[EASTSIDE EYE] Italian American Museum of L.A. Opens

IAMLA chronicles the contributions Italian immigrants have brought to Los Angeles. Photo: Courtesy of IAMLA.

IAMLA chronicles the contributions Italian immigrants have brought to Los Angeles. Photo: Courtesy of IAMLA.

After two decades in development, the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA) opened its doors to a new permanent home at the 108-year-old Italian Hall in August. The Italian Hall gleams again with a restored façade and interiors. In the early 20th century, it was the community center for Italian immigrants in the region. Today, it is part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, located on the west side and above the shops and restaurants of Olvera Street.

Interactive exhibits chronicle Italian immigrants’ contribution to the city and nation’s arts, culture and political life.

A local connection runs deep. Many Italians migrated to Los Feliz post-war –witness area restaurants like Sarno Bakery, Palermo and the long-gone Milano on Hillhurst Avenue.

Silver Lake-raised Marianna Gatto is IAMLA’s executive director. She spearheaded the museum’s build-out and programming over the course of 11 years.

“We’re information dense and quite proud of that,” said Gatto of the social history museum’s hi-tech, interactive exhibitions.

The kinetic photographic displays are arranged chronologically and thematically—from the birth of Little Italys in Southern California, through Prohibition, to the current day.

There are close to 100 artifacts featured. Highlights include a Versace dressing gown on loan from Lady Gaga (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta), Rudolph Valentino’s typewriter and traditional garments brought by pioneering immigrant families.

Tablets connected to the displays allow visitors to further explore themes from the pioneer days of the 1800s to contemporary contributions. Hollywood stereotyping is explored as well as prejudice directed towards the group.

“They were the immigrants of the day,” said Gatto, and often characterized as economic and political threats.

During WWII, Italian-Americans were declared enemy aliens, and more than 600,000 were required to register as such, including famed Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio’s parents.

They were also banned from fishing along the coast and had to move inland, much like Japanese-Americans. A mix of images, text and personal items bring these and other historic incidents to life.

Three galleries will host temporary exhibitions in the IAMLA’s Arts & Crafts-style interior complete with brick fireplace and refinished pine plank wood floors. The building’s original tiling is at the entrance and its century-old etched transom window is on display—an unexpected discovery during the building’s seismic retrofit.

Complementing the brick-pine floor-and-mortar museum is its online component and downloadable curriculum developed for educators. Gatto said she expects the museum’s entire collection to be searchable online by the end of 2017.

“We showcase the city’s history through lens of the Italian-American immigrant experience,” she said.

Admission free. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., 644 N. Main St., Italianhall.org. The major fundraiser for the organization, Taste of Italy, will be held October 1 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are available through the website and at the door.

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