Italian American Museum Sells Building For $14.8 Million; Larger Museum Planned in New Building

Rendering: 185 Grand St. Image courtesy of the Oved Group.

Rendering: 185 Grand St. Image courtesy of the Oved Group.

For the better part of a decade, the Italian American Museum has been trying to sell its building at 185 Grand St. The institution has finally done it. The new owners plan a residential project with ground floor retail and an expanded home for the museum.

Commercial Observer reports that Oved Group and Nexus Building Development Group have purchased the property for $14.8 million. Morris Adjmi Architects has been hired to design a 12-unit residential building with 3500 square feet of retail. There will also be a 6,000 square foot commercial condo unit, “primarily below-grade,” for the museum, which will be closing for about two years.

Presently, the museum has about 1200 square feet and is open only on weekends. The upper level apartments in the three-story property are now vacant, according to Commercial Observer.

Back in 2015, the museum was embroiled in controversy when it evicted 85-year-old Adele Sarno from one of the apartments. The daughter of Italian immigrants eventually gave up the unit she’d held since the 1960s.

The property is made up of three connected brownstones. The oldest sections in the row date to the 1830s.  The buildings are not city landmarks (the Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected a plea for designation). In 2013, Joseph Scelsa, the museum’s director, said he regretted having to sell the property but believed it was the only way to keep the financially-strapped institution afloat. “Unfortunately, I don’t see another way to do it,” he told the Times. “If there was another way to do it, I would.”

The property once housed Banca Stabile, which lent Italian immigrants money to make the voyage to the United States. The Banca Stabile vault was still in the building when Scelsa acquired it in 2008. Preservationists consider it an important artifact and will be anxious to learn whether it will be preserved as part of the new building construction. In September of 2008, the museum opened a permanent exhibition dedicated to the vault. Here’s more from a press release still available online:

The Italian American Museum will debut “Banca Stabile “Cornerstone of Little Italy” Sept. 9 at its new headquarters at Mulberry & Grand Streets in Little Italy. The exhibition resembles the unveiling of a century-old time capsule: a bank office frozen in time along with scores of documents, photographs and artifacts that reveal the daily role the bank played in the lives of Italian immigrants. The unusually well-preserved Banca Stabile (pronounced STAH-bee-lay) storefront, housed for more than 100 years at 189 Grand St., has remained a mystery and curiosity to millions of passers-by over the decades. Now the public will be able to enter the bank for the first time. They will observe tellers’ windows, a huge safe, contents of safe deposit boxes, period light fixtures, clients’ bank books, deeds and passports which were recently recovered from the bank’s basement storage by museum curators.

The museum purchased the building in 2008 for $9.4 million.

Italian American Museum, 185 Grand St., 2015.

Italian American Museum, 185 Grand St., 2015.