Tiro a Segno, a Fixture in the Italian South Village
Located in the heart of the South Village and the South Village Historic District is the oldest continuing South Village Italian organization, Tiro a Segno, today located at 77 MacDougal Street. It has been at this location since 1924 and has served the Italian American community since its founding on August 14, 1888. Tiro a Segno calls itself “the oldest Italian heritage organization in the United States” and today it continues its mission, devoted to the dissemination of knowledge of Italian culture.
77 MacDougal almost looks like an Italian embassy with the Italian flag and American flag prominently displayed in front. In fact, it is three c. 1850 row houses that were originally built in the Gothic Revival style. Until about 1940, they had full-height cast-iron balconies on their front facades, as seen in the c. 1940 tax photo below.
Tiro a Segno, which means “fire at the target,” was founded by Italians of the South Village as a rifle club, much in the way German immigrants in the East Village’s Kleindeustchland founded the German-American Shooting Society at 12 St. Mark’s Place. The members of the Italian club which included artists, architects, businessmen, and doctors met for business and social purposes in the South Village and practiced at a clubhouse and shooting range at Fox Hill on Staten Island. During World War I, Tiro a Segno turned over its Staten Island land to the federal government, which eventually built Fox Hills Base Hospital at the site.
In 1924, Tiro A Segno moved to its permanent home at 77 MacDougal Street with a shooting range and bocce court in the basement. Today it is more typical to find visitors enjoying fine wine or cuisine than engaging in target practice. Some reports claim that Giuseppe Garibaldi, who unified Italy, was a member, although that is unlikely since he died in 1882. However, members have included Lee Iacocca, the tenor Enrico Caruso, and Fiorello H. LaGuardia, one of New York City’s most revered Mayors and the first Italian-American to hold that position.
In 2007, Village Preservation published the report, “The Italians of the South Village” as part of the Historic South Village Preservation Project and it thoroughly documents the Italian immigrant community in the South Village. As early as 2003, Village Preservation began documenting the area and in 2006 submitted a proposal to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to landmark the area. In 2010, the City landmarked part (“phase I”) of VP’s proposed South Village Historic District as the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension II. In 2013, the City landmarked another part (“phase II”) of VP’s proposed South Village Historic District as a new South Village Historic District, which includes Tiro a Segno and about 250 surrounding buildings. This 13-block district became the largest expansion of landmark protections in Greenwich Village since 1969. In December of 2016, the City designated more than 90% of the final part (phase III) of VP’s proposed South Village Historic District as the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District.
To learn more about the South Village and its history, click here. To see historic images of the South Village and its Italian-American heritage, explore the Center for Migration Studies Collection in our historic image archive.