Origins of the Festival in Buffalo, NY

Our Italian Festival Has its Origins in the Religious Festivals of the First Immigrants.
Many Italian immigrants to WNY settled in the Canal District - also known as Canal Street, Dante Place, the Triangle, the Flats, the Hooks, Five Points, and the Canal Street Badlands.

The St. Anthony of Padua Church Society was founded in 1891 as the first Italian Catholic Church in WNY. It was located on Court Street and was accessible to the Canal District.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel served the needs of the Canal District Italian community form 1906 to 1949, since it was located in the heart of the district.

The canal district was home to celebrations that was home to regional feast days in the villages of Italy from where the new Americans came. Along with religious festivals, there were parades of Italian fraternal organizations. The churches served as the focal points for these celebrations.

Saint Anthony's Festival on Connecticut Street
First Annual Italian Village Festival, 1976
"…for 4 long days, Connecticut Street will become the Via Romano. There will be Italian singing, dancing, food and games… and fruit and flowers everywhere… We are trying to revive the old St. Anthony's tradition. We are trying to recapture the old ways of bringing people together," says Chuck Griffasi, chairman of the event." Buffalo Evening News, Karen Brady, 1976

The sponsors of the first annual festival included: Amici Lodge, Holy Angels CYO, the Connecticut Village Association (Italian Village Council) and the Connecticut Street Businessmen's Society. Other supporters included: Nativity, Our Lady of Loretta and St. Anthony's Churches

Ilio DiPaolo Italian Heritage Hall Expands and Relocates to Lunetta’s Restaurant. This Year We Pay Tribute to The Connecticut Street, St. Anthony’s Festival (1976) With the Creation of a “Piazza.”

Mr. Griffasi’ idea of creating a shrine for the event was to continue to honor this young Franciscan priest and proudly exhibit Italian culture, entertainment and many foods that would satisfy the palate. It had been decided that a four day event would be the first Italian Village Festival to take place on Connecticut Street, a suitable location situated in the heart of the Italian American Community. Mr. Graffasi was appointed Chairperson for the event including food vendors, games of chance, rides for kids, strolling musicians, Italian dancers and much more. These activities would take place in the narrow, dense but friendly atmosphere. What better location to have the main office for the festival located at the Italian Sons & Daughters of the Amici Lodge. Many business people, merchants, political leaders, local catholic churches and residents joined the Graffasi/Porto team.

The main idea was to get people to attend the four day event and meet with one another to enjoy food, song, games, entertainment and above all their ancestry and heritage with each other. Because of its tremendous popularity among all ethnic groups a move to a larger neighborhood was decided and carried out in 1987, thus the Hertel Avenue Italian Festival was born. The nine-member board with Judge Tom Amodeo as their advisor began looking into making the festival one in which the carnival image would no longer exist. This, if accomplished, would boast the heritage and cultural identity and make for a warmer, pleasant street gala.

Under the direction of Peter Lojacono the Italian Heritage Hall has become one of the main features of this years July event. Key sponsor for the Hall has been Dennis DiPaolo, son of the late Ilio DiPaolo for whom the Hall has been named. This year Guercio & Sons Markets and The Federation of Italian American Societies of WNY have also joined as sponsors and each year interest has grown for those who have sought to find out more about their family ancestry, who left their homeland in Italy to travel across an ocean to America. President Carmen Palma has announced that the Heritage Hall has been moved to Lunetta's Restaurant in the Banquet Room and terrace at 1274 Hertel Ave. Peter, an instructor at Hutch Tech High School, is this year's Chairperson for the Hall. Assisting Peter is Board Member Joe Tomasulo. The creation of the Piazza (park setting) is this years' theme and Peter and Joe worked with Charles Griffasi (funder of Connecticut St. Fest) in converting the space.

Hertel Avenue Italian Heritage Festival
Italian Heritage and Food Festival is first celebrated on Hertel Avenue in July 1988. 16 years later, we are still gowing - and growing - strong! It has been estimated that over 600,000 people have visited the festival in any recent given year - making our Festival one of the Top 5 largest street festivals in the United States today
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The current Board of Directors is dedicated to continuing the evolution of the festival - moving away from the average “carnival” towards a true Italian Heritage Fest - with heritage exhibits and more Italian-themed contests an activities.

The Italian Heritage Festival Committee is comprised of volunteers from three community organizations: the Hertel-North Buffalo Business Association, the North Buffalo Community Center (Development Corporation) and the West Side Business and Taxpayers Association

Proceeds from the festival benefits the community. Profits from the festival go back to the three sponsoring organizations who contribute these funds to various youth programs, neighborhood beautification and other seasonal festivities.

 

 


Chuck Griffasi

 
Ed Porto