The Italian Community Center and Festa Italiana
On February 28, 1978, representatives of three Italian American organizations — the Milwaukee Chapter of UNICO National, the Milwaukee Ladies of UNICO, and the Pompeii Men’s Club — met to discuss ways to reunite the local Italian community.
An idea was born to re-establish an Italian festival, but a different kind of festival – one where all the societies and organizations would work together. The product of that union was Festa Italiana.
Milwaukee’s Italian community, which had established itself in the city’s old Third Ward, had been split apart by urban renewal projects of the late 1950s and early 1960s and by the razing of Our Lady of Pompeii Church, the center of Italian American activities from 1904 to 1967.
The first Festa was held August 4, 5 and 6, 1978 at the Summerfest grounds. It was more successful than any of the organizers could have envisioned. The festival not only reunited the Italian community, but attracted people from multiple ethnic backgrounds.
The Italian Community Center was established in the fall of 1978 when the Festa organizers purchased a small storefront office on Brady St.
With the continued success of Festa Italiana, the ICC membership was able to purchase a larger facility — the former Kenwood Masonic Lodge at 2648 N. Hackett Ave. — in April 1980. The 20,000 square foot building remained the home of the ICC for more than 10 years.
As membership grew, it became apparent to the Board of Directors that a new, larger facility would be needed to accommodate members’ desires for expanded cultural, educational and social activities.
In May of 1986, the former “Coachyards” property — a 15.7 acre site — was purchased from Milwaukee County. Construction of a new Italian Community Center began shortly thereafter.
On September 30, 1990, the new 60,000 square foot ICC opened. The building at 631 E. Chicago Street is situated in the heart of the Historic Third Ward where many of the ICC’s current members and their ancestors were raised.
From the new building, the ICC has been able to offer a variety of activities for the benefit of its 2,000-plus members. These activities include Italian cooking classes, Italian language classes, opera classes, dances, dinners, theater presentations, concerts, bocce leagues and exhibitions.
One does not need to be Italian to be a member or to participate in the programs available at the ICC. The organization, through its by-laws, expresses a desire to share the Italian heritage and culture with all people.