On a warm summer day, well over 30 years ago, I was out boating with my cousin, Guy. As we were passing East Harlem, heading North up the East River, I saw the vacant Washburn Wire Factory. It was located between East 117th and 118th Street, at the end of the 500 block, off Pleasant Avenue, by the East River Drive.
My family lived right up the block from that once active factory- back in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. At the time of this actual photo, I had a feeling that Washburn had outlived its welcome, and that it would be just a “matter of time” before it would be (ultimately) demolished & replaced. So…with that thought in mind, as we were drawing closer to the vacant factory, I quickly reached for my film camera and took this photo!
Behold a moment in time- captured on a hazy & humid summer day- on the often tumultuous East River! Thankfully, the river was very calm when this photo was taken!
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is holding a collection of photos, files, and ephemera that belonged to Leonard Covello, the former principal of Benjamin Franklin High School. As kismet would have it, I stumbled upon an extremely rare, short film, filmed by Alexander Hammid, a Czech film director, and cinematographer. Technically, for all intents and purposes, this was a US government propaganda film. I’m not a fan of some of the statements that were made in this film, but it’s a fabulous “portal to the past”, and that’s good enough for me! This is a short film on American public education, intended for public use. It was filmed in 1945, in several New York City locations, with a special focus on Benjamin Franklin High School, located on Pleasant Avenue in East Harlem. I cropped the film to reflect what I would prefer to emphasize-which is daily community life in East Harlem. Oh, and you’re welcome! (wink) 🙂 If you wish to view this film in its entirety, here’s the direct link: https://digitallibrary.hsp.org/index.php/Detail/objects/13235
I must tell you that I have a personal collection of rare papers, photos, letters, and maps-some of which are shown in this film. Long story, but I’ll tell you a bit about how I acquired them. About 5 years ago, I received a phone call from the wife of a bookseller that I frequently bought from. I was asked if I would like to have the remainder of files from the archives of Leonard Covello. I was stunned! I had been searching for years, scouring the planet for anything remotely related to the East Harlem community, and in one phone call, I was given a fabulous gift! The book seller’s name is Michael Cordasco. Michael’s father, Francesco Cordasco, was a well known sociologist, Columbia graduate, and a close friend and colleague of Leonard Covello. When Leonard Covello died, Francesco was given Covello’s files, books, photos, etc. Most of the Covello collection went to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and, with sheer luck and serendipity, the rest went to yours truly! I will never forget that afternoon, when I received that phone call! I’ll post a video soon, talking more about how I acquired the collection. 🙂
I have been meaning to digitize my collection, for years now, but found it difficult to set aside the time to do so. Also, I’m a terrible procrastinator! Ha ha, there, I said it! 🙂 Now, due to the Covid-19 situation, I am not working outside my home, so I have the time to move forward with my digitization and preservation project. Aside from the Covello collection, I have a huge archive of “all things East Harlem” that I have been collecting since 2004. I also have a large photo library of vintage photos that were given to me by family and friends, and I have ephemera which relates to East Harlem as well. Oh, I haven’t mentioned the books, which I have been scouring the internet to find, for almost 15 years!
There’s so much for me to do. When I think about it, I get overwhelmed! Lol However, the clock is ticking, and I owe it to my readership, and to my East Harlem ancestry, to get the ball rolling! 🙂
So, watch this movie, and if you click through to my YouTube page, don’t forget to follow me! Oh, and if you are so inclined, watch my metaphysical videos on crystals, astrology, numerology, tarot, and all that fun stuff! Yes, I wear many hats! Lol 🙂
My paternal grandfather, Antimo, aka Tony Puca, is seen on the right, wearing the dark pants and shirt, with suspenders. He lived with his wife and 7 children, in his mother’s building, at 346 E. 110th Street. His son, my uncle Philly, is seen in the foreground. Philly was born in 1926, so I estimated that this photo was taken around 1936-38. My grandfather was a produce vendor. He sold fruits and vegetables on that spot, on the north side of E. 110th, and on 1st Avenue, between E. 110th and E. 111th. My dad told me that sometimes, they had the pushcart on the opposite corner, between E. 110th & E. 109th-on 1st Avenue. Notice the tomato plants in the foreground, on the right. Also, seen holding on to the iron fence of the Metropolitan Gas Company, later known as Consolidated Edison, is my grandfather’s friend, Vincenzo, who was also my uncle Philly’s godfather. The man in the middle is unknown to me, although it looks like he is wearing an apron, so maybe he was a food vendor, selling hot foods on a pushcart. Also, notice the man in the background, wearing a suit and hat. It looks like he was interested in buying the tomato plants. Well, I hope my grandfather had a fruitful day on that memorable day in Italian Harlem! 🙂
Note: If anyone recognizes the man wearing the light colored hat, and apron, standing in the middle of this photo, let me know!
The modern day photo is from 2016. I took my aunt Tessie to visit the old neighborhood. She hadn’t been back in over 50 years, so, believe me, that indeed was a memorable day! Today, as you can see from the modern photo, there is a brick wall placed further out where the iron fence once stood. There are no vendors to be seen. No vestiges of ancestral bygone days. No tomato plants. No old friends. Sadly, just an empty sidewalk. I’m sure that there are days when there is more foot traffic, but on that weekend spring day, in April of 2016, it was quiet.
P.S. Isn’t it cool that the large building in the background is still there? They have renovated it, but, as you can see, it is basically the same. Also, one more point…the street light from 1936 was a bit shorter in height than the one that is there now. I noticed that, as in the old photo, the top of the street light aligned with the 4th story of the large building in the background. Today, the street light that exists, lines up with the edge of the 6th story of that same building. Also, back in the day, that building was owned by the gas company. Today, it is a storage facility. Just a bit of trivia for you all! 🙂
Somewhere around the year 2008, after I set up this website, I found Charlie DeMonte’s and Charlie Strippone’s website, called “The Old Neighborhood Online.” I was so happy to know that there were other like-minded people, as myself, who were interested in preserving the memory of a once booming Italian community, simply called Harlem, or “the neighborhood.” I call it Italian Harlem, as that is the memory that I wish to preserve. My Italian great-grandparents came to this neighborhood, to forge a new life in a new world. The United States of America was a country that was fairly young in its own right. The year was 1901, and America was a 125 years into being established as a nation. Tens of thousands of Italian immigrants gravitated to this particular area of Manhattan, in an attempt to reap the benefits of the American way of life.
Fast forward to 2008, here I was in my 5th year of historical research of the old neighborhood, when I stumbled upon Charlie’s website. I joined the site, set up an account, and started to chat with other members, sharing stories of their lives in the old neighborhood. At some point in time, and here is the “kicker” of this article- I came across a 4 letter acronym, with the letters AIEH (all in caps) typed in at the end of a comment. I couldn’t recall who the person was that used the acronym, but it quickly spread to most users on that website, including me! When I asked what it stood for, I was captivated, and continue to use it, to this day.
AIEH means “Always in East Harlem.” That’s the long and the short of it. It holds within its 4 letters, the true Spirit of a bygone era, that so many of us are fighting to preserve. As I was pondering on writing an article about the true meaning behind this endearing, heartfelt term, I reached out to my friend JoAnne Claretti Mallano, to ask her if she knew who “coined” it. JoAnne quickly responded that the person’s name was Rosemary Alvino Milazzo, and that sadly, Rosemary had passed away over 8 years ago. So now, this article is not just about a term that embodies the Spirit of a once vibrant community, it is also about a special lady that enhanced a “thought pattern” based upon 4 letters of our alphabet. Got the message yet? Smile… AIEH
Rosemary Alvino Milazzo was born in East Harlem on November 5th 1959. She passed away on October 29th, 2009. She was a resident of Long Beach, N.Y. Her friends called her “Roe.” She leaves with us, a heartfelt legacy of AIEH. Always in East Harlem, in our hearts, our minds, and the pathway to our ancestry. Grazie Mille, Roe!
Rosemary Alvino Milazzo. Photo courtesy of Janet Sinicola.
Janet Sinicola(left) Rosemary Alvino Milazzo(right.) Courtesy of Janet Sinicola.
Last week, I received a comment on this site, from a reader named Rich, who mentioned that he had a photo that I might like to add to this site. I sent him an email, saying that I would be more than happy to post an East Harlem photo. All the while, I assumed that it was a “vintage” photo. Not so! The next day, Rich sent me this photo, to my utter astonishment, and amazement! But wait! I am putting the cart before the horse. (smile) Here’s the email message that Rich sent me:
This photo of Aunt Columbia and me, was taken in July of 2008, inside Patsy’s Pizzeria on First Avenue, in East Harlem. 🙂
Over 4 years have passed since you left this earthly plane of existence. Gone, but never forgotten. Your presence is very much missed, Daddy.
Riposa in Pace.
In December of 2007, I was 3 years into my “whirling dervish” obsession of gaining every drop of family history knowledge that I could garner. It became self-evident that my ancestral journey had begun, and so I conceived the idea of creating a website to memorialize, and forever “etch” into existence, the information that I would render from this extensive research. I named my website “Pathway to My Ancestry,” and so began the painstaking steps to build the site on the then existing “Live Spaces” platform. A few years into building the site, live spaces was drawing to closure, thereby necessitating me to find another platform to maintain my website. Hence, I found WordPress, and so here I am, and hopefully, will continue to be! In the interim, I had to transfer whatever was transferable to the new website, and decided to change the title of my blog to
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UPDATE on ITALIAN MASTER CARVER, LUIGI DEL BIANCO: MOUNT RUSHMORE FINALLY ACKNOWLEDGED LUIGI DEL BIANCO!Posted: May 28, 2016
NEWSFLASH: THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE HAS FINALLY ACKNOWLEDGED THAT LUIGI DEL BIANCO WAS, IN FACT, THE CHIEF CARVER OF MOUNT RUSHMORE!!!
Since this year marks the 75th anniversary of the completion of Mount Rushmore, the staff of the National Park Service has been posting short bios of the Mt. Rushmore workers, on their official Facebook page. Well, after 25 years, the National Park Service has finally acknowledged that Luigi Del Bianco was in fact the “Chief Carver!” Permanent recognition at the mountain is what we are really after, but this is a break through, and a start in the right direction!
Here’s Luigi Biography, as told by the National Park Service:
Artist Luigi Del Bianco came to work at Mount Rushmore at the request of Gutzon Borglum, the designer and engineer of the stone sculpture. Luigi Del Bianco worked for Mr. Borglum during the seasons of 1933, 1935, 1936 and 1940. He was a Senior Driller until the end of July in 1935 when Mr. Borglum designated him Chief Carver. Del Bianco was a trained stone carver originally from Italy who had worked for Mr. Borglum before the Mount Rushmore Project began. Mr. Del Bianco resided in Port Chester New York where he had a successful stone carving business. After his work on Mount Rushmore, he moved back east to resume his stone carving business.
WON’T YOU TAKE A SECOND TO CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LINK BELOW AND “LIKE” LUIGI’S PHOTO? Thank you!
Let’s let the NATIONAL PARK SERVICE know that LUIGI has a lot of fans all over the country!!
WE WILL KEEP YOU POSTED ON OUR FINAL PUSH TO GET LUIGI RECOGNIZED AT MOUNT RUSHMORE. WE ARE ALMOST THERE! THANKS SO MUCH FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT!
While interviewing my cousin Herby for family recollections, he mentioned that our grandfather, Antimo (Tony) operated a produce store, around the corner from Arthur Avenue (across from St.Barnabus Hospital.) *Note: The timeline for this story is around the mid to late 1950’s.* Herby clearly recalled the fact that, written on the storefront awning, were the words, “Tony’s Live and Let Live…” Hence, Tony’s favorite quote was, “Live and Let Live!
Antimo Puca was the second child born to Stefano Puca and Teresina Milo. He was born in the small town of Sant’Antimo, Naples, on the 25th day of August, 1896. The first child born to his parents was a boy named Antimo. He was named in the traditional fashion, to honor Stefano’s father, Antimo Puca. Tragically, this baby died. Perhaps he died from the Cholera epidemic which was running rampant across Italy, at that time. Anyway, when the second child…
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In December of 2007, I was 3 years into my “whirling dervish” obsession of gaining every drop of family history knowledge that I could garner. It became self-evident that my ancestral journey had begun, and so I conceived the idea of creating a website to memorialize, and forever “etch” into existence, the information that I would render from this extensive research. I named my website “Pathway to My Ancestry,” and so began the painstaking steps to build the site on the then existing “Live Spaces” platform. A few years into building the site, live spaces was drawing to closure, thereby necessitating me to find another platform to maintain my website. Hence, I found WordPress, and so here I am, and hopefully, will continue to be! In the interim, I had to transfer whatever was transferable to the new website, and decided to change the title of my blog to “Italian Harlem.”
Consequently, my ancestral journey transitioned from a personal family history journey, to a much broader sense of consciousness…that of the desire for public awareness of a now defunct Italian community in New York City. This “microcosm” of an urban neighborhood was “developed” in the 1870’s, with the building of tenement housing, and was originally inhabited by Italian immigrants, primarily male laborers. I discovered a broader sense of the “pulse” of this Italian community, through the voices of my father, his brothers, sisters, cousins, and others who once lived in East Harlem, when it was referred to by its residents as “Harlem.” As I listened to the stories of a bygone time, resounding with carefree thoughts of the “good old days,” it occurred to me that there was much more to this old neighborhood than the stories that were resonating in my mind. I was right! The posts that I have shared, and will share, within this blog, are a testament to the true nature, and fabric of a place that really mattered to a multitude of Italian immigrants and their families.
As I am drawing near to the 11th year anniversary of what has become a nostalgic endeavor of “genealogical/anthropological/sociological/historical” research of “Ye Olde Italian Harlem,” I must tell you that this historical journey has been, and will continue to be an intrinsic part of my life here on this planet. My interest in preserving the memory of Italian Harlem will never falter. My research is a true passion of mine, one of many passions that I am fortunate enough to have in my life, including first, and foremost, my beautiful children, a loving and devoted husband, and my adorable rescue Shih Tzu furbaby “Romeo.” I also embrace my love of photography, and my fascination for the metaphysical sciences!
If there was one person that instilled in me an interest in the history of Italian Harlem, it was my father. My dad was born in 1924 in a tenement apartment on East 110th Street, right next to St. Ann’s Church. He was one of 7 children. His dad, Anthony (Tony) was a produce shop owner, who also sold fruits and vegetables on a pushcart on First Avenue. My dad’s mom, Catherine (Katie) was a seamstress, church secretary, playwright/producer, milliner,(hatmaker) homemaker, realtor, entrepreneur…a true Renaissance woman. I learned so much about my grandparents, and great grandparents, thanks to the amazing memory of my father, Albert, and his siblings. I am forever grateful to them for sharing with me, through their youthful eyes, their life and times in the old neighborhood.
My father, who was “larger than life,” passed away 3 days before his 89th birthday, in January of 2013. I dedicate this website to the memory of my wonderful and charismatic father, who was known by many as “Uncle Al.” Although he had hoped to live to “a hun 10,” (as he would often say,) his bright spirit and memory lives on throughout this weblog and within the lives of those who knew, and very much loved him.