G. Mileti's Grocery Store on the corner of Mayfield and Murray Hill Roads, circa 1910.


Chapter 7



Cleveland's Italian community is one of the most colorful and vital of the city's 60 ethnic groups and has been a favorite topic of area writers. Although one of the most recent groups to immigrate to Cleveland, the Italian population has nevertheless been the subject of several studies over the last half century as well as a series of less extensive but equally important articles.

The first analysis of the city's Italian population was undertaken by Charles W. Coulter in 1919 under the auspices of the Cleveland Americanization Committee. Entitled The Italians of Cleveland, it was a general survey of the group's early settling patterns, business, civic and religious leaders as well as a description of their social and fraternal organizations. The forty-three page publication gives little detail but does provide the basic framework on which other works have been based. It can be said that even at this early date Coulter's research provided the general Cleveland readership with a very favorable impression of her then increasing Italian population.


Coulter's work seemed to stimulate a few scholarly treatments of particular aspects of Cleveland's Italians which were generally submitted for advanced degrees at local universities. For example, at Western Reserve University there are found several detailed studies dated in the late 1920's such as Ruth Van Vookis' 1929 thesis entitled "A Study of the Italians in the Woodland-East 110th Street District" and William Lewis Bodley's 1938 thesis on "The use of Southern Italian Cultural Material in Group Work Programs," again written at Western Reserve University.

Other specialized studies at the graduate level include Pat J. Columbro's research into the Italians along the Mayfield Road Area in 1948 and Reynold A. Pana's study of the Southern Italian Immigrant, written at John Carroll University in 1966. All of these studies have had a rather limited exposure beyond the immediate university and normally have been accessible only to graduate students.

Two doctoral dissertations have dealt with Cleveland's Italians, one of which has been recently published by Harvard University. Charles Ferroni's 1969 Dissertation at Kent State University deals with "The Italians in Cleveland: A Study in Assimilation." Dr. Ferroni, currently a professor at Ashland College and Vice President of the Italian-American Historical Society, skillfully arranged a number of personal interviews with prominent Cleveland Italians in recreating the cultural, religious and social service center in Cleveland's "Little Italy" section along Mayfield Road.


The other dissertation is Josef Barton's "Immigrants and Social Mobility in an American City" written at the University of Michigan in 1971. This work was published in 1975 by Harvard University Press under the title Peasants and Strangers. Basically Barton's research concentrates on the social, economic and education mobility of Cleveland's Italian, Slovak and Rumanian immigrants from 1890 to 1950. More sociological than historical in approach, Dr. Barton finds that the second generation ethnic in Cleveland normally achieved a degree of social mobility equal to that of a native-born American. The 292-page book is complemented by a series of valuable comparative charts on a variety of educational, economic and social topics.

One other collection important to the study of Italian ethnicity within Cleveland is the "Italian Section" of the Cleveland Foreign Language Newspaper Digest, a project of the United States Works Projects Administration in 1939. This collection includes abstracts in translation from Cleveland's two Italian language papers, L'Araldo and La Voce del Popolo Italiano. Even a cursory reading of this 95-page digest indicates some of the feeling within the Italian community in Cleveland about their settlements, their organizations, their problems and their aspirations. For the non-Italian reader it is an indispensable and highly entertaining source of Italianità.

With the renewed attention given to ethnicity in the past decade several ambitious collections have been produced by members of Cleveland's academic community at Cleveland State University and


John Carroll University. The first, published in 1972 by the Institute for Urban Studies at Cleveland State University is entitled A Report on the Location of Ethnic Groups in Greater Cleveland by Donald Levy. Within Levy's study are found over 30 different ethnic groups with a brief 2-3 page background sketch of each. Of additional importance are a set of maps indicating approximate location of each group in Cuyahoga County as well as census tract information relative to each group.

Following this Report were several important studies and collections dealing with ethnicity in Cleveland. The collection Ethnic Communities of Cleveland: A Reference Work, edited by Dr. Michael Pap with a bibliography by Dr. George Prpic provides a useful study on several of the local ethnic groups, including the Italians.

Also in 1974 was published the Greater Cleveland Nationalities Directory, a joint effort of the Nationalities Services Center, the Institute for Urban Studies Radio Station WZAK and Sun Newspapers. It is a magnificent and comprehensive guide to over 2000 organizations involved in greater Cleveland's 60 ethnic groups. For the Italians these are listed major churches, social, and cultural, and professional societies as well as the active leaders within each organization. Especially interesting for students of ethnicity is the listing of over 35 Italian fraternal societies and lodges in Greater Cleveland. It is an impressive work which merits the attention of anyone interested in the multifacited world of Cleveland's communities.

Another study of scholarly interest is the monograph coauthored by Dr. Karl Bonutti of Cleveland State University and


Dr. George Prpic of John Carroll University dealing with Selected Ethnic Communities of Cleveland: A Socio-Economic Study (1974). Using a series of questionaires and interviews, this work analyzes four contemporary ethnic communities, including St. Rocco's neighborhood along Fulton Road, in terms of numerous aspects of everyday life. Included in this format are age, occupation, ethnic background income, and property ownership, among other items of statistical importance. It is the most detailed analysis of all studies conducted to date on contemporary Italians in Cleveland.

The various studies mentioned, some of which are highly selective, are usually inaccessible to the general public; and despite the resurgence of ethnicity in Cleveland in the last few years, a definitive study of Cleveland's Italians remains to be written. One reason for this condition lies in approach and methodology. Too many writers have concentrated on the Italian as "hero" and have recited the familiar litany of "important" Italians who made their careers and fortunes in Cleveland. Other authors have become caught up in the ethnic "numbers game" wherein the importance of the group is measured by the number of "influential" members within the economic, cultural or political spectrums. This kind of approach as a primary view of an ethnic group should be avoided at all costs but it will survive because it is the easiest method of historical research.

In the major studies of Cleveland's Italians the question of origins is seldom raised, much less discussed. The rise of the Carabelli or Catalano or Campanella families appears to have


occurred through a series of continuous successes. Too often we find the story of an immigrant's rise from laborer to entrepreneur within a decade after arrival, while the typical process of growth and maturation within the city, beset with failure and setback, is hardly mentioned.

Another factor of Italian ethnicity seldom researched is the basic story of the multitude, those thousands who were not particularly successful in economic endeavors, but who did nevertheless labor and survive in a foreign and often hostile environment. Their festivals, their fraternal organizations and their churches are standard topics of research. But what of the individuals? What occupations did they engage in, what kind of social and economic success did they achieve? How well or how poorly were they received by their adopted city? Finally, what influence did they exercise, and continue to exercise, in Cleveland? These are valid questions which need to be answered before we begin to approach a comprehensive study of the "Italian factor" in Cleveland life. The following essays will at least fill in some of these informational gaps and provide further avenues for research and insight into the Italians of Cleveland.

Early Settlements

In the City of Cleveland's Annual Reports for 1858 there is recorded the marginal note that three Italians were admitted to the city's infirmary during that year. This is an interesting statistic, for the 1860 Federal Census makes no mention of Italians whatsoever


in the city of Cleveland, while neighboring Cincinnati recorded some 320 Italians. Presumably these three early Italian immigrants were included in the 662 "Others" listed in the census as being part of the foreign-born population of Cleveland.1 In 1860 there were 10,437 foreign-born immigrants in the city, mostly of German and Irish descent, who made up almost 45% of Cleveland's population, an extraordinary percentage for that period.

The reality of a growing flood of immigrants to Cleveland did not go unnoticed nor unchallenged by the local media. The Cleveland Leader in November of 1876 editorialized on the expanding foreign migration:2

It will be observed that the falling off in the total arrivals for this time is about 25% . . . and it is attributed to the hard times being widely known throughout Europe, both through the letters and reports of the foreigners in this country to their friends and the newspapers and governmental reports. It is, of course, for the interests of the government not to mince their remarks on our difficulties but on the contrary, to exaggerate them as much as possible in order to stop the exodus of their subjects.
There was some cause for alarm, not only because of the swelling population, but about the control of these new immigrants. According to police reports for 1874, some 8563 foreign arrests were made in Cleveland, 1253 of which were designated as having been Irish immigrants. As these foreigners surged through the counting stations at the railroad depots in Cleveland, past the Bureau of Emigrant Police, there was a certain apprehension about these "new people," especially from southern and eastern Europe. Would they be a burden upon the charitable institutions of the city, a drain on the society of Cleveland, a threat to the peace of the


community? Would they accept their new country, learn the language and customs, and fit into this city upon the Cuyahoga?

If these were indeed some of the concerns of Clevelanders, their encounters with and impressions of the Italian immigrant were to be a happy experience. Even though some individuals of Italian descent in Cleveland were involved in crime or were implicated in anti-social behavior, the city's Italians rarely brought disgrace upon themselves, their city, or their newly adopted country. As a group they had possibly the lowest crime rate for Italians of any major city in the country. Statistically, Cleveland's Italian population was consistently ranked among the lowest in terms of welfare relief among all groups, native and foreign born. While they gained from their varied experiences and confrontations with America they also shared with their adopted city many of their best and brightest sons and daughters, especially during this formative period.

The 1870 census listed 35 Italians in Cleveland, although this figure could be challenged as a mere estimate. This statement may be made because at least 20 Italian-surnamed individuals could be found in the Cleveland City Directory for the years 1864-65. Included are the names of professional and skilled men such as Joseph Agricola, a carpenter; Nicholas Bruno, a bookkeeper; Joseph Durgetto, a gardener; and the Climo brothers who were laborers. In the 1870 census 29 of the 35 Italians were shown as being engaged in some form of employment such as tradesmen, mining and manufacturing, steelwork and bootmaking. Fifteen of the men were listed as stone masons, probably as part of the group with James Broggini


Organ Grinder in front of Guciardo's Saloon, Big Italy, circa 1900.

The Banking House of Vincent Campanella, Little Italy, circa 1910.


from Lombardy. The Italian immigrant who came to Cleveland during the post-Civil War period usually had a skill or trade to develop in the city. Regardless of their initial work experience the early Italians believed in the work ethic, that honest labor ultimately produced success. Two early Italian experiences in the city can best illustrate this point.

Joseph Agricola was listed in the 1864 City Directory as a skilled laborer, a carpenter. Ten years later Agricola had moved from his original job to that of insurance salesman and by 1880 is recorded as being a solicitor living on Vine Street.3

A much more intriguing story is that of Antonio Basso, who first is mentioned as a day laborer in 1874. In 1877 he was arrested by city police for building a fruit stand on the corner of Superior and Public Square. He had purchased a permit to build the stand from the city and was legally pursuing an occupation which the City Council found to be a nuisance. Basso was acquitted by a jury in September of 1877 but was shortly arrested again for the same charge. His stand and produce were destroyed by the police with damages amounting to $1000. The case against him was again dropped in November of 1877.

By 1880 he had opened another fruit stand at 45 Oregon Avenue in Big Italy, a business which he subsequently moved four times until 1900, when he invested in a saloon on St. Clair Avenue which he operated with his son until his death in April of 1907.4 In a city which initially offered only injustice and hostility he


persevered, did not become discouraged, and ultimately triumphed. He died at the age of sixty-seven, a solid citizen of the community.

The pattern followed by Antonio Basso was typical of many Italians in Cleveland. They came to this city, worked as common laborers for a few years, opened up a saloon - then considered more of a social hall than a place to drink - and became propertied citizens. They gravitated toward several different types of work, a normal procedure for ethnic groups.

In Cleveland the Italians were late-comers, so their occupations had to be innovative or they had to evidence extraordinary skill. Thus James Broggini in 1870 and Joseph Carabelli in 1880 specialized in the creation of stone and marble monuments along Euclid and Woodland Avenues. Eugene Grasselli, an innovator in the chemical industry, became internationally known in the 1850's and later the Grasselli Chemical Works merged with DuPont Industries. Many opened grocery stores such as G.V. Vittorio on Woodland Avenue, the brothers Schiappacasse, Casper and Salvador Corso on Broadway, and the Rini brothers, also on Broadway Avenue. Many bought saloons. In 1890, while there were only 864 Italians in the city, twelve owned saloons. By 1919 there were 18 saloons along Mayfield Road alone!5

The main business effort of these early settlers was concentrated in the produce markets along Broadway and Woodland Avenues. By 1890 there were eight fruit and vegetable sellers in the city, four of whom were Italian including the Catalano brothers. By


1900 thirteen of the 25 produce sellers were Italians, again including the now familiar names of Frank and Michael Catalano and the Rini Brothers.2 In 1900 some 26 saloons and restaurants were owned by Italians with names such as Cipra, DiFranco, Schiappacase, Mangino, Trivisonno and Zecarelle. These men and their families were to establish the economic base for a thriving Cleveland Italian community and provide leadership and direction and employment for the thousands who would follow them to Cleveland in the next 25 years.

The "Chain of Migration"

Why did they come to Cleveland, hundreds of miles from the traditional disembarkation port of New York City? Their motives to migrate to this city were basically the same as those which prompted others to leave Italy. But the single overriding factor, that of local ties, brought many to Cleveland. It has been estimated that three-quarters of all Italians migrating to Cleveland proceeded along a well-traveled course which included specific areas of the city. The single factor which seems so very important in trans-Atlantic migration to Cleveland was that many Italians were from the same village and district, links in a chain of migration stretching from southern Italy and Sicily to Cleveland.

Josef Barton's study of Italian, Slovak and Rumanian immigration to Cleveland indicates that about half of all Italians migrating to this city moved from only 10 villages in southern Italy.6 The major Italian districts and cities indicated are Patti and Palermo


in Sicily, Benevento in the Campania and Campobasso in the Abruzzi. These regions provided about 70% of the Italians coming to Cleveland.

Many of them left their homes as individual travelers or members of a kin group, came down from the mountains and waited to board the trains to Palermo or Sant'Agata. There they remained, learning a smattering of English, or sought assistance from the St. Raphael Society for the Protection of Sicilian Emigrants. From Palermo they boarded ships filled with Slovenes or Galician Poles who had entered at Trieste. From there they proceeded to the New World and in many cases, to old friends and anxious relatives waiting in Cleveland.

Not all came directly to Cleveland from their village. Vincent Campanella, for example, was born in the Abruzzi in 1870. In 1890 he arrived in America and began work on the Pennsylvania Railroad for a few years. He then dug sewers in Cleveland and did other manual labor until he established enough capital to begin a bank in Little Italy in 1905.7 Joseph Carabelli labored for ten years in New York City as a marble sculptor before establishing himself in Cleveland in 1880. Eugene Grasselli worked in a chemical company in Philadelphia in 1836, then moved to Cincinnati in 1839 and finally to Cleveland in 1861.

The Hometown Societies

When the Italian did arrive as part of a "migrant chain" the chances of his remaining in the city were increased. More important,


his association with and participation in the several hometown societies formed in Cleveland to assist the immigrant gave the needed stability to the newly arrived migrant. Unlike the east European immigrant who organized national Slovak or Polish Unions, the Italian organizations emphasized the village and the family rather than the nation. These societies buried their dead paesani, eared for their widows, sought employment for their members, and generally provided a refuge against a foreign and sometimes hostile environment.

Ultimately many of these local groups sought affiliation with the national Sons of Italy organization. In 1913 Cleveland had its first chapter, and by 1920 nine lodges were affiliated with the National Sons of Italy. As Charles Feroni pointed out, one of the major attractions of the Sons of Italy was the insurance benefits and mutual aid offered. As much as $400 insurance and funeral expenses were covered by the Sons of Italy, a great inducement for membership.8 Between the national and local societies about 80% of the Italian males in Cleveland were enrolled during the twenties and thirties.

Some of these early fraternal societies should be mentioned, for they reflect the closely knit society of Italians transplanted to Cleveland. In 1888 Joseph Carabelli, the early Italian leader in Cleveland, founded the Italian Fraternal Society. Originally part of a women's group at Alta House, it gradually developed into the Society. In 1896 the Sicilian Fraternal Society was formed by Gaetano Caito, Cosimo Catalano and others as an organization for


Matrice Club, 1923

Plaque on the Sons of Italy Hall, East 73rd and Euclid Avenue


small merchants, bankers and lawyers. By 1900 other hometown, fraternal and cultural organizations were forming with such names as Fraterna Sant'Agata, Operaia, La Calabrese, San Nicolo Society, the Sons of Labor, and Cristofore Colombo. In 1909 Silvestro Tamburella formed the Dante Alighieri Cultural Circle in Cleveland. This effort was an early attempt to diffuse the Italian language and culture through libraries, reading rooms, lectures and similar cultural endeavors. Between 1900 and 1912 there were over 50 societies in Cleveland, three-quarters of every mutual benefit society maintained solely for persons born in a particular region or village.

One of the largest hometown societies in Cleveland was formed in 1937 by Vincent D'Alessandro and others. Since many paesani had immigrated from Ripalimosani in Campobasso it was appropriate that the Ripalimosani Social Union be formed. Known as The Ripa Cluba, it was an extremely popular and positive force in Cleveland's Italian community. One of its major objectives was the integration of the paesani into the mainstream of American life with emphasis on citizenship. Each member was scrutinized to determine his moral and civic character. Concern for the law was essential, and any member convicted of a felony was immediately dropped from the Union. The Ripa Hall, located at 2175 Cornell Avenue, was built by the membership and is now used as a meeting place and a hall for weddings and other social gatherings.

The impact of these hometown societies upon the Italian immigrant can not be overstated. They provided the social and cultural


Alta House in the Murray Hill Neighborhood. Built by John D. Rockefeller in 1900 and named in honor of his daughter, Alta Rockefeller.


link with the "old country" and were a strong factor in the acculturation of the paesani into the society of twentieth century Cleveland. In 1974 there were still listed some 60 social and fraternal societies in greater Cleveland.9 They are the connection with the Italian tradition as well as the source of an intense pride in an American culture.

The Immigrant's Bureau in Cleveland

Between 1880 and 1924 some 4,481,416 Italians entered the United States through the traditional ports of immigration at Castle Garden and later at Ellis Island in New York harbor. From there they were packed aboard trains to their final destinations in America. Pinned to their lapels, blouses and shirts were cards announcing their names, destinations and the familiar "W.O.P.", an abbreviation for "Without Papers." It has since taken a more derogatory meaning, but at the turn of the century it indicated only the hurried circumstances of immigrating.

During these 44 years more than 25,000 Italians entered Cleveland, usually by train. Beginning in 1874 a special Immigration Officer was assigned to the train stations to record those disembarking in the city and to furnish a numerical breakdown regarding their nativity. This information, generally part of the Police Report for the City of Cleveland, was officially filed with the Annual Reports of the city.


To deal effectively with the increasing numbers of immigrants the Department of Public Safety established a special Bureau of Immigration in 1913.10 It was the first attempt by the city to recognize the many problems facing the immigrant. R.E. Cole, the city's immigration officer during this early period, called attention to the haphazard treatment and care of the immigrant.

In his first Annual Report he emphasized the need for a more competent system of immigrant aide. "It was found that aside from the work of the Traveler's Aid section at the depots, the arriving immigrants were at the mercy of any who would misuse and misdirect them . . . and such persons were found to be many."11 Especially ruthless were the cabmen and chauffeurs, who extorted large sums for short distances. In 1913 one group of three Italians was welcomed to the city with a charge of $28.00 for a fare to the Collinwood section!

The Immigration Bureau was established to assist with the many problems confronting the foreign traveler, such as arrival, relocation, settlement, and employment. The operation was systematic and seemingly efficient. The immigrant arrived in usually three types of trains; regular coaches, special "immigrant coaches" which were discontinued and antiquated cars revived for short runs from Buffalo, and "special trains" which had uncertain schedules. Many Italians arrived on these latter coaches because of the economy of the trip. In 1914 over half of the 305 trains carrying foreigners arrived in Cleveland at night and with no set schedule. Members of the Immigrant Bureau were there to meet all trains and upon arrival


directed the passengers to large signs posted in the waiting rooms marked WOODLAND or BROADWAY. For those immigrants who were met, care was taken to establish that their "friends" or "relatives" were actually who they said they were. It seems that special care was taken to protect young women traveling alone, for kidnapping at the depots was not uncommon.

If the immigrant was not met, he or she was tagged with the following card:12

This person is going to the address below. Will citizens, conductors and policemen please give any guidance or other help needed? Report any difficulties to R.E. Cole, Immigration Officer, City Hall, Telephone Maine 4600.
Address __________________________
Remarks __________________________
To discourage cabmen from overcharging the immigrant a "Cabman's Receipt" was issued. On it was stated the destination and charges before the chauffeur left. Payment was made to the cabman in advance by the immigrant officer, who in turn was paid by the immigrant.

Also distributed before departure from the depot was an "Immigrant's Guide" which assisted in "Clevelandizing" the new arrival. Printed in nine languages it contained concise information on subjects of immediate, practical value such as health care, laws, monetary values, responsibilities and opportunities for American citizenship. In cooperation with the Cleveland Board of Education a list of English language classes and citizenship classes was


Two examples of the Americanization process in Cleveland: The "Melting Pot" float (1920) (above) and an English Language class for Italians taught by Mr. Charles Trivison, 1925 (below).


provided. Between 1913 and 1914, over 10,000 immigrants were enrolled in these classes.

In addition to the "immigrant's Guide" two other manuals were prepared - a "Citizen's Manual for Cleveland" and "Everyday English for Every Coming American." These pamphlets attempted to instruct the foreigner on what procedures to follow in obtaining help from the official city government and how to avoid the pitfalls of trusting their own people, especially in money matters. One incident reported involved an Italian interpreter who was charging $20 to his countrymen for citizenship papers by "manufacturing" witnesses to attest that the immigrant had been in the country for the required time period. The Italian immigrant in question complained to the Immigration Bureau, where the problem was solved.

It was also reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1900 that it was a common practice in Republican-controlled Cleveland to grant foreigners citizenship for a small fee during the last week or so prior to the elections. As many as 400 aliens were granted citizenship in a single day, it was reported.13 City councilmen were alleged to carry stacks of blank naturalization affidavits which required only the signature of an immigrant, and the payment of a small charge!

In 1915 there was a decline in immigration to Cleveland which gave the Immigration Bureau the opportunity to deal with the 200,000 resident foreigners, 50,000 of whom were not citizens. John Prucha, then chief of the Bureau, recommended an increased involvement


within the ethnic communities, immigrant officers who represented each of the major nationalities, and women to work with immigrant wives. His genuine concern for the foreigners' well being and his favorable impression of these people is recalled in his message to the mayor in 1915:14
A large majority of the immigrants are simple people coming from their farming communities in Europe into the very vortex of our modern industrial life in a large city. Their simple life in their native village and their poverty were their protection against fraud and swindle. They bring to the United States their youth, a strong and healthy body and a willingness to work. Their customs may seem strange, their ideal crude, but under the rough surface is a determination to make good. As they enter this new life without knowing the language and the customs, without a knowledge of the law, they are exposed to various forms of graft.
He might have added that the frequent encounters with the law on minor charges such as petty theft, intoxication and disorderly conduct inflated the city's arrest record for the foreign-born and gave the distinct impression of the immigrant as a criminal, at least in terms of total arrests.

Big Italy and Hiram House

Once the Italian immigrant had arrived in Cleveland two problems were given immediate consideration, where to live and how to earn a living. The concept of the ethnic neighborhood seemed to solve both concerns, for each ethnic settlement in Cleveland provided in varying degrees the security needed for adjustment and survival in the city. The first Italian community was commonly known as Big Italy and was located along Woodland Avenue from Ontario and Orange Avenues to East 40th Street. At the turn of the

186 & 187


century this section was populated by about 93% Sicilians and was the center of the city's produce markets. It was in this locality that Frank Catalano and G.V. Vittorio began their enterprises, Catalano at 839 Woodland and Vittorio at 746 Woodland.

Originally the community was located in the downtown section which was then known as the "Haymarket" section but later moved eastward along Woodland Avenue from East 22nd to East 40th Street. Today Galucci's and Bonafini's Italian importing houses are the solitary remnants of this original Italian settlement. St. Maron's Church at 1245 Carnegie Avenue now serves Cleveland's Lebanese Americans but in 1904 was known as St. Anthony of Padua Church, the first Italian Catholic Church in Cleveland. It was the religious landmark of Cleveland's original Italian settlement.

Of the section known as "Big Italy" little is known except for scattered information surviving from the Hiram House Settlement. Originally this area along Woodland and Orange Avenues had the center of Cleveland's Jewish population. Hiram House, located at 2723 Orange Avenue, was an attempt to assist the immigrant with various social services, language classes, vocational training and recreational activities. In the early 1900's the area surrounding Hiram House was one of moral and social decay. A 1909 Visitor's Report from Hiram House indicated that "saloons are frequent here, some being the lounging places of the lowest type of men and women."15 Characters such as "Frog Island Kate," "Babe Downs," and "Old Mother Witch" gave the neighborhood an unsavory reputation.


Aerial photograph of Big Italy with St. Joseph's Church in bottom right.

St. Joseph's Franciscan Church, 1935.


As the Italians began to move into this neighborhood they were exposed to the crime, vice and social disease which was already part of the settlement. There were the "Zookeys," a juvenile gang of Jews and Slovaks led by a black youth whose delinquency was soon overshadowed by Joe Amato and his "Robber Gang." It seems that this brand of ethnic criminality was innocuous by today's standards. They were involved in knife fights, but mostly thrived on invading and disrupting the Hiram House playground, stealing fruit and penny candy, and throwing rocks at the streetcars.

The transitional period between 1908 and 1916 was marked by fierce rivalry between the Jewish immigrants and the Italians in this area. Throughout this period fights between Jews and Italians were frequent at the Hiram House settlement. One report in February of 1915 described a basketball game between a Jewish and an Italian gang:16

The gymnasium was the only department which really drew the Italians. The Jewish boys began to object to so many "WOPS" coming in. For the first time in the history of the gym the Jewish boys found Italians who would not be shrinking and sensitive . . . and who would not be driven out . . .
A fight erupted and concluded with the Italians pulling knives and chasing the rivals out of the gym.

Hiram House was begun by George Bellamy, an ultra-conservative social worker whose social philosophy ran the gamut from philanthropy to racism. Many of his associates reflected his cultural predisposition and were in fact greatly chagrined when the Jewish population began to give way to more recent southern and east


European immigration. Miss Mitchell, one of the supervisors at the settlement, commented on this transformation by observing that "In place of the Jews with their splendid morals and intense home life, we have the fiery Italians, and the Slavish and Polish with their duller minds, their drunkeness and immorality."17 As the Italians kept moving into the settlement region the conflict of cultures would become inevitable.

But the Italians had come to stay in this Woodland Avenue community and were replacing the other ethnic groups. By 1916 a heavy Italian population was concentrated between East 22nd and East 29th Streets. About a third of the 359 Italians listed in the Hiram House records were laborers with another 64 listed as operating retail outlets.18 Many of these residents were attracted to Hiram House for the varied cultural and vocational experiences offered by the settlement. They felt that if programs dealing with music were started more Italians would become attracted to the settlement, so Dominic Villoni and Frank Russo were permitted to organize two bands which were enthusiastically supported by the neighborhood. Later, operatic selections, especially recordings by Caruso, were purchased for the settlement.

By advertising in La Voce the Hiram House settlement brought in Italians for the manual training programs, especially printing. The women were attracted to the sewing and cooking classes and were obviously good at it. A 1911 report stated that the Italian girls were splendid seamstresses - at all ages - and took an obvious pride in their work.


Elisie Rapisardo

Sam Fazio

Hiram House Collection, 1922


If Hiram House marginally accepted the Italian immigrant at first, there was still a basic lack of commitment toward these immigrants. At a time when the settlement was predominantly Italian no full-time staff worker spoke Italian; only six part-time volunteers were proficient in the language. Even after the Jews had left the area and had relocated along East 55th they still dominated the officials at the settlement. Basically Italians participated in a social settlement house which made little attempt to understand or supply their particular needs.

The final chapter of the Italian community along Woodland Avenue really centers around one man who helped breach the chasm between Anglo conservatism and Italian simpaticatezza. He was Francesco Gasbarre, himself an Italian-born immigrant, who was known as Frank Casper. His employment at Hiram House in the twenties was marked by a real understanding of and involvement with the Italian community. During his years as a full-time staff member he marched in the Italian festival parades, participated in their hometown meetings, even organized an Italian Mothers Club.

Casper appreciated Italian culture and cultivated its survival at the social settlement. He produced several Italian musicals in English for the general settlement. Whenever Italian opera singers were in Cleveland, Casper made it a point to have them at least visit the settlement. His cultural masterpiece was the annual "Spring Festival," which was begun in 1924.19 Every ethnic group at the settlement participated, and in 1925, Italian, Russian, Mexican, Slovak and Bulgarian performers contributed to the show.


Work and play in the Hiram House Settlement.

TOP: Vincent Ciccarolli pealing potatoes in the Hiram House Kitchen, 1932.

BOTTOM: Alex Novalani (holding ball), Richard Wade and Ipiphont LaLaroco playing at the settlement house.


the Italians as a threat to their neighborhood supremacy, so too the Italians felt the influx of blacks into "Big Italy" to be an encroachment. In the decade ending in 1930 the Italian population recorded in the census tracts as living in "Big Italy" fell from 4074 Italian-born in 1920 to 2063 in 1930. More Italians were coming into Cleveland but they no longer lived in the original settlement. By 1940 only about 1300 Italians remained in "Big Italy."20

Italians participated in the Hiram House community and continued to inhabit "Big Italy" as long as it was predominantly Italian. They ceased to participate in Hiram House programs when they no longer counted in its leadership. Being a tightly knit group and relatively mobile, the Italians chose to remain aloof from activities which no longer catered to their ethnic traditions. Moreover, as the other Italian communities grew they drew Italian involvement away from the multi-ethnic and multi-racial environment of the Hiram House settlement and into their own communities.

Ironically as the officials of the settlement house began to sense that the Italians were not such a bad lot after all, they tried to keep the Italian interest in their activities alive by opening branches of the Hiram House in the new Italian neighborhoods. In 1924 an attempt to create a branch in the East 116th settlement failed. In 1926 another extension was begun at the Anthony Wayne School at East Boulevard and Woodland Avenues, but by 1929 only 20% of the adult classes were attended by Italians. Too little attention had been paid to these immigrants from the


Hiram House was a reflection of a temperate and relatively conservative approach toward social organizations. Gambling of any kind was prohibited on the settlement grounds, thereby limiting hometown festivals which included raffles and other games of chance. Italian parades did begin and end at the settlement but any other socializing had to be done elsewhere.

The same approach was followed with regard to drinking. Red wine was especially popular among the Italian people, most especially at weddings. Prohibition notwithstanding, it was the custom that at festive occasions wine would be served. Nothing of the sort was to occur at Hiram House. Whenever Casper was involved with a wedding reception at the settlement, he overlooked this dictum whenever he could. Abuses of this "illegality" were hardly ever flagrant but made a lasting impression upon the Italians who saw Casper as a man who understood the difference between wine as a food and alcohol as an escape. Unfortunately prohibition officers did not have the same perspective on life nor understanding of Italian culture.

By the mid-1920's many of the Italian hometown societies moved their meeting places out of Hiram House and into the East 116th Street settlement. This was to be only the beginning of a mass exodus of the inhabitants of Big Italy away from the downtown location and toward the eastern regions. The reason for this change can be explained by the fact that the neighborhood was declining and that there was more space and better housing in the Collinwood, Murray Hill and Kinsman Italian communities. Just as the Jews saw



beginning and when the very existence of Hiram House was at stake the leaders sought out the very group they had ignored for involvement in their community activities. This lack of "grass roots" participation and the deterioration of the neighborhood around Hiram House led to its closing in 1941.

Little Italy

Another major Italian settlement in Cleveland was "Little Italy" located from East 119th to East 125th Streets on Murray Hill and Mayfield Roads. In 1911 it was estimated that 96% of the population of this neighborhood was Italian-born and another 2% were of Italian parents.21 Many of these Italians were Neapolitan and were engaged in skilled lacework, the embroidery trades and garment making. The largest district group came from the towns of Ripamolisano, Madrice and San Giovanni in Galdo, which are in the province of Campobasso, in the region known as the Abruzzi.

It was in this neighborhood that the skilled stonemason Joseph Carabelli founded his marble works. He was a unique man in a number of respects. He was northern Italian and a Protestant, which placed him in a distinct class in relation to the "typical" Italian immigrant. He was a native of Porto Ceresio and immigrated to America in 1870 at the age of 20. He spent ten years in New York City as a sculptor and carved the statues for that city's Federal Building.22 Settling in Cleveland in 1880 he began the Lakeview Marble Works, became a close friend of John D. Rockefeller, was elected to the



The Luna Park Italian Settlement, 1940


Ohio House of Representatives and became a major figure in the affairs of the Italian community of Cleveland.

It was also in Little Italy that Vincent Campanella opened his banking business. Born in the Abruzzi, he immigrated in 1890. During his early years in this country he worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, in the construction of railroads, dug sewers in Cleveland, and ultimately created a surplus of capital to invest in a bank. His career in banking was very successful but he never changed his general philosophy that life should be accepted as it unfolds, for better or for worse. He is credited with remarking that "America has treated me well . . . she has paid me 10¢ a day . . . and she has paid me $5000 a day."23 For most other Italians in Cleveland wages usually amounted to $1.00 per day and the people were grateful to receive this wage.

From these two major settlements sprang other colonies which would absorb later Italian immigration to Cleveland. While Murray Hill was developing during the early 1900's two other settlements were forming. On the east side near East 105th, Cedar and Fairhill Roads the third Italian community was established. These settlers were primarily from Campobasso and specifically from the town of Rionero Sannitico. Simultaneous to this settlement a community was forming on the west side in the vicinity of Clark Avenue and Fulton Roads. Many of these immigrants were from Bari, on Italy's southeast coast, and Sicily.24


Just prior to World War I a fifth Italian colony, in Collinwood, was formed. In an area bounded by Ivanhoe Road on the west, St. Clair Avenue on the north and the New York Central tracks on the south, Italian families poured into this community. In 1910 Collinwood was formally annexed to the City of Cleveland and brought another Italian settlement within the city limits.

The Italian Churches in Cleveland: Roman Catholic and Protestant

In each of these communities certain landmarks served the community as social, religious and cultural centers. Usually these were the Italian churches which were so important in each area's development. Although in Italy local parishes received small support from the parishioners, in America the ethnic church became the center of the community's life. Even if these religious institutions were not always supported financially by their Italian members their importance can not be overstated.

The original Italian settlement founded St. Anthony of Padua Church in 1887. It was first located in a blacksmith's shop opposite the East 9th Street cemetery. In 1904 it was moved to a new building at 1245 Carnegie. According to one source, during World War I St. Anthony's Parish embraced more than 10,000 people from the Scovill, Central and Woodland districts. However, as the Italians abandoned this locale they also ceased to attend St. Anthony's. In 1938 the church was sold to St. Maron's, and St. Anthony's Parish merged with St. Bridget's on East 22nd and Scovill.25 In 1956 this parish was moved to 6750 State Road in Parma.


Two views of St. Anthony of Padua Church, Cleveland's first Italian Church located at east 12th and Carnegie Avenue.

The Church is now St. Maron's Church.


Two views of Holy Rosary Church along Mayfield Road in Cleveland's Little Italy.


In the Mayfield Road-Murray Hill district Holy Rosary Parish was founded by the Scalabrini priests in 1892. By 1908 it had reached an enrollment of 940 families. Father Joseph Strumia was the first pastor of the church and was succeeded by Father Givelli in 1894. On January 25, 1905, ground was broken for a new church and in 1908 a new edifice was dedicated at the corner of Mayfield and Coltman Roads. Part of the lands on which the church was built was deeded to the bishop of Cleveland by Joseph Carabelli and his wife for one dollar. There was a one thousand-dollar balance on the property which was assumed and promptly paid by the diocese. In December of 1973 Holy Rosary had approximately 1000 families, an increase of only 60 families since 1907.

For Holy Rosary Parish the major event in the life of the church and the community is the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption held on August 15th each year. Beginning with a mid-morning mass a procession bearing a statue of Mary, Mother of Christ, is carried out of the church and placed on a carriage. For two hours the Madonna makes its way through the streets proceeded by a band, uniformed Knights of Columbus and school children dressed in their First Communion outfits. In the evening the streets are blocked off and a carnival is held in the business district along Mayfield Road. As many as 40,000 people attend this feast each year, reliving the religious pageantry of the old country with new world paesani.

St. Rocco's Parish on Fulton Road developed early in the century and established its own St. Rocco's day celebration in 1915.




In 1922 the church was founded and was guided by Father Sante Gattusso who served this community until his death in 1956. When he arrived at St. Rocco's the collection was bringing into the parish only $10 per week. Within two years he had raised $1400, bought property and built a small church. During the Depression, men from the parish used old railroad ties and trees to heat the school and the church, and discarded bricks taken from demolished buildings were used to build an addition to the school.

In 1950 it was decided that a new church was needed and one of the most unique stories in Cleveland's Italian past began. The men of the parish had been collecting bricks, stones and slabs of marble from construction sites and had stored them on the church grounds until it began to resemble a junkyard. Using ropes and muscle, the men began to build a church, hoisting the stones forty feet above the ground and fitting them into place. During the evening eight men would work and on Saturdays this figure doubled. After two and one-half years of work the junkyard of materials had been assembled into a beautiful stone church seating 750 members. The church was dedicated on March 16, 1952, by Archbishop Edward F. Hoban. The efforts of these men had saved the parish some $250,000 and had renewed a sense of pride within the entire community.

Today St. Rocco's still retains its large Italian population, many of whom are Italian-born. The 1970 census reported that 597 persons living in the area were born in Italy, about one-third of the entire population of the area. Hometown societies, the


St. Rocco's Church on Cleveland's West Side


Trentina and the Noicattarese along with the North Italian Club still flourish in the area.

Another Italian nationality church, St. Marion, did not survive the post-World War II period. Founded in 1905 in the Blue Rock Springs area by immigrants from Rionero Sannitico, St. Marion became the center of Cleveland's third Italian colony. Although St. Marion remained a small parish the residents of this settlement built the first Italian parochial school in the city. In 1924 the school opened its doors to forty Italian youngsters. Eventually it enrolled some 200 children. By 1936 St. Marion's Parish accounted for 500 families who had managed to keep the school open during the depression years.

During the post war period the Italian residents' desire for better housing combined with Western Reserve University's expansion programs to accelerate migration to other areas of the city. By 1953 St. Marion's population had dropped to 100 families and the school closed in 1966. In 1968 only 15 Italian families remained in the area. In 1967 when Father Francis Valentini came to St. Marion's he found an empty convent, an empty school and a church with little parochial life remaining. St. Marion's Catholic Church held its final mass in 1975. The structure is now the Second Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Another nationality church is Holy Redeemer, located on Kipling Avenue in the Collinwood district. Founded in 1924 by Father Marin Campagno, it remained a frame structure until 1927.


St. John's Beckwith Church in the Murray Hill Community.


In 1964 a new Holy Redeemer was dedicated. In this Italian settlement some 1400 families are registered in the parish, with over 85% being of Italian extraction. Since many of these members originally came from the Murray Hill section they brought with them many of the traditions of "Little Italy," such as the feast of the Assumption and the ensuing festival.

Although the majority of Cleveland's Italians are Roman Catholic, several Protestant churches have attracted numbers of Italians to their congregations. St. John's Beckwith Church in "Little Italy" was an early example of Protestant missionary activity in the Italian community. Founded in 1907, St. John's was one of four mission churches established by the Presbyterian Church. It was begun through a grant from the T. Sterling Beckwith Fund and attracted some Italian families living along Mayfield Road.26

The first pastor of St. John's was the Reverend Pietro Monnet, who established the church in 1907 at the corner of Murray Hill and Paul Avenues. Joseph Carabelli donated the baptismal font and the Euclid Methodist Church gave the pews. In 1921 St. John's was united with the Euclid Presbyterian Church as part of the Church of the Covenant.

Perhaps the church's most famous pastor was Reverend Gennaro D'Anchise, from Campobasso, who had been the director of the Bureau of Immigrants for the American Waldensian Society. Returning to Italy in 1920 he was "removed" by the fascist government and returned to Cleveland in 1929 when he began his ministry at St.


Christian Congregation Church, Collinwood Neighborhood.


John's. By 1941 his parish membership had a following of some 106 families and in 1948 about 200 families filled the congregation.

The average yearly contribution in 1948 was only $10.50, and this factor had a significant effect upon the demise of the church. Most of the members lived within one mile of the church but attendance was never more than 40%. Despite D'Anchise's encouragement and efforts to promote Italian culture little effective progress was made. Hampered by the rather hostile attitude of the local Italian Catholic population, the church declined rapidly after 1950. It was finally closed in 1962 and is now occasionally used as a community hall in "Little Italy."

Another Protestant church in Cleveland was St. John's Italian Baptist Church, founded in 1930 on Soika Avenue and East 123rd Street in the Kinsman Italian community. Reverend Vito Cordò, its first pastor, held services in English and Italian, but his efforts proved fruitless. He retired in 1956 and St. John's Baptist continued for two more years before it also was sold to a Black Baptist congregation.

In the original Italian settlement around Hiram House the Josephine Mission of the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church attracted some Italian converts during World War I. Many of these were drawn to the mission because of the classes offered there, especially those in sewing. Another Baptist congregation was founded on East 33rd Street between Woodland and Scovill Avenues in 1909. It also became extinct by 1919 when only 37 parishioners still attended


services. In the Collinwood settlement the Church of the Savior was established on Kipling Avenue as an extension of St. John's Beckwith. Begun in 1916 by Reverend Monnet, it was attended by former residents of Little Italy. Like the other Italian Protestant churches they found that they could not compete successfully in a predominantly Roman Catholic area. By 1919 the Church of the Savior counted only 57 members in its congregation.

Ethnic Mobility among Italians in Cleveland

As Big Italy declined in population in the late thirties other settlements experienced a perceptible increase in population. This would tend to substantiate the belief of some that an ethnic neighborhood is a strong factor in the retention of an ethnic identity. Little Italy, part of census tract R-8, was already evidencing a reduction of Italian population in the decade prior to World War II. In the 1920 census some 3460 Italians were counted, while the 1930 census showed only 1226 Italians. But the areas adjacent to Little Italy rapidly increased in population. The Woodhill-East Boulevard Italian section increased from 653 Italians in 1920 to 1233 in 1930. There was that marked tendency to remain together as a group despite changes in location.

To the south the settlement encompassing Kinsman Road on the north and the Erie railroad on the south witnessed a dramatic increase in Italian settlers. Beginning with a population of 528 Italians in 1920, it climbed dramatically to 2666 by 1930.27 To




the east the Collinwood settlement from East 152nd and St. Clair to East 171st, also became a receptacle for Italians leaving Big Italy. The 1920 census reported only 1269 Italians in the neighborhood, but over 2100 in 1930. In fact, the Collinwood census tract indicated that Italians made up almost 69% of the total population of the area and 78% of all of the foreign-born in the community.

The shift in Italian population was primarily to the eastern regions and not to the west side. The area around St. Rocco's experienced an increase of only 111 Italians in the decade 1920-1930. The census figures show only 759 Italians living in the area in 1930. From West 65th to West 85th, the Mt. Carmel community, an equally low growth rate was recorded. In 1920 only 685 Italians were listed in the census. In 1930 it had increased to only 702. This figure represented only 15% of the total population of that census tract so that this Italian enclave was but a small group within a heterogeneous population mixture.

If we go beyond the bare population statistics for 1930 in each of these communities some rather interesting observations can be made about the Italians living in the major settlements in Cleveland. For example, in 1930 the average Clevelander who owned a home had a dwelling which was worth $6971. In every neighborhood with a sizable Italian population the average fell into the range $5000-$7500. This is not to imply that every Italian owned a home, but that in general the Italian neighborhoods were at least at the city average in their living accommodations. Indeed in the


Mosaic and corner stone for Our Lady of Mount Carmel West on Detroit Avenue.


Collinwood settlement 41% of the population owned their homes while along the Woodland Avenue community another 41% were home owners.

On the west side, St. Rocco's area listed 50% of the population owning dwellings. This would tend to substantiate Josef Barton's study which indicated that only about 14% of the Italians in his survey remained propertyless after twenty years' residence in Cleveland. To the Italian who could afford it and to those many who could not the investment in property was the best method of maintaining a stable environment and was the course most Italians chose.

Yet another statistic probably is more indicative of Italian housing patterns in 1930 - rental property values. In that year the average rental price in the city of Cleveland was $36.25 per month. No Italian settlement reached that figure although the Collinwood and Kinsman settlements were averaging $35 per month. The Murray Hill community had one of the lowest rates in the city with only $28 per month. One can only surmise what these dwellings were like but they did exist amidst middle class residential property.

There has been a recurrent charge made about the mobility of the Italian immigrant, returning home every two or three years to Italy, never really perceiving America as a permanent home. Prior to the 1924 immigration restrictions this may have been the case. After that date, however, the concept of permanence seems to have taken hold. This is indicated in a number of ways. One is by the


number of naturalized citizens as well as by those who had made the initial effort to obtain first papers. The following chart illustrates this phenomenon by using the statistics, provided by the 1930 Federal Census, of those applying for citizenship:28

Area Total
Aliens Number of
Murray Hill
   2380 1165   169   819 2227

   2433 1158   341   892 2106

St. Rocco's
   1431   748   148   513   759

Kinsman Rd.
(T-5 to T-9)
12,788 7144 1392 4005 2366

Italians in the Professions during the Early Years

Cleveland's early Italian communities produced many prominent individuals in a variety of professions. Mention has already been made of Joseph Carabelli whose granite and marble works attracted others from Italy to settle in Cleveland. A friend of John D. Rockefeller, he influenced that oil magnate to fund Alta House on Mayfield Road for the Italian neighborhood. In 1908 he was elected to the State House of Representatives on a Republican ticket. He was instrumental in having October 12 designated as Columbus Day in Ohio. He died in 1912, the first Italian elected to a major office in the state.


Joseph Carabelli one of the earliest Italians to settle in Cleveland.

Olindo G. Melaragno, Italian American publisher of Cleveland's La Voce del Popolo d'Italiano.


Vincenzo Nicola left Monterero Val Cocchiara in Campobasso in 1881 for Ulrichsville, Ohio. His son Benjamin went to Ohio State University, passed his bar examination and in 1904 became the first practicing attorney of Italian extraction in the city of Cleveland. Nicola practiced law in Cleveland until 1964. During his career spanning half a century he was appointed U.S. Commissioner in 1930 and a judge of the Common Pleas Court in 1948. He also served on the Board of Directors of Alta House as well as the Urban League.

By 1919 at least 12 Italians were listed as attorneys in the city, most of whom advertised in the weekly La Voce under the heading "Avocati." Among these were Joseph Nuccio, who would later become assistant city prosecutor. B.A. Bvonpane, an articulate spokesman for the Italian community, was also among this group, along with Louis Perry, D.J. Lombardo, Michael Picciano and Louis Lanza.

Another lawyer of prominence was Alexander De Maioribus, who was to become the first Italian-American to be elected to Cleveland's City Council in 1927. A member of the Republican party, he served in Council from Ward 19 until 1947 and was president of that body for eight years, from 1936 to 1944.

During this formative period a number of distinguished Italian-American physicians and dentists were found in the city. Dr. G.A. Barricelli of Murray Hill was a specialist in pulmonary and cardiac work and was an occasional lecturer at Western Reserve University. He was also an outspoken supporter of the Italian-Americans in


Cleveland and was a frequent contributor to the editorial pages of La Voce as well as the English-speaking dailies. His wife, Dr. Orfea Barricelli, also held a position in the literature and language departments at Western Reserve and was a president of Il Cenacolo, the Italian Cultural Organization.

It has been observed that the Italian professional men in Cleveland lived by the needs of the peasants. Indeed a good case could be made for this assertion, for during these developing years those Italian-American doctors, dentists, lawyers and businessmen who had their offices in the several Italian settlements catered to the wants and needs of their own people. For the Italian doctor or lawyer, his ability to communicate in the language of his constituents was a most important attribute. It was certainly a good business practice.

The banking establishments along Woodland, the Gugliotta Brothers, Nicola and Salvatore, and Vincent Campanella in Little Italy, did business with usually an Italian-based clientele. Joseph Russo and Son's Ohio Macaroni Company was begun in 1910, while Albert Pucciani's Roma Cigar Company began three years later. G.V. Vittorio's store on Woodland Avenue specialized in olive oil, anchovies and other Mediterranean specialties hardly noticed and certainly unappreciated by native Clevelanders. But for the community in which he did business his was a mecca for these delicacies, a culinary bridge between Italy and Cleveland.


Early in this century Italians were involved in various aspects of the food industry. We can only speculate why this particular occupation has attracted so many Italians and probably never arrive at a conclusive answer. Perhaps the best explanation would be summed up by the idea of "possibilities." The potential in the restaurant business was, at that time at any rate, limitless, and so the possibility became the attraction, the magnet which pulled an immigrant such as Guiseppe Z. Botta toward success. He arrived in Cleveland in 1902, worked as a waiter for seven years and by 1909 opened a restaurant of his own. He would then employ others from Sicily, perhaps some of his paesani from Sant'Agata, to work for him. With them and others he later organized the Sant'Agata Workers Society in 1915.

By 1920 it was reported that four of Cleveland's finest restaurants were owned by Italians, a phenomenal accomplishment by any standards. One of them, the New Roma on Prospect Avenue, was said to be the largest in Ohio. Italian chefs managed the culinary duties at the Hotels Statler, Cleveland, Hollenden and at the Shaker Heights Club. It was estimated that during the 1920's seventy percent of the cooks in Cleveland's restaurants were of Italian descent.29

In 1910 Samuel P. Orth wrote a three-volume History of Cleveland which was more of a biographical survey of this city's illustrious citizens than anything else.30 In the second volume of this work are listed some 400 Clevelanders, six of whom were Italian. Joseph Carabelli is listed as are the Caito Brothers,


Lake View Monumental Works, begun by Joseph Carabelli in 1880 on Euclid Avenue across from Lake View Cemetary.


who were fruit merchants along Broadway. Two priests are noted, the Reverend Humbert Rocchi of St. Anthony of Padua Church and the Reverend Guiseppe Militello, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish. Benjamin Nicola, the attorney, and Nicola Cerri, the Italian consul to Cleveland are also briefly mentioned.

The most impressive treatment afforded an Italian is given to Eugene Grasselli, whose name is linked to the chemical industry, to John Carroll University, to the Cleveland Public Library, to the Cleveland Museum of Art, to duPont Chemicals. Ironically Grasselli was born in Strasburg in 1810, the son of Jean Angelo Grasselli, a chemist. Thus it is obvious that Eugene Grasselli was not a first generation Italian but did have an Italian background.

Eugene Grasselli emigrated first to Philadelphia in 1836, then to Cincinnati in 1839, where he established a small chemical plant. In 1861 he arrived in Cleveland and soon organized the Grasselli Chemical Company. His plant was located on East 26th near Broadway and Independence Roads and initially manufactured sulfuric acids used in the refining of oil. By 1885 Grasselli Chemicals Incorporated had a net worth of $600,000 with plants in seven states and Canada.

Eugene Grasselli died on January 10, 1882, and his son Caesar continued the company's operations. On the eve of World War I the Grasselli chemical works were worth some 20 million dollars and became involved in the manufacturing of explosives. Caesar's son


Thomas consolidated the company with duPont Chemicals in 1926 and was made a vice-president of that concern. In 1936 Grasselli Chemicals was incorporated as a department of duPont thus ending a century of leadership in the chemical manufacturing field.31

Today the name Grasselli is associated with John Carroll University, for the Grasselli Tower and the Grasselli Library on the campus. A plaque at the Cleveland Public Library indicates that Eugene Grasselli was a trustee of this nationally known institution. The Grasselli's were also benefactors of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

For each illustrious success story such as Carabelli, Grasselli or Nicola, thousands of other Italians managed only to survive in the city. Indeed, a cursory examination of Cleveland's City Directory from 1910 to 1920 will indicate the persistence of obscurity for most Italians entering the city. They began and ended their work careers in Cleveland as common laborers, a condition which was partially caused by their general lack of education, as well as by the undertones of discrimination in hiring. There was also the positive attitude toward manual labor which was important to many of the immigrants from the rural southern Italian towns. It was an honorable way to make a living so many continued in this occupational strata.

A few examples will illustrate this point. Michael Valentino and Angelo DiRienzo began working in Cleveland in 1908 as common laborers. Eleven years later DiRienzo is still listed as a laborer,


Valentino having dropped out of the listing in the City Directory. Others such as Pietro Cannavini started out as laborers but soon discovered that Cleveland was not what they had expected and left the city. Cannavini probably was among the "birds of passage," those immigrants who periodically returned home to Naples, Palermo, or some village in southern Italy for a more secure existence. Statistics are inconclusive on this matter, but a rough check on entries and those remaining by the next Federal Census indicates an average loss of about 39% of the Italians yearly. This percentage is generally substantiated by national figures which show that in some years Italians leaving the United States almost equaled those immigrating to America. Between 1908 and 1916, 1,499,907 Italians entered the United States while 1,215,998 returned to Italy.32 After the 1924 Immigration Quotas were set, the number of Italians leaving was substantially decreased.

Upward mobility on a small scale is evident among the Italians in this city and the story can be told again and again of the laborer who persevered and was rewarded by an improved occupational status, however marginal it may seem to us. Pietro Trivisono, living at 168 Carabelli Avenue was listed as a laborer in 1904 and remained as such until 1916 when he had assumed the occupation of a general contractor. Antonio Caputo began as a laborer in Big Italy in 1908 but in 1920 we find him listed as a baker and living in Murray Hill. In 1925 he was living in the Collinwood settlement, still as a baker.


Barton's study indicates that among Cleveland's Italians there was a good deal of occupational mobility. Generally speaking, of those Italians who were studied, only 25% of the second generation Italians remained in the same occupation as their fathers. The sons of Italians who had been laborers and peasants in Italy generally ended up slightly better than their fathers. Of the 250 families studied only 14% were propertyless after living in the city for 20 years. They were more likely to invest in a house and a lot than in other material comforts and thus rapidly became part of a growing and stable middle class population within the city.

This sense of permanence can also be indicated in several ways other than property ownership. In 1902 there were over 300 registered Italian voters just from the Murray Hill section of the city. In 1909 La Voce de Popolo Italiano was urging its readers to register as citizens and to vote for certain Republican candidates. Other issues of La Voce provided typical questions and answers in English and Italian relating to governmental operations in the United States. These were the types of questions which could be expected on their examinations for citizenship.

La Voce also published a "Commercial Guide" to assist the Italian reader in spending his wages. The Cleveland business community bombarded the paper with advertisements by Italian and non-Italian concerns. Burrows, Cleveland Trust, The May Company advertised along with Carabelli and Russo. A bakery from Pittsburgh and a "Grosseria Italiana" from Columbus, Ohio also ran ads to attract Italian consumers.33 The May Company and Cleveland Trust


set up "Italian Departments" in their stores to accommodate the Italian-American shopper. The Italians were here to stay and their business was eagerly sought after.

Poor Relief and Crime

Another indicator of a group's stability and general desire to contribute to their immediate surroundings is their reliance upon public institutions to care for normal familial responsibilities. It is obvious that for every individual group there may be a period of adjustment, of acculturation, during which public assistance is necessary. Add the impediment of learning a foreign language and the cultural differences, and it would seem logical that the foreign-born would depend on public help to a relatively large extent.

In addition the complexity of a foreign legal system where almost one hundred actions were determined to be illegal, numerous confrontations with the law would be expected. It is true that during the first quarter of this century the foreign-born did participate to a larger extent than the native-born Clevelander in relying on public welfare. But the Italian immigrant evidenced one of the lowest rates of involvement with public assistance and a reasonably low rate of arrest and detention in the city.

Using official departmental reports on Poor Relief in the city from 1874 to 1930 there is a definite indication that Italians did not request public aid to any great extent during this period. In


1910, for example, 2544 families received public welfare from the city, of which 1799 were foreign born. Italian relief constituted only .09% of the foreign born and only .06% of the total on relief. This figure representing 159 Italians was the highest rate of public welfare experienced by the Italian community until the Depression years. (See Table E in Appendix: Native and Foreign Born Clevelanders Receiving Public Assistance.)

In most cases an individual remains an obscure part of an ethnic group until he or she comes in conflict with the legal structure of a community. However distasteful or unfortunate these stereotypes may be, it is apparent that such adverse publicity has affected the image of certain ethnic groups. The stigma of criminality has been attached to the Italians even though there is empirical evidence which points to the contrary.

The Cleveland Police Department issued an Arrest Report each year indicating the total number of arrests, total foreigners arrested, with a breakdown by Nativity. Table F indicates a composite of Italians arrested in Cleveland until 1902 when the Nativity charts were no longer published. The arrest rate for Italians was relatively low when compared to the total arrested, although it was high considering the Italian population prior to 1910. Italians averaged about 4% of the foreigners arrested.

It should be kept in mind that arrests do not necessarily imply convictions and that the total arrest figures reflect all types of crimes, misdemeanors as well as felonies. Serious crimes usually


involved incarceration and this figure may be used as an indicator of serious crimes charged against Italians. The following chart indicates Italians in the city's House of Correction (based on available information):34

Year Total in House
of Correction
Foreigners Italians % of Total
1910 2252   730   39    .02%
1911 2433   906   70    .03%
1912 2372   841   94    .04%
1913 3591 1222   97    .03%
1915 4735 1659   93    .02%
1922 1400   610   96    .068%
1928 9836 2532 124    .0126%

This does not imply that Italian crime was negligible nor that it was non-existent, but it does imply that such crime did not reach epidemic levels as some would believe. Yet to read official statements on criminality in Cleveland one would get an entirely different impression.

A Report issued by the Cleveland Association for Criminal Justice stated that from October to December, 1922, 96 Italians were arrested for felonies out of a total of 923 whites, 610 foreign born, 477 "colored," and 104 Austrians. During the year 1927 Sabastian C. was convicted of rape and murder. Sam B. was found insane after convictions for three murders and Ross M. and his non-Italian gang of "boy burglars" were convicted in the same year. The 1928 Report foretold that "Cleveland is today fertile territory for 'organized crime' of all kinds." Crime was indeed on the rise in the city and the statistics tell the story. It was in the foreign and "colored" elements within the city that the real source of criminality was to be found.


The Italian community was quick to report and denounce rather than defend the criminal element within its midst. An early issue of La Voce warned the readers of a counterfeiter working within community as well as reported the murder of an Italian by another in East Cleveland. Almost every issue reported an assault, a robbery or manslaughter within the Italian sector, of Italians harassing other Italians. The April 24, 1915, edition of La Voce reported the murder of "Big Dominic" M. on Orange Avenue by two other Italians while another Italian was assaulted on Race Avenue.

These were isolated examples of crime within an ethnic community. No settlement was free of it. As the Italian-born element grew in the city and as the foreign born population reached over 230,000 in 1930, inter-ethnic strife was expected. Yet within the Italian neighborhoods one institution, the family, provided the bulwark against an epidemic of anti-social behavior.

Miss Florence Graham, the assistant principal of the Murray Hill school from 1908-1928 and principal there from 1937-1957, provided an "outsider's" account of the Italian community during the 1920's. While in the home parents were the only authority, the school became the real as well as the legal extension of the family. In the Italian tradition the school teachers were looked upon for leadership and were treated with respect. "I think that was why they accepted us so well. When the teacher said something was so . . . the Italian said, 'that's right and don't question it.'" This deep respect for authority, the subverting of the


individual's "rights" for basic unity and order, is a main current in the history of the Italian people whether in Italy or in America.

Miss Graham also commented on the stability of the Italian home:35

During the first period when I was in Little Italy (1908-1928) the parents were in the laboring class. They worked like clockwork. The fathers came home at a certain time and the mothers were there preparing the meal. One knew where the mother was. That's why they had such wonderful families . . . because they were sure of their homes.
This sense of stability and security was carried out of the home and into the streets by the children. Boys were home by 7:00 p.m. Girls were closely watched. Delinquency was practically nonexistent during this time. In 1928 at the Cleveland Boys Farm only three Italian-born youths were admitted while only 18 second-generation Italian youths were incarcerated. This was in a city which had reached nearly 900,000 people with almost 23,000 Italian-born within the population.

In conclusion, the formative period of Cleveland's Italian settlement witnessed an increase in population, a relatively low crime rate, an almost negligible dependence on public assistance and a propensity to purchase real property within the city. Commercially, culturally and socially the Italians were accepted and encouraged by their Cleveland neighbors to continue their efforts to contribute to the city's growth and development. Prohibition and the rise of fascism proved to be discordant factors in this otherwise harmonious relationship and altered some of that encouragement to outward signs of concern and even hostility.



1City of Cleveland, City Directory, 1858.

2Cleveland Leader, November 23, 1876.

3Cleveland Directory, 1864-1880, Residential and Business Sections.

4Annals of Cleveland, Court Record Series, 1875-1877, Cuyahoga County, Volume X. Also, City Directory, 1874-1907.

5City Directory, 1890-1919.

6Josef Barton, Peasants and Strangers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975) pp. 52ff.

7Charles Coulter, The Italians in Cleveland (Cleveland: 1919) p. 17.

8Charles Ferroni, The Italians in Cleveland: A Study in Assimilation. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of History, Kent State University, 1969, pp. 121ff.

9Nationalities Directory of the City of Cleveland (Cleveland: 1974).

10"Report of the Emigrant Police" in the Annual Report of the City of Cleveland, 1913.

11Ibid., p. 1481.

12Ibid., p. 1484.

13Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 23 and November 5, 1900. Also cited by Wellington F. Fordyce, "Nationality Groups in Cleveland Politics," The Ohio State Archaelogical and Historical Quarterly, XLVI, 1937, 109-147.

14Annual Report of the City of Cleveland, Department of Welfare, 1915, p. 1435.

15Much of the information on the ethnic groups in the Hiram House settlement was obtained from John Grabowski's unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation on the settlement entitled, Social Settlement in a Neighborhood in Transition: Hiram House, Cleveland, Ohio, 1896-1926, Department of History, Case Western Reserve University, 1977. Mr. Grabowski graciously permitted me to have access to his dissertation prior to its final form. In addition he has proven to be an invaluable asset in researching this monograph at the Western Reserve Historical Society where he is the Ethnic Archivist.


16Neighborhood Visitor's Report, Hiram House, February, 1915.

17Ibid., 1912.

18Grabowski, Op. cit., pp. 240ff.

19Ibid., pp. 240ff.

20U.S. Census, 1940. Census Tracts I-1 to I-9 (Cleveland's Big Italy).

21Coulter, Op. cit., p. 11. See also Daniel Gallagher, "Different Nationalities in Cleveland" series in the Cleveland Press, December, 1927.

22See the front page article on Carabelli and the Broggini brothers in La Voce, April 22, 1911.

23Coulter, Op. cit., p. 17.

24For a more extensive analysis of the St. Rocco's Italian community see Karl Bonutti and George Prpic, Selected Ethnic Communities of Cleveland: A Socio-Economic Study, 1974, pp. 117 ff.

25Much of the information on the religious and cultural aspects of Italian ethnicity was furnished by Richard Mileti, a life long student of Italianita in Cleveland.

26For a concise treatment of St. John's Beckwith Church see John Vande Visse, Jr., The Protestant Church in the Predominantly Catholic Nationality Area, M.A. Thesis, Department of Sociology, Western Reserve University, 1948.

27Howard Whipple Green, Population Characteristics by Census Tracts, Cleveland, Ohio, 1931. An excellent analysis of the 1930 Federal Census in Cleveland which concentrates on various ethnic groups relative to their economic level and comparative populations throughout the previous census reports.

28Ibid., Table 5.

29Coulter, Op. cit., p. 42.

30Samuel P. Orth, A History of Cleveland, 3 Volumes. (Cleveland: Clarke Publishing Company, 1910).

31William Ganson Rose, Cleveland: The Making of a City (Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1950) pp. 338ff; 471-472.

32Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970. Volume I, 105-106; see also Carl Wittke, We Who Built America: The Saga of the Immigrant (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: 1939) p. 437.


33La Voce, October 9, 1909 and April 24, 1915.

34Annual Reports of the Department of Police, City of Cleveland, 1915-1928.

35Much of the material on the Murray Hill School is taken from Dr. Charles Feroni's personal interviews in the neighborhood and are found in his dissertation The Italians in Cleveland, pages 209 and following.



Alesci, Frank. It is never too late: A true life story of an Immigrant. Cleveland: St. Francis Publishing House, 1963.

Alissi, Albert Salvatore. "Boys in Little Italy: A Comparison of their Individual Value Orientations, Family Patterns and Peer Group Associations." Ph.D. Dissertation, Case Western Reserve University, 1969.

Annual Report of the City of Cleveland. Department of Police, Bureau of Emigrant Police, Department of the Infirmary, Division of Correction and Charities.

Annals of Cleveland. Court Record Series, Cuyahoga County, Vol. X, 1874-1877.

Annual Report of the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the United States Department of Justice, 1950.

Barton, Josef. Peasants and Strangers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975.

Bonutti, Karl and George J. Prpic. Selected Ethnic Communities of Cleveland: A Socio-Economic Study. Cleveland: The Cleveland Urban Observatory, 1974.

City Directory of the City of Cleveland, 1964-1976.

City Record of the City of Cleveland, 1919-1977.

Citizens Bureau of Cleveland: Annual Report, 1920 and forward.

Cleveland Foreign Language Newspaper Digest, "Italian Section," Volume 2. Cleveland: Work Projects Administration, 1939.

Cleveland Association for Criminal Justice, 1922 and forward.

Columbro, Pat James. "The Italians in Cleveland with Special References to the Mayfield Road Area." M.A. Thesis, Western Reserve University, 1948.

Coulter, Charles Wellesley. The Italians of Cleveland. Cleveland: Cleveland Americanization Committee, 1919.

Crea, Joe. "Murray Hill: A Bicentennial Report," Cleveland Plain Dealer, Magazine Section, August 1, 1976.

Electors, Registered by Ward, Cleveland, Ohio, 1893-1976.


Ferroni, Charles D. "The Italians of Cleveland: A Study in Assimilation," Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Kent State University, Department of History, 1969.

Fordyce, G. Wellington. "Nationality Groups in Cleveland Politics," The Ohio State Archaelogical and Historical Quarterly, Vol. XLVI, 1937, 109-147.

________________. "Immigrant Colonies in Cleveland," The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, XLV, 1936, 320-329.

Gallagher, Daniel. "Different Nationalities in Cleveland," The Cleveland Press, December, 1927-January, 1928.

Grabowski, John. "Social Settlement in a Neighborhood in Transition: Hiram House, Cleveland, Ohio, 1896-1926," Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of History, Case Western Reserve University, 1977.

Green, Howard Whipple. Population Characteristics by Census Tracts. Cleveland: 1931.

Levy, Donald. A Report on the Location of Ethnic Groups in Greater Cleveland. Cleveland: Institute of Urban Studies, 1972.

Mileti, Richard. "Italian Immigration to Cleveland." Paper presented at John Carroll University, Department of History, 1968.

Orth, Samuel P. A History of Cleveland. Cleveland: Clarke Publishing Company, 1910. 3 Volumes.

Pap, Michael, ed., Ethnic Communities of Cleveland. Cleveland: John Carroll University, 1973.

Rose, William. Cleveland: The Making of a City. Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1950.

Seminatore, Kenneth F. "Memories of Murray Hill," Cleveland Magazine, August 1976, 48-54.

This is Cleveland. League of Human Rights, 1945.

Van Voorhis, Ruth. "A Study of the Italians in the Woodland, East 110th Street District," M.A. Thesis, School of Applied Sciences, Western Reserve University, 1929.

Veronesi, Gene P. "Ethnic Neighborhoods in Transition," Filmstrip. Cleveland: Ethnic Heritage Studies Program, 1974.

Visse, Orie John Vande. "The Protestant Church in the Predominantly Catholic Nationality Area," M.A. Thesis, Department of Sociology, Western Reserve University, 1948.


Four notable Cleveland Italians, from left to right, Capt. Emilio Ardito, Count Cesare Gradenigo, Dr. Gigi Maino, and Dr. Cosimo Menzalora of the Dante Alighieri Society, April 8, 1935.

"Italians did join together because of discrimination during Prohibition and the depression. They supported me because they felt they had no representation. I fought against the search of homes and the destruction of property...against the discrimination of the quota system."
     (Alexander DeMaioribus, Cleveland Councilman, 1927-1947, Ward 19)


Chapter 8


The years following the first World War were marked by heated exchanges between the Italian community and the various news media over such issues as Prohibition, crime and the rise of fascism in Europe. These confrontations would produce a reaction in the Italian press which resulted in an affirmation of Italian culture while questioning the intent of the Cleveland press, and an almost unwavering support of Mussolini's regime until the mid-thirties.

The Issues of Prohibition and Crime

Crimes, especially those related to the making, selling and consumption of alcohol, began the ferment. Murray Hill was "known" for its involvement with "bootleg" liquor even though those who transported the illegal booze were relatively minor figures who profited little for their efforts. In general Italians, like most ethnic groups, were opposed to Prohibition and were vocal in their sentiments. The consumption of wine was a natural part of a meal, an essential component of life. To deprive a man of his vino would be like prohibiting the Englishman his tea or the American his coffee. It was barbaric but it was the law.


Arrests for liquor violations were frequent during the twenties and made up the crime which would inflate Cleveland's arrest totals by about 30% each year. Italian involvement in the liquor trade was common. The Plain Dealer routinely published the names of those arrested for violations while La Voce detailed those crimes involving Italians. In February of 1920 La Voce reported that an Italian from Murray Hill was arrested on Euclid Avenue for requesting a drink with "kick," while the same issue ran an editorial against Prohibition, calling it a "theft of people's liberty."1

In another editorial La Voce commented on the local press coverage of criminal arrest reporting, complaining that the identification by ethnic group was not necessary. Although it was a fairly common practice in official and non-official reports to designate the nativity of the criminal, La Voce strenuously challenged the propriety of such coverage:2

Our dissension is in the misuse of the word "Italian." Why is it necessary to always bring this to the fore when an unfortunate of this race is caught in the coils of his own act and brought to the bar? Then why the discrimination? If a Pole commits a murder do our fatuous press brazen forth the culprit's nationality?
Why can't we say John Ferraro, or John Smith, or Ivan Ivanovich did this thing and he alone should suffer.
La Voce's plea went unheeded because it seemed to be the very intent of the press to saddle the various immigrant groups with the bulk of the crimes committed in the city.

For example, the Cleveland Association for Criminal Justice, a group of concerned professionals, felt that law enforcement in



the city needed to pursue a more aggressive program. In each of its quarterly Bulletins, the association issued a crime statistics table for the city, as well as detailed the exploits of selected criminals, negligent judges and unethical lawyers. Though not necessarily an anti-Italian group, the association did underscore the relative criminality associated with the foreign born of the city.

During the last three months of 1922 it reported that 923 whites had been arrested for felonies, 477 "colored," and 610 foreign born of whom 96 were Italian. That same issue also featured the careers of three notorious Italians, guilty of various murders, rapes and assorted felonious escapades.3 The following year's Bulletin described Calmer S. as "another ignorant foreigner" arrested for liquor violation. A later Bulletin would devote its entire coverage to the exploits of a "second generation Italian" criminal.

The myth of the immigrant criminal, exploited by various national and local media, was attacked not only by the ethnic communities themselves but received substantial attention from foreign observers as well. One distinguished reporter, Sir A. Maurice Low, began a series of articles for the London Morning Post on "America the Lawless." During the latter part of 1927 his reports concluded that the idea of the "immigrant as a criminal" was nothing more than fabrication.4 He specifically dealt with several major cities in America, Cleveland being one of those selected. While the crime rate was high his findings concluded that it was the native born


American who was the overall culprit perpetrating the most serious crimes in the country as a whole. Unfortunately his conclusions had little impact in Cleveland.

By the end of the twenties a short lived but highly influential publication appeared in Cleveland which further promoted the cause of Italian culture while condemning Prohibition and insults against Italians. It was called The Latin World and began publication in 1929 for "Americans of Latin extraction." Although Italian-oriented material predominated, articles in French and by non-Italian authors were usually found within its pages. It was an impressive cultural magazine edited by Alfred Deflorentis and included among its Honorary Membership City Manager William R. Hopkins, Benjamin Nicola, Stefano Ardito, Frank Celebrezze and Antonio Milano.5

The Latin World soon became a publication of cultural significance and intense involvement in the political and social activities of Cleveland. When the Met arrived in 1929 The Latin World ran articles on the Italian performers. The functions of the Italian Woman's Club of 1929 were noted, as was the case when J.G. Lombardo was created Chevalier of the Crown of Italy in June of the same year.

During the short-lived career of The Latin World almost every issue contained advertisements for grapes for winemaking, even though Prohibition was still a very real part of American society. A limited amount of winemaking was permitted only for home consumption but it is questionable whether this kind of advertising appealed to the home winemaker. The Volstead Act of 1919 prevented


the manufacture of any beverage in excess of one-half of one percent of alcohol. Whatever could legally be produced would be little more than grape juice.

The Latin World opposed Prohibition as a "Bugaboo of Truth and Normality," and attorney Blase A. Buonpane editorialized on this topic. According to Buonpane there were too many abuses being committed against Italians in the name of Prohibition. He condemned the self-appointed purists and questioned the integrity of the prohibitionists: "What human feelings are crushed at the sight of an orderly group of convivial persons who are taking drinks at their party?" He concluded that imbibing in a social drink or two was normal and that absolute temperance was a cultural aberration.6

Opposition to Prohibition took more tangible form in the disregard for the law and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The local police responded to such liquor violations in a variety of actions, from overlooking minor infractions to all-out warfare against notorious offenders. In Murray Hill during the late 1920's the safety forces formed roadblocks at all the entrances to the neighborhood, searching cars and persons for liquor without warrants. Protests to the mayor, the chief of police and the papers had no effect. This neighborhood had "earned" the reputation of being a major source for "bootleg" liquor and drastic measures had to be assumed to curb this threat. It was but one step to stigmatizing the entire community for the activities of some within its boundaries.


The Italian press was aware of the criminal element within the settlements and was quick to reveal those persons responsible for crimes against society. Yet the paper also warned its readership and the English-speaking community that any links between isolated instances of crime and any "organized mobs" were nonsense:7

Recently the city has been more or less startled by a series of crimes correctly or not attributed to "a mythical organization" labeled the "Black Hand." We say mythical because it is such . . . We are for law and order. But in extenuation of our neighbors . . . and law abiding citizens who must bear the stigma of the acts above noted . . . we can not help but sound a note of satisfaction in our positive knowledge that extermination from its own festering hands is foreshadowed for those who are the outragers of the decent and law abiding.
The Latin World published an editorial in September of 1929 in Italian which questioned the conviction of Angelo Amato, accused in the Sly-Fanner murders. It was a reasonably thought-out piece which concluded that, despite Amato's conviction, he was being sentenced on the testimony of another "paranoid" murderer. "Italian justice, pure and blameless in its knowledge of this situation, will get to the bottom of this case."

Crime was indeed on the upsurge in Cleveland during Prohibition and some Italians were among those arrested. Yet the arrests did not reach epidemic proportions. In 1928 the following figures were reported by the Cleveland House of Corrections:8

Total Prisoners in House of Correction - 1928

                   Americans, 7304       Hungarians, 169
               Austrians, 433       Russians, 124
        Irish, 430       Italians, 124
         Poles, 268       Germans, 122


Male juvenile offenders of Italian descent numbered 18 of the 154 boys incarcerated. Two years earlier 181 females of Italian extraction had been placed in the House of Correction for varying offenses, an astounding figure when one considers the relatively strong family ties associated with the Italian woman. Yet these were second and third generation juveniles; it is evident that a by-product of acculturation was the erosion of parental authority and the likelihood of a higher incidence of delinquency.

By the 1930's a full-blown epidemic of "Italian racketeers" was being reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In an exclusive story in the Sunday Magazine section Frank Merrick, the city's former Director of Public Safety, offered his observations in an article entitled "Giving the Low Down on Cleveland's Racketeers." In this review of the city's criminal element it was the Italians who were singled out for blame.

Complete with mug shots and drawings Merrick singled out Dominic Benigno as the mastermind behind Cleveland's crime problem. Although he had never participated in a crime, "from his mob sprang almost every known gangster existing in Cleveland today."9 Along with Benigno in his "organization" of murder, theft and extortion were Frank Motto and Sam Purpera, a sixteen-year-old accomplice. To round out this mob, Mrs. Emma Colovito was included. These persons were indeed part of a criminal element, but to cite them as the only source for Cleveland's criminality was inaccurate. To include only Italians as forming this city's racketeers was to utter an absurdity that needs no further comment.


Italians and the Depression

The Depression was brutally experienced and painfully remembered by the Italian people in Cleveland, for many of the men had been employed as laborers, not as white collar professionals. A man was considered fortunate who worked two weeks a month for the WPA, earning about $79. In Little Italy the effects of the Depression could be felt as late as 1936 when Father Charles McBride became assistant at Holy Rosary. He recalled how young boys were forced to steal coal from the railroad cars to heat their family's houses.

In 1936 almost 1000 families out of 1472 were on relief in the Holy Rosary Parish. It was here that many parishioners received assistance in the form of flour and potatoes. Alta House also distributed rice, barley, milk and potatoes once a week for the needy.

So intense was the feeling against the Murray Hill Italians that the Mayfield Merchant's Association invited a Cleveland News reporter to visit the area and write about his first-hand experiences for his Cleveland readers. In July of 1935 Jack Kennon of the News began to walk among the people of Little Italy, listening to their problems and observing their life style. His conclusion was that the only title which Murray Hill did merit was Little Italy and nothing else.

He reported on the street society during the Depression, of older men sitting on the steps of the neighborhood shops discussing


politics, their jobs or lack of jobs; women and children streaming to and from Holy Rosary to pray. He saw no crime, no delinquency, no street brawling. He did discover gambling when "a dozen youths were shooting craps" under a dim street light on Murray Hill Road. "And that law violation was the only one I saw during my entire tour of the district . . ."10 It was a compact and relatively isolated area, poor during a period of extensive poverty, but surrounded by the values of family and friends.

Poverty was an integral part of Italian-American life during the Depression and was evident even in the Collinwood settlement during the thirties. In 1934 sixty percent of the family heads in the area were born in Italy, some 850 persons in all. Into Collinwood had poured the new immigrants and those others who relocated from the Murray Hill and Kinsman settlements. Collinwood had been perhaps the most affluent Italian settlement in the city prior to the Depression.

During the thirties shortages of all types were evident in the Collinwood community. Housing was especially acute, with 97% of the people renting for under $30 per month. Other figures also illustrate the extent of shortages in this predominantly Italian area. Only 30% of the 1597 families owned a simple radio in 1934, while only 7% had telephone service. Only 2% had a mechanical refrigerator, while in Bratenahl, about three miles away, 53% of the families had this appliance. About one-third of the families had an automobile, the lowest figure in the 12 census tracts comprising the entire Collinwood district.11


Fascism and the Italian American Community

The impact of fascism on Cleveland's Italians is better understood if viewed with the Depression as a background. Italians had immigrated to this country by the millions and many thousands were part of the city's population during the thirties. They had little voice in a city where their numbers should have given them some political importance. Authority was in the hands of non-paesani while very few Italians controlled their own financial destiny. Their continued immigration was controlled by law and their private lives were dominated by a Prohibitionist mentality. They were associated with a mounting criminal element and had lost much of their economic gains over the past 25 years.

This lack of power was the main reason why Alexander DeMaioribus chose to run for Cleveland's City Council from Ward 19 in 1927. For the next 20 years (1927-1947) he won re-election, serving as president for eight years. In an interview he commented on the situation confronting the Italian community in Cleveland during the thirties which led to his election:12

Yes, Italians did join together because of discrimination during Prohibition and the Depression. They supported me because they felt they had no representation. I fought against the search of homes and the destruction of property. During the Depression I fought against the discrimination of the quota system used to employ people. Little Italy was way behind. I pushed to get more employed.
The Italians rallied around DeMaioribus, a Republican, even though the Democrats were strongest among the ethnic groups. He was a man who restored pride to the people and for this reason rather than


political ideology he was returned again and again to Cleveland's City Council.

This same kind of identification with authority and the rekindling of pride was the major reason for Italian-Americans to give evidence to what appeared to be a pro-fascist sentiment during the 1930's. The new respect Italy had achieved within the world community during the twenties and thirties acted as an antidote for the humiliation and discrimination felt during the Depression. The image of Italy, of Mussolini's "New Roman Empire," found eager adherents in the city as well as from various non-Italian news media.13

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer a rather parochial attitude toward Italy had always prevailed. Events in Italy did not concern the Plain Dealer although crime in Cleveland committed by Italians usually received good coverage. Italy was generally ignored until suddenly on October 27, 1922, the Italian Cabinet resigned . . . inspiring the PD to deliver a 13-line article! On the 28th another story described the fascisti and their leader:14

Benito Mussolini is a young man in his 40's whose career has been distinguished by his virile and forceful traits of character . . . His magnetism and eloquence . . . He was wounded upwards of a hundred times and bears the scars of battle.
Actually the PD had no understanding whatsoever of the man or the political conditions which shaped him. The Plain Dealer endorsed Mussolini yet questioned his policies of violence, dictatorship and his uncompromising attitudes on Yugoslavia. The paper endorsed a personality and an ideology which seemed to provide a solution to


the problem of Bolshevism in Italy. The fact remains that less than a marginal amount of investigation was done on the situation before the apparent successes of fascism were applauded by the Plain Dealer. The major thrust was that for the moment communism was destroyed in Italy and that a new era of dignity and peace was returning to the country.

Cleveland's Italians reacted to Mussolini with very positive sentiments of patriotism. La Voce del Popolo Italiano was the largest Italian language paper in Ohio and its editor, O.G. Melaragno, was wooed by the new fascist regime. Mussolini personally requested King Victor Emmanuel to confer upon this Cleveland journalist the title of Chevalier of the Crown. For the most part La Voce during the thirties would carry articles favorable to the fascist government.

In the archives of the Western Reserve Historical Society are found microfilmed issues of La Voce from 1907 to October 7, 1922. The paper reappears in 1936 as a firm supporter of the fascist government, but even in the early years these attitudes were present. For example, the turmoil within post-war Italy was described in detail for the Cleveland community as a "madness which has infected the classes of Italy . . . It is the spread of communist fallacies . . . it is destructive, revolutionary." La Voce's readers were urged to write and cable friends and relatives in Italy to make any sacrifices necessary "to save their country from red revolution."15


Cleveland Fascisti marching on the west side, May, 1927.


Describing the fall of the Italian government, La Voce suggested that "King Victor and his advisors may decide to call an untried man to the premiership." The same article revealed that the fascist movement in Italy had been transformed into a political party and that Italy had finally "found herself." The connection between the chaotic situation and the fascist solution "waiting in the wings" was obvious.

The rise of fascism and the establishment of a "Young Italy" was closely reported in the Italian Press. In Cleveland the Italians experienced a resurgence of ethnic maturity, a feeling that despite the recurrence of anti-Italian discrimination in the city they could justifiably feel proud of recent developments in their homeland.

This elation in Italian achievements, however suspect it may seem in retrospect, was encouraged by the presence of Captain Count Caesar Pierre Albert Buzzi Gradenigo, and Dr. Romeo Montecchi, the two Italian consuls for the city of Cleveland. Count Gradenigo served as consul from 1930-1936 and Dr. Montecchi from 1936-1941. Their interaction with Cleveland's Italians stimulated and directed the emerging ethnic consciousness for over a decade.

Accepting his new post in 1930, Gradenigo reminded Cleveland's Italians not to forget their mother country:16

You must be loyal to the United States, the land of your adoption, but do not forget the culture and history of Italy. Italy now has a stable government that is aiming at world peace. By helping to bind the United States and Italy more closely together than they are already you can serve both countries at the same time.


In November of each year Gradenigo met with the Italian Veterans' Association at the Hotel Statler to celebrate King Victor Emmanuel's birthday, the March on Rome, and Armistice Day. Cries of "Viva l'America! Viva Benito Mussolini!" opened the 1934 celebration.17 The Count reminded his audience that these annual celebrations were "decidedly not fascist propaganda but an expression of sentiment by Italian Americans toward the land of their ancestry." This particular celebration was also attended by several non-Italians such as Judge John P. Dempsey, who remarked that "Mussolini will be recorded in history as one of the greatest political geniuses of all times." Praise from Harold Burton of the American Legion on Italy's war record and her contributions toward world peace were also sounded. These would be remembered as the golden years of Italian ethnic pride in Cleveland.

As with most ethnic groups, pride and self-awareness soon gave way to demands and a more aggressive position began to be adopted by the leaders and self-appointed spokesmen of the Italian community. As the membership of the Sons of Italy reached 9000 this organization demanded that the Cleveland Public Schools adopt the teaching of the Italian language in the curriculum. The Sons of Italy made it known that they would support only those board members who were favorable to this addition. The schools ultimately decided to add this language course to their curriculum in 1934.

In 1935 the Italian ambassador to the United States, Augusto Rosso, came to Cleveland to help dedicate a temple for the Sons


of Italy. It was to be the first time an Italian ambassador had visited the city and it was expected to be a major event in the community. Cleveland, the Italian community was told, was seen by Mussolini not as an isolated midwest city somewhere between New York and Chicago, but as an important link in the chain of Italian communities throughout the country. The fascist government was aware of Cleveland's initiatives and encouraged these activities by such prestigious visits. The temple of the Sons of Italy was to include a restaurant, classrooms, offices, a lounge and a 1200-seat auditorium. The Cleveland News believed that this structure was a significant milestone in Cleveland's cultural history, while the Plain Dealer called the Temple one of the most ambitious undertakings of Italians anywhere in the United States.18

Rosso's two day visit in June of 1935 was perhaps the most significant pro-Italian event in the history of the city during the thirties. His speeches were tangible evidence that Italians had no longer to fear the stigma of being part of the nondescript "huddled masses" of immigrants but that their native land was one of proud achievement. Italy was now a strong country, orderly, confident. She was "loved by many, feared by some . . . but respected by all." And Rosso reminded his audience that this prestige was primarily the work of Mussolini.

Although Ambassador Rosso spoke of Italy he did not forget to address the situation of Italian-Americans. Of his audiences he requested that they not forget the language and culture of Italy while becoming acculturated Americans. Basically an Italian-American


Columbus Day Parade in Cleveland's Murray Hill Section, October, 1938.


had a dual responsibility, to his adopted country but more so to his native land. Transported Italians should be ready to sacrifice, as others had done, to keep Italy strong and "respected by all."

The city's Italians had the opportunity to show their solidarity with Mussolini's Italy in October of 1935 with the invasion of Ethiopia by Italian troops. Italian Clevelanders responded with the ardor and enthusiasm of patriots. One enthusiastic writer described the events by saying that "the love of country was alive and vibrating . . . all worked actively, all felt morally mobilized, all felt the obligation to support a work most holy and most patriotic."19 By September of 1936 Cleveland's Italian organizations had donated $12,404.21 to the Italian Red Cross. Some 1000 Cleveland Italians also donated their gold wedding rings to Italy for "this holy and patriotic cause," and received steel bands from Mussolini to wear as symbols of their faith in Italy. The new consul, Dr. Romeo Montecchi, made the presentations.20

To assume that Cleveland's Italians were not impressed with the exploits of the fascist government is to grossly underestimate their enthusiasm. In 1937 over 4000 Italians gathered in Murray Hill to celebrate the first anniversary of the "Italian Empire." Montecchi said that the rebirth of the Italian nation under Mussolini was "a true harbinger of the restoration of the old Roman Empire and the acquisition of Ethiopia was a proper step in that direction."21 Unfortunately few outside this circle of enthusiasts felt the same and one could almost sense that the peak of


pro-Italian sentiment in Cleveland had been reached. The invasion of Ethiopia marks a turning point in the history of Italian ethnicity in Cleveland.

While Italy's official representatives were proclaiming a new Roman Empire, Italian-Americans were expressing their sentiments on the subject of their Italian heritage. In the pages of La Voce and the local press letters were received denouncing the Cleveland papers for rejecting Mussolini and his regime. The president of the Italian War Veterans attacked the Plain Dealer for its "anti-Italian" editorial policy:22

Your newspaper has followed an editorial policy which had been openly hostile and abusive towards the existing government of Italy. It is un-American to enter into discussion concerning the good or the bad features of a foreign country's policy. A nation expressing a habitual hatred or fondness for another is a slave to its animosity or its affection. We hope you will not indulge further in efforts to arouse racial passions and hatreds.

The editor of the Cleveland News printed the following letter from Raoul Spoleti-Bonanno in June of 1937 concerning recent anti-Italian editorials:23

Are we to understand that a good American is one who condemns everything not reflecting American political, economic, moral, and philosophical points of view? As an Italian I can not berate fascism for having developed a national consciousness . . .

There were others who saw in this renewed ethnic identification an opportunity to creatively develop Italian culture within the main current of American culture. One individual who supported this kind of positive ethnicity was Stefano Emilio Ardito, the


vice-consul in Cleveland under Count Gradenigo. His letters to La Voce appealed to American youth to learn about Italy aside from the immediate political embroilments. "Do not forget your native tongue, study it wholeheartedly. You should be proud of Italy, knowing she has contributed so greatly to art, literature, and science."24

Other like attorney J. Melaragno were cautious amidst this resurgence of Italian pride. He emphasized America, not Italy, in his responses to the local media. He spoke of Americanization, of being well-informed about the laws of this country. "Italians who form a part of an American cosmopolitan group seek to earn the privilege of being citizens."25 His was the voice of moderation and reason but was not in tune with the moment and was drowned by the exuberance of victory.

Riding on the crest of world wide recognition, some Italians in the city took advantage of the situation and became ultrasensitive to anything which appeared to conflict with their own inflated conception of Italianness. There were minor rumblings in the late thirties which were exaggerated beyond proportion in the Italian press. For example, there was an attempt to change the name of Murray Hill to Marconi Avenue. In December of 1937 letters to La Voce indicated that Italian pride depended on this name change. As it happened, many home owners and merchants on Murray Hill in fact did not want the name changed. But their "anti-Italian" attitude was "observed," and their "stinginess" offended the entire Italian community in the city!26


There were those who were almost paranoid when it came to "Italian Pride." J.V. Rapone, a pro-fascist observer and frequent contributor to La Voce, was violently opposed to any disrespect, any challenging of Italian foreign exploits. Such anti-Italian sentiment was "propaganda" which came from "organizers and representatives of labor classes who believe that fascism has acquired a harmful control over labor."27 Indeed, any statement which was critical of the Italian government brought letters and rebuttals from Italian patriots in the city. Few voices were raised supporting American citizenship, the study of English, of the improvement of the quality of life of Cleveland's Italians.

It was a short-lived flirtation, almost totally based on emotionality, which luckily did not result in a lasting marriage. By 1939 the enthusiasm had worn thin. To be sure, most of the profascist sentiment was more than rhetoric but less than actual commitment to fascist ideology. As long as Italy did not collide with American interests, as long as Mussolini's empire regulated railroad schedules, drained marshes, built bridges, bestowed awards on local Italo-Americans, and generally kept order in the country, the exuberance was a positive and unifying force in the Italian community. When the fascist government declared war on France and England on June 10, 1940, the momentum of Italian-American exhilaration halted abruptly. When the appearance of confrontation seemed inevitable, the overwhelming majority of Italian-Americans had no misconceptions as to their loyalty. On June 13, 1940, Raymond Boccia, Grand Venerable of the Sons of Italy,


expressed the collective sentiments of his organization in a letter to the Cleveland Press:28
The members of the Sons of Italy in America are stunned by Italy's declaration of war and are extremely sorry that Italy has felt constrained to enter the European holocaust. We have been praying for peace and hoping that this hour might never come to pass and that some solution could be found whereby this act of Italy might have been averted. But now that such a thing has happened we as Americans stand ready shoulder to shoulder with other Americans, in assuming the responsibilities of upholding and safeguarding our form of government. Our motto has been and will be "America first and above all." We hope that the present European conflict will come to an immediate end so that America can help rebuild once again this disrupted world.

Italian American Loyalty and World War II

In the months that followed Cleveland's Italians were stumbling over each other to prove they were loyal Americans. The editor of L'Araldo wrote, "There seems to be a stampede on by various Italian organizations to declare themselves, in no uncertain terms, that they are contrary to dealings going on in Italy and reaffirming their allegiance to the United States."29 International events were also affecting the Italian consul, who was noticeably absent from various ethnic ceremonies. Following the outbreak of the Greek-Italian war in October 1940, Montecchi was available only to a few close friends. In March 1941, the Italian Veterans' Association dedicated their new hall without him and he made no appearance in September when the Italian Gardens were dedicated in Cleveland's Rockefeller Park. In presenting the gardens to the city, Alexander De Maioribus, the prominent Italian-American politician, said that one is not an American "by virtue of any blood


strain or any heritage except the heritage of freedom. We Americans are brothers in a common political faith whose fundamental concept is that all government is justified only as conserving the rights and dignities of the individual." De Maioribus asked for an embargo on hate. It did not matter whether one's neighbor was Italian, German, French or English:30
He is an American and the presumption is that he is just as good an American as the Cabots and the Lodges whose forebears came over on the Mayflower.
The dedication ceremonies closed with Cleveland's Italians singing "God Bless America."

Six days before Pearl Harbor, Cleveland's Sons of Italy announced that they would invest $101,900 in defense bonds as a first step toward full support of President Roosevelt's defense program.31 Then when Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, Cleveland's Italians were "struck at the heart."

Ethnicity underwent a transformation as the Italian community redirected its energy toward the war effort. When the public schools dropped the Italian language, the Sons of Italy did not complain. Lodges that had been named after Italian royalty were renamed Abraham Lincoln, Betsy Ross, etc. Membership declined. The junior lodges were closed and in 1945 the temple that Ambassador Rosso had dedicated was for sale. Most embarrassing was the thorough examination by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although no links to the fascist government were uncovered, one officer of the Sons of Italy admitted hiding a bust of Mussolini for fear that government agents would misunderstand. Even more


annoying were the many questions of local newspapermen. Still, the order was not completely immobilized, when rumors about the treatment of Japanese-Americans spread fear in the Italian community. Cleveland's Sons of Italy sent a special delegation to meet with President Roosevelt who promised that "the Italian people would not be touched."

Cleveland's Italians supported the American war effort with enthusiasm. They led the city in scrap drives and bond drives. By 1942 they sent 2500 of their sons to the United States' armed forces. One of these, Pfc. Frank Petrarca, was the first Ohioan awarded the Medal of Honor. Many of Cleveland's Italians had relatives fighting on both sides. Lieutenant Victor Cereno, a bombardier on a Flying Fortress, wrote to his parents:32

Recently, I flew over the beautiful hometown of Dr. Romano on a bombing mission. I was sorry to see a nice town like that be bombed but there was nothing I could do about it. I performed my duty as any American would do, dropped my bombs and with an aching heart observed the terrific blasting . . .

World War II was a watershed for Cleveland's Italians. They emerged from the war with a clear understanding of their place within the framework of American pluralism. Having passed through a painful experience with chauvinistic ethnicity during the fascist heyday, they came to the realization of creative ethnicity. Cleveland's Italians discovered in creative ethnicity that one could live not only as a rooted person but also beyond one's roots. They began to identify themselves as Americans of Italian descent


and recognized their history as the story of their roots, planted by their heroes, the immigrants.

Cleveland's Italians had inherited a bi-cultural way of life that offered them a choice and there was much to choose from as the post war years brought many changes to the Italian community. Much of the impetus for change after 1945 came from the returning veterans. Having been exposed to experiences outside the community, they sought advanced educational opportunities, more space, a higher income and contact with non-Italians. What followed has been an increase in intermarriage, and a movement to the suburbs for better housing and educational facilities. Still, the "increases in education and income, geographic dispersion and intergroup contacts have not lessened ethnic awareness . . ." The sources of ethnic vitality, including the nationality church and the social organizations, continue to reinforce ethnicity. But ultimately it is l'ordine della famiglia that provides the basis for ethnic identification. Within the family the values and traditions continue to imbue the individual with a respect and dignity that keeps him from becoming an empty, sterile, plastic person.



1La Voce del Popolo Italiano, February 7, 1920.

2Ibid., June 25, 1921.

3Cleveland Association for Criminal Justice, 4th Quarterly Bulletin, 1922. See also Bulletin No. 38, 1934.

4The London Morning Post, November 17, 1927, "The Myth of the Foreign Criminal" and November 19, 1927, "Figures Absolve the Immigrant."

5The Latin World, various issues, 1929-1930.

6Ibid., September, 1930.

7La Voce, July 10, 1920.

8Annual Report of the City of Cleveland, Report of the House of Corrections, 1928.

9Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 27, 1933, p. 3.

10The Cleveland News, July 3, 1935.

11Howard Whipple Green, "A Sheet A Week," May 6, 1937.

12Interview with Alexander de Maioribus, Italian American political leader, March 20, 1968, conducted by Charles Ferroni.

13For an interesting analysis of America's brief "flirtation" with fascism see John P. Diggins, Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972).

14Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 28, 1922. See also PD, October 31, 1922.

15La Voce, September 11 and 18, 1920.

16Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 5, 1930.

17Ibid., November 5, 1934.

18Ibid., May 19, 1935, and the Cleveland News, May 30, 1935.

19Enzo Cotruvo, De Vittorio Veneto A Addis Abeba (Cleveland: The Tower Press, 1937) pp. 130-131 quoted by Ferroni. Mr. Cotruvo was the Editor of La Voce.

20Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 25, 1936.


21Ibid., May 10, 1937.

22Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 18, 1937.

23The Cleveland News, June 2, 1937.

24La Voce, May 21, 1937.

25Ibid., July 14, 1937.

26See also the Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 18, 1938.

27La Voce, April 2, 1937.

28The Cleveland Press, June 13, 1940.

29L'Araldo, Cleveland, July 5, 1940.

30The Cleveland Press, September 15, 1941.

31Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 1, 1941.

32Ibid., March 2, 1942.


"Chi lascia la via vecchia per la nuova, sa quel che perde e non sa quel che trova...Whoever forsakes the old way for the new knows what he is losing but not what he will find."


Chapter 9


Of all the fascinating phenomena associated with ethnicity none has had a more profound effect on the shaping of Italian-Americans than the family. Without exception writers from Barzini and Puzo to Cambino and Greeley have been enchanted by the domestic lives of Italo-Americans. To understand the Italian one must understand the family. It is as simple as that.

From the various accounts of the domestic relationships of the Italo-American certain basic characteristics have emerged concerning the family. But before investigating these characteristics a word of caution should be inserted. Much of the writing on the Italian American family has been sprinkled with nostalgic distortions which may give incorrect impressions about ALL Italian families. What each narrative often deals with is a particular family situation, and the impulse to generalize about Italians has become irresistible. This is not the case and should be kept in mind.

Perhaps most importantly these domestic histories usually relate to first-generation families who would naturally maintain much of the cultural tradition of Italy. What will be described in the following pages would be associated with such first-generation families who would perhaps have much in common with families living in Italy. It would not necessarily apply to second-generation Italians and conceivably would have little relation to third-generation children.


Hence to speak of Italo-American families we must properly speak in traditional terms with usual reference to first-and perhaps second-generation Italians. Beyond that stage some of the traditional emphasis has disappeared through the acculturative and assimilative processes. And with it has come the weakening of the basic unit of Italian ethnicity.

For the purpose of comparison we should examine the family structure as it exists in Italy, especially in the southern regions. For centuries the first source of power in that country was the family unit. Indeed it has been proposed that Italy should be described as nothing more than a mosaic of millions of families. In order to survive and improve themselves during periods of invasion and occupation by Austrians, Spanish, Arabs, French, Normans, and Germans, the Italians relied solely on their famiglia. One of the reasons why the governmental structure in Italy has always been unstable at best is due to the belief that all external political institutions, foreign or Italian, are a threat to the family order and must thereby be rendered useless through systematic anarchy!!! Governments topple, invaders come and go, but the family remains.

And what is the composition of this family, this historical bulwark which has to be maintained at all costs? In the first place it was and still is patriarchal in form but in no way an absolute monarchy ruled by the father. Usually all unmarried children reside in the home and the major life decisions are made for the betterment of the family unit, not of the individual.


In the Italian setting the family is stationary with a strong sense of group stability. Everyone who is able works for the family. In fact, along these traditional lines, the unmarried sons usually give their paychecks to their mother who in turn gives them an allowance. In many instances this practice is still carried on in American-Italian families.

One of the myths surrounding the Italian family is the dominance of the husband as absolute ruler of the home. Of course the father does have a high status, but the wife is the center of the family and usually has the last unspoken word. As the saying indicates, "In Italy the men run the country...but women run the men." One should not be deceived by outward appearances which often have little to do with the actual workings of things.

To estimate the importance of women in Italian society one need only listen to the music or visit the churches to perceive their influence. In what other country are hundreds of songs dedicated to "mamma"? Where else do burly workers cry out to their mamma when they are in pain or are experiencing some difficulty?

In the religious sphere La Madonna has as many churches dedicated to her as to her Son. National Shrines to Mary such as Madonne di Pompei, di Loreto, del Rosario, del Carmine, del divino Amore proliferate throughout the country. During each month at least one day is devoted to Mary, and she is given May entirely as her special month. In Italy children are taught that Jesus was Jewish but they somehow reach the conclusion themselves that Mary was Italian!


Several general statements can be advanced as to the internal workings and external interactions of the Italian family unit. In the first place the family is usually bilaterally extended; bilaterally meaning that descent is reckoned through both mother and father; extended refering to the potential for developing of strong ties outside the nuclear family. Thus one "typical" family would consist of father, mother, children, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and up to third cousins on both sides.

Supplementing this circle of family was the institution of Comparaggio, the systematized selection of those outsiders who were admitted to the family circles. These intimates were literally "godparents" but not in the religious sense of "standing up" for a child at baptism. Compari (male) and Commare (female) were highly respected close friends of one's own age and considered part of the family. Older Compari would be called zio (uncle) or zia (aunt), or padrino, even though they would not be blood related.

One's "godfather" or compare was given the same respect as one's parents, consulted on important matters, and his advice heeded. Yet the relationship was not to be as deep as to one's own brother or parent. In any clash of interest blood ties always took precedence. This was part of l'ordine della famiglia, the unwritten but all-demanding set of rules governing the family.

The social value of compariggio was considerable. It assured the family's welfare in an unsure environment. It also maintained the old and destitute within one's family without the assistance


Banquet in honor of Settimo Mileti given by fellow citizens from the town of Alcara Li Fusi, Cleveland, Ohio September 23, 1939.


of outside agencies. This is why Italian-Americans have rarely turned to the government for assistance but always to the family.

Jacob Riis, writing at the turn of the centry, noted that immigrant pauperism was highest among the Irish, then native Americans, Germans, etc. Italians made up less than 2% of those requiring assistance. In Cleveland for forty years (1874-1914) Italians were consistantly among the groups requiring the least amount of poor relief. Is there any wonder why Italian-Americans today, although labeled "racist" and "reactionary" view public welfare systems as shameful and distasteful?

The most destitute condition within the Italian society was to be without a family, to be a scommunicato. This status was reserved for those who had violated l'ordine della famiglia either by trechery or scandal. In Sicily to be scommunicato was to be un saccu vacante, an empty sack, a nobody mixed with nothing. Expulsion from the family had borrowed a religious term and given it a secular application.

If being within a family held so much meaning and required so much loyalty, outsiders (stranieri) were literally aliens to be exploited and ignored. The isolation of the south required only one allegiance. All others -- church, state, political parties, employers, etc. -- demanded and received little recognition.

Because of its insularity the traditional Italian family provided the necessities of life or at least a comfortable survival.


Economically all worked for the common good, the fathers and sons in the fields, the mothers and daughters in the home. Education was provided by the parents, the children being trained in their expected adult roles by the parents.

Throughout the centuries of political instability in Italy the family provided the legal basis for the society. Disputes were settled within the family by family members. Warnings to wayward children were never given or taken lightly. Inter-family problems were dealt with by the elders, always mindful of the protection and honor of their family. Those disputes which were not able to be peacefully settled exploded into feuds or vendette which took on the form of local wars.

Perhaps of all the important roles assumed by the Italian family that of socialization was most important. The family maintained the role of psychologist, psychiatrist, marriage counsellor and matchmaker. Why look elsewhere for friends when one had an inexaustible supply of relatives?

Although it was traditionally the family that chose one's mate, the decision was given the appearance of developing naturally. This was done by strict supervision of young ladies so that well in advance of any formal overtures of marriage a family knew whether or not the merging of the two individuals, not to mention the two families, would be advantageous. Then, and only then, were matters permitted to proceed "naturally" and betrothal accepted. While the parents reminded their children that "matrimoni e


vescovati dal cielo son destinati" (marriages and bishoprics are predestined in heaven), it was understood that the initial choice of the partner was carefully managed by the family.

What has been described was an intricate and oftentimes demanding domestic system which grew and maintained itself out of necessity in the Italian peninsula. However, as this kind of organization was uprooted and transplanted to the urban setting of North America, a different pattern emerged. The myriad demands of the acculturating society attacked the very roots of the extended family, creating a cultural shock few immigrant groups have experienced.

Friction between the first and second generation Italian family in America was soon created. The intimate relationship of the extended family was broken in the Italian ghetto. The primary status of the father was undermined by both the children who could speak English and his wife who oftentimes worked outside of the home and earned more than her husband through skilled millenery work.

One of the most serious gaps between first- and second-generation Italians was the relationship between the children and parents. In the first place marriage partners were now selected from the available prospects, hopefully from the same region in Italy but certainly not compari. Although they would still be Italian the marriage partner would not necessarily reflect the values of the traditional Italian home. Indeed, the marriage of


"Come to the Public Schools"
1912 Americanization Poster.


two second-generation Italians often resulted in rejection of the via vecchia and affirming the new ways of America at the expense of the extended family concept.

As the second-generation children attended the public schools and developed a widened interaction with American culture they had to exist in two worlds. They loved their families but were expected to retain beliefs and practices no longer applicable to their urban environment. They were to go out into the world but not become part of it. The culture that the first-generation immigrants held out to their children was inappropriate for adaptation in the New World.

Indeed, the children often became the teachers of the adults, a reversal of roles which was viewed as humiliating by the parents. A poster published by the Cleveland Board of Education and the Cleveland Americanization Committee in 1912 shows a child explaining the A B C's to his parents. The youngster was to lead his babushkaed mother and moustached father into the schools to learn English and the American way. What impact this must have had upon the Italian family can only be assessed in terms of enrollment in the schools and for the Italian males at least such enrollment was very low.

No better example of the anguish of the acculturation process can be offered than the effect of the public school upon the family as the sole source of authority. If nothing else, school introduced a rival to parental rule. Swiftly the teacher and the


school's codes competed with the authority of the parent and encouraged the child to reject his ethnicity while striving to achieve only middle class American values. The concept of the Melting Pot was dispensed through the classroom.

From the blond-haired, blue-eyed models of the class texts children soon came to believe that their parents were inferior to Dick and Jane's parents because they did not resemble the models put forth by the books. Much of the educational process was false, having nothing whatsoever to do with the experience of the child. To be different was to appear wrong, and a major cultural adjustment was demanded.

This cultural schizophrenia was to be the legacy of the second-generation Italian American. At home the child spoke and acted as an Italian. Outside he was to be someone else. Ultimately the world of the immigrant would be rejected almost totally by these Children of Columbus with a specific rejection of the extended family concept.

As some of the first-generation Italian children came to denounce much of what was the traditional Italian lifestyle in their quest for identity within the American culture, the ultimate barrier between the generations, that of marriage selection, was erected. A study conducted in 1935 in New York City indicated that between Italo-Americans under 35, i.e. those children of the immigrants, and those over 35, a deep rift had developed. On the question of arranged marriages 99% of those under 35 disapproved. Those under 35 also minimized the importance of large


families, the supreme role of the father and the domestic role of the mother. The second-generation Italian family in America was thus characterized by deep intergenerational conflict which would lead to the rejection of the traditional domestic structure.

The second-generation family or those groups either born in America of Italian-born parents or who had themselves been brought here at an early age, would aprticipate in a further disintegration of familiar values. From the few studies available it can be asserted that second-generation Italo-Americans could be characterized by the general weakening of their Italian ethnic ties as they attempted to accelerate the process of assimilation. This family type moves from the ethnic neighborhood into more "respectable" locations. The use of Italian in the home is rejected. Names are Americanized in some instances and Italian cuisine is retained only for holidays or special occasions. Usually this segment of the second-generation Italian have successfully adapted to American society and are basically estranged from the via vecchia.

The third-generation Italian American family has received scant attention even from official sources such as the Federal Census Bureau, which does not record third- or fourth-generation ethnic groups. Among this section, to which many Italo-Americans now belong, most of the traditional values have been lost. The third-generation male is most likely to have crossed ethnic lines in the choice of his spouse. The third-generation Italo-American female in turn is married to a man who does not see himself as


the sole authority of the family. Marital roles are occasionally interchangeable, both mother and father taking responsibility for cooking, cleaning and child rearing.

Values seem to have also changed in the third-generation Italian American family. The family is not child-centered and decidedly oriented towards education. The family will normally be small, with only a very few reminders of traditional domestic life remaining and those usually reserved for special occasions. Any reminders of ethnicity usually must be brought into the home, for they do not naturally exist in many families.

And yet a curious phenomen has been taking place among third-and fourth-generation Italian-Americans. It is in this very group, secure in their place in society as individuals who have "arrived", that a reawakening of ethnicity is becoming evident. This symbolic return to their Italian heritage is manifested in their interest in Italian foods, cuisine, travel to Italy, and similiar experiences. A few are ardent advocates of Italian organizations or the reading of Italian-American magazines such as Identity or Italian American.

Their attachment to the via vecchia may be indicated by their return to some of the external rituals associated with the extended family. A 1967 study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center revealed that of all the major ethnic groups Italians still had the highest percentage of those who were maintaining physical contact with their parents. For example: 40% of those polled live in the same neighborhood with their parents; 33% live in the


same neighborhood with their children; while 24% live in the same neighborhoods with their in-laws. Seventy-nine percent of Italians saw their parents weekly and visited their children, and 61% saw their children at least once a week. These figures would indicate that in recent years there has been a return to some of the traditional family values, at least as they pertain to physical closeness between children and parents.

A recent poll (April, 1977) conducted by Identity magazine attempted to determine the Italianita of its subscribers. It was assumed that the vast majority of these readers would be Italo-American, and the initial returns indicated that the median age was 45 years old with an average income of $24,000.

Of interest were those statistics relating to the family; 81% of those polled were married or widowed, 85% spoke Italian and "ate Italian" at home at least three and a half times per week.

The negative impact of the Americanization process has been significant when applied to the Italian-American family. The classic example of this adverse influence is the case of Roseto, Pennsylvania, a town of 1,600 people, 95% of whom are Italian-Americans. During the 1960's researchers from the University of Oklahoma arrived to determine why there were so few heart attacks among these people despite the fact that they ate a rich, spicy, high-cholesterol diet. No one under 47 years of age had had a heart attack and the average Rosetan ate more and lived 10 to 20 years longer than the average American. Was it in the water, the air, the wine, or was it psychological?


Ten years later, the miracle of Roseto was over. In 1972, the heart attack rate of the town rose to three times the national average. The reason...the rapid rate of "Americanization". And according to the head of the University of Texas medical research team who have been investigating Roseto since 1961, the cause is definite: "In Roseto family and community support is disappearing. Most of the men who have had heart attacks here were living under stress and really had nowhere to turn to relieve that pressure. These people have given up something to get something and it's killing them."

Perhaps this reawakening of Italian ethnicity is only a curiosity, especially as it involves the traditional family structure. It certainly is not in tune with today's liberating lifestyles and could be considered "square" by many standards. But when the values and traditions of kinship relating to the extended family are juxtaposed to the current state of marriage in America and the status of the American family, the ordine della familia may prove to be more enticing and rewarding than first imagined.



Within the Italian family food is much more than just the habit of filling one's stomach. It has taken on the appearance of a ritual of the highest order. In fact the sharing of a meal oftentimes has become a symbolic communion, permitting one to pass from the status of a straniero to an acquaintance by the mere taking of wine or coffee together.

Each meal has its own significance. The noon meal or collazione was usually eaten together by all family members when the group worked near the home. In America this feast came into conflict with the American school system. It was unthinkable for Giovanni or Maria to eat lunch anywhere except with the family. But the schools offered subsidized "balanced meals" in school and through this incentive exacted one more tribute to the acculturative process.

I can remember that as late as 1974 one of the major "problems" at Collinwood High School was the keeping of our students in school during lunch. In this Italian community lunch was eaten at home; this custom was interpreted by the administration and faculty as just another attempt to "escape" their authority. It created a cultural gap which to this day has not been bridged at the school.

Pranzo, or dinner, also was eaten together with the family. Occasionally godparents and honored friends were invited. Unlike their American peers, Italian children rarely ate at their friends'


homes because that would infringe upon the family unit. The traditional family meal was to play a significant part in maintaining ties with the old world. The breaking of this tradition would assist in the acculturation process and weakening of the family structure.

And what of the meals themselves? In the first place, since the majority of Italians immigrating to America were from the South of Italy, the cuisine of their regions naturally predominated at the Italo-American table. The major differences between northern and southern Italians is their staple eating habits. In the northern regions polenta or cornmeal and risotto (rice dishes) are the foundation of the meal. In the south an infinite variety of pasta are the basic foods. Indeed northern Italians are often labeled POLENTANI, "polenta eaters" by the southerners while some of the sobriquets offered by the northerners about the southern Italian are unprintable.

Pasta has become increasingly the basic dish familiar to all of Italy, from the Piedmont to Sicily, Tuscany to the Abruzzi. It is mostly a myth that Marco Polo first introduced spaghetti from the Orient in 1292. There is abundant evidence that pasta was being eaten in Italy during Etruscan times. Sicilians were devouring strands of dough at the time of the Arab invasions, about 800 A.D., while ravioli and fettuccini were known during the early middle ages.

That noted Italophile Thomas Jefferson imported the first pasta-making machine to his beloved Monticello in the 1780's. His


spaghetti was approvingly eaten by family and friends alike, although an early American recipe (1792) called for boiling the pasta in water for 3 hours then for another ten minutes in a broth, then mixing it with bread in a soup tureen!!!

Italians are emotional when it comes to their foods, especially pasta, each region, commune and city declaring its variety to be the best. The writer Giuseppe Marotta has delivered an extremely theatrical but typically Italian comment on this subject. Writing of the Neopolitans' love for pasta he remarked: "He who enters paradise through a door is not a Neopolitan. WE make our entrance into that heavenly abode by delicately parting a curtain of spaghetti."

Each of the regions of Italy has produced its own specialities. That which we normally refer to as "Italian" cooking is really only the cuisine of the southern regions for the most part. From Lombardy rice dishes such as Risotto mixed with saffron are common. Indeed rice is mixed with almost any conceivable food such as Omlette di Riso, Riso al Salto (rice fried in butter) rich with mushrooms, even pumpkin and rice.

In the Veneto maize was first introduced in the early 16th century and the first polenta was created. Polenta is eaten with a variety of meats, game and fish dishes and is common to Verona, Padua, and Venice. Along with polenta, Baccala, or sun-dried salt cod, is a favorite of the Veneto as it is among Italian-Americans.


Southern Italian cuisine has had the most impact upon the American palate. Pizza from the Naples area needs no introduction to the Americans who consume 1.75 billion pizzas annually. The kind of pasta common to Americans is "pasta al dente", "to the tooth". This variety is slightly resistant to the bite, in other words, not overcooked. Sicily offers the sweet desserts such as cannoli, those crisp shells of pastry stuffed with ricotta cheese or cream. Gelato or ice cream also originated in Sicily, the invention of Procopio Catelli who introduced this treat to Parisian society in 1630.

Italy has shared other foods with America besides pasta and pizza. Such vegetables as broccoli, fennel, zucchini, and artichokes and herbs like rosemary and oregano were introduced from the Italian tavola to the American table. Lasagna, manicotti, chicken cacciatore, antipasto and minestrone are common dishes on American tables and in American restaurants. And I haven't even mentioned the cheeses from Parmesan to Fontinella, Bel Paese and ricotta to mozzarella. And lest we forget, the hero, torpedo, submarine and grinder are only variations of the Italian-American sandwich.

Some Italian foods are not common to Americans but do have interesting names. A few of the more exotic ones are:

Saltimbocca (Leap in the mouth) delicately fried veal
Stracciatella (Little Rag Soup) dumpling soup
Ossobuco (Hollow Bones of Liguria) braised veal shin
Calzoni (The Trouser Leg) folded-over pizza
Aragosta fra diavolo (The devil's lobster) lobster
Mozzarella in carrozza (cheese in a carriage)
Cappelletti di Romagna (Little hats of cheese)
Orecchiette al Pomidoro (Little ears of cheese)


Nick Gravino, baker's assistant at Presti's Bakery in Murray Hill, offers a few selections from the variety of baked goods available at the bakery.

Corbo's Dolceria on the corner of Mayfield and Murray Hill Roads.


Like most ethnic groups Italians have special foods for the various religious holidays during the year. Christmas is traditionally the holiday of a variety of sweets such as the Panettone or Christmas cake sold at most import stores in the Cleveland area. It is made of flour, raisins, rum and a variety of other ingredients. It is said to have been originated in Milano by a baker named Toni, hence the name Toni's bread, "Pane Toni".

Easter (La Pasqua) is a day of centuries-old tradition and culinary ecstasy. Perhaps the most common foods associated with La Pasqua are Abbacchio or spring lamb, and porchetto, or roast pig. A typical Easter meal would consist of an antipasto, abbacchio, ravioli and for dessert a torte or the traditional Pastiera di Grano, or Easter Wheat pie. In some parts of Italy blessed palms are inserted into the filling of cheese, candied cherries, eggs and grain before it is baked.

In the same breath with foods we must also mention wines for both are synonymous with life. "Un giorno senzo vino e come un giorno senza sole.." ("a day without wine is like a day without the sun") is an authentic Italian expression which has been modified by American advertising to refer to orange juice. But the thrust of the expression remains the same. Wine is a necessity at the tavola of the Italian family, a natural food rather than a primary source of inebriation.

There was no age restriction placed upon drinking wine, much to the chagrin of the American teachers, social workers, and those


other "officials" who visited the immigrants and witnessed the regular drinking of small amounts of wine by children. Usually the wine had been diluted with water for the young; but they were nonetheless becoming acquainted with the taste of the drink.

It is with this experience with wine that Italo-Americans have traditionally been raised, in an environment which considers wine as a natural food to be enjoyed, not to be feared or locked in a liquor chest. I have never personally known an Italian who was an alcoholic, although I assume there probably are some. I would be surprised if there would be many. For Italians, the mystique surrounding alcohol has been removed through the natural teachings and habits of the family.

Added to this was the continued association of food along with wine and soon a good habit had been formed. Today Italian-Americans raised in the traditional family naturally connect eating and drinking. While Americans usually drink martinis without food for the primary inebriating effect, Italians drink chianti as a tangy potion pleasing to the palate and stimulating to the gastric juices.

Some of the world's finest wines are produced in California by Italian-American families rivaling the chateau vintages of Bordeaux and Burguandy. An estimated 43% of America's wines are produced by about 60 Italo-American families, with Ernest and Julio Gallo accounting for 34% of the nation's wine sales. The Sabastiani winery sold over 1,250,000 cases of wine in 1976 through 250 distributors across the country. Along with the Italian Swiss


Colony, the other major Italian producers in California are the Martinis, the Foppianos, and the Pedroncellis from Tuscany, Genoa and Lombardy respectively.

Italian wines are as diversified as the regions of Italy. Some of the more popular Italian wines gracing the world's tables are Lambrusco, the red wine originating in the Romagna. Chianti, another red wine, comes from Tuscany and is the universally accepted drink with pasta. The wines of Verona, Valpolicella and Bardolino are among the most popular and most expensive of the imported Italian wines. Asti Spumante, the sparkling wine of Piedmont, has been widely known as "Italian Champagne" in this country although it costs about half the price of French champagne.

Amaretto and Galliano have gained a wide acceptance by Americans as versatile after-dinner liquors. Amaretto dates from the early 16th century. It was concocted by a love-struck widow for a painter, Bernadino Liuni, out of apricot pits, alcohol and almonds. Galliano, the golden sweet liqueur of the south, is a popular after-dinner drink in American homes and supper clubs.

Family, foods and wines come naturally together with a great deal of gusto during feasts. Processions, festivals, children dressed in white, bands, and endless tables of food mark these special days dedicated to the various regional saints of Italy. In New York City the tenement-lined streets of little Italy along Mulberry Street erupt into a 10-day, 9-night fair honoring San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. Beginning on September 19, this feast attracts thousands of tourists from all over New York to


Mrs. Sara Morello selling nuts for the feast days in Murray Hill, August, 1930.


partake of the carnival atmosphere.

In Cleveland, August 15 marks the Feast of the Assumption and the Murray Hill Community announces the beginning of a weekend festival. After High Mass at Holy Rosary Church, a procession of the Virgin is begun with Her statue carried through the streets while money is pinned onto the statue by thousands of persons in the crowds. The procession is climaxed by a blast of fireworks, after which the marchers eat a traditional meal of cavatelli with sauce prepared by the parish women.

The Feast usually begins on August 12 and concludes on the 15th, although some changes have been made in recent years to have the festivities fall on a weekend. The entire operation takes the efforts of about 300 persons who run the amusement rides and games of skill and cook the pizza and cavatelli. John Peca, who operates a sign shop at Mayfield and Murray Hill Roads, has been the program chairman for the last twenty years. Although other festivals are held in other Italian communities across the country, Mr. Peca explained that the Feast of the Assumption is unique to Cleveland's Little Italy because it was special to the people from Campobasso province, the region from which many of the early immigrants to Murray Hill came.

Of what significance is the Feast to the Italian-American community of Cleveland's Little Italy? Financially, it has made important contributions to the operation of the church and school. According to Fr. Valentini, Pastor of Holy Rosary, it may someday


Beginning of the Procession for the Feast of the Assumption at Holy Rosary Church, August, 1941.

Offerings to the Virgin Mary, Feast of the Assumption, August, 1935, Holy Rosary Church.


help finance a senior citizens home in the neighborhood and hopefully draw back many of the younger families into the neighborhood.

But the other important aspect of the Feast is its ability to elicit an ethnic response from the Cleveland community. As John Peca observes, "Each year the festival becomes bigger and better. But most important it gives us all a sense of pride and accomplishment." It is on this feeling of togetherness that the real traditions of Italian ethnicity is based.


Alack the heavy day,
That I have worn so many winters out
And know not now what name to call myself!
                                         Shakespeare, Richard II


Chapter 10


From Traditional Neighborhoods to the Suburbs

In recent years there have been written several accounts relating to the decline of ethnicity in Cleveland. We have been reminded of the deterioration of the traditional nationality neighborhoods, of the rapidly decreasing population of these areas, and the general lack of interest in their rejuvenation.1 It has become axiomatic that the reduction of a particular nationality population within the city is to be equated with the general demise of ethnicity. By using this criterion we should assume that ethnicity is a dying phenomenon, retreating before the forces of assimilation, depopulation and apathy.

And, in fact Cleveland's ethnic communities are slowly losing their population. In particular the Italian element in the city has undergone a reduction in the decade since the 1960 census. In that year there were nearly 20,000 first- and second-generation Italians living in the city. This figure was reduced to 17,693 in the 1970 census. A conservative projection would be that by the 1980 census less than 14,000 Italian-born Clevelanders will remain within the city's boundaries.


What is more noticeable is the shift in the Italian population away from the traditional neighborhoods and into the suburban communities. Indeed, each of the five major Italian settlements in Cleveland proper has suffered significant losses in population in the last two census reports. Table G in the Appendix indicates this comparative loss which may be summarized here:

Little Italy Collinwood Mt. Carmel (East) St. Rocco's
1960 1965 2371 2164 804
1970   975 1271   247 597

Although these figures indicate a substantial population reduction in the Italian-born population they do not totally reveal the situation. A more recent indicator of population, the 1976 election returns by ward, illustrate even further reductions in Italian population within the city. For example, Ward 19, Little Italy, had less than 500 Italian-surnamed individuals registered to vote.2 In the Collinwood area less than 1200 were listed while in St. Rocco's area some 450 Italian-surnamed voters were registered. Since the voting age has been reduced to 18 it would be expected that a much larger figure would be found. But that was not the case. Another indicator of the decreasing population among the young in Murray Hill was that one of the proposals of the Cleveland Public Schools Desegregation Plan was to close Murray Hill School because of the decline of enrollment in that traditionally Italian school.

Italians are no longer immigrating to Cleveland to the same extent which they have done in the past. Although the number of


Italian immigrants to the United States has averaged about 20,000 per year since 1970, they have not migrated to Cleveland in proportion to their immigration. One statistic which illustrates this point is the numbers of Italians naturalized in Cleveland since 1970. These figures are presented below:3

1970:      49 1973:      152
1971:      59 1974:      129
1972:    176 1975:        70

The declining trend will continue not necessarily because of apathy but because fewer Italians are entering the city. The once strongly attracting effect of a growing Italian-American community in Cleveland is no longer present. Recent Italian immigrants are remaining along the northeastern coastal cities while east Europeans, especially Yugoslavians, have increasingly found Cleveland a hospitable community and thus have increased their migration to the city.

The Italian population of the city is undisputably declining but this does not necessarily indicate a weakening of Italian ethnicity. Using the concept of "ethnic corridors" we can explain that the Italian population of Cleveland is being dispersed into the suburban areas even to the extent of once again creating Italian spheres of influence. According to the 1972 Levy Report, Italians in the community of Seven Hills represented one of the three major ethnic groups in that city.4 In Lyndhurst 27% of the foreign-born population are of Italian extraction, while Italians make up over 10% of the foreign born in the city of Euclid.

These ethnic corridors for the Italian community may be said to include various avenues of inter-city migration. In the eastern


Gust Gallucci Co., Food Importers, One of the earliest grocery stores in Cleveland, located at 505 Woodland Avenue.

Catalano's Stop-N-Shop at 5880 Mayfield Road in Cleveland


Alesci's Imported Foods at 4333 Mayfield Road.

Mayfield Importing Company in Cleveland's Little Italy.


suburbs they would include Euclid, Lyndhurst, South Euclid, Cleveland Heights, Garfield Heights and Mayfield Heights. On the west side Parma has perhaps the largest Italian concentration with over 2200 Italians. Seven Hills also includes nearly one thousand Italians within its boundaries. According to the 1970 census these growing Cleveland suburbs had the following Italian population:5
    Euclid   71,552 2503
    Parma 100,211 2380
    Cleveland Heights   60,756 1757
    Garfield Heights   43,800 2060
    South Euclid   29,611 2871
    Lyndhurst   19,749 1856

Within the city of Cleveland those Italians who have remained have reformed some communities but without the full complement of ethnic flavor normally associated with such a neighborhood. This regrouping has been primarily occurring on the south and west sides where the population has increased. For example, along Puritas and Bellaire Avenues contained in Census Tracts 1242, 1245 and 1246, nearly 800 Italians were listed during the last census. They live in an area which also includes Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians and Germans. On the near west side along Detroit Avenue from West 45th to West Boulevard about 700 Italians have formed a colony. Yet these are only pockets of Italian-American settlers and do not necessarily reveal an ethnic community. In the last analysis then,


ethnicity does not mean merely population but also must include a sense of association, a feeling of Italianità.

The question which legitimately can be raised is, has the declining ethnic population in the traditionally Italian neighborhoods minimized the influence or involvement of Italian-Americans in those neighborhoods? Also, does this decline in numbers also diminish the impact of the Italians upon the city itself? To a degree there must be some correlation between influence, involvement, and population, but not necessarily to the extent one would expect.

With regard to the old neighborhoods they still act as a magnet to draw their suburban children back to their streets and shops every weekend. As one former resident put it, "People who live on the 'Hill' love it, but you don't have to live here to know that feeling." It seems that actual habitation in an area is not necessary to experience a sense of cultural identity.

The attractions of Italianità are as varied as the individual Italo-Americans who return to the neighborhoods, each seeking his or her own level of identification and participation. In Murray Hill the Mayfield Importing Company is as crowded as any specialty shop on any given Saturday. For those who can more easily identify their "Italianness" with food their search ends among the savory prosciutto and mortadellas of Mayfield Importing and with the crusty breads of Presti's or Corbo's bakeries. In the evening the major Italian restaurants on the Hill, such as the Roman Gardens,


Zannoni's Import Store located at 3502 Clark Avenue in the St. Rocco neighborhood.

The Roman Gardens, one of Cleveland's finest Italian restaurants.


Mamma Santa's, the Golden Bowl, Guairino's and Theresa's, cater to Italian and non-Italian diners.

In downtown Cleveland Gallucci's and Bonafini Imports still attract hundreds of shoppers daily while Zannoni's on West 35th and Clark Avenue fulfill the needs of the west-side Italians. Orlando Baking Company supplies hundreds of Cleveland businesses daily with its many varieties of baked goods. Still located along Woodland Avenue near East Boulevard, it has been a Cleveland enterprise since the turn of the century.

But ethnicity isn't only based on food or on mere numbers of people. It is a commitment coupled with an intangible feeling of identity. It is the extended sense of attachment to a special group with whom you can identify and are accepted. It is, in essence, an extension of one's being beyond being an American to another dimension of existence.

This "extension of the self" can be seen in the numerous ethnic societies within the Italian community. Italians have always evidenced a decentralized organizational format, and for this reason appear to be fragmented and disunified. There are only a few national Italian organizations in the city, specifically the Sons of Italy and the Italian Sons and Daughters of America. Instead one can still find an assortment of local hometown societies, ward clubs and cultural organizations within the city. A sample listing of those presently in existence illustrates their regional diversity:

Noicattarese Club
Italian Cultural Gardens Association


Columbus Day, October, 1955 in Downtown Cleveland.


North Italian Club
Baranello Woman's Auxiliary
Calabrese Club
Imerese Lodge
Ripalimosani Men's Union
Italian Workers Society
The Trentina Club
St. Anthony's Club

A complete listing can be found in the 1974 Nationalities Directory. Like the family these organizations were founded and continue to function for the benefit of their local membership. Decentralization has proven to be a strength for these organizations rather than a weakness, for they have brought together people from the same region and town, people who have many common experiences to share.

An estimate of the functioning Italian clubs and lodges in the city is about 50.6 They include cultural, professional, service, social and fraternal groups. With the Slovaks, Poles, Slovenians and Czechs, the Italians have the largest number of organizations within the city of Cleveland. This kind of activity illustrates a more positive aspect of ethnic awareness, beyond mere association to active participation.

Italians in Cleveland Politics

Besides Italian-oriented societies and activities, in what other areas is there evidence that Italians are an influential group in the city? Politics have usually been the stepping stone for ethnic groups to move up the social and economic ladder, and Italo-Americans are no exception. In Cleveland only a handful of


Anthony J. Celebrezze


Italians, however, have ever been elected to an office, while many have received appointed positions. Beginning with the election of Alexander De Maioribus to City Council in 1928 from the predominantly Italian 19th Ward, Murray Hill has always returned an Italian councilman. In 1947 George Costello took over the seat held by De Maioribus and was followed by Paul J. De Grandis, Jr. in 1957. Michael Fatica succeeded De Grandis in 1961 and was later replaced by Anthony Garofoli. Currently Basil Russo represents the voters of the 19th Ward.7

Other Italian councilmen elected in Cleveland over the years include Alfred Grisanti from Ward 31 in 1943 and Ernest C.T. Santora from Ward 21 in 1957. In 1972 with the election of Mayor Perk, four Italian Americans were listed in the City Council: Joseph A. Lombardo from Ward 2, Michael Climaco from Ward 5, Basil Russo, Ward 19 and Ben Zaccaro, Ward 26. Currently three Italian Americans serve on the council.

The most successful Italian-American politician in Cleveland was Anthony J. Celebrezze. Born in Anzi, Italy, on September 4, 1910, he was brought to this country at the age of two. Educated in the Cleveland Public Schools and at John Carroll University, he received his law degree in 1936. His political career began in 1950 when he won election to the Ohio Senate. As a member of several important committees he was twice voted as one of the state's top senators.


His work in the Senate attracted the attention of Cleveland's voters. In 1953 Celebrezze ran for mayor of the City of Cleveland and was elected. He brought into his administration eleven Italian-Americans to serve in various administrative capacities. Joseph Ventura was appointed as secretary to the Mayor. Louis Corsi and Salvatore A. Precario were appointed as assistant directors in the Civil Branch, while Charles W. Lazzaro headed the Criminal Branch. The Director of Public Properties was John J. Lucuocco.

Mayor Celebrezze served four terms as mayor and during the fifth elected term was appointed by President Kennedy to be Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in July of 1962. He served in that capacity until 1965 when he was appointed Judge of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals. On July 20, 1973, by an act of the United States Congress, the new federal building in Cleveland was named the Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building in honor of the former mayor of Cleveland and prominent Italian-American.

The name Celebrezze was not new to Cleveland politics. In 1937 Governor Martin L. Davey appointed Frank D. Celebrezze, brother of Anthony Celebrezze, to the municipal bench in Cleveland. He was the first Italian-American judge so appointed and, as it turns out, not without the assistance of Alexander de Maioribus. According to one source de Maioribus, a Republican, spoke with the Governor on Celebrezze's behalf, showing the need for an


Italian judge in Cleveland. The influence was there and the Republican councilman succeeded in getting a Democrat appointed.

Other Italians have been appointed to administrative positions by various mayors. During the terms of Mayor Locher (1962-1968) one Italian-American, Vincent De Melto, was appointed Director of Public Utilities. Under Mayor Stokes, S.R. Calandra and J.P. Mancino were assistant directors of the Civil Branch of the city, while B.J. Zaccaro and T.J. Italiano were directors in the Criminal Branch.

It is interesting to note that during the first year in office Mayor Stokes had drawn up a xerox listing of appointees entitled Personnel of Ethnic Backgrounds in Responsible Positions in the Administration of Mayor CARL B. STOKES. Eighteen ethnic groups were listed as having members in the Stokes' administration. Twelve Italian-Americans were listed as being top administrators. In fairness it should be stated that most of these men were under civil service appointment and held their positions by the grace of law rather than by political patronage.

Two notable Italian-Americans in the administration of Mayor Perk are Law Director Vincent Campanella and J.A. Zingale as Acting Director of the Department of Public Properties. Several commissioners include S.T. Sturniolo in Architecture, Acting Commissioner of Streets J. La Riccia, and L. Civittolo in the Department of Finance. Additional Italians are included on the Community Relations Board, the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Board of Building Standards.


Italianità in Cleveland's Colleges, Universities and Schools

In the field of education Italian-Americans are found on the faculties of every local public and private university and college as well as in the public school system. Traditionally Italians did not place a great deal of emphasis on formal education. To earn a living as soon as possible was the major concern of most Italian-American families and educational priorities were placed accordingly. Even as late as the 1970 census only 7% of Italian-Americans over 25 years of age were college graduates, a figure well below other ethnic groups. But since the post-war period some inroads have been made in the emphasis placed upon formal education and this is reflected by the numbers of Italo-Americans currently holding faculty status in the various educational sectors.

At Cleveland State University about 15 faculty members are of Italian descent dispersed throughout the sciences and humanities. Case Western Reserve University, with a much larger faculty, has less than 20 Italians, while John Carroll University lists about 13 as being full-time members of the teaching staff.

The Cleveland Public Schools have some Italian-Americans who serve as supervisors in the various disciplines. In 1976 eight individuals were listed as holding either supervisory or assistant supervisory positions.9 Within the schools themselves about 15 individuals of Italian descent are principals or assistant principals in the system of some 180 schools. Italian-American teachers are to be found in the schools, some of whom head large


departments. The names Iammarino, Caliguire, Mileti, Conti, DiScipio, Contini, Russo, Rosi and DeMarco identify just a few of the many educators within the public schools who have provided Cleveland students with models of achievement.

What is currently offered in the way of Italian-oriented curriculum in Cleveland's institutions of higher education? At most colleges introductory and intermediate Italian language classes are presently offered. Italian literature is not offered at any institution in Cleveland although theoretically Italian writers are included in survey courses in Comparative Literature. Interestingly enough, Kent State University lists 14 courses in Latin Literature, three in related Greek courses and nothing in Italian literature. John Carroll offers almost 25 courses in the Classics but only four courses in modern Italian. It should be mentioned that one of the proposals made by the Cleveland Public Schools desegregation plan was to fund a Foreign Language and Cultural Center at Cleveland State University. Russian, Chinese, Czech, Hebrew, Latin and Italian were among those tentative courses which would be available but only the Russian and Chinese programs were given first priority.

At the college level there are several institutions which have offered general courses in ethnic studies. At least one university, John Carroll, presented a course specifically in Italian-American history. At the high school level, especially in the parochial schools, separate courses in ethnicity have been developed and are presently being taught. In the public schools


at least two schools offer ethnic studies, while units on immigration and general ethnicity have been incorporated into the traditional American Studies curriculum.

During the 1974-75 school year the Cleveland Public Schools, in cooperation with Cleveland State University, did sponsor the Ethnic Heritage Studies Program which developed and implemented multi-ethnic curriculum materials. Although not designed to concentrate on any single group but rather to incorporate many of the sixty ethnic peoples within its curriculum, some materials specifically focused on the Italian American experience in Cleveland. One filmstrip, "Ethnic Neighborhoods in Transition," traces the origins, growth and development of the Italian, Jewish, Black, Ukrainian and Hungarian communities in the city. Another media presentation, "What is an Ethnic Group?" uses several Italian area landmarks in the city to describe the meaning of ethnicity.

The Italian-American Media in Cleveland

Unlike several other major groups in Cleveland such as the Polish, Hungarian, Slovenian, Czech, German and Romanian, the Italian community does not have a locally published newspaper. At one time Cleveland had two papers for the Italian communities, La Voce and L'Araldo, and the Italian Pictoral News and The Latin World. La Voce, founded in 1904 by Olindo and Fernando Melaragno, ceased publication in 1944. L'Araldo came into existence in 1938 and, under the leadership of Louis De Paolo, continued until 1959.


By the courtesy of Alphonso D'Emilia, former editor of L'ARALDO.


The most enduring Italian-American publication in America, Il Progresso Italio-Americano, is published in New York City and is sent to Cleveland daily. Il Progresso along with imported Italian language magazines and newspapers such as Oggi and Milan's Corriere della Sèra can be purchased at Schroder's Book Store on Public Square. Two new magazines, The Italian American and Identity, are also sold in local newsstands and bookstores.

At the beginning of 1977 Cleveland had approximately 12 hours of Italian language broadcasting on five different radio stations. The sudden announcement in February of 1977 that station WXEN, the all-nationalities station, was changing its entire format, reduced all ethnic broadcasting substantially and the Italian air time dramatically. For the Italian-American community programming was reduced to only six hours weekly and then usually on "non prime time" during the weekends. Familiar commentators and broadcasters such as Louis De Paolo, Joe Giuliano, Carl Finocchi, Vincent Cardarelli and Emanuel Diligente had brought local and international news in Italian to thousands of avid listeners. Usually recruiting their own advertisers and working on marginal salaries, they provided a sorely needed service to the Cleveland community. Sadly, it seems that these efforts and community-oriented broadcasting are gradually coming to an end.

The person seriously interested in individual study of Italian language and culture will find that Cleveland area libraries offer some outstanding collections of Italica. The Cleveland Public Library has over 9500 volumes in Italian, ranging from the classics


to serious historical works and specialized biographical studies. Also of interest are some collections of Italian genealogical materials which could be valuable in the tracing of one's Italian ancestry. Frieberger Library of Case Western Reserve University also has a number of works in Italian and English on the culture of Italy. Of particular value is the periodical section, which has nearly every major scholarly Italian journal currently available.

John Carroll University has a unique collection of some 2000 literary works in Italian, concentrated primarily on the literature of the country. They are part of the bequest of Il Cenacolo Italiano, the Italian cultural society in Cleveland. Each year monies are made available by the Society to the Grasselli Library at John Carroll to purchase additional works. It is a praiseworthy effort which has significantly contributed to the promotion of Italian culture in Cleveland.

Il Cenacolo

Il Cenacolo dates to the late 1920's when the idea of an Italian Cultural Club in Cleveland was conceived. Originally known as "Il Circolo" (The Circle) it was founded in 1928 by the Italian Consul Antonio Logolusi, Professor Joseph L. Bogerhoff, Dr. Nicola Cerri, Judge B.D. Nicola and others of Italian and non-Italian extraction. Inspired by and patterned after La Maison Francaise, the organization aimed at keeping alive the Italian language and culture in this city. Its first president and perhaps most influential single force was Professor Borgerhoff.


In 1932, at the suggestion of Count Buzzi Gradenigo, "Il Circolo" was rebaptized with the present name of Il Cenacolo Italiano and began to attract new members such as Dr. William M. Milliken, former president of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Dr. Orfea Barricelli of Western Reserve University. Il Cenacolo is another name for Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, but in this case simply means an intimate group of friends who are interested in the arts in general and in Italian culture in particular. It is a spiritual link between Italy and the United States.

In addition to the collection of books at the Grasselli Library and an annual scholarship for the study of Italian, Il Cenacolo offers a number of lectures during the academic year. Usually meetings are held in members' homes and, except in rare instances, all proceedings and lectures are given in Italian. During the program year of 1976-77, Il Cenacolo numbered about 50 members with honorary memberships received by Mario Anziano, Italian Consul to Cleveland, and Maestro Lorin Maazel, conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra.

The Future of Italian Ethnicity in Cleveland

What is the future of the Italian-American community in Cleveland? Will the traditional neighborhoods remain until the next century or will they succumb to the fate of many of urban America's communities? Will the various fraternal, social and cultural organizations continue to flourish or will they dwindle in size and disappear? Indeed, will we be able to intelligently


Father Ferdinand Tamburri, pastor of Holy Rosary Church and George Johnson, a mail carrier for six years in Cleveland's Murray Hill neighborhood, 1961.


speak of an "Italian-American Identity" in the twenty-first century, or any other form of ethnicity for that matter?

An interesting answer to this question was supplied by Glazer and Moynihan in their book Beyond the Melting Pot. Although written in 1963, their analysis of today's trends in ethnicity may have some bearing on tomorrow's realities:11

Religion and race seem to define the major groups into which American society is evolving . . . as the specifically national aspects of ethnicity decline . . . the next stage of the evolution of the immigrant groups will involve a Catholic group in which the distinctions between Irish, Italian, Polish and German Catholics are steadily reduced by intermarriage . . . (Thus) religion and race define the next stage in the evolution of the American peoples.

Will we in Cleveland in fact merge into a consciousness dictated solely by race and religion rather than by national identities?

As long as the search for individual awareness continues, and until we have become so transparent culturally as to accept a composite definition of ourselves, we will have little to fear. However, unless perpetuation of ethnic awareness is sanctioned and legitimized by more than token acknowledgements from local, state and most especially federal agencies, the diversity of our peoples will indeed merge "beyond the melting pot" into an amorphous entity devoid of cultural vitality. Ethnicity will then become only a pursuit for antiquarians and have no adaptibility beyond the confines of the library and the university.

But this does not seem to be the case in Cleveland. We can still enjoy fine Italian cuisine in Murray Hill, attend an all-Italian


Bonaffini's Importing located in the original Italian business district in downtown Cleveland.

Miceli's Dairy and Cheese Company, 2721 East 90th Street.

The Orlando Baking Company at 11129 Woodland Avenue in the Mt. Carmel East neighborhood.


concert at the Art Museum, listen to an Italian radio program, borrow a book in Italian while still living in Euclid, Parma or Cleveland Heights. The opportunities for those who seek their cultural roots are there if the time is taken to look.

For the Italian-American, with such a rich heritage in this country and in this city, the necessity for re-evaluation of his or her past becomes more than a request. There is the compelling urge for each to contribute his or her individual texture to the pattern of a unique cultural experience to that still unfinished mosaic which is American society. As long as the Italians of Cleveland continue to ask questions and seek answers about their past as well as the promises of the future, both as individuals and as a group, ethnicity will remain a viable force within this community.

Perhaps the Italians in Cleveland are no longer centrally located and perhaps the old neighborhoods are in decline. But the concept of Italianità still exists and will continue to nourish those who but take the time to partake of the bountiful cultural heritage which it offers. Ethnicity has indeed become and will remain a movable feast within the Italian-American communities of greater Cleveland.



1See the Plain Dealer Magazine account for August 1, 1976 on Murray Hill by Joe Crea. A more positive assessment of "the Hill" is offered by Kenneth F. Seminator's "Memoirs of Murray Hill" in the Cleveland Magazine, August, 1976, pp. 48-54.

2Register of Electors, 1976, Cleveland, Ohio. I would like to express my appreciation to Mr. William Kubes, Deputy Director of the Board of Elections, for his assistance in this aspect of my research.

3Annual Report of the Immigration and Naturalization Services, 1970-1975.

4Donald Levy, A Report on the Location of Ethnic Groups in Greater Cleveland (Cleveland: Cleveland State University, Institute of Urban Studies, 1972) p. 23. The 1970 Census reported 964 Italians living in Seven Hills.

5Population According to Census Tracts, Cleveland, 1970.

6Data taken from the Greater Cleveland Nationalities Directory, 1974, pp. 87-92.

7The City Record of the City of Cleveland, 1928-1977.

8Ibid., Wednesday, February 2, 1977.

9Directory, Cleveland City School District, 1975-76.

10The Cleveland Ethnic Heritage Program. Filmstrips and bound materials are available through the Department of Social Studies, Cleveland Public Schools, Room 400, 1380 East Sixth Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44114.

11Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot (Cambridge: M.T.T. Press, 1963) pp. 313-314.