NewsThe SouthSider

Piazza to bring more of Italy to the Hill

THE HILL – In towns and cities throughout Italy, the piazza is the accepted place to meet, find a bench and relax with friends.

Soon, the area’s most Italian neighborhood will have a piazza of its own, after friends of the Hill neighborhood donated amounts both large and small that totaled about $1 million.  The money was enough to acquire the land and cover it with masonry walls, fountains, granite and hanging lights. There also will be a grotto with a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Granite pavers throughout add to the look of the place, as will greenery, four concrete chess tables and benches also made of concrete. The piazza will also feature sycamore trees.

The donors hope to raise about $200,000 more and open the piazza at the end of June or early July. The Square Beyond Compare has a role: Two of the major donors are Ed and Marge Imo of Imo’s Pizza.

“It’s probably one of the most important cultural things for Italian heritage that I’ve done,” said Tony Frisella, who owns Frisella Nursery. His company designed and built the piazza, which is now under construction.  Renderings refer to it as Piazza Bambini.

The piazza will be across Marconi Avenue from St. Ambrose on the Hill Catholic Church. The 10,534-square-foot vacant lot will provide the perfect gathering place after Mass, on a Saturday in spring or on an evening in the summer.

“It was just an empty lot for all those years, privately owned,” said 10th Ward Alderman Joe Vollmer. “There’s always been a fence there, since I was a kid, nothing else there, just kind of wasted space.”

A developer tried to build condos there, but it didn’t work out, Vollmer said. Then a group worked with St. Ambrose and the Imos to acquire the property and put in the piazza, he said.

“It’s going to have a nice fountain. There’s going to be some tables for checkers, to read a book,” Vollmer said.

Members of the piazza committee are the Imos, William Frisella, Joe Ambrose, Phil Torissi, St. Ambrose pastor Msgr. Vincent J. Bommarito, and Chris Pagano.

William Frisella, a cousin of Tony Frisella, said the idea came up about 12 or 13 years ago when a group he was involved with found out the lot was potentially for sale.  Nothing happened at that time, but the site became available about two years ago.

The group began to envision a piazza. The Imos agreed to buy the land, and William Frisella agreed to put up the money for the fountain. Other donors followed, with offerings large and small.

“Hopefully, we can have private events there, like weddings,” Tony Frisella said.

“Italian piazzas, or squares, are the beating hearts of every Italian town and city,” declares the Walks of Italy website. “They can be big or small, intimate or dramatic, humble, opulent, old, new and everything in between. In fact, sometimes a piazza isn’t a square at all.”

While they’re all different, the website says, they all are the community’s physical center. They are its main outdoor theater and home to its main political buildings. They include offices, churches, cafes, restaurants, fountains and monuments.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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