After flooding, pandemic, Italian club reopens | News
BEVERLY — First came the flood. In February 2020, three pipes burst at the Italian Community Center, sending 180,000 gallons of water flowing through the building at 302 Rantoul St. By the time the water could be turned off, the interior was completely destroyed.
Next up? The COVID-19 pandemic, which arrived in force the following month. Several members of the club died from the disease. Construction costs soared, putting into question whether the club could afford to rebuild. Members wondered if the ICC, whose roots in the city date back nearly a century, would ever reopen.
“We were in shock,” Italian Community Center president Guy Calabro said. “It was a perfect storm. A one-two punch. Everything went bad.”
More than three years later, the ICC is back on its feet. The club reopened last week after an arduous $1.8 million renovation that essentially created a whole new interior.
There are new walls, new floors, new ceilings, a new bar, a new game room — virtually everything but the building’s concrete exterior is brand-new.
“It’s totally different in here,” board member Victor Capozzi said.
The Italian Community Center was founded in 1933 by families that lived in the predominantly Italian neighborhood along Rantoul Street. Capozzi said the early members, including his grandfather, needed a place to gather because they were often ostracized due to their inability to speak English.
The club, which operates as a nonprofit, grew to more than 1,500 members, with separate memberships for Italians and non-Italians, who are called social members. The ICC became a go-to place for high school sports banquets and other community functions. It also gave out five $1,000 scholarships per year to high school students.
Like at other social clubs, membership declined as members aged and society changed. Curtis Matthews, who at 39 is one of the youngest board members at the club, said it’s difficult for households with two working parents to find time to stop by for a beer.
Still, the club was doing fine until that fateful February. Calabro and Capozzi said the pipes burst after a freeze and thaw. By the time Calabro arrived, water was pouring out the front door onto Rantoul Street.
“I was in tears,” he said.
Calabro recalled walking through three or four feet of water to assess the damage. Ceiling tiles fell. Floors buckled. Walls cracked.
“Everything got ruined,” he said. “Everything.”
After some discussion about whether the club should find a new home, the decision was made to rebuild. “We thought it was worth saving,” Calabro said. “The Italians put a lot of effort into this club.”
The pandemic increased costs and slowed things down. But the club got it done by refinancing its mortgage (insurance covered only some of the costs) and relying on Capozzi, a general contractor, to help out with the renovations.
The upstairs function room is still being renovated and is not yet open. But the downstairs reopened for business last week. It features a new and expanded bar, with multiple big-screen TVs, a game room with two pool tables and five dart boards, and lighter colors replacing the black ceiling and gray walls.
“It used to be like a cave in here,” Capozzi said.
Ken Jones, 73, who has been a member for nearly 50 years, credited Calabro and Capozzi with steering the club through the tough times.
“They did a great job on the whole place,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place to come.”
With the club closed for the last three years, paid membership dropped to about 200. Calabro and Capozzi are hoping people will come back now that it’s open, and once they get a glimpse inside of the transformation. A grand re-opening is scheduled for Friday night, June 9, with a live band and free food.
“When people start to find out about it,” Jones said, “they’re going to come back.”
Staff Writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.