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.