members prevailed and the Italian Center thrived.
The Men’s club became an integral part of the fund raising campaigns starting annual traditions such as the Saint Patrick’s Day Dinner, Annual Summer Out Door Car Raffle and Dinner Dance and much more. Several local establishments donated food and were extremely generous in aiding the efforts of the Italian Center.
Additionally, the Women’s Auxiliary contributed to the beautification of the Italian Center grounds as they are responsible for the addition of the Rose Garden . They also sponsored the Sweet Heart and spring dances and collaborated on the Italian Center cookbook. Another group of women of notable mention are those of the Mother’s Club who support the Italian Center Preschool program.
The Board of Directors began construction on the large outdoor pool to further entice members. It was one of the largest outdoor pools in Fairfield County and it had the desired effect of substantially increasing membership.
1990 – Present
Since the dedication of the Italian Center building by President Nixon, the Center has been a rallying point for many local, state and national politicians. Some of whom include Mrs. Barbara Bush, Senator Thomas Dodd, Governors Dempsey, O’Neill and Ella Grasso. An notably in 2001, Senator Joseph Lieberman, a former Stamford resident, was introduced as the Democratic candidate for Vice President of the United States.
As we entered the last decade of the 20th century, the Italian Center continued to thrive and maintain its beautiful property. In 1991, the Board of Directors decided to hold the first summer Italian Festival on the property to share with the success with the Stamford Community. The intent helped renew cultural emphasis by exposing various aspects of the Italian heritage. The event continued for five years and the annual wine tasting contest has continued on to the present day.
During this time, a new generation of Italian Americans began to replace older members on the board. New ideas, new methods of accomplishing goals and greater participation of membership characterized the philosophy of the Board.
That philosophy continues today and is a motivating force as the Italian Center programs reflect the needs and desires of the members. A wide variety of youth and adult programs and classes are offered in addition to the expanded fitness center, remodeled locker rooms and improved tennis facilities. The extended summer day camp program, improvements in the Prechool facility, the addition of a twelve hole miniature golf course and the on-going capital projects program are just a few of the accomplishments in recent years.