IAMLA: the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles

The Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA) accomplishes its mission of exploring and spotlighting the history and continuing contributions of Italian Americans in multi-ethnic Los Angeles and the U.S. through research, historic preservation, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Located in the historic Italian Hall built in 1908 as a gathering place for the Italian community, the IAMLA opened its doors to the public in August of 2016 after several years of renovation and preservation work. It is jointly operated by the non-profit Historic Italian Hall Foundation and the City of Los Angeles.

The Italian Hall, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the oldest remaining structure from the city’s historic Little Italy. Built in the heart of the Italian enclave in downtown L.A. amidst bustling Italian grocery stores, bakeries, pharmacies, and cafes, it functioned as the community's social and cultural center. Also remaining from that enclave are Saint Peter’s Italian Church, the San Antonio Winery and Eastside Market Italian Deli.

Los Angeles possesses the country’s fifth-largest Italian population and, as Marianna Gatto of the IAMLA wrote, although Italian influence on the development of the American West predates our nation's founding, it is seldom mentioned in discussions of historic Italian American communities. The IAMLA is changing this.

The history and contributions of Italian Americans in Southern California and the nation are documented in the 5,000 s.f. IAMLA through seven permanent exhibits arranged chronologically and thematically. An overview of each exhibition is projected onto large glass panels hung throughout the main room, which take visitors on a journey through the 200-year history of Italian Americans in Southern California and beyond. First person narratives, artifacts, documents, and treasured mementos reveal personal stories that, together with the interactive video installations, provide an engaging way to discover history. The IAMLA’s permanent exhibition is also available online through a partnership with Google.

In addition to permanent exhibitions, the museum presents two temporary exhibitions each year and a variety of cultural and educational programs and events, such as film screenings, book presentations and workshops.

Last year the IAMLA presented “The Russo Brothers – Italians in Hollywood.” On May 31, 2018 with the Russo brothers and family in attendance, the IAMLA unveiled the newest addition to its permanent collection, Italians in Hollywood, exploring the achievements of directors Anthony and Joe Russo. The Russo brothers are descendants of immigrants who, like so many, fled poverty in southern Italy to a better life in, what better place, Cleveland, OH, where the brothers were born. They stated that the values they learned from their Italian American family were central to their success. On display as part of the exhibit is the Captain America shield from the movie “Captain America: Civil War,” which connects the audience with the fantastic visual world created by the Russo brothers.

The IAMLA seeks to assist Italian Americans in their journey of self-discovery and provide all visitors with a more meaningful understanding of the multi-layered history of the American nation. The museum is a non-profit organization that depends on donations to accomplish its mission. There are many ways to support this museum, from volunteering and becoming a member to making a tax-deductible contribution. Admission to the museum is free; donations are encouraged. Memberships are available and include invitations to special events.

Diana Lucarino-Diekmann lives in Los Angeles and volunteers at IAMLA.