Avenues G, H. and I, between Eighth and Tenth Streets – “Little Italy”

by | Historic Homes

Michael Salerno- Joseph Disalvo- Antoni Solo- Antonio Spoto- Tony Profetta- Paul Garafalo- Frank Scarpello- Carmelo Zaccone- Phillip Leggio- Octovio Carrubba- Frank Dinatalli- Joseph Amato- Mariano Dinovo – Frank Mancino – Nicholas Roppolo – Joseph Bonfonte – Tony Cash. These and other names appear in the Council Bluffs city directories of 1913 through the 1920s and 1930s. They came from Palermo, Mussomeli, and other towns in Calabria, near Sicily.

They settled in an area known as “Little Italy”: Avenues G, H and I, between Eighth and Tenth Streets. They could not read or write. They did not speak English. Most found employment with the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. They walked through the fields to work at the roundhouse on North Eleventh Street. Octovio Carrubba rode the streetcar to work at Skinner Macaroni in Omaha. Mariano Dinovo repaired shoes.

Little Italy

They figured out ways to communicate. The father of one family went to the store to buy a colander. He did not know the word, so he explained, “Spaghetti stay and water run away”. He got the colander.

During the years of World War II, a family answered the door to see a man in uniform standing before them, a letter in his hand. They knew, without reading, that the letter began, “We regret to inform you….”

Everyone had a garden and raised vegetables. Competition as to who would harvest the first tomato was an annual rite of summer. The sale barn on Eleventh Street and Avenue G sold chickens, cattle, hogs, horses and many other items. Most families had fig trees which they would prune and cover or bend over and bury in deep holes each year before winter came, to be resurrected in the spring.

In the fall they all made wine from California grapes purchased from Ancona’s in Omaha. Some white grapes were often mixed with the purple to get “just the right color”. One of the wine-makers loaned his wine press to anyone who didn’t own one. Because of the Volstead Act, limited amounts of wine were able to be made at home during Prohibition (1921-1933).

Social life revolved around the families in the neighborhood. They played bocci ball in the streets; bets were won and lost. In the evenings, everyone sat outdoors and chatted. Beraldis, Narmis, Cartas, Sollazzos and other Italian families would visit Little Italy. They walked to Big Lake for picnics. The men and women cooked spaghetti dinners in the basement of St. Francis Xavier Church on Fifth Avenue and South Sixth Street.

Boxing was a popular sport, but happy endings were not guaranteed. Samuel Disalvo was killed one Halloween at Solerno’s House of Boxing. The night before the match, his mother dreamed he would not come home and begged him not to go.

Births and funerals also took place in the neighborhood. Babies were born at home, delivered by midwives. Funerals were held in the homes, the women staying up all night with the deceased and the men retreating to the basement to keep awake by playing cards and telling stories.

There were two grocery stores on Eighth Street where items such as eggs and milk could be purchased. An Italian grocer from Omaha came to Little Italy every two weeks and went door-to-door, taking orders for several pounds of spaghetti, Parmesan cheese and other Italian food items. Two weeks later, he would make the deliveries and take orders for the next two weeks. There was also a drug store on Eighth Street.

Mrs. Nicholas Roppolo lived at 802 Avenue H, around the corner from one of the grocery stores. She was the person everyone went to when an interpreter was needed for correspondence to and from Italy.

Food was a very important part of everyday life and every social event. Recipes were passed around and handed down. Goudarooni was a simple vegetable pie using bread dough for the top and bottom crusts. The filling was potatoes, onion, broccoli, or any vegetable.

The Marconi Society, a social organization named for the inventor of the wireless telegraph, was formed in the 1930s. The membership roster contained addresses from Little Italy as well as other parts of the city. The meetings were held at the YMCA building at 628 First Avenue. The organization dissolved when the Omaha-based American Italian Heritage Society was organized. (Today’s Marconi Society, the Guglielmo Marconi Fellowship Foundation, recognizes significant contributions in science and technology. Located at Columbia University, it was established in 1974 by Gioia Marconi Braga to commemorate the centennial of the birth of her father.)

There is a saying from an old Paul Newman western that goes like this: “When you head out to set the world on fire, you should remember where you got the matches.” Several members of the families of Little Italy gathered recently for coffee at the Village Inn – and remembered.

Source Material

Preserve Council Bluffs acknowledges the following sources of information for this series: National Register of Historic Places nominations, the reference department of the Council Bluffs Public Library, the auditor’s office of the Pottawattamie County courthouse, Council Bluffs Community Development Department, homeowners, family members and individual research.

Michael Salerno- Joseph Disalvo- Antoni Solo- Antonio Spoto- Tony Profetta- Paul Garafalo- Frank Scarpello- Carmelo Zaccone- Phillip Leggio- Octovio Carrubba- Frank Dinatalli- Joseph Amato- Mariano Dinovo – Frank Mancino – Nicholas Roppolo – Joseph Bonfonte – Tony Cash. These and other names appear in the Council Bluffs city directories of 1913 through the 1920s and 1930s. They came from Palermo, Mussomeli, and other towns in Calabria, near Sicily.

They settled in an area known as “Little Italy”: Avenues G, H and I, between Eighth and Tenth Streets. They could not read or write. They did not speak English. Most found employment with the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. They walked through the fields to work at the roundhouse on North Eleventh Street. Octovio Carrubba rode the streetcar to work at Skinner Macaroni in Omaha. Mariano Dinovo repaired shoes.

Little Italy

They figured out ways to communicate. The father of one family went to the store to buy a colander. He did not know the word, so he explained, “Spaghetti stay and water run away”. He got the colander.

During the years of World War II, a family answered the door to see a man in uniform standing before them, a letter in his hand. They knew, without reading, that the letter began, “We regret to inform you….”

Everyone had a garden and raised vegetables. Competition as to who would harvest the first tomato was an annual rite of summer. The sale barn on Eleventh Street and Avenue G sold chickens, cattle, hogs, horses and many other items. Most families had fig trees which they would prune and cover or bend over and bury in deep holes each year before winter came, to be resurrected in the spring.

In the fall they all made wine from California grapes purchased from Ancona’s in Omaha. Some white grapes were often mixed with the purple to get “just the right color”. One of the wine-makers loaned his wine press to anyone who didn’t own one. Because of the Volstead Act, limited amounts of wine were able to be made at home during Prohibition (1921-1933).

Social life revolved around the families in the neighborhood. They played bocci ball in the streets; bets were won and lost. In the evenings, everyone sat outdoors and chatted. Beraldis, Narmis, Cartas, Sollazzos and other Italian families would visit Little Italy. They walked to Big Lake for picnics. The men and women cooked spaghetti dinners in the basement of St. Francis Xavier Church on Fifth Avenue and South Sixth Street.

Boxing was a popular sport, but happy endings were not guaranteed. Samuel Disalvo was killed one Halloween at Solerno’s House of Boxing. The night before the match, his mother dreamed he would not come home and begged him not to go.

Births and funerals also took place in the neighborhood. Babies were born at home, delivered by midwives. Funerals were held in the homes, the women staying up all night with the deceased and the men retreating to the basement to keep awake by playing cards and telling stories.

There were two grocery stores on Eighth Street where items such as eggs and milk could be purchased. An Italian grocer from Omaha came to Little Italy every two weeks and went door-to-door, taking orders for several pounds of spaghetti, Parmesan cheese and other Italian food items. Two weeks later, he would make the deliveries and take orders for the next two weeks. There was also a drug store on Eighth Street.

Mrs. Nicholas Roppolo lived at 802 Avenue H, around the corner from one of the grocery stores. She was the person everyone went to when an interpreter was needed for correspondence to and from Italy.

Food was a very important part of everyday life and every social event. Recipes were passed around and handed down. Goudarooni was a simple vegetable pie using bread dough for the top and bottom crusts. The filling was potatoes, onion, broccoli, or any vegetable.

The Marconi Society, a social organization named for the inventor of the wireless telegraph, was formed in the 1930s. The membership roster contained addresses from Little Italy as well as other parts of the city. The meetings were held at the YMCA building at 628 First Avenue. The organization dissolved when the Omaha-based American Italian Heritage Society was organized. (Today’s Marconi Society, the Guglielmo Marconi Fellowship Foundation, recognizes significant contributions in science and technology. Located at Columbia University, it was established in 1974 by Gioia Marconi Braga to commemorate the centennial of the birth of her father.)

There is a saying from an old Paul Newman western that goes like this: “When you head out to set the world on fire, you should remember where you got the matches.” Several members of the families of Little Italy gathered recently for coffee at the Village Inn – and remembered.