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LA's Nearly Forgotten Little Italy Remembered in New Museum

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The Italian Hall on historic Olvera Street has been restored to house the institution

At the corner of Main Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, right along the back of historic Olvera Street, there's a building on the corner that says Italian Hall across the top in big golden letters. Once the social center of the tight Little Italy enclave in Los Angeles, it lost its prominence in the 1950s, but is about to make a big comeback next month, when it opens as the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, reports KPCC.

When Italian immigrants started coming to Los Angeles, many of them settled in a swath of the city that stretched from around present-day Chinatown to Lincoln Heights. (There are still several reminders in this area of the once prominent community, including the San Antonio Winery.)

The area near what's now Olvera Street was once a section of town where Italians flocked to buy baked goods and groceries from Italian-owned businesses; the hall was where people had celebrations, concerts, banquets. "[T]his is where you got married," says a local historian involved in the restoration of the building.

The Little Italy community and the hall had decades of prominence, but around the time of World War II, people began dialing back their Italian pride out of fear of being associated with America's adversaries. Italian immigrants were required to carry "enemy alien registration cards" while the war was on; some were sent to internment camps.

In the 1950s, the state government bought the Italian Hall, which by then had fallen into disrepair and probably would have continued to deteriorate if not for the grassroots involvement of members of the Italian-American community, who've raised upwards of $3.5 million to restore the hall and to reopen it as a museum that tells the story of LA's Little Italy and of Italian immigrants to Los Angeles—"history that much of Los Angeles has forgotten or never learned."