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The Italians of Los Angeles, 1900

Rosalind Gicrrdina Crosby

T he Italian presence in Southern California can be generally divided into

three periods, Adventurers and Pioneers (1780-1 880). Peasant Masses
(1880-1929), and the New Migrants (1930-1 960). This paper.focuses on the
peasant masses, the ordinary Italian men and women who came to LDS
Angeles during the period of mass migration. Based primarily on the
manuscript census for 1900 and on supplementary information found in
church records, voter registration lists and oral interviews, this study con-
structs a profile of employed Italian-born males, and describes their
particular Italian settlement in Los Angeles at the turn of the century.

Before native white US. citizens settled on the West Coast, Italians and
other European-born immigrants lived in California. In the 1830s Richard
Henry Dana, in Two Years Before The Mast, noted Italian fishermen in the
waters off San Pedro, riding on the beach, and dancing in the nearby town.
Austrian Archduke Ludwig Louis Salvator, a German travel writer widely
read in Europe, noted the Italian presence when he visited there in 1876.
He related that English, French, Spanish, German and Italian were heard
spoken on the streets and that many horseback riders were in evidence, for
Spaniards, Frenchmen, and Italians preferred riding to driving (Salvator,
1929:129-1 36).
During this early pioneer period, the area known today as Southern
California was culturally isolated from the seat of government, whether
Spanish, Mexican, or American. Even after statehood, the Spanish Mexican
culture continued to dominate until well into the 1870s.This was especially
true in Los Angeles, and served to further emphasize its separation and
isolation from American society and government. Throughout the 1850s
and 1860s and well into the ~ O SLos
, Angeles was simply a group of adobe

The Italians of Los Angeles, 1900 39

structures clustered around a plaza. Mexican Americans comprised 47

percent of the population in 1860, and 38 percent in 1870. Los Angeles in
those days was considered a semigringo town, and all classes, whether
American or European born, married Mexican women and embraced
Mexican language, culture and traditions, evidence suggesting that the
society was open and cosmopolitan (Starr, 1973:370-375; McWilliams,
Italian settlers in Los Angeles date back to as early as 1828, when some
had established businesses in the vicinity of the central plaza. These men
were northern Italians, primarily sailors who had abandoned ship, or men
who had arrived in Los Angeles via South America. Like other Europeans,
they appear to have become well integrated in the Hispanic community,
many marrying Culifornio wives, and some becoming affluent ranchers,
businessmen and merchants.
With the anticipated arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in the late
187Os, the Mexican rumho era came to an end. New settlers, discovering the
rich soil,wonderful climate and cheap available land, began small farms.
Mormons in San Bernardino and Germans in Anaheim established agricul-
tural colonies; fruit grew abundantly and sheep dotted the hillsides where
cattle had once roamed. At the same time, the urban core expanded as
thousands of boomers. health seekers and tourists poured into the region.
By 1875 the nationwide panic of 1873 had spread to Los Angeles, bringing
bank failures, soaring interest rates, higher railroad charges and curses from
the local citizenry against boomers and tourists. Nonetheless, by the end of
this early settlement period, the basis of a new South Coast economy was
firmly in place (McWilliams, 1973:142; OFlaherty, 1972:129-191).
In 1885 both the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads linked Los
Angeles with the rest of the nation. The famous rate war, waged by the two
competing lines and supported by a surprisingly modern-day ad campaign,
brought thousands of eastern and midwestern settlers. An economic crisis
brought a downturn in the citys population in 1890, yet the Southern Pacific
Railroad continued to publicize Southern California to the rest of the nation,
saturating the Midwest and East with books, pamphlets, and newspapers
advertising Californialand and climate. As a result, between 1890 and 1900,
Los Angeles had doubled its population.2
The boom of 1887-1888, even with the nationwide panic and depression
that followed, had more positive than negative effects on Los Angeles. It
attracted more residents, improved transportation facilities, especially rail-
road and streetcar lines, brought capital for later industrial development,
stimulated the construction industry and increased the citys assessedworth.
In addition, by the 189Os, the foundations for the important oil and citrus

industries were firmly in place (McWilliams, 1973:130, 209-21 1). During

this period of mass migration, Los Angeles was exceptional for its spectac-
ular rate of growth and for the particular type of immigrant who settled
Unlike other American cities, Los Angeles immigrant masses were not
European peasants, but native-born Americans, coming first from north-
eastern cities and towns, and later from midwestern farms and villages. In
the years when New York, Chicago and San Francisco faced the challenges
of an industrializing society, Los Angeles was discovering its agricultural
potential. While other cities confronted ethnic diversity and the attendant
problems of poverty, crime and disease created by thousands of newly
arrived European immigrants, Los Angeles was rapidly becoming a homo-
geneous society. Moreover, at a time when urban populations lived in
crowded tenements surrounded by concrete sidewalks and tall buildings,
Los Angeles residents were moving out of the city into the seemingly
limitless expanses of the Los Angeles basin.3


By the 19OOs, Los Angeles settlers were primarily American born. I n
contrast to San Francisco, where at this time the total white foreign born
and their families accounted for 70 percent of the citys population, in Los
Angeles, they accounted for 43 percent. When compared to Italian groups
elsewhere in the United States, or to San Francisco, where in 1900 there
were approximately 14,000 Italian born and their families, the Los Angeles
Italian community was a small one. In 1900 Italian-born immigrants and
their families numbered approximately 2,000, most of whom lived in fairly
contained sections of the city.
The small number of Italians does not, however diminish the importance
of studying the Italian community of Los Angeles. The special features of
Los Angeles and Southern California-its similarity to Italy, the land and
climate, an agricultural economy, an isolated and remote location only
recently discovered by American-born migrants, a relatively small foreign-
born population and spectacular growth accompanied by residential disper-
sion-resulted in an Italian settlement that differed from most other Italian
settlements in the United States.
Although represented in all parts of the city and county, in 1900 most
Italian born and their families lived in one major settlement and in other
smaller neighborhood clusters. Little Italy, the major settlement, was lo-
cated in tlie historic center of the city, an area that included the Plaza, the
Mission Church, Our Lady Queen of the Angels and Olvera Street, and
The Italians of Los Angeles. 1900 41

bordered on Sonora Town, the citys first barrio, and Nigger Alley, location
of the Chinese ghetto and Chinese massacre of 1877. Little Italy was the
center of Italian commercial and residential life. The Los Angeles City
Directory of 1899 and the San Francisco Italian newspaper, La Voce del
Popolo, list names and show advertisements for Italian businesses in the area,
offering the necessities of Italian life, food, drink and personal services.
Italian retail grocery store owners were listed,as well as butchers, bakers,
and pasta manufacturers. Italian wineries and vintners, both wholesale and
retail were listed, including prominent Piedmontese winemakers Second0
Guasti, Ambrogio Vignolo and Giuseppe Stormano. Names and advertise-
ments for a few Italian doctors, dentists, insurance agents and pharinncists.
as well as saloons, hotels and boarding houses were visible signs of a thriving
Little Italy (La Vocc del Popolo, October 10, 1890; March 6, 1895, and
February 28, 1899; 5ec also, U.S. Manuscript Census, 1900). The Italian
newspaper LEco delh Colonia established in 1894, was located on San
Fernando Street, and in 1908 it became Lltcslo A&am, which is still
published today. In 1904 Saint Peters Italian Church, under Reverend Tito
Piacentini, was built on North Spring Street (formerly San Fernando
Street), and by 1906 an Italian consular agent had an offce on North Spring
and Second streets!
Italian residents were concentrated in Wards Two and Eight of die city.
Most lived in Ward Two, an area in the northernmost section of Los Angeles
which adjoined the Pueblo. Here they lived among other white foreign-born
groups from France, Germany, Austria, Canada and Mexico, as well as
smaller groups of blacks and Chinese. Even when counted together, how-
ever, all white foreign born were only one fifth of the total ward population,
and black, Chinese and Japanese accounted for less than 3 percent of the
total, the rest being native-born Americans. While Italians did not live as an
isolated group on specific blocks of the ward, most lived in an area that lay
at the foot of the hills rising on the citys northern boundary and adjacent
to Elysian Park. Most households were concentrated on a few blocks of
Castelar Street, with smaller groups on nearby streets such as New High,
Yale, Buena Vista and San Fernando. Italian residents were mostly renters,
who outnumbered home owners by nearly two to one.
A part of Little Italy was also located in Ward Eight, the old city core and
by far the most urban and cosmopolitan area of Los Angeles, where 60
percent of the population was composed of foreign-born Europeans as well
as Chinese,Japanese, blacks and me xi can^.^ Italian born and their families
resided in largest numbers on North Main, Lyon and San Fernando, and
also in smaller numbers on the streets fanning eastward from the Old Plaza
to the Los Angeles River, amid the network of Southern Pacific and Santa

Fe railroad tracks. Quierolo, Sotello and Garibaldi, streets named after Los
Angeles Italian pioneer families and a leader of Italian unification, were
located in this ward. This area had the lowest number of homeowners,
renters outnumbering owners by almost four to one, but Italian renters
outnumbering Italian homeowners by over two to one. This percentage was
significantly higher than the ward average, yet compared to Italian home-
owners in other city wards and to citywide totals of all homeowners, in both
cases, Italians in Ward Eight had the lowest percentage.
Other Italians lived scattered in Wards Six and Seven.6 While listings in
the city directory for 1899 show lively Italian commercial activity in Wards
Two and Eight, in the Italian neighborhoods in Wards Six and Seven, a
handful of grocery stores run by Italians were the only Italian commercial
enterprises which advertised, suggesting that these neighborhoods were
mostly residential and that Italian men worked elsewhere (Los Angela
Directoly, 1899). Ward Six was the southernmost ward of the city, and there
and in Ward Nine lay f a r m still within tlie city proper. In these two wards
the urban met the rural. Just as in the seventh and eighth wards, Italians in
Wards Six and Seven lived amid the network of Southern Pacific and Santa
Fe tracks, not far from the Los Angeles City Market (U.S. Manuscript
Census, 1900).
Cinel describes Italian residential patterns in San Francisco as more
nucleated and persistent than those of other immigrant groups in the city,
but less nucleated than Italians living in other American cities. While San
Francisco Italians may have formed the largest number of foreign born in
some areas, San Francisco lacked exclusive or almost exclusive Italian
settlements (Cinel, 1982:149-1 51, 163-164). This is also true for the Los
Angeles Italian community in 1900. While the majority lived in Little Italy
or in smaller neighborhood clusters, Italians always lived alongside individ-
uals of different origins. What can be said about Italians living among
non-Italian groups in other American cities is even more true for Los
Angeles, since the citys population was predominantly native born, and the
Italian born and their households were an extremely small proportion of
the total population. While Los Angeles Italians did not live in areas
exclusively settled by Italians, most chose to live in particular neighbor-
hoods, alongside kin and paesani. As they did in cities elsewhere in North
America, hometown and provincial networks ran like veins through most
Italian neighborhoods in Los Angeles. However, when compared to Jewish
and Mexican residential patterns in Los Angeles, Italians were far more
dispersed. The Los Angeles environment led to modifications of the typical
Italian residential and settlement patterns. In Los Angeles, for example,
Italians escaped the evils of congestion. In 1900, Los Angeles had an
The Italians of Los Angeles, 1900 43

essentially suburban configuration, with large open spaces adjacent to

commercial and residential developments. When compared to San Fran-
cisco, New Haven, Chicago and New York, all cities with large Italian
populations, it had the lowest average number of individuals per dwelling.s
Interviews with former residents of the Italian neighborhood around
Hunter and Enterprise streets confirm the fact that, even in the poorest
neighborhoods, single family houses had side yards and frequently back-
yards large enough to have a small barn and other outbuildings. The
Security Pacific Photograph Collection shows contemporary photographs
of homes in the Italian neighborhood with small front yards planted with
trees and enclosed by picket fence^.^
Another such modification was in property ownership. When the percent-
age of home owners in Los Angeles is compared to other representative
cities, it is clear that the Los Angeles percentage and the Italian percentage
were very high. In 1900, nearly half of all employed Italian-born males
owned their homes, while 42 percent of the total city population owned
theirs. Even in the poorer neighborhoods where Italians lived, 34 percent
of all Italians owned their own home.l0
This high percentage of home ownership among Los Angeles Italians
made them unique among other Italian groups in North America. Land and
home ownership among San Francisco Italians were the exceptions because
most Italians did not have the ready cash to buy and because most of them
intended to save money to return to Italy to buy land (Cinel, 1982:141). In
San Francisco Italians followed the general pattern of the time, since home
ownership was the exception for working-classfamilies. If one assumes that
home ownership indicates a certain level of economic well-being and social
progress, one can speculate that in 1900 Italians in Los Angeles were
economically and socially better off than their eastern, and for that matter,
Northern California counterparts (Cinel, 1982:305-307; Tygiel, 1977:274;
Yans-McLaughlin, 1982:175; Zucchi, 1981:25).
Home ownership among Los Angeles Italians was directly related to age,
number of years in the United States and to marital status. Older, married
immigrants having been in the United States for more than ten years were
most likely to own their own homes. In 1900, the majority of Los Angeles
Italians were in this category. Not surprisingly, home ownership and natu-
ralization were significantly related, and nearly half of these Italian-born
men were naturalized as well (U.S. Manuscript Census, 1900).
Statistics, however, do not reveal what kind of homes these Italians
owned. In 1900 the majority owned homes in the least desirable sections of
the city. Little Italy bordered on the Old Plaza, which Griswold del Castillo
had described as a slum even in the 1860s. Between 1850 and 1880, the

poorest section of the city, measured in terms of rental and purchased

homes, was in this core area. Houses sold for as little as $100." From
photographs one can determine that the houses and businesses in the heart
of the Italian settlement were rundown adobe structures. A resident of the
Enterprise Street neighborhood in the industrial section of the city described
his first home as poor, with no front yard and hastily constructed outbuild-
ings in the backyard.'*


Determining the provincial origin of Los Angeles Italians is extremely
difficult because so many were transmigrants. From fraternal society mem-
bership lists, business records, bibliographical and church records as well as
personal interviews, origins could be identified for approximately one
fourth of the cases in the manuscript census. Of these, two-thirds were from
northern Italy, and one-third from southern Italy. While it is not possible
to reach definite conclusions based on such scant evidence, one can speculate
that in 1900 the Italian population in Los Angeles was made up of both
northern and southern Italians, with northerners most likely in the major-
Both northern and southern Italians lived in Little Italy, but because of
their importance in businesses and voluntary associations, one can speculate
that a northern group mostly from Piedmont, Liguria, and Lombardy
dominated Little Italy. Northern Italians were the earliest immigrants to
Los Angeles, settling and establishing businesses near the Old Plaza. The
majority of Italian winemakers and vintners listed in the city directory from
1899 as residents of Wards Two and Eight were northern Italians from
Piedmont. In 1877, northern Italians founded the Italian Mutual Benevo-
lence Society, and in 1888 the Societa Unione e Fratellanza Garibaldina,
which had their meeting hall on Olvera Street. In later years other nortliern
Italian groups including I1 Circolo Operaio Italian0 met in the Italian Hall
a t Macy and Olvera streets (Los Angeles City Directory, 1899; Lotlirop,
1989:30; Willard, 190124).
Both northern and southern Italians lived in Wards Six and Seven, but
the southern group dominated there. Church records indicate that the area's
Italians were overwhelmingly Sicilian from the communes of Corleone,
Piana degli Albanesi, and Santa Cristina. Aconsiderably smaller group came
from communes in the Piedmont region.
Los Angeles Italians could be distinguished from those in other cities of
high immigration, including San Francisco, because in all four wards where
The Italians of Los Angeles, 1900 45

they resided, married men with their families outnumbered single men and
married men living without their spouses. (Marriage records, Immaculate
Conception Church; U.S. Manuscript Census, 1900). In 1900 there was no
neighborhood made up of recent and younger arrivals. Most Italians were
an older group who had been in the United States for ten or more years and
who were married and living with their spouses. In contrast to San Francisco,
Los Angeles in 1900, was still a small city without an industrial base or
factory system requiring numbers of young able-bodied workers. Because
of this and also because it was far from all ports of entry, it did not receive
a continuous flow of reinforcements directly from Italy; consequently, it
seems, the population was progressively aging (Burchell, 1977:28%302;
Tygiel, 1977:284-285).
The composition of the population in Los Angeles was also the result of
transmigration. Of all employed Italian-born males living in Los Angeles in
1900, nearly 75 percent had arrived in the United States before 1890,27
percent arriving before 1870, and 43 percent between 1880 and 1890.
Although it is not possible to determine exactly when each person came to
California and Los Angeles, it is apparent that these Italians were among
the early immigrant arrivals to the United States and the Far West. Data
from the manuscript census of Los Angeles for 1900 show instances of
different birthplaces for children in the same family. These birthplaces give
an indication of transmigration patterns for Italian families arriving before
1900. Most Italian transmigrants took the Italy-New York-California route;
the second largest group took a route which frequently included Mexico and
the southwestern United States; smaller groups of transmigrants came by
way of Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. In some families, birth-
places of individual children indicate as many as four stops in the
transmigration to California (LosAngeles County Great Register of Voters,
1896). Biographies of Los Angeles porninenti, many of whom came to Los
Angeles just after the turn of the century, as well as individual personal
histories also document the transmigration process. l4
In contrast to the Los Angeles Italian population, Cinel asserts that only
5 percent of the San Francisco Italians in his study lived elsewhere in the
United States before settling in San Francisco. On the other hand, other
non-Italian immigrant groups in San Francisco were more likely to have
experienced transmigration (Cinel, 1982:114). The evidence for Los Ange-
les Italians, found in tlie manuscript census, suggests that an estimated
minimum of 20 percent of tlie Los Angeles Italians followed the non-Italian
pattern of transmigration. They too, however, followed the traditional
Italian pattern of chain migration originally described by MacDonald (Mac-
Donald, 1964).

The occupational patterns of the Los Angeles Italians were related

directly to the particular economic conditions in Southern California which
offered Italians opportunities for employment and advancement unavail-
able to most of their co-nationals who emigrated elsewhere. The kind of
jobs they had, when considered with other variables such as marital status
and homeownership indicate their intention to remain permanently in the
United States.15
An overview of the varieties of jobs held by Italian immigrants as well as
the population in general in 1900 confirms the fact that Los Angeles was
not an industrial community. Businesses were local, consisting mostly of
residents performing mutual services. This local commercial economy
began with the land boom of the 1880s, an economic boom which involved
little industrialization. The newly arrived American immigrants were
mostly retired businessmen, health seekers, small farm owners, small busi-
ness operators, and mechanical and other skilled workers looking for better
wages and year-round employment. All came with the desire to improve the
quality of their lives and not to fund capitalistic ventures to augment their
incomes. Commercial expansion was primarily related to the agricultural
sector ofthe economy, and the growing populations needs for housing, food
and clothing.
By 1890 Los Angeles had 50,000 residents and 750 establishments
manufacturing only $9.9 million in goods, less than the smaller western
cities of Portland and Seattle. There were no industries producing goods
beyond local needs. Its principal industries, flour mills, carpentry shops and
slaughter houses, were all small scale, producing only consumer goods for
local markets. Between 1890 and 1900 with its tremendous population
growth, Los Angeles experienced a marked industrial expansion. The work
force, however, was still engaged primarily in trade and the professions, and
only secondarily in manufacturing and mechanical work (Stimson,
Evidence suggests that the occupations of Italians conformed to this
pattern of local commerce, since a significant number of them were em-
ployed as lodging house, restaurant and saloon keepers, as well as barbers,
grocers and fruit peddlers, indicating in part that Italians provided services
for other Italians (Fogelson, 1967:123; U.S. Bureau of the Census,
1900:570-571). The single largest group of Italians were, however, laborers
in domestic and personal service; l6 the next largest group were fruit dealers
and peddlers. But grouping Italians according to these categories can be
misleading because it does not reflect that the majority were employed in
agriculture o r in jobs related to agriculture.
The Italians of Los Angeles, 1900 47

Land and its products were intimately tied to what most Italians did for
a living in Los Angeles. Keeping these ties to the land in mind, it seems more
reasonable to group Italian occupations in the following way: agriculture
(including production, distribution and sales of food), fishing (including
production, distribution and sales), personal service (includingprofessional,
nonprofessional, skilled and unskilled workers), and nonservice (including
trade, transportation, manufacturing and mechanical workers). When Ital-
ians are classified in this way, half were employed in agriculture and related
jobs. If the agriculture and fishing categories are combined, then nearly
three fifths of all Italians were employed in some aspect of food production,
sales and distribution. It seems, moreover, that when occupation, age and
year of emigration are compared, the longer an immigrant had been in the
United States, and the older he was, the more likely it was that he would
have been employed in agriculture or related work. The more recent the
immigrants arrival, the more likely he would have been employed in
personal services, most commonly as a laborer.
Los Angeles Italians employment in agriculture and in jobs related to it
conformed to the pattern for all Italians in California. Italian successes in
viticulture and agriculture are well known-winemakers Sbarboro, Guasti,
Petri and Rossi, and fruit and vegetable growers and canners Di Giorgio,
Fontana and Sunseri. All became prominent leaders in an industry that
evolved into agribusinesses by the 1940s and 1950s. While not all Italians
achieved such success, unlike their eastern counterparts, many California
Italians were engaged in agriculture from an early date. l7
The needs of the local economy and the particular nature of marketing
in Los Angeles dovetailed with the goals and skills of the Italian immigrant.
In these years the retail food inarket was pervasive. Grocery and fruit stores,
bakeries and meat markets, as well as poultry, fish andgame markets offered
merchandise to buyers; vegetable, fruit and milk wagons made daily calls
on their customers. Such a marketing system presented great opportunities
for the middleman because there was no regulated public market to curtail
his activities by bringing producer and consumer into direct contact and by
promoting competition. A great many Italian immigrants were employed
in such specialized marketing (Friedman, 1980:443). Before 1870, the
.lowliest immigrant could become a fruit peddler in Los Angeles, a situation
that persisted well into the twentieth century. Some Italians, many ofwhom
were Sicilian, got their start as fruit and vegetable peddlers.l* Finding
success as peddlers, many decided to become distributors and dealers,
negotiating with growers in their fields, frequently buying fruit still on the
trees and hauling it to the city for distribution to buyers. Others rented stalls
outside the Los Angeles City Market, and others owned commission houses

inside. Oftentimes fruit dealers and commission house owners purchased

their own acreage outside the city and become growers as well as distributors
and salesmen. The most successful of these businesses were often family
operations, with some family members living on the ranch as growers and
others in the city as distributors. Always there was coming and going
between the city and the country, many Italians making the predawn trip,
sometimes taking five hours by horse and wagon from the fields to the
produce market in downtown Los Ange1es.l9
If Italians in California were exceptional in their employment in agricul-
ture and related jobs, the Italians in Los Angeles were even more
exceptional because a particular feature of the Los Angeles economy pre-
sented these immigrants special opportunities for economic advancement.
Unlike cities on the East Coast and their European prototypes, Los Angeles
was without a public market, consequently, the middleman who handled all
local distribution of goods was of pivotal importance for the citys economic
life and growth. A significant number of Italian immigrants became such
middlemen, entrepreneurs who owned small businesses (Friedman.
What was also distinctive about the Los Angeles Italians in 1900, was that
a high percentage were business owners, with nearly half of all Italian-born
men being self-employed and owning a small business ofsome type. Owning
a business was significantly related to the number of years spent in the
United States, consequently also to age and marital status (US. Manuscript
Census, 1900).


While California offered Italian immigrants a benign environment, espe-
cially when compared to eastern and southern cities, Los Angeles
inhabitants, mostly American-born migrants, exhibited a distinct regional
nativism, fusing Anglo-Saxon superiority and anti-Catholic sentiment. By
1900, the cosmopolitan scene described by Ludwig Louis Salvator in the
1870s had long disappeared; the boom of the 1880s had erased forever the
last traces of the Spanish Mexican world. Just as the Gold Rush made
Northern California a real part of the United States in the 18509, the boom
of the 1880s was the final step in the process of making Southern California
truly American. Referring to this change in the 188Os, Harris Newmark
wrote in his diary that many clubs were organized in the early era of
sympathy, when an individual was appreciated for his true worth, and before
the advent of men whose bigotry has sown intolerance and discord (Dumke,
1944:276; Newmark, 1970:383; OFlaherty, 1978:211-212).
The Italians of Los Angeles. 1900 49

Anti-Catholic sentiment in the city surfaced during the brief life of the
American Protective Association which had been formed in Iowa in the late
1880sby Henry Bowers. The Associations expressed purpose was to thwart
the growing power of Romans in local politics and labor. In the 1890s the
AFA made efforts to exclude Los Angeles Catholics from political office and
mercantile employment and sponsored a boycott of Catholic businesses. It
also made a good showing in an 1894 campaign full ofxenophobic rhetoric.
Foreign-born Catholics, mostly German, Irish, French, Mexican and Italiian,
were associated by the APA with the power of Romanism (Higham,
1967:62-63; Los Angeles Archdiocese, n.d.; The APA Movement, 1912:53).
The American-born immigrants who flooded the region beginning in tlie
1880s suffered from acute anxieties created by their feelings of imperma-
nence, social disintegration, and discontinuity with their lives in the East
and Midwest. Having no tradition of their own in this new region, and
needing to allay their anxieties, these native-born Americans rediscovered
a Spanish Mission past, a rediscovery filled with paradoxes and incongruities
(OFlaherty, 1978:203-205; McWilliams, 1973:233-238, 350-351, 354-
Among the principle people responsible for the Mission revival were
Helen Hunt Jackson and Charles Fletcher Lummis. Jackson was a Massa-
chusetts Calvinist, staunch defender of the Indians and, in 1895, author of
Ramona; Lummis was an editor, folklorist and organizer of mission preser-
vation.Jackson, Lummis and their followerscreated a synthetic Spanish past
glorifying the Franciscan missionaries as pious and devout and romanticiz-
ing the ranchos inhabited by lordly dons, beautiful senorilas and docile,
grateful Indians. Paradoxically, the revival came at a time when the regions
true Spanish background was largely overlooked. While the American
residents accepted Helen Hunt Jacksons Ramona and Alessandro as charm-
ing folk figures, they rejected the real Indians living in the area. The Mission
revival was a Protestant enterprise, and the Catholic Church played little or
no part in it. In fact, the less Catholic a community, the more the Mission
past was emphasized (McWillhms, 1973:77-80; Walker, 19503239-243).
By inference, the Mission revival had meaning for Italians in Southern
California as well. Contemporary American and Italian writers drew paral-
lels between the climate and geography of Italy and Southern California
and voiced the exuberant, optimisticconviction that the area would produce
a cultural flowering akin to that of ancient Rome. Andrew Rolle contends
that these similarities made Italians feel at home in California, and that this
in large measure contributed to their success. Because of these happy
circumstances, Italians, along with other Latins, were able to make a
significant impact on the region, an impact seen in the Italianate or Medi-

terranean influence on food, architecture, landscape design, viticulture and

cultural activities. Though with far less emphasis, Rolle correctly acknowl-
edges that other forces contributed to shaping the Italy of America in Los
Angeles: . . . Victorian Italophiles as well as clever land speculators who
wished customers to savor the taste of Roman holidays, and the Southern
Pacific Railroad, all of whom stood to gain from a campaign promoting this
image (Rolle, 1968:282-292).
The popularity of things Italian was attributable not to Italiins them-
selves, but to native-born Americans intent on attracting new residents and
on promoting Southern Californias real estate booms. Contrary to Rolles
assertions, the Italianate influence and its spread had little to do with the
Italian immigrants who lived there. For the most part, these immigrants
coming in the period of mass migration were uneducated rural folk having
little consciousness of Italian cultural traditions or an Italian national
identity, their country having been unified for less than 40 years. What Rolle
and earlier writers described was really an image of Italy developed by
educated American entrepreneurs and based on what they thought Italy was
or had been, not on the Italy known by these Italian immigrants. Los Angeles
was in Eact, as Carey McWilliams has described it, Italywithout the Italians
(McWilliams, 1979:234).
In Los Angeles, a particular regional nativism made life difficult, and at
times unbearable, for almost all those who were not white, Anglo-Saxon or
Protestant. While there are no incidents reported of overt hostility against
Italians in 1900, such hostility did surface in 1913, at the opening of the Los
Angeles Bank of Italy branch, and in the 1920s.*O


In the early years ofsettlement discussed in the preceding sections, the roots
and patterns of future Italian settlement in Los Angeles were established.
The analysis of residential patterns has indicated that most Italians lived in
Little Italy and in neighborhood clusters in Wards Six and Seven. These
Italian neighborhoods were not homogeneous districts but were composed
of both northern and southern Italians, as well as individuals from native
and foreign backgrounds.
By eastern standards, Los Angeles Italians did not form an ethnic com-
munity. Large Italian enclaves in eastern and midwestern cities were
geographically defined settlements, sometimes segregated and nucleated,
of kin and paesani attempting to recreate the pace and patterns of their
hometown villages and communes. In many respects, members of these
The Italians of Los Angeles, 1900 51

Italian enclaves perceived themselves apart from the larger society and set
about achieving their own goals. For example, the Hill, with its blessed
geographic emplacement, provided Saint Louis Italians with an exclusive
and homogeneous community with its own institutions and agencies, which
allowed it to preserve Italian culture and character for nearly a century
vans-McLaughlin, 1982:261-263; Mormino, 1981:141-164).
The early Italian group in San Francisco lived in the Latin quarter
together with others born in France, the Basque country, Mexico and Spain.
By 1880 Italians had moved into the North Beach area and Broadway
became a cultural frontier which Italians seldom crossed or allowed others
to cross. Between 1910 and 1920 as the Italian population grew, Italians
continued to consolidate in their original settlements, forming no new ones.
On the other hand, evidence for the same time period suggests that Los
Angeles Italians, with residential patterns somewhat similar to San Fran-
cisco, formed a new settlement in Lincoln Heights and moved to other parts
of the city as well.
Though different from Italian communities elsewhere in North America,
Los Angeles had an Italian settlement in Little Italy and later in its eastward
extension in Lincoln Heightsjust off North Broadway. However, the settle-
ment was a symbolic, not an actual, center for Italians of all provincial
origins. Saint Peters Italian Church moved to its present North Broadway
site (a short distance from its original site on San Fernando) in 1915. The
Italian paper, LltalO-AmeriCano,began in 1908 with offices on North Broad-
way. Besides the older fraternal and social organizations already established
by northerners, in the 1920s Sicilians from Piana dei Greci formed the
Giorgio Kastrioto Club, which met in a hall at Castelar and Alpine streets.
Italian grocery storesand food importers, restaurants, photography studios,
insurance and travel agencies, barber shops, mortuaries and flower shops
along North Broadway were all visible signs of an ethnic density, but not of
an exclusively or even predominantly Italian ethnic neighborhood (Placidi,
1979:21; Baroni. 1932:130).
What made this Italian settlement a symbolic and not an actual Italian
center had a great deal to do with Los Angeles growth, general residential
patterns and particular attitudes toward space and distance. By the mid-
1930s Los Angeles was the fifth largest city in the United States. Its size of
451 square miles made it the nationslargest municipality in land area. Even
with first generation American-born children, Italians were always a small
proportion of the total population. Because of the small Italian population
and the citys physical sizeand generally dispersed residential patterns, there
was not a concentrated Italian settlement.21

The residential dispersion of Italians is another example of how the

particular features of the Los Angeles environment influenced Italian life
and settlement. From its earliest days, Los Angelenos lived in what has been
called an environment of movement. Franklin Walker has described the
inter-urban street car system developed by Henry Huntington in the early
1900s as a first class transportation system that was ultimately to deter-
mine the citys commitment to dispersed residential districts far removed
from the downtown business areas. The Big Red Car shuttling Los Angele-
nos to the far reaches of the basin set the stage for their later marriage to
the automobile and a freeway system distributing the population over the
entire city (Walker, 1950:232).
Sociologist Walter Firey in his study of Italians in Bostons North End
concluded that spatial proximity among people has symbolic value. Space
is an instrumentality in the sense that those who choose to live in a certain
area indicate by that choice their shared common values. Their choice of
residence implies similar attitudes toward occupation, family, choice of
friends and group membership. As values and attitudes cease to be shared,
the components of the ethnic community splinter off and dispersion occurs
(Lopreato, 1970:52-53).
Spatial proximity did not have the same meaning for Los Angeles Italians.
Proximity did not necessarily mean a commitment to cherished values and
traditions, and distance did not mean abandonment of them. Even in 1900,
but especially in the years that followed, Los Angeles Italians had freedom
to choose from a variety of options for living and relating to other Italians.
For those wanting and needing the ongoing support of the Italian commu-
nity, they could choose to live in the area around expanded Little Italy. For
others wanting regular participation in Italian religious, cultural, commer-
cial and social life, they could live in an Italian neighborhood elsewhere in
the city and return in their automobile or on the Red Car to the symbolic
center of the community on North Broadway. Still others could choose to
return only occasionally to the Italian church to celebrate, solemnize o r to
The history of Saint Peters Church, the only Italian Catholic Church in
Los Angeles, offers a good example of the Italian settlement pattern in Los
Angeles. Before 1904 there was no Italian parish or Italian church in Los
Angeles, which was a small city with an even smaller Catholic population
under the leadership of an Irish bishop and a mostly Irish clergy. Italians in
thexity attended the Plaza Church, Our Lady Queen of the Angels o n Olvera
Street, a church serving a predominantly Spanish-speaking congregation.
In 1904 Saint Peters Italian Church was established as a mission church
of the Plaza Parish in a temporary structure in the heart of Little Italy on
The Italians of Los Angeles, 1900 53
North Spring (formerly San Fernando). While serving all Catholics in the
area, the congregation was mostly Italian. In approximately 1908, Immac-
ulate Conception, another mission church ofthe Plaza parish, was begun on
Wilson Street, to serve Italians in that neighborhood (Placidi, 1979:22-51;
marriage records for Immaculate Conception and Saint Peters Church,
Unlike many other cities where Italians resided, the church in Los
Angeles was not a unifying force, especially in these early years. Italians
always shared church facilitiesand personnel with the larger Hispanic group
as well as with other nationals. In 1906, with the help of Mother Cabrini
who sent three sisters from her congregation, Saint Peters School (the
parish school for the Plaza Church) was built in the neighborhood on
Castelar and Alpine streets. From the outset the school was not exclusively
or even predominantly Italian, serving as it did the Mexican, Italian,
Chinese, Croatian and Slovakian children of the area. Immaculate Concep-
tion Church did not serve Italians exclusivelyeither; marriage records from
1908 to 1917 indicate marriages performed for Italians, Spanish and French
couples (Emmanuel, 1961:450-453; marriage records for Immaculate Con-
ception Church, 1908-1 917).
Listings for regional societies, with the exception of the Societa Gar-
ibaldina di Mutua Beneficenza, and the Circolo Operaio, show no cultural,
religious or social organizations formed before the 1920s. Most religious
societies were formed after 1930 by southern Italians from the province of
Ban, indicating that these organizations were not immigrant organizations,
but ones composed of second and even third generation Italian Americans,
many of whom had transmigrated, bringing customs and traditions from
their East Coast Italian enclaves (Placidi, 1979:142-165).
Los Angeles Italians never had a national church, and only in 1954 did
Saint Peters become a territorial parish. By that time few Italians resided
within the parish boundaries. Most had joined in the general exodus to the
outlying suburbs that began in the 1930s and, once there, they chose to
belong to their local parishes.
Because of their small numbers and dispersed residential patterns that
conformed to the population of the city in general, Los Angeles Italians were
residentially less nucleated and isolated than many of their compatriots
living elsewhere. From earliest days they were exposed to the influence of
the larger society and, as a result, made changes in their Old World ways,
although not entirely abandoning them, particularly in the early years.

When all the various pieces of evidence are considered as a whole, the
profile of a permanent, stable, Italian settlement in Los Angeles emerges.

The majority of employed Italian-born males living in Los Angeles in 1900

were between the ages of 30 and 45. They had been in the United States for
ten or more years, lived with their spouses in nuclear, and in some cases
extended families, and owned their own homes or farms. Most were natu-
ralized or had taken out first papers; they were owners of small businesses,
and frequently employed in agriculture or other related work compatible
with their skills.22
Los Angeles Italians stand in marked contrast to long-established Italian
patterns of return migration. Evidence for Los Angeles Italians indicates
that as early as 1900, a t least half had already made the decision to remain
permanently. Accepting Cinels conclusion that the intention to return was
strongest among the early immigrants, diminishing in the twentieth century
when more women and children emigrated, then the majority of Los
Angeles Italians were unique because they had decided to remain perma-
nently as early as 1900. Because they were living with their wives and
families, it seems reasonable to assume that they were already in what
George Pozzetta has identified as a family, or permanent stage of emigra-
tion that began only after 1900 in New Yorks Mulberry District. One can
speculate that because Los Angeles was far from a port of entry receiving
new immigrants, the community quite early and naturally became an older
group living in a n established family-centered settlement (Pozzetta,
1981:27-28; Burchell, 1971:289).
One might reasonably ask if many of these Italians perhaps returned to
Italy after 1900. The question cannot be answered conclusively, but it does
not seem likely that they did. The majority of northern and southern Italians
in Los Angeles lived with their families, and had already exceeded the
duration of average stay. Typically, Cine1 reports, northerners returned to
Italy after an absence of ten or more years and did not re-emigrate to the
United States. Southerners returned within three to five years and fre-
quently re-emigrated.2f
What accounts for this permanent, stable Italian settlement in Los Ange-
les as early as 1900?The apparent negative features of the region perhaps
served as positive inducement for Italians, once there, to remain. Los
Angeles was far from any port of entry, even after the railroads came.
Italians spending the extra time, money and effort to get there would be
more likely to remain. Remote from any port of entry, the distance was
psychological as well as physical because there were no fresh, continuous
reminders of Italy brought by recently arrived immigrants. The regions
dominant agricultural and service-oriented economy, while not offering
opportunities for immediate employment and monetary gains in manufac-
turing and industry, did allow Italians to work in jobs more compatible with
The Italians of Los Angeles, 1900 55

their skills. The importance ofthe middleman to the colony permitted many
Italians to become entrepreneurs as owners of small businesses requiring
some capital and risk, but at the same time offering them a personal stake
in the economy.
Still other factors contributed to permanency. There was no large Italian
population and no residentially exclusive or nearly exclusive colony main-
taining traditional ways and offering its own support system with immigrant
services and institutions. Instead, immediate family, kin and paesani (sig-
nificant ties for Italians), brought and held groups together. The goal of
home ownership could also be realized because Los Angeles was a city where
one could own a home. In purchasing their homes, Italians followed the
city's generally dispersed residential patterns and, as a result, were exposed
to the influences and pressures of the dominant American-born society,
fostering assimilation and change. Finally, for many Italians who settled in
Los Angeles, transmigration had been a part of their experience. Many had
been filtered through the eastern and southern United States as well as
through some foreign countries. This transmigration process gave them
time to become gradually accustomed to American life and to evaluate their
American experiences in terms of their personal goals and ambitions. By
the time many Italians had reached Los Angeles, they had already chosen
to become Americans.


' Among them were Ciovanni BaaiSta h d r i , a native of Sardinia, who arrived in 1823 via
Peru, married Maria Francesca Uribe, opened a general merchandise store, and in 1840 served
as local Justice of the peace. Matias Sabkhi, a Genoese sea captain arrived in 1838, opened a
saloon and married Josepha Coronel (Lothrop, 198730).
* From 50,000 in 1890 to more than 102,000 in 1900 (see Dumke, 1941:2%38; OFlaherty,
' Compared to San Francisco, the growth of Los Angeles City and County was phenomenal.
Between 1890 and 1930 the city populationgrew from 50,395 to 1,128,048, a fortyfoldincrease.
In these years Los Angeles had the most consistent advancement in population of any city in
the Far West. Between 1880 and 1890 a 103% increase, 1900-1910 a 212% increase, between
19104920 an 81% increase, and between 1920 and 1930 a 15% increase. San Francisco, by
contrast experienced tremendous growth in the mid-nineteenth century, with only a modest
gain of 28% between 1880 and 1890,15% between 1890 and 1900, and just over 20% for the
decades between 1900 and 1930 (McWilliams, 1973:15&164; Fogelson, 196275, 76,78,79;
W a r , 1950232; Carpenter, 196921).
Burlu' Lac Angeks (34Directoty (1906); Cordasco (197962). All issues of L'Eco &Ua Colonia
were inadvertentlydestroyed. Personal conversation with Rev. Mario Trecco,present editor of
L'IMO-AmniconO,July 45,1981.

The f v e 58.8% is far above the percentages for total foreign born in all other City wards.
With the exception of the seventh ward,foreign born in dl other wards, even when w u p e d
with blacks, were never more than 20% of the total ward population.
In Ward Seven they lived mostly on Hunter, Enterprise, Lemon and Wilson streets; in Ward
Six they lived mostly between Ninth and Twelfth streets and Central Avenue and Alameda
Street. Just under one fourth of all Italian born lived in these two wards.
Zucchi (1981:lCLlZ); Yans-McLaughlin(1982:5&60); Pozzetta (1981:45); Cine1(1982:165-
Personal interview with Rinp, May 9,1982, in which he describedhow his mothers
family and friends from Corleone, arriving in Los Angeles before his own family, helped them
get settled.
In 1900, Los Angeles had 4.5 persons per dwelling, San Francisco 6.4, New Haven 7.1 and
Chicago, 8.8 (US.Bureau of the Census, 1902:dx1.20.4).
Personal inteniewswith Sam Ringo, July 25,1981, and Anita Caliva, April 10,1981; Security
Pacific National Bank Photograph Collection, LosAngeles Public Library; Map of Los Angeles,
comp. and drawn by Felix Viole (Los Angeles: Baumbardt, 1903).
lo Criswold del Castilbs study of Los Angeles Mexican American population shows increasing
geographic segregation and concentration between 1870 and 1888. In the early 18809, more
than 70% of the Mexican American population lived in the southern and core sections of the
city, and by 1888, more than 709b lived in the banio, a segregated ten-block section of the Plaza
(Griswold del Castillo, 1979:149). Gelfand describes a similar segregated and concentrated
Jewish population (Gelfand, 1979416-417).
l 1 Criswold del Castillo (1979141-149). In 1909, cottages with bath in the Citys industrial
section could be rented from $12.00 to $20.00 per month.
By contrast, the family home purchased in 1912 on 21st and Hooper was on considerable
property, enough to build a permanent barn with full loft and large enough to house a horse
and wagon. By 1919when approximately 10,000 Italian born resided in LosAngeles, many had
moved out of this central area. While the Italian settlements identified for 1900 stiU existed, a
new settlement had grown up in the Lincoln Heights District, an eastward extension of Little
Italy, off North Broadway on the citys east side. Many home ownem in the Italian neighbor-
hoods, in what had been the seventh ward in 1900, were selling their homes to industrial
concerns rapidly buying up property in the area (Kirschner, 1920:49).
l3 One or more of the following means was used to identify provincial origins:membership lists
contained in the Articles of Incorporation for the Garibddina Society and the Italian Vineyard
Company (CaliforniaState Archives),biographical information contained in contemporary local
histories; and marriage records for Immaculate Conception Church. Also personal interviews
with Sam Ringo, Anita Caliva, and Rev. Luigi Danazan helped to identify provincial origins of
specific individuals.
l4 Antonio Valla, born in Genoa in 1833, first sailed to San Francisco in 1857. He lived there
for sometime before settling in Los Angeles in 1859. He founded one of Los Angela first
wineries, Valla and Tononi. Physician Bartolomeo Sasella, born in Lombardy, came to Los
Angeles in 1945 via California gold country. Piedmontese winemaker and Los Angeles pioneer
Giovanni G d came to the city when it was still a desert, after working his way across the country
as a miner in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Colorado. Another Piedmontcse, Second0 Guasti,
founder of the Italian Vineyard Company and perhaps the best known Southern California
Italian, began his career in LosAngeles in 1833as a d a y laborer and later as a cook, after living
and working in Panama, San Francisco, Mexico and Arizona. Southern Italian Joe Romano
emigrated from the province of Palermo to New Orleans and thence to Los Angeles in 1914,
The Italians of Los Angeles, 1900 57

where he operated a SumSsN grocery store and meat market in the Lincoln Heights section
of the City. Sam Ringo, a Los Angeles resident for the past 78 yeam, described both a family
migration and a chain migration from Corleone, Sicily, in 1904 to Morgan City, Louisiana and,
after fourteen months, to Los Angeles.
l5 For a discussion of economic disoiminatiOn toward Italians in California see Gioviico,
l6 In this they seemed to follow the state and national patterns.
Palmer, (1965:136) states that in 1879, 2% of Italians in W o m b were engaged in
l8 The case for correlation between occupation and Italian regions of origin rests entirely on
speculation, since prov-indorigins were identiliedfor so few. However, it is interestingto note
that of the 44 identilied as southern Italians, d y from Sicily, 70% were employed in
agriculture and work related to it.
Second0 Guastis career demonstrated this tie with the land as well. In 1884 as owner of a
small winery, Cuasti began his rise to prominence as the Leading grape producer in Southern
California and owner of the worlds largest vineyard in the Cucamonga Desert. In the early
189Os, he built a winery in Glendale and sales and storage facilities at Third and Alameda in
downtown Los Angeles. In 1900, with the help ofJames Sartori and the First National Bank,
he established the Italian Vineyard Company and moved his operation to the Cucamonga
Desert. Many shareholders in the new company were small growers and vintnen in their own
right and, like Guasri, from the Piedmont region of ltaly (Bartlett, 1909:1137611380; Palmer,
1965291-292; Directorp of the FNir Brandy DistUm of Califomia~for the season of 1890-1891;
and Italian Vineyard Corporation Articles of Incorporation).
5o In May 1913, the La Angehs Tribune announced the arrival of k P. Gianninis Bank of Italy
with the headlines Park Bank Taken Over by Italians. This was not the warm welcome one
would expect from a community dedicated to rapid economic growth, but one suggesting
belittlement and more than a trace of prejudice. Bank of America biographers Marquis and
Bessie James have attributed this cool reception in Lus Angeles to the dominant domestic
immigration largely from the insular Middle West. By contrast, San Franciscos Montgomery
Street had neverdisplayed hoetility towards the Bank of Italy (see James, 1954:61). In the early
19209 there were complaints of strong xenophobic cwrents being stimulated by local labor
groups in efforts to exdude foreign employees. ltalian workers were often greeted with insult,
outrage, even vilification. This prompted the Italian consul to petition the Los Angeles City
Council regarding injustices allegedly experiencedby lccal Italians (see LosAngeles City Council
File C1131, vol. 143, p. 15 [Feb. 19,19241).
*There were 12,479 native-born Italians in Los Angeles in 1930, out ofa total population of
1,283,048 (US.Bureau of the Census, 1931:127-131).
For criteria for permanent settlement,see Yans-McLaughlin (1982:48).
Cinel (198283). Interestingly,many Sicilian residents ofthe sixth and seventh wards of the
city were fromthe neighboringcommunes of Santa Cristina and Piana dei Creci in the Province
of Palermo. In 1910, mayors of both communes wrote that those who repatriated to those
communes to buy land found none available in that region oflarge estates and left permanently
for America (Cinel, 1982:85-86).