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! 🙂
So, historically speaking, where exactly did the neighborhood of East Harlem begin and end? Technically, the boundary started at 96th Street, from the East River, west to 5th Avenue, and heading North to 125th Street, but for all intents and purposes, the majority of the Italian district started well past E. 100th Street, and basically, started thinning out past E.125th Street.
Note: According to the 1930 Census, there were 5800 Italians living between E. 99th and E. 104th, from 1st Avenue to 3rd Avenue. Next, from East 104th to East 109th Streets, from 1st Avenue, heading west to 3rd Avenue, there were 15,500 Italians living in that zone. Moving North, from East 109th to 114th Street, there were 12,500 Italians living between Pleasant Ave., 1st and 3rd Avenues. And then, from East 114th Street, up to East 119th Street, between Pleasant Avenue, heading west to 3rd Avenue, there were 20,500 Italians living in that zone. This particular “Italian zone” is probably the largest, due to the fact that Pleasant Avenue was included in these population figures. Historically, Pleasant Avenue’s residential community started near Jefferson Park, from East 114th Street-near Rao’s, up toward East 125th Street. (However, past East 121st Street, near Pleasant Avenue (back in the day before the public housing development was built), that area was largely industrial in nature-up towards East 125th Street). Lastly, from East 119th Street, up to around East 125th Street, there were approximately 11,500 Italians living between Pleasant Ave. and 3rd Avenue. If you move West, from 3rd Avenue, up to 5th Avenue, there were thousands more Italians, starting from 91st Street, on the east side, and heading west and North to 5th Avenue and up past E. 125th Street! 🙂 Source: Casa Italiana Educational Bureau of Columbia University. (Leonard Covello was the Executor Director, at that time).
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. 🙂
About a month and a half ago, I checked my email inbox, and found this wonderful vintage photo. It made my day! Grazie mille, Paolo!
The man standing near the doorway is Antonino Carroccio. He is the paternal grandfather of Paul Carroccio, who was kind enough to share this fabulous vintage photo, circa 1928. The man sitting in the truck, was Morris Croot, a farmer from Holland Township, New Jersey.
Antonino was part owner of a family-run cheese shop, “Latticini” located at 311 East 107th St., N.Y.C. His father, Alfio Carroccio, came to America in 1890, and settled in a tenement building at 311 E. 107th Street. Subsequently, Alfio opened this latticini/cheese shop, selling mozzarella, ricotta, eggs, butter, milk, etc. After establishing this business in East Harlem’s Italian quarter, Alfio returned to Sicily around 1904, and left the business to his sons, Antonino, and Alfio, Jr.
Paul mentioned in his email to me, that the cheese was originally made locally in East Harlem, but the milk they bought to make the cheese, came from New Jersey. However, the family continued to do that until 1908, when they decided to rent a location in New Jersey (to make the cheese) nearby to where they bought the milk, for freshness sake. So began the shipping of cheese (in ice) to East Harlem! The cheese from the Carroccio’s Latticini shop was sold to local residents, Rao’s restaurant, on Pleasant Avenue, and many other establishments. Hey, come to think of it, I bet that my grandparents, and great-grandparents bought cheese and other items from this cheese shop! If only I could ask them! AIEH…thanks for the memories!
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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Asked if she liked America, an Italian homeworker replied in 1911: “Not much, not much. In my country, people cook out-of doors, do the wash out-of-doors, tailor out-of-doors, make macaroni out-of-doors. And my people laugh, laugh all the time. In America, is “sopra, sopra!” [up, up, with a gesture of going upstairs]. Many people, one house; work, work all the time. Good money but no good air.”
Source: Elizabeth C. Watson, “Home Work in the Tenements,” Survey, 25 (1910), 772
In hindsight, perhaps, the above statement could have been spoken by the hard-working Italian woman portrayed in this iconic, social journalistic photo. Her name was Mary Mauro. Mary lived in Italian East Harlem, in a 5 story “old-law” walk-up tenement, along with her family in 1911. By some “synchronistic serendipity,” Mary was one of the “homeworkers” chosen by sociologist and photographer, Lewis Wickes Hine, to be portrayed in his photographic documentary series, on immigrants in the United States… in this particular case, child labor and tenement homework. In December of 1911, Mary lived at 309 East 110th Street, adjacent to the Metropolitan Gas Light Company’s massive twin gas tanks. (Predecessor of Consolidated Edison.) Coincidentally, for my family history research, My paternal great grandmother, Maria Altieri, her husband, Andrea, and their 5 children lived in the same building, later on in time, during the 1920’s. It’s highly possible that this woman is the grandmother-in-law of my father’s first cousin, Kiki Aiello Mauro, as her husband, Louie Mauro hailed from this Italian enclave. (Note to self: I really need to ask my Aiello cousins if there is a connection here.) 🙂
Upshot: The old adage, “snap a picture, it lasts longer!”, is so true in Mary Mauro’s case, as she and her family are forever etched in the virtual superhighway of our existence! Thank you, Mr. Lewis Wickes Hine! God Bless our ancestral heritage…God Bless America!
ALTHOUGH THE “HALCYON DAYS” OF EAST HARLEM ARE LONG GONE,PLEASE HELP ME KEEP THE MEMORY ALIVE, OF WHAT LIFE ONCE WAS IN OUR OLD NEIGHBORHOOD!
SEND ME YOUR PHOTOS! I WILL POST THEM ON ITALIANHARLEM.COM! I WILL POST THEM IN MEMORY OF YOUR ANCESTORS…JUST MENTION YOUR FAMILY NAME, AND IT SHALL BE DONE!
EMAIL YOUR PHOTOS TO: firstname.lastname@example.org
THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR MEMORIES!
Angela Bella Puco