Mi dispiace. I am sorry, but this second-generation Italian-American is embarrassed and troubled by the recently installed “Russell J. Salvatore Courtyard” that now dominates Centro Culturale Italiano di Buffalo’s front yard at the northeast corner of Hertel and Delaware avenues.
CCI could have pursued – in the words of the late, great Buffalo artist, Virginia Tillou – “simplicity, taste and restraint” when designing its face to the world. As a matter of fact, the original vision of CCI’s front yard, as designed by architect Tommaso Briatico, appears simple, tasteful and restrained, with an appropriately-scaled courtyard patio, reflection pool, and park benches.
Along the way, however, the accessible and functional courtyard morphed into an ostentatious and unrestrained advertisement for its donor, Russ Salvatore – Western New York’s generous but shamelessly self-promoting restaurateur and hotel proprietor.
What I find most offensive is the large, two-sided sign that proclaims the “Russell J. Salvatore Courtyard” – complete with an image of Mr. Salvatore’s smiling face that is reminiscent of a multitude of his commercials and ads. Compounding the problem is the location of this display. It is the first signage visitors see as they walk from the CCI’s parking lot to its main entrance, diminishing the stature of the site’s primary feature: the historic North Park Library building.
While the original plan positioned the courtyard patio in close proximity to the building’s front entrance, the pretentious centerpiece of Mr. Salvatore’s “courtyard” – a fountain (imported, like my paternal grandparents, from Sicily), and the flowers and plantings that surround it – have been placed in the middle of what is now a ceremonial yard.
The landscaped lawn around the fountain is dissected by a broad pathway of pavers bearing the names of donors. The plethora of fancy urns and decorative benches (backless and inhospitable in appearance), perhaps appropriate at an establishment catering to weddings, high school proms, etc., seems grossly out of place at a not-for-profit cultural center seeking to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for a diverse community.
Mi dispiace. Illuminating the cultural center’s front yard with eleven (yes, 11) street lamps – making it far brighter than the nearby Burger King parking lot – is excessive and pointless. And it also shows no consideration for the residents in the neighboring house.
And the white landscape stones covering the space between the courtyard’s fencing and the public sidewalk – identical to what you’ll find at Mr. Salvatore’s suburban establishments – are cold and unwelcoming, unbefitting a culture that loves beautiful flowers, gardens, and plantings.
[Taken at Russ Salvatore’s Garden Place hotel.]
My Italian and Sicilian grandparents, who had the courage and resilience to emigrate to the U.S., were humble and hardworking. They were not ostentatious or extravagant. They did not seek recognition when they gave to others. [See P.S. below.] They demonstrated characteristics, qualities and values worthy of preserving, promoting, and celebrating.
[My father’s parents, Ignatio and Virginia (nee D’Amore) Giacalone.]
[My mother’s family, Bartolomeo and Elisabetta (nee Catino) Papagni, and their children.]
CCI Buffalo’s new courtyard does not reflect the Italian culture and heritage that I know and cherish. It is, at best, a mere caricature of that legacy.
With All Due Respect,
P.S. Mr. Salvatore’s generosity is unquestionable. So is his need, apparently, to see his name attached to facilities that have benefited by his largess. For example (in no particular order): Villa Maria College’s Russell J. Salvatore Commons; Niagara University’s Russell J. Salvatore Student Commons, and Russell J. Salvatore Dining Commons; Lancaster School District’s Russell J. Salvatore Fieldhouse; Trocaire College’s Russell J. Salvatore School of Hospitality and Business; Brothers of Mercy’s Russell J. Salvatore Outpatient Rehabilitation Center; Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center’s Russell J. Salvatore Welcome Center; Erie County Memorial Center’s Russell J. Salvatore Atrium, Russell J. Salvatore Orthopaedic Unit; and, Catholic Charities’ Russell J. Salvatore Food Pantry & Outreach.
Unfortunately, I have to agree. I was so pleased when CCI secured the building and undertook its revitalization. The ostentatious courtyard is out of place. I live just a couple of blocks away, and find myself trying to look past, or anywhere but at, the excessive lighting and white marble. Abundance has its place in Italian (though in my case, Sicilian) culture, but so does restraint.
I agree. My mother, Rosalia Gullo Bondi, described Salvatore’s in this way:
“Oh yes. Salvatore’s. Where they took all of Rome and dumped it.”
Offensive all. That white stone. The oversized fountains. Total lack of any creativity of and kind. No sign of native plantings, biodiversity or just plain, good old BEAUTY.
Here’s an excerpt from a June 2015 Buffalo News article: “‘I used to go to different auction and antique shops and buy things,’ Salvatore said. ‘I was down in Florida, and I went to this place that sold cement statues. I bought thousands of them there, and they ended up lining the driveway,’ Salvatore said.” All I can say, with due respect for my 95-year-old mother: MAMA MIA!! Art G.
Couldn’t agree more. I voiced my concern to the director. And I will not support the organization.
It makes Italian-Americans look like tasteless, classless, boorish clowns. All the stereotypes on one misplaced lawn.
My father and mother would be appalled.
I,too, am in agreement with all of the above. Such a travesty and a horror in a place that had so much potential as a welcome guest in the neighborhood.
CCI hasn’t yet responded to my blog post, which I sent to them 2 days ago. It will be interesting to see if they circle the wagons – refusing to question “the good taste” of a man who is closely connected with a multitude of CCI board members and staff – or if they’ll choose to reconsider the “courtyard” just in time for October, “Italian Heritage Month.”
I agree with the over done concentration of statuary stuffed into that tiny space. I fear much of it is not the vandal proof stuff adopted by urban parks.
It is really much overdone. Italian grace is spare, lean and simple.
I’m surprised a simple garden based setting as was done next to the building with easily accessible benches or seating arrangements was not developed.
I agree about Russell Salvador’s magnificent charity but ensuring it is turned into an advertisement is a bit much.
I, too, agree with Arthur Giacalone and all of the above comments. The RJS Courtyard is ghastly, the antithesis of the grace and beauty of Italy and Italian culture that I know well from having lived in Italy and hold close to my heart. I planned to attend an event at CCI this evening but have changed my mind; I can’t bear to walk through that awful courtyard.