A gallery you can’t refuse
By Lincoln Anderson
In a blast from Little Italy’s notorious past, a new exhibit space is aiming to blow gallerygoers away with Mafia-related exhibits. Mob Scene, 396 Broome St. between Mulberry St. and Centre Market Place, is a partnership between collector Arthur Nash and local actor Vinny Vella, whose specialty is portraying “goodfellas” onscreen.
The opening exhibit is on Joey Gallo, a.k.a. “Crazy Joey” Gallo, who in 1972 at age 43 met his end in a hail of bullets inside the former location of Umberto’s Clam House, at 129 Mulberry St., staggering outside and dying on the sidewalk.
Among the items on view are the hat Gallo was wearing when he was slain, as well as a female companion’s purse into which Gallo’s bodyguard, “Pete the Greek,” stashed his ammo, so police wouldn’t catch him with a loaded weapon. However, he was still prosecuted for possessing an unregistered firearm. No one else was ever sentenced in connection with Gallo’s murder.
Nash noted that Matt Ianniello, a.k.a. “Matty the Horse,” was the manager at the restaurant when Gallo was shot. Despite initial suspicions, he was never implicated in the hit — though he was later nailed on racketeering charges.
(Coincidentally, Umberto’s Clam House recently closed on the corner of Broome St. and, according to Nash, is looking to move back closer to its original location.)
Other items include a coded letter Gallo wrote to an associate, which was never received since the authorities kept it, as well as a Spanish conjugation book. Nash said the latter might indicate Gallo planned to broaden his crime network to include Hispanics.
Arrayed around the small gallery’s walls are copies of photos, of which Nash owns the prints. Shown in jovial poses are wiseguys with names like “Joe Jelly,” “Louie the Syrian” and “Mando the Midget.” Pointing to one shot, taken at Gallo’s birthday party, Nash rattled off the names of the six men shown. Most are either dead or still doing hard time. The one in the middle brandishing the handgun — well, Nash said, it would probably just be best not to ID him.
There’s also the infamous 1957 photo of Albert Anastasia, boss of Murder Inc., lying facedown in a pool of blood on a hotel barbershop floor at Seventh Ave. and 54th St. It’s a Starbucks now, Nash noted.
He owns the barber chair — “chair No. 4” — Anastasia was in when he was rubbed out, having acquired it from comedian Henny Youngman. It’s believed Gallo did the hit, on a contract passed on to him by Joe Profaci.
Back in the early gangland days, the space where Mob Scene is located was a pool hall and clubhouse for Jewish gangsters. And next door in what’s now a New York University dorm was the former Police Department property division, where the huge drug haul from the 1970’s French Connection was stored — until, Nash noted, it mysteriously vanished.
Nash assured Mob Scene is no mere pop-up gallery. He did one of those four years ago, “Made in America,” in a space on Mulberry St. The filmmaker Jim Jarmusch liked it so much, he encouraged him to open something more permanent, which helped lead to Mob Scene.
The gallery’s next exhibit will be “La Moda Nostra” (“Our Fashion”), a play on “La Cosa Nostra” (“Our Thing,” another name for the Mafia among its members). The show will look at how Mafia and gang style have influenced today’s fashions. Actual clothing from well-known underworld figures will be on view.