Verdi Square at Broadway & 72nd Street, Manhattan, at 0.05 acres one of New York’s smallest parks, was acquired by the City in 1887. It has one of New York’s greatest musical heritages. In 1906 the Italian American community of New York, under the leadership of Carlo Barsotti, Editor of the Progresso Italo-Americano, raised the funds to commission a statue of famed Opera composer Giuseppe Verdi by Sicilian sculptor Pasquale Civiletti . The Carrara marble and Montechiaro limestone statue which dominates the eponymous Square was unveiled before an audience of over 10,000 people with music by innumerable marching bands and a chorus of 300 school children.
In 1904 the Ansonia Hotel, grandest of its time, built just across Broadway from Verdi Square, became the favorite New York residence of singers Enrico Caruso, Fyodor Chaliapin, Lauritz Melchior, conductor Arturo Toscanini, composer Igor Stravinsky, and impresario Sol Hurok. They all regularly strolled through Verdi Square, as did the Gershwin brothers, resident just down the street on Riverside Drive.
In the 1960’s Verdi Square deteriorated and became the haunt of drug dealers and addicts, memorialized in Al Pacino’s film noire “Panic in Needle Park.” In the 1970’s, responding to outrage of neighborhood residents and businesses, the City increased policing and reclaimed and refurbished the Square. Verdi Square was designated a Scenic Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1974.
In 2004 The Metropolitan Transit Authority opened a new IRT subway station to meet the burgeoning demands of West Side residential development. The Parks Dept. totally reconstructed Verdi Square, adding plantings and seating areas. The Square’s new plaza area is home to the Verdi Square Festival.
Upkeep of the Verdi statue is assured by several benefactors. Bertolli USA, Inc. established a permanent monument maintenance endowment fund. WBAI radio classical music announcer Harry Fleetwood (whose program was instrumental in developing former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s youthful love of great music) created a Verdi Square landscape endowment in memory of his brother James H. Fleetwood. In 2010, Parmacotto S.p.a., one of Italy’s leading foods companies headquartered in Parma, Verdi’s birthplace, together with celebrity chef Cesare Casella of the Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto restaurant at Verdi Square, funded installation of floodlighting of Giuseppe Verdi’s statue, adding new life to the Square after nightfall.