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State marker to note Highland Park history

5/5/2017, 8:32 p.m.
For more than 50 years, Highland Park has been a predominately African-American neighborhood. But this weekend, memories of an earlier ...

For more than 50 years, Highland Park has been a predominately African-American neighborhood.

But this weekend, memories of an earlier era will be revived when a new history marker is unveiled at Ann Hardy Plaza, 3301 Carolina Ave.

The marker, “Italians in Richmond,” is to be dedicated 1 p.m. Sunday, May 7.

It recalls a time when immigrants from Italy called the area near the park home.

The marker states that before the Civil War in 1861, new arrivals from Italy had become a “small, but cohesive segment” of the city’s population. Many were artisans whose touch can be found in housing designs and in the metal work that decorates the front of houses and commercial buildings.

According to the marker, the Italian influence on Highland Park was most notable from the 1920s to the early 1960s when about 100 families from Italy’s Tuscany region settled around Ann Hardy Plaza in what for a time was known as “Little Italy.”

Central to the community, the marker states, were Umberto Balducci’s Italian Club and nearby St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, which for several decades also operated a school.

“Little Italy” came to an end, though, as more African-Americans moved into Highland Park, in part, after being displaced by the development of interstate highways through Jackson Ward and the city’s urban renewal projects in Fulton and Randolph.