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Frank Alfano, Italian Workmen's Club

Frank Alfano, past president of the Italian Workmen's Club, makes his way past an array of historical artifacts displayed in the club's hall at 914 Regent St. The building, set in the multi-ethnic Greenbush Neighborhood, became a landmark in 1990 and still thrives.

As the city moves to create its first Historic Preservation Plan, the Madison Public Library is partnering with community members and groups on a “Living History” project.

The effort focuses on themes such as neighborhoods and places, people and groups, and moments and events. It’s using oral histories and story sharing, community archiving events and online access to stories, photos and publications.

The city began discussing Living History in the spring with actual events and interviews beginning this fall, so far mostly limited to the historic Greenbush neighborhood, Central Library manager Michael Spelman said.

Those working on the plan identified Greenbush as being a priority, so that’s where it began, Spelman said.

“With that particular neighborhood, there is a lot of documentation that has already been done,” he said. “So it’s a matter of fleshing out the existing information, digitizing and making accessible what hasn’t been digitized yet, and ensuring that the representation of the voices about the Greenbush neighborhood are representative and reflective of the community that was there before urban renewal.”

Frank Alfano, past president of the Italian Workmen’s Club, 914 Regent St., said the organization does events to share the history of the multi-ethnic Greenbush neighborhood, which was ravaged when redevelopment in the name of urban renewal razed the “Triangle” area bounded by Park and Regent streets and West Washington Avenue in the 1960s.

The library recently held an oral history event for the Workmen’s Club.

“I think it’s fabulous,” Alfano said of the project. “It’s always interesting to hear the stories the guys have. It keeps the spirit of Greenbush alive and well. What’s really interesting is the raw feelings for the Triangle redevelopment. These people, they lived it.”

The Living History project will be an ongoing process, Spelman said. The library will continue to work with individuals, organizations or other city departments to identify important community themes, he said.

“Our guess is that we’ll never run out of things to talk about when it comes to Madison history,” he said.

Like the city’s effort, the library is looking for a cross section of people who can speak to people and places of historic Madison, especially communities that have historically been underrepresented, he said.

To learn more or get involved, contact Spelman at 608-266-5900, or mspelman@madisonpubliclibrary.org.

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