National Italian Museum of America opening in Philadelphia

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The Italian culture in Philadelphia remains so strong, you might find it hard to believe that there's no museum to honor that history. But that's about to change. (WPVI)

In the late 1700s, the first Italian immigrants started arriving by the boatloads - not just to New York, but right here on the Delaware in Philadelphia.

The culture here remains so strong, you might find it hard to believe that there's no museum to honor that history. But that's about to change.

"The first Italian that lived here lived at 6th and Catherine Streets, Joe Marbello and he was here in 1798 when this was fields and wilderness," said Michael DiPilla, President of the National Italian Museum of America.

The neighborhood now looks quite different than it did years ago.

You might call DiPilla the keeper of Philadelphia's Italian-American history.

"In the early 1800s we had people landing right down here on Delaware Avenue and they never left," he said.

Today, the only reminder of that immigration station is a marker from the city at Columbus Boulevard and Washington Avenue.

But the impact of those immigrants can still be felt on every corner in South Philadelphia - because they're still here.

The only problem?

"We really have nothing to celebrate our culture here in the city," said DiPilla.

DiPilla is the author of "South Philadelphia's Little Italy and 9th Street Italian Market" and the brainwhile behind our city's first Italian museum.

"We imagine this will become Italy Place, so there will be art, food, live demonstrations, opera singing, painting DaVinci reproductions in wood and children learning to paint the Mona Lisa in chalk - from an artist," he said.

An architect from the Smithsonian created the renderings of what it will look and feel like.

Right now the museum has two potential homes: Pier 9 on Christopher Columbus Boulevard.

"Right at the foot of Ben Franklin bridge," said DiPilla.

And one site a little farther down the road.

"Its called the Lazaretto," said DiPilla.

It was a quarantine station used in the 1800s under the Jefferson administration for all immigrants coming into Philadelphia.

"It's a really interesting historic location because it was the Ellis Island of United States before there was an Ellis Island," said DiPilla.

The museum will be a way to celebrate the millions of immigrants who came straight to Philadelphia and made it their home.

Right now there are tons of artifacts sitting in a warehouse at the Smithsonian and DiPilla is working to get them here.

The museum should be open in the next few years.
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