Last month, we presented a story about St Lucy’s Museum of Newark, NJ in our Heritage section. This week, we present Part II of the story with pictures from inside the museum, plus a little bit about the beginnings of the Church and the area.
St. Lucy’s Church was founded by Italian immigrants in 1891 and was the heart and soul of the area as immigrants from Italy settled in the neighborhood. As more and more people found their way over from Italy, their culture flourished and the area around Seventh Avenue in the city became known as Newark’s Little Italy.
In 2005, Mgsr. Joseph Granato, then Pastor of St. Lucy’s Church, became very concerned about preserving the rich culture and heritage of the area affectionately known as “The Old First Ward.” He spoke to numerous parishioners, who in turn formed an organization with that purpose in mind. The result was the formation of the Newark First Ward Heritage and Cultural Society, Inc. The original seven members were Bob Cascella, Joe and Diane DiBlasio, Mike Genevrino, Dee Kirk, Vito Nole and Bob Sarcone. One of the principle ideas of the organization was to exhibit memorabilia and photographs from the Old First Ward.
Mgsr. Granato provided space to the organization in the lower level of the St Lucy Community Center. The first exhibit, primarily photographs, opened on April 30, 2006. The exhibit was titled “The First Ward, An Unshakable Spirit – A Timeless Family.”
Since then, the museum has grown with additional photographs, memorabilia, archives and displays representing the Old First Ward, including those from St Lucy’s Church, its clergy and school as well as weddings that have taken place at the Church. Displays range from awards, trophies and banners from the Church’s successful drum and bugle corps to a remarkable presepio donated to the museum by the late Deacon Louis Loffredo. Highly significant among the displays are those devoted to Saint Gerard, since St Lucy’s is the National Shrine of the Saint in the U.S.
In 2009, Mgsr. Granato retired and was succeeded by Rev. Luigi Zanotto, who continued his predecessor’s support for the museum and contributed numerous artifacts to the museum until his death in 2018.
About the Neighborhood
Joe DiMaggio loved the restaurants of the Old First Ward so much that he would take the New York Yankees there to enjoy “real Italian food.” Frank Sinatra had bread from Giordano’s Bakery sent to him every week until his death, no matter where in the world he was.
The Italian Tribune, was founded on Seventh Avenue and the area was the home of such luminaries as Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons and Congressman Peter Rodino.
A tightly knit community, it was ultimately the plans of governmental agencies that reduced the enlightened area to a mere glimmer. The neighborhood was notoriously devastated following urban renewal efforts during the 1950s. Eighth Avenue was obliterated by the city council, scattering Italian American residents to make way for the construction of the Columbus Homes, an ill-conceived housing project that was ultimately demolished 20 years ago. No one was sorry to see it go. The construction of Interstate 280 also had a dramatic and debilitating effect, effectively cutting off the neighborhood from the rest of the city.
Visiting the Museum
In addition to curator, Bob Cascella, the museum’s assistant curators are Sal Fede and Tom Cascella; Yvonne Ciccone is the secretary; Howard Toffey is in charge of construction and maintenance. David Laraquente is the museum’s photographer. The museum can be visited by appointment for either groups or individuals by contacting Bob Cascella at 201-340-4966. Additionally, the museum is always searching for photographs and memorabilia that will help to memorialize the legacy of the Old First Ward.