The Italian Job

It seemed like the grassroots effort to name a San Jose neighborhood Little Italy was cruising along with the grace of a Ferrari on a Formula One track. But in case anyone was getting ready to start belting out “Funiculì, Funiculà” prematurely, the lessons of Little Saigon should have been a warning: Members of an ethnic group don’t always sing to the same sheet music.

The horse head in the bed in this case was an Aug. 26 email grenade lobbed by one of the godfathers of the local Italian-American community to a mailing list of about 75 people, most of whose last names end in a vowel. The loosely linked coalition was developing momentum to convert a decrepit stretch of North 13th Street, near Japantown, into a stretch of Italian restaurants, cannoli bakeries and spumoni joints. Then Frank Fiscalini, the former vice mayor, weighed in with the view that “there are other locations in the city that have a significant Italian history.”

Specifically, Fiscalini suggested that “the River St ./St. John area ... was a major enclave for Italians during the early history of our city.” Then, sprinkling some leprechaun dust into the mix, Fiscalini suggested, “Furthermore, I would think the developers of San Pedro Square would welcome a Little Italy development in the area.”

Given the emotional nature of ethnic wars, city officials may hesitate before biting into this meatball.

“You can’t blame them,” said Joshua DeVincenzi-Melander, president of the Italian American Heritage Foundation, which is spearheading the Little Italy effort. Even though the Italians were making plans for a Little Italy business district in San Jose long before the Vietnamese rallied for Little Saigon, the controversy was in full swing by the time they rolled out the 13th Street plan.

“They realize it’s a different project,” DeVincenzi-Melander said.

As Fly sees it, city officials should relax a little on this one. We just can’t imagine Italians going on a hunger strike.

The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

14 Comments

  1. Mamma mia. 

    There is no present or planned effort, grassroots or otherwise, to name a neighborhood Little Italy. 

    Instead, there is an effort—using PRIVATE funds—is to relocate the Italian-American Heritage Foundation (IAHF) headquarters from its Hensley Historic District location on N. 4th St. into the Luna Park Business District along N. 13th St. and to encourage other local Italian-American societies to join in the project to create a new and better Italian-American Community Center.  The IAHF also welcomes Italian-American businesses to locate nearby (several are enthusiastic I’m told), thereby enhancing the ambience of an old-world by blighted stretch nearby the Backesto Park bocce courts and Holy Cross Church, where mass is still heard in Italian (as well as English and Spanish.)  No re-naming is required or currently contemplated, nor is there any possiblity (as you concede) of a hunger strike. 

    My Northside neighborhood, which isn’t giving up its name, supports the effort to host the IAHF community center.  The local Luna Park Business Dist., headed by Italian-American Lou Chiaramonte, who runs a century-old Italian deli, also supports the effort. 

    Former Vice Mayor Fiscalini merely suggested that there might be a better location for the proposed Italian-American community center. 

    What Fiscalini may not know, and your readers certainly don’t, is that the proposal to locate on N.13th St. was made after much due diligence by IAHF officials, and has much to commend it, not least of which is that land along N. 13th St. will be far less costly than in the downtown core (did I mention that the community center would be funded privately and not by the city?) and, also, the opportunity to create an organic Italian-American enclave is far more promising along N. 13th St. than elsewhere, since the vestiges of formerly predominately Italian-American neighborhood still exist, including the aforementioned church, bocce courts and century-old deli, not to mention all the Italian-American people still in the neighborhood, including among many others me and Lou Chiaramonte.

  2. Time to name a certain area around 5th and Santa Clara ‘Little Washington D.C.’, and a certain area around 1st and Williams St ‘Little National Enquirer’.

  3. #1.
    Go for it!
    I live in the area and that would be such a nice change. Now what you really need to do is go from Taylor street and take it all the way to Old Oakland Road!
    That would be awesome.

  4. Growing up as a Sicilian women, cooking, living the culture and traditions as an Sicilian/Italian American, I am here to make sure that we are represented fairly.
    We should have Muesuem of the italians that came here back in 1900’s Italians were such a large community then, We are all still here but some how we got pushed out of the way with all the other cultures that have been coming in since the beginning of the Bay Area/ Silicon Valley.
    Things haven’t changed Italian/Sicilians are still here and we are not going anywhere. We should have a bakery shop, Muesuem of how people began there lives here. Del Monte Cannery, Local Supermarkets, Willow Glen and Neighborshood From San pedro to Taylor to 13th street. Cherry Orchards, Tomatoe Fields, We were involved with many changes and improvemnents in this City.
    We need to unite not just have an association, not just have Itlian Festa.
    We need to make a community again where people from all over the bay area can enjoy a touch of what Italy is all about, singing, cooking, and of course EATING! Our jewelry our craftsman ship, quality work is what we represent.
    Please try to make LITTLE ITALY a reality.
    email me with ways we can make this happen. I am trying to get with city hall to make Little Italy part of there agenda for our future children and community.

    Thank you!

  5. Growing up as a Sicilian women, cooking, living the culture and traditions as an Sicilian/Italian American, I am here to make sure that we are represented fairly.
    We should have Museum of the Italians that came here back in 1900’s Italians were such a large community then, We are all still here but somehow we got pushed out of the way with all the other cultures that have been coming in since the beginning of the Bay Area/ Silicon Valley.
    Things haven’t changed Italian/Sicilians are still here and we are not going anywhere. We should have a bakery shop, Museum of how people began their lives here. Del Monte Cannery, Local Supermarkets, Willow Glen and Neighborhood From San Pedro to Taylor to 13th street. Cherry Orchards, Tomato Fields, We were involved with many changes and improvements in this City.
    We need to unite not just have an association, not just have Italian Festa.
    We need to make a community again where people from all over the bay area can enjoy a touch of what Italy is all about, singing, cooking, and of course EATING! Our jewelry our craftsman ship, quality work is what we represent.
    Please try to make LITTLE ITALY a reality.
    email me with ways we can make this happen. I am trying to get with city hall to make Little Italy part of their agenda for our future children and community.
    thank you

  6. I think any additional cool businesses, community centers, and restaurants that may involve pasta in the 13th street area sound fantastic to me. Any attempts to rename the area on an ethnic theme will be doomed.  Global village is the only thing even remotely appropriate.
    Heh, how about “its a small world”-town and we an lobby for Disney corporate sponsorship.

  7. Frank Fiscalini is not even close to being a Godfather let or even a (Ghoomba) mafioso. I know you were just kidding around, but a man like him has no clue of what It’s like being a gangster. Salvatore Marino is the real godfather of San Jose. He’s the son of the late San Jose mob boss Angelo Marino. San jose only has 4-5 made members left of the old la cosa nostra family that once ruled the streets of San Jose.

    On the little Italy project, I’m not sure It’s such a great idea. The Italians in the USA are declining. And Italians only had those “Little Italy” neighborhoods, to try and make it. Once they did make it they moved to nicer communities such as the Willow Glen, Evergreen and Rose Garden districts. So if you try to make a block full of Italian businesses, the only people that will hang out there are rich businesmen from downtown SJ office buildings and/or yuppie tourists. This ain’t New York city! They have a lot of fellow Italian Americans there.

    • Mr. Napolitano,  Obviously you are a man in the know.  I don’t suppose anyone has a picture of Peter (Lo)Catelli?  He was he was killed in 1977, I am surprised they never showed his picture in the San Jose Mercury News.  In fact, if one remembers back there was not a newspaper to be found the day after the news broke.  It has a heck of a time for a paper strike.  Don’t you think?????  I was living there when Marino killed (Lo)Catelli.

  8. I remember when San Jose had a crime family. Angelo Marino owned the California Cheese Company on McGlaughlin Street. I used to get my cheese from him back in the 70’s. Angelo past away in the early 80’s and his son Sal took over the family business. They have some interesting stuff about Sal Marino on the net. I heard he still lives in the Willow Glen area.

    I think putting a “Little Italy” close to downtown is a great idea. The River Street neighborhood was the first Italian settlement in San Jose. San Pedro square and the shark tank are really close by.

  9. Vince,

    Learn how to spell…….

    After the death of Angelo Marino in 1983 Manny Figlia took over the San Jose mob. Even though the top leaders of the mafia family past away, there are many members still living. Figlia retired from the mafia in the late 1990s. In 1998 Sal Marino was released from prison after serving time for gun possession. They say he is now running the San Jose mob.

  10. Everybody wants a piece of the pie. Last year it was the Vietnamese and now It’s the Italians. I personally think It’s all a bunch of BS. The only thing I can’t wait for is the Italian Festa on the Avenue in downtown Willowglen. It’s always a big show stopper.

    Salvatore Marino was convicted of the murder of Peter Catelli in 1977. Catelli was killed for trying to extort money from Angelo Marino, a reputed mafioso and Salvatore’s father.

    Sal was also convicted of trying to murder Orlando Catelli as he prayed over his son’s body. But the elder victim survived to testify about the mafia style vote that led to the shootings. Angelo Marino was convicted, released when he won an appeal, and then died. Sal was convicted, released after winning an appeal, and was sent back to prison for being found guilty in the retrial.

    Law enforcement articles from investigations allege that Sal Marino could be the crime boss of San Jose. A possible key player in the near extinct crime family is Carlo America. He was suspected of running illegal gambling out of his pizzeria in the 1980s.

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