The late 1800s was a period of tremendous change in Southern California. With the completion of the railroads, California, previously a remote outpost in the West, was connected to the rest of the nation. In 1870, only 5,000 people lived in Los Angeles, a miniscule number compared to New York’s 940,000 residents and San Francisco’s population of 150,000. Touting Southern California’s rich soil, favorable climate, health benefits, and economic opportunities, city boosters, including many railroad companies, launched massive advertising campaigns to attract settlers from the Midwest and eastern United States, as well as from Europe.
Anglo Settlers in La Puente, California by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Immigrants, especially white Protestants, flocked to the region, bringing their conservative values that often clashed with Southern California’s cosmopolitan culture. Within thirty years, Los Angeles’ population reached 100,000. This growth trend continued with the completion of the Panama Canal in 1913, which made travel to Southern California easier and more economical.
Pictured here: Midwestern settlers in La Puente, a city in Eastern Los Angeles County, circa 1890.
Emigrants Departing From Italy by Corbis/Getty Images A.W. Cutler National GeographicItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Italy’s economic crisis led to an exodus of the country’s population. Italian enclaves, or “Little Italies,” formed in many parts of the United States, including locally in Los Angeles and San Diego.
Immigrants Entering Through Ellis Island (2016) by Francesca Guerrini/J.AllenItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
A Tremendous Wrenching of the Soul
La Miseria - Push Factors in Italy
The desperate nature of the Italian peasantry’s existence in the late 19th and early 20th century bears no similarities to the popular, romanticized images of jovial country-dwellers strolling through sunny meadows. Relentless poverty, hunger, crop failure, overpopulation, disease, and natural disasters made the peasants’ very survival precarious. Meanwhile, hereditary land ownership determined an individual’s political power and social status, providing the majority with little hope for advancement.
Emigrants' Farewell Song Lyrics 1895 (2016) by Chechhi/Crossan/GuerriniItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Portrait of a Group of Emigrants (1920) by Alinari ArchiveItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Between 1876 and 1914, 14 million people left Italy. This equated to roughly one-third of the country’s population. It is believed that no other nation has experienced a greater exodus of its people during an equal span of time. What led scores of Italians to leave their villages for a place that most had not seen, even in photographs?
Luigi Perini's Steamer Trunk (1900/1915) by IAMLA/UnknownItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
After learning about employment opportunities in Southern California, 30-year-old Luigi Perini packed his belongings into this wooden trunk and left his village near Genoa in 1913. Luigi found work as a machinist, and settled in Lincoln Heights. Luigi’s daughter, Mary, kept this trunk as a reminder of her family’s humble beginnings in the United States.
Sardinian Women Doing Laundry at Public Fountain (1916) by CorbisItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Following the unification of Italy in 1861, economic and political inequities between northern and southern Italy intensified. The new constitution favored the north, and while southerners paid high taxes, little investment was made in the region’s land or infrastructure. Uncultivable soil and primitive farming methods yielded inadequate crops; phylloxera and other parasites decimated harvests.
Sharecroppers in Southern Italy by Corbis Images/GettyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Many farmers were reduced to mezzadri, or sharecroppers, who were permanently in debt to their landlords. Those lucky enough to find employment received meager wages. In 1902, the average Sicilian braccianti, or day laborer, earned only 25 cents for 12 hours of work. Their wages become more dismal when one considers the surprisingly high cost of living and basic foodstuffs, such as sugar, which cost $.19 a pound. Photographs of peasants reveal the physical manifestations of malnutrition: gaunt bodies, stunted growth, sunken eyes, and shallow faces. The popular greeting “Si mangiato?” (Have you eaten?) illustrates the extent to which hunger was a part of daily life.
Pellagra Victim by U.S. Medical JournalItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Despite the worsening economic outlook, Italy’s population skyrocketed. By 1900, the population teetered at 33 million, and by 1911, it had soared to 35 million, exerting crushing pressure on the already scarce food supply. Weakened by hunger, the populace became more susceptible to illnesses. Pellagra, a vitamin deficiency disease that produces skin lesions, pictured here, afflicted many peasants. Outbreaks of cholera, which was related to poor sanitation, claimed tens of thousands of lives, while the infectious eye disease trachoma left scores of others blind. In areas where malaria was omnipresent, such as Calabria, Basilicata, Sicily, and Sardinia, 20 to 30 percent of the population succumbed to the disease.
Messina Earthquake (2015) by ChecchiItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Between 1890 and 1907, a series of earthquakes struck southern Italy, which is located in one of the world’s most seismically active regions. However, the 1908 Messina earthquake, centered in the narrow waterway separating Sicily from the southern Italian region of Calabria, was among the most powerful Europe has ever experienced, equaling a 7.5 by today's Richter scale.
Aftermath of Messina Earthquake Searching for Survivors (1908) by Underwood ArchivesItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Records suggest that 70 percent of Messina’s population of 150,000 perished and 90 percent of the city’s buildings were destroyed.
Messina Earthquake Aftermath (1908) by Fonderia USAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
An estimated 40 percent of Reggio Calabria’s population was killed, and on both sides of the strait, approximately 300 villages simply disappeared.
Group of Italian Men at Ellis Island by Lewis Hine/George Eastman HouseItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
While emigration presented a variety of risks, it was one of the few ways in which the peasantry could exercise agency over their destiny.
Mina Guglielmina Perini Travel Document (1919) by IAMLA/US GovernmentItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In 1919, 22-year-old Mina Guglielmina left her family home and boarded the SS Canopic at the Port of Genoa. Her destination was Los Angeles, where she would meet Luigi Perini, the man she had agreed to marry, for the first time.
Trains Used for the Transportation of Emigrants in Italy (1920) by Archivi AlinariItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In 1907 alone, 285,000 people left Italy; in 1913, a record 872,598 people emigrated.
Sicilian Family on Horse-Drawn Cart by CorbisItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Many were "birds of passage," meaning they intended to return to their homeland after earning enough money to improve their family’s standard of living.
Mercurio Ferdinando Gatto Quote (2015) by ChecchiItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Pull Factors in the United States
Carrying enticing advertisements and following the scent of poverty, labor agents, or "padroni," visited town after town in Italy, speaking to villagers about the great fortunes to be found in "L’America." The padroni, who worked for railroad companies, factories, and agricultural firms, typically received a commission from the emigrant, employer, and the steamship company. If an emigrant lacked the funds to purchase passage, the padrone loaned the money at an exorbitant fee. The padroni frequently exploited emigrants’ vulnerability by forcing them to sign labor contracts that effectively placed the emigrant in servitude. In response, the Italian government passed laws prohibiting its people to emigrate under such contracts.
Italian Family Arriving at Ellis Island by Lewis Hine/George Eastman HouseItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Most Italians made the transatlantic journey traveling in steerage, or third class. Located below the ship’s deck, steerage was a crowded, windowless compartment, where hundreds of passengers spent the seven- to seventeen-day trip without adequate ventilation, sanitation, and water.
Frank Capra Quote (2015) by ChecchiItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Wool Shawl Belonging to Cecilia Scottini (1860/1880) by IAMLA/UnknownItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Scottini family left Italy in 1881 and first sailed to Mexico before traveling to Texas, and finally to Los Angeles. Of the 13 children born to Cecilia, only seven lived to adulthood. This wool shawl, which Cecilia used as a blanket, coat, and to swaddle her children, was one of the few possessions she brought from her homeland.
Immigrants at Ellis Island Looking Across Towards Manhattan Waiting to be Transferred (1912) by Corbis ImagesItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
As the boats approached land, the immigrants, regardless of ethnicity or religion, gathered on the deck and the ship became electrified with emotion. They kissed and embraced, fell to the floor as an act of homage, or raised their hands to the heavens speaking prayers of gratitude. They danced with joy and raised their voices in unison, "America! America!"
Giulio Bonomi's Immigrant Inspection Card (1911) by Campanie Generale TransatlantiqueItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Giulio Bonomi immigrated to the United States in 1911. The U.S. Immigration Service used this inspection card to indicate that immigrants had been vaccinated and disinfected and passed daily health inspections during the voyage. After entering through Ellis Island, Bonomi traveled west to Los Angeles, where he had accepted a job with the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Made possible by a loan from the Bonani-Garia family.
Woman Carrying Work to Finish at Home in New York City by Lewis Hine/George Eastman HouseItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Joining immigrants from Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe, including Jews escaping religious persecution, the peak of Italian immigration to the United States coincided with the largest wave of immigration in the country’s history. This influx of peoples would forever transform the face of the nation. Economically, Italian immigrants and their multi-ethnic counterparts filled a significant need for cheap labor in booming American industries.
Italian Immigrant Workers (2016) by Francesca GuerriniItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Because the only asset most immigrants possessed was their physical strength, they performed dangerous manual labor jobs such as building railroads, sewers, and subways, working in garment industry sweatshops, mining the coal used to power the nation's homes and factories, operating the blast furnaces that produced the steel that built the nation’s skylines, and harvesting the sugar cane that made Louisiana one of the wealthiest states in the American South.
Los Angeles’ Little Italy: An Erasure of Memory
While Los Angeles is home to the nation’s fifth-largest Italian population today, it lacks an identifiable “Little Italy.” “Why doesn’t Los Angeles have a Little Italy?” people often ask. The short answer to this question is, “It did.”
Hollywood Sign by Discover Los AngelesItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The birth, and subsequent demise, of the region’s Italian enclaves is inextricably linked to the city’s physical and socio-cultural geography, geopolitics, and to the history of Los Angeles, which is described by some as “the history of forgetting.”
Ramona Film Poster (1936) by 20th Century FoxItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Los Angeles is a city that has long thrived on the promotion and re-creation of a mythic past, while ignoring, obscuring, erasing, and forgetting its “true” history.
Italian Immigrants at McKinley Adult School, Los Angeles by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Studied by fewer than a handful of historians over the past century, until recently, the region’s Italian legacy was one of many chapters in local history that remained buried in Southern California’s tangled past.
Sons of Italy Galileo Lodge Celebrating the 326th Anniversary of Galileo's Telescope at Griffith Park (1936) by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Following in the footsteps of the region’s Italian pioneers, Los Angeles’ second wave of Italian immigrants often settled in the Plaza area (where we are today), and in San Pedro, Los Angeles’ historic waterfront. Upon the completion of the Panama Canal and the transcontinental railroad, which made travel to California easier and less costly, the Italian population of Los Angeles rose steadily, from 2,000 in 1900 to 3,800 in 1910 and 12,700 in 1930.
Italians in Front of Their Hollywood Home Amalia Marotta Di Nubila Massanova by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
As the community grew, other vibrant enclaves formed. While less homogenous than the Little Italies elsewhere in the nation, the Italian neighborhoods of Southern California played an important role in the acculturation process, helping immigrants obtain housing, employment, and the information necessary to navigate their new surroundings.
The Bozzani Brothers' Overland Automobile with Mobile AdvertisementItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The ethnic neighborhoods also helped immigrants preserve their transplanted culture, forge an emerging Italian American identity, and give birth to a uniquely Italo-Angeleno culture.
Italian Transmigration in the United States (2015) by ChecchiItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
While Southern California’s Italian pioneers were predominantly northern Italian, the second wave of immigrants came primarily from Italy’s south. Many were transmigrants, who, prior to settling in Southern California, lived elsewhere in the United States — New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Chicago, Louisiana, and Colorado.
Puglia Ischia Map (2015) by ChecchiItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Southern California’s Italian immigrants were often part of chain migration movements. Chain migration is the process by which immigrants from a particular town follow others from that town to a new country and settle in the same area. Large numbers of the region’s Italians originated from villages surrounding Bari in Puglia, the region that comprises the “heel” of Italy’s boot, and from the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples.
Sicily Map (2014) by ChecchiItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Others were Sicilians from a clustering of towns outside of Palermo, including Corleone, Bagheria, Piana degli Albanesi (formerly Piana dei Greci), Santa Cristina Gela, and Contessa Entellina. The latter three towns were established by Albanian refugees in the 1400s and who spoke Gheg, a hybrid dialect of Sicilian and pre-Ottoman-era Albanian.
Immaculate Conception Sacramental Records Marriage (2015) by IAMLA/St. Peter's ChurchItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Marriage records from Immaculate Conception Church, a Catholic parish located southeast of downtown Los Angeles, illustrate the chain migration of Sicilians from the towns of Piana dei Greci and Bagheria, and their migration from Louisiana and Colorado to Los Angeles.
Alfieri Family in Los Angeles by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Not all of the region’s Italians settled in neighborhoods where a significant number of their paesani resided. Some, including the Alfieri family, pictured here, lived in the predominantly Jewish and Japanese community of Boyle Heights. Others chose the multi-ethnic neighborhood of Watts as their home.
Rinaldi Street Mission Hills Exit (2013) by GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Los Angeles place names, such as San Fernando Valley’s Rinaldi Street and Montebello’s Repetto Avenue, testify to when the areas belonged to an Italian citrus grower and rancher, respectively.
Angeles’s Little Italies: The Plaza
While the Plaza had been the social and political core of the Los Angeles region since the city’s founding, by the late 1800s, the neighborhood had deteriorated significantly. Its wealthy families had moved elsewhere, and a “new” downtown was established south and west of the Plaza. The Plaza’s decline symbolized Los Angeles’ ever-increasing distance between its Mexican “past” and its new character as a modern “American” city.
Los Angeles Street Cosmopolitan Saloon by El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical MonumentItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Bordering the city’s original Chinatown on the east, the Plaza was widely regarded as a slum, or a neighborhood reserved for immigrants and the impoverished.
Pictured here: North Los Angeles Street where it intersects the Plaza. On the far right is the Cosmopolitan Saloon, which was owned by the Rabaglino family and was located in what had been the city's first firehouse. The building is now the Plaza Firehouse Museum.
Prostitute Sits in Window of a Crib on Alameda Street in Los Angeles (1896) by UCLA Library Special CollectionsItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Passing trains rattled the ground and belched soot upon the enclave’s crumbling adobes, gambling houses, saloons, and opium dens. Along Alameda Street, courtesans offered their services from the windows of the many bordellos owned by "crib king" Bartolo Ballerino.
Fazzi Market Fort Market Slaughterhouse Los Angeles Plaza by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Crime was common, and the stench of raw sewage and nearby slaughterhouses filled the air.
Italian Tenants of the Plaza (2016) by Francesca GuerriniItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Despite its reputation, Italians and other marginalized newcomers continued to settle in the city’s historic center. Paul Mance, an immigrant from Bari, Italy, operated a hotel at the Pico House, while another immigrant, Angelo Rabaglino, opened a nightclub in the adjacent Merced Theater, which was known as the Plaza Club.
Chinese New Years Parade on Calle de los Negros by El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical MonumentItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
By the early 1900s, over twenty different ethnic groups lived in the Plaza, including Chinese, French, German, Filipino, and Slavic, with Italians and Mexicans constituting 75 percent of the population.
Cavour Restaurant Located at 425 North Los Angeles Street Agostino Cerrina, Proprietor by IAMLA/El Pueblo Historical MonumentItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Approximately one-third of the Plaza’s businesses were Italian-owned. Luigi Terrile’s Cosmopolitan Bakery on North Spring Street, and Agostino Cerrina’s Cavour Restaurant on Los Angeles Street offered Italian immigrants the foods reminiscent of their homeland.
425 North Los Angeles Street Contemporary Cavour Restaurant Chinese American Museum (2015) by Damian GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Today, the former Cavour Restaurant is the Chinese American Museum.
Photograph of Unknown Boy Taken at the Studio of Flegonte Borgia in Los Angeles by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
At the Plaza’s photography studios, such as Ricci, Borgia, or Del Beato, immigrants sat for portraits that they would send to loved ones who remained in Italy.
Dr. Valla by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Midwife Domenica Franco assisted with the delivery of a generation of the neighborhood’s children, while doctors Francesco Bonura and Antonio Valla, pictured here, were among the enclave’s most popular doctors.
Spignelio Market and Sausage Factory Located in the Sepulveda House on North Main Street by El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical MonumentItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Garibaldina Mutual Benefit Society, originally headquartered in the Sepulveda House, pictured here, which was also home to the Spineglio family's sausage factory, provided newcomers with referrals to the numerous boarding houses in the Plaza area that catered to Italian immigrants, including Teresa Turinetto’s Plaza Hotel on North Main Street, Hotel Roma on Alameda, and Hotel d'Italia on San Fernando Street (now North Spring Street.).
Sepulveda House Today (2015) by GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Sepulveda House, as it appears today.
Hotel D'Italia Business Card and Lombardo Family Hotel Ledger (1907) by IAMLA/Lombardo familyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Seeking the familiarities of home, many Italian immigrants lived in boardinghouses or hotels, such as the Hotel d’Italia, owned by the Guerrieri family. Giovanni and Emilia Verna, immigrants from Piedmont, Italy, operated a hotel in Little Italy. From 1904 to 1917, Giovanni recorded the amount boarders paid for lodging, meals, and other services in this ledger. Emilia took primary responsibility for the boarders, who were mostly single men; she served as the hotel’s cook and laundress.
Made possible by a loan from John Lombardo.
Lanfranco Building by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Sadly, most of the buildings offering testimony of the enclave’s Italian history, such as the Lanfranco Block, were demolished to build freeways, parking lots, and government buildings, or torn down because of their deteriorated condition. Today, the Italian Hall is the oldest remaining structure from Los Angeles’ Little Italy.
Contemporary Image of the Former Site of the Lanfranco Building Los Angeles Municipal Buildings (2015) by Damian GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Municipal offices for the City of Los Angeles now occupy the site where the elegant Lanfranco Block once stood.
In the early 1900s, approximately 10 percent of the region’s Italian community lived in San Pedro, twenty miles south of downtown Los Angeles. Many of San Pedro’s Italians hailed from the islands of Sicily and Ischia, and were drawn to the district’s bustling maritime economy.
San Pedro Fisherman by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
By 1917, San Pedro, which had become part of the City of Los Angeles less than a decade prior, was home to dozens of canneries, hundreds of fishing boats, and local fishermen ─ Italian, Yugoslavian, Japanese, and Mexican ─ were catching 34 million pounds of albacore and 158 million pounds of sardines annually, making San Pedro the nation's largest fishing port.
Starkist Tuna Can (1985/2001) by IAMLA/StarkistItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Port of Los Angeles, located in San Pedro and Wilmington, was once home to a large commercial fishing fleet and sixteen canneries, including Chicken of the Sea and StarKist Tuna. Foreign competition, regulations, and dwindling catches led the canneries to relocate. When Chicken of the Sea, the nation’s last full-scale tuna canning plant, closed its doors in 2001, it marked the end of an era. This can was packed at the Terminal Island-San Pedro cannery.
Tuna Cannery Workers in San Pedro, California by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
San Pedro’s canneries, including the Italian-owned Star Fisheries, Pacific Sea Products, and Ocean Fish Company, contributed millions of dollars to the state’s economy.
Pina D'Asaro's Identification Badge and Fish Knife (1990/1996) by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Sisters Rosa Buscaino and Giuseppina D’Asaro left their native Trapetto, Sicily, to work in the canneries of San Pedro. Entering work at 5 a.m. dressed in her white uniform, Pina stood on her feet for eight hours, cleaning fish with this knife. When she returned home in the afternoon, her children would often say, “Mom, you stink! You smell like fish!” Rosa would respond, “That’s the smell of money!”
San Pedro Little Italy Map (2015) by ChecchiItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
San Pedro’s Italian neighborhood was divided into three sections: Italians from Genoa lived between 6th and 9th streets from Pacific to Mesa, while the area between 13th and 17th streets was largely a Sicilian enclave. Ischitani, meanwhile, lived between 9th and 12th streets. Many other Italian families lived outside these boundaries. Like most Los Angeles neighborhoods, these enclaves were home to people of diverse ethnic heritage, in addition to Italian Americans.
Pacific & 7th in San Pedro Circa 1920 by San Pedro Bay Historical SocietyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Pacific Avenue in San Pedro looking toward 7th Street, early 1920s.
Contemporary Pacific and 7th in San Pedro (2015) by Eric EisenbergItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Pacific Avenue in San Pedro looking toward 7th Street, as it appears today.
Vinegar Hill Historic District Sign, San Pedro by Marianna GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
To this day, a portion of San Pedro’s historic Little Italy is known as Vinegar Hill, allegedly because after its residents made wine at home, they discarded the skins and other grape residue into a gully, which produced a vinegary aroma.
Italian Fishermen's Protective Association of San Pedro (1917) by Los Angeles Maritime MuseumItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Italians of San Pedro formed a number of mutual aid organizations, such as the Societá di Pescatori (Fisherman’s Association), and the Societá Italiana di Mutual Beneficenza (Italian Mutual Benefit Society).
DiCarlo Bakery Horse and Buggy by San Pedro Bay Historical SocietyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Di Carlo family arrived in San Pedro in approximately 1906 with the dream of opening a bakery. With no money in their pockets, the Di Carlo's borrowed the match used to light the fire that baked their first batch of bread. They would later establish the Di Carlo Bakery on 10th and Mesa Street, famous for its hard-crusted Italian bread. The bakery helped San Pedrans survive the Drepression by offering bread on credit.
San Pedro Religious Procession in Honor of St. Joseph by Branimir KvartucItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Today, approximately 20,000 people of Italian heritage live in San Pedro, making it one of the largest Italian communities in Los Angeles. In 2006, the City of Los Angeles became sister cities with Ischia. In this image, members of San Pedro's Italian community celebrate the Feast of San Joseph.
While the settlement patterns of the city’s Italian pioneers influenced where the second wave of Italian immigrants lived, racial hostility and, later, racially restrictive covenants also played a role. Designed to enforce segregation, racially restrictive covenants barred certain groups, including African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Italians, Jews, Muslims, and Catholics from owning property in parts of Los Angeles County and California.
Judge Alfred Paonessa by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Years later, an Italian American judge, Alfred Paonessa of Los Angeles, would play an instrumental role in restrictive covenants being declared unconstitutional.
Panoramic View of North of Broadway by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
To escape the Plaza’s congestion in the late 1800s, Italians began settling in the North Broadway District, then known as Sonoratown, and Chavez Ravine, a rural village overlooking downtown. In these neighborhoods, restrictive covenants did not exclude them, and families purchased homes for as little as $100.
Contemporary North Broadway (2015) by GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Today this neighborhood comprises the heart of the city's Chinatown, though the largest concentration of Los Angeles County's 380,000 Chinese Americans can be found in the San Gabriel Valley.
Members of the Aprato Family in Front of Their Boarding House Near Ord Street in Little Italy's North Broadway District by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
By 1910, Italians, such as the Aprato and Giacoletto families, pictured here in front of their boarding house, constituted one-third of the residents of the North Broadway District. The heart of the settlement could be found on Castelar Street (now North Hill Street), near St. Peter’s Italian Church. It extended to Alpine, Ord, San Fernando (present-day North Spring Street), College, and Casanova streets.
Men in Little Italy Including Members of the Mance Pontrelli and Fasoli Families by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Italian men played scopa, briscola, and other card games at the Italian Club on San Fernando Street and collected their mail at Tognetti’s Cigar Factory, where they might steal a glance at Angelina Tognetti, considered the most beautiful woman of the Italian colony.
The Peluffo Family Grocery in the North Broadway District of Little Italy Ord and New High Streets by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The neighborhood’s numerous Italian groceries, such as the Peluffo family's market on Ord and New High streets, pictured here, along with its bakeries, churches, clubs, and newspapers, made the North Broadway District Little Italy’s largest commercial hub.
Contemporary View of Ord and New High Streets in Los Angeles Former Site of Peluffo Market (2015) by Marianna GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Peluffo family's former grocery is now a Chinese restaurant.
Frumento Grocery Store Porcelain Calendar Plate (1910) by IAMLA/Frumento GroceryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Frumento brothers immigrated to Los Angeles in the late 1800s and settled in Little Italy. As a token of appreciation for his customers, produce merchant Giuseppe Frumento produced this decorative calendar plate. The family's market became a deli and, in 1958, relocated to the San Gabriel Valley, which was then home to a large Italian population.
Tunzi Meat Market in Los Angeles' Little Italy Receipt (1954) by IAMLA/Tunzi MarketItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Offering suckling goat and other specialty cuts, the Tunzi family market was one of Little Italy's many butcher shops.
Little Joe's Restaurant and Grocery on North Broadway by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Little Joe's opened in 1895 as a grocery store and became one of the city's oldest restaurants until its closure in 1998. Located on 904 North Broadway, the Victorian-era building was demolished in 2014 to make room for an apartment complex.
Map of Chavez Ravine Tracts Including the Lagomarsino and Garibaldi Families' Land (1921) by Historic Map Works CW BaistItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Italian residents of the largely Mexican American Palo Verde, Bishop Canyon, and La Loma, communities collectively known as Chavez Ravine, included the Nese, Lagomarsino, and Garibaldi families, whose farms dotted the hillside.
The Nese Family Herding Sheep and Goats in Chavez Ravine by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Early each morning, Louis Nese walked up Adobe Street, then a dusty, unpaved road, to herd his goats.
Chavez Ravine Prior to Construction of Dodger Stadium 1940s by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Late 1940s view of Chavez Ravine.
The Eviction of Chavez Ravine Residents Vargas and Arechiga Families by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Following a bitter battle in the early 1950s, the city used eminent domain to purchase the homes of Chavez Ravine residents to build a housing project. Critics later condemned public housing as being part of a "socialist plot” during the McCarthy Red Scare era, and the project never materialized.
The Eviction of Chavez Ravine Resident Aurora Vargas by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Many Chavez Ravine residents refused to leave. As television and newspaper cameras looked on, sheriff's deputies removed Aurora Vargas from her Chavez Ravine home by force.
Map of Dodger Stadium in Construction Chavez Ravine by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Dodger Stadium was then constructed and now occupies most of Chavez Ravine.
The Eastside or the Sixth
and Seventh Wards
Another enclave, home to approximately 25 percent of the city’s Italian population, could be found just south of downtown, between 9th and 14th streets, bound by the Los Angeles River on the east and Alameda Street on the west. This community, referred to then as “the Eastside,” was primarily comprised of impoverished Italian, as well as Mexican and Anglo American, laborers, some of whom worked for the railroad or at the adjacent wholesale produce market.
Contessa Entellina Society in Los Angeles, Likely Griffith Park Circa 1925 by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Eastside represents one of Southern California’s unique chain-migration movements. Immigrants from the Sicilian villages of Piana dei Greci (renamed Piana degli Albanesi), Contessa Entellina, and Santa Cristina Gela, many of whom had lived in Louisiana previously, created a settlement on Violet, Mateo, Hunter, Enterprise, Lemon, and Wilson streets. They spoke a hybrid of Sicilian and Arbëresh, the language spoken in pre-Ottoman Albania, which they called "Gheg Gheg."
Housing Court in Los Angeles' Eastside by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Most lived in hastily constructed shacks or housing courts. Averaging 300 square feet per dwelling, housing courts were groups of three of more homes that shared a common yard and toilet. Few of the homes possessed running water or electricity.
Italian Family in Front of Ramshackle Home in Los Angeles by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The enclave’s poverty and immigrant population made it a target of social reformers.
Violet Street Playground in Los Angeles (1905) by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In 1905, as a measure “to control juvenile delinquency and provide wholesome and constructive play and recreation for youth,” city officials created Los Angeles’ first playground, the Violet Street Playground, in the Seventh Ward.
Pastor Bromley Oxnam's All Nations Church 810-816-824 E. Sixth Street (1926) by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
A decade later, Methodist pastor Bromley Oxnam, an ardent believer in the Social Gospel doctrine, established the All Nations Church in the Eastside, which became the most effective social welfare organization in Los Angeles. To care for the neighborhood’s children, in 1919, one of Los Angeles first day care centers, the Mother Cabrini Day Home, named after the Italian nun and first American citizen to receive sainthood, was founded on Mateo Street.
Contemporary View of the Eastside Warehouses (2015) by Marianna GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Few Italian families remained in this area for more than a generation. As the Sixth and Seventh wards became increasingly industrial, most of the enclave’s Italian residents relocated to Lincoln Heights. The neighborhood is now largely comprised of warehouses and factories.
During the 1910s, Little Italy continued to expand eastward into Lincoln Heights, one of Los Angeles’ oldest neighborhoods and its first suburb. While Lincoln Heights’ population had previously consisted primarily of native-born whites from the Midwest, over 50 percent of the neighborhood was Italian, by 1940, and it had become the largest Italian enclave in the city.
Lincoln Heights, Aerial View (1910) by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Early 1900s view of Lincoln Heights.
Wedding of Marianna Cortese to Mercurio Ferdinando Gatto in Lincoln Heights (1932) by Marianna GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Many of Lincoln Heights’ 20,000 Italian residents were Sicilians who had previously lived in Pennsylvania and Louisiana. One-quarter of the enclave's Italians, including the Gatto and Cortese families, pictured here, had relocated from Colorado, namely the southern Colorado mining towns of Pueblo and Trinidad.
Jack Grafi and Mary Bonura on Their Wedding Day (1912)Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
Using kin- and village-based chain migration networks, the Grafi and Bonura families emigrated from Gibellina and Salaparuta, Sicily, to the plantations of Plaquemine, Louisiana, where they remained for several years before journeying west to Texas. The families continued to migrate as a group, purchasing homes next door to one another in Lincoln Heights. For decades, nearly one hundred family members lived within walking distance of one another in the neighborhood.
Members of the Grafi and Cancellieri family by Jack GrafiItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The Grafi and Bonura families, like others of the time, transplanted the social structures of their rural Italian villages to create tightly-knit urban villages in their adopted country. The Italians of Lincoln Heights remained loyal to the traditional values of campanilismo, or the tendency to trust members of one’s family and town.
Businesses in Little Italy Los Angeles Video (2016) by Francesca GuerriniItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
They patronized stores owned by their paesani, such as the Lanza Market, Buongiorno Grocery, Grandview Delicatessen, and Mandala Grocery. Couples purchased their wedding rings at the DeCaro Jewelry Store before visiting Giachino Pastries, famous for its multi-tiered rum cakes.
Giorgio Castriota/Gheg Gheg Hall (1940/1950) by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
At the Giorgio Castriota Hall, pictured here, which was named after the hero of Albanian independence, the Sicilian community, many of whom spoke the Albanian-Sicilian dialect Gheg Gheg, gathered for social events, including weddings and baptisms.
Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Terminal (1935) by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Selling fruit was an avenue through which even the most impoverished immigrant could improve his or her life. After achieving success as peddlers, some became distributors and dealers, or rented stalls at the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, pictured here. One such immigrant was Lorenzo Cancellieri, whose immigration journey took him from Sicily to Trinidad, Colorado, and, later, to Lincoln Heights.
Workers with Crates of Wine Grapes in Lodi, California (Circa 1919) by Lodi Historical SocietyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Upon his arrival to the United States, Cancellieri became a produce seller, and was among the first to ship California wine grapes across the country via rail. By 1920, Italians figured prominently in Southern California’s produce industry. Italian fruit dealers and commission house owners frequently purchased crops while they were still on the trees, before procuring their own acreage and becoming growers as well as distributors.
Potato Sales Company Advertisement and Potato Plant Image (1960) by Potato Sales Company, Los AngelesItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Many expanded their holdings to include complementary industries, such as packinghouses, trucking companies, and refrigerated storage facilities. In the 1950s, Cancellieri’s son, Lawrence, established a produce trucking business, and co-founded what became one of the region’s largest potato distribution companies.
The Perricone Family in Pueblo, Colorado (1935) by IAMLA/Perricone FamilyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Following the death of his father in 1935, Sam Perricone, age 14, pictured second from right, drove his mother and siblings from Pueblo, Colorado, to Los Angeles, and settled in Lincoln Heights.
Perricone Family History Video (2016) by Francesca GuerriniItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
To help support the family, Sam worked for an olive oil distributor during the day and, in the evenings, purchased lemons from local groves, which he then sold at the Grand Central Market. This was his first step to becoming a wholesaler. The company he established, Perricone Citrus, would later become one of the largest citrus distributors in the world.
Tony Umina by IAMLA/Flamminio FamilyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In the early 1900s, the Umina family opened a humble produce market in East Los Angeles. By 1926, they had saved enough to obtain a space at the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, where they established a grape and citrus firm.
Umina Produce Crate (2015) by Umina-Flammino familyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Within decades, Umina Brothers became a full-line produce house and established an export division. Today, the company boasts sales of over $100 million annually.
Cancellieri Family Companies (2016) by Legacy FarmsItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
A century later, the Cancellieri family has become the largest distributor of melons in the United States, and one of the nation’s largest produce growers, packers, and distributors.
Wedding of Gloria and George Carone Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles by IAMLA/Carone FamilyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
As the Mexican population of Lincoln Heights grew, intermarriage between Mexicans and Italians became increasingly common. During an era when inter-ethnic romantic relations were discouraged, George Carone, who was born in Los Angeles shortly after his parents emigrated from Italy, and Los Angeles-born Gloria Flores, of Mexican heritage, met at a playground in Lincoln Heights. It was love at first sight. George and Gloria kept their relationship a secret for three years before receiving their parents’ blessing; their marriage endured for over fifty years.
Lincoln High School Yearbook (1938) by IAMLA/Lincoln High SchoolItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
This Lincoln High School yearbook illustrates the diversity of the neighborhood known to many as "Little Italy."
Venti/Venticinque Family in Los Angeles/Alhambra by IAMLA/Lara/Venti FamilyItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In the post-World War II era, many of Lincoln Heights’ Italian residents began moving to the suburbs, including San Marino, Los Feliz, Eagle Rock, and Highland Park, or the San Gabriel Valley neighborhoods of Alhambra, Arcadia, and Monterey Park. The dispersion process accelerated in the 1950s with the construction of the Golden State Freeway, which tore through the middle of the neighborhood, and required the demolition of dozens of homes.
In 1875, the Southern Pacific Railroad opened the city’s first transcontinental railroad depot adjacent to the Plaza in the North Industrial District, a neighborhood known by locals as “Dogtown” because of an early animal shelter located there.
Dogtown Railroad Workers, Los Angeles by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The railroad served as the principal employer of Dogtown’s Mexican and Italian residents, who made their short commute to the rail yard, which is now the Los Angeles State Historic Park, on foot.
Remittance Receipt (1922) by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Remittance payments─money that immigrants send back to their home countries─are viewed as the most tangible link between migration and development. For over two decades, Los Angeles railroad worker Giulio Bonomi loyally sent money to his wife in Italy, and kept each receipt. The remittances were integral to the family’s support, and served as a powerful tool in the alleviation of poverty.
Made possible by a loan from the Bonani-Garcia family.
Naud and Scheffelin Streets in Dogtown Los Angeles by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Former Dogtown residents recall the comfort and connectivity the enclave provided, where neighbors reported on the whereabouts of each other’s children and gathered in the evenings with their instruments to play music.
Children of Dogtown Likely From the Brownson Settlement House by Mary Julia Workman Loyola Marymount University Special CollectionsItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Dogtown’s immigrant population also became the focus of social reformers who established a number of settlement houses in the area.
Los Angeles Settlement House Literature Rotary Club by Loyola Marymount University Special CollectionsItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Tracing its history in the United States to Jane Addams’ Hull-House in Chicago, Los Angeles’ settlement house movement was spearheaded by both religious and secular charities.
Santa Rita Settlement House Pupils Including Mary and Eda De Maio by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
The institutions serving Dogtown’s residents included the Los Angeles Settlement House, operated by the Rotary Club, and the Brownson House and Santa Rita Settlement House, which were administered by the Bureau of Catholic Charities. In this image, young women display the diplomas they received at Santa Rita Settlement House.
Children of the Brownson Settlement House by Mary Julia Workman Loyola Marymount University Special CollectionsItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Settlement houses provided medical care, food and clothing for the destitute, educational, vocational, and recreational programs, Americanization classes, and, often, religious instruction.
Pictured here: Children of the Brownson Settlement House in Los Angeles, founded by Mary Julia Workman in 1901, learn basket weaving.
Pagone Family in Dogtown by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Michael Pagone, pictured left, whose family settled in Dogtown after emigrating from Bari, Italy, cites the neighborhood’s confluence of Italian and Mexican cultures as a principal inspiration for his career as a musician.
Perez Prado Album Cover by Tumbao Cuban ClassicsItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
To Pagone, the Latin rhythms of his childhood were “infectious,” and he soon became a sought-after percussionist, performing with Cuban bandleaders Rene Touzet and “Mambo King” Perez Prado, whose hit “Mambo No. 5” topped the charts.
Zenda Ballroom Rene Touzet Orchestra Mike Pagone on the Timbales by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
In the 1950s, Pagone, pictured left in front of the timbales, and fellow Italian American trumpet player Pete Candoli, were members of Prado’s famed orchestra. They performed regularly at clubs such as the Zenda Ballroom, which catered to Latino youth who were denied entry to other Los Angeles venues.
Dogtown Homes Being Demolished During Urban Renewal by Los Angeles Public LibraryItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
During the 1940s and 1950s, Dogtown’s Victorian-era residences and humble, clapboard homes were declared “substandard” and demolished.
Festa and Emanuelli Families Celebrating Armistice Day in Dogtown Los Angeles (1918-11-11) by IAMLAItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
If the Festa and Emanuelli families, shown here in front of their Dogtown homes celebrating Armistice Day (the end of World War I), were to return to their neighborhood, they would discover that not a single residence remains.
Mens Central Jail Contemporary View of Bauchet Street Where the Festa and Emanuelli Familes Lived in Dogtown (2014) by Marianna GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Today, commercial warehouses dominate the area, as well as the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, and the Men’s Central Jail.
Bruno Street in Dogtown Los Angeles (2015) by Marianna GattoItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
Many of Dogtown’s streets have been erased from the map entirely. Bruno and Sotello streets, named after Italian families who lived in the area, are the lone reminders of the enclave’s Italian history.
Content Author- Marianna Gatto
Design- Robert Checchi
Curation- Marianna Gatto and Robert Checchi
Video Projections- Christopher Sprinkle
Graphics- Robert Checchi and Clyde Crossan
GCI Videos- Robert Checchi, Clyde Crossan, and Francesca Guerrini
Images Courtesy of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, Archivi Alinari, Branimir Kvartuc, Corbis Images, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument Collection, Fonderia USA, George Eastman House (Lewis W. Hine), Gloria Carone, Historic Mapworks, Idaho State Historical Society, J Allen Archives, the Venti-Lara family, Loyola Marymournt University, Department of Archives and Special Collections, (William H. Hannon Library), Los Angeles Maritime Museum, Los Angeles Public Library, Marianna Gatto, Damian Gatto, Eric Eisenberg, Perricone Family, the Flamminio family, San Pedro Bay Historical Society, Bonani-Garcia family, St. Peter’s Church, Steel Works Museum of Industry and Culture, University California Los Angeles Library Special Collections, Underwood Archives, the Cancellieri family,
Special thanks to John Lombardo, the Demaio-Tortomasi family, Jack Cancellieri, Elda Maga Pilj, the Garibaldina Society, Bernal, Bob Bozzani, Rosa Buscaino, Giuseppina D’Asaro, Roy Fazzi, Marilyn Gonzalez, Laura Miller, Mary Star of the Sea Church, the Nuccio family, Mary Perini Duce, Chris Gerola, Bruce Festa, John Emanuelli, Mary Messaroti Oliver, John Nese, William Fasoli, John Griffin