wrote this using excerpts from:
Italy to San Francisco, The Immigrant Experience
(Asst. Professor of History
at Tulane University), 1982, Stanford University Press, ISBN
first Italian immigrants to San Francisco, beginning in 1850,
were northern Italians, mostly from Genoa and the northern Alps
of Piedmont and Lombardy. Some of the earliest settlers were
fishermen, who had sailed up the coast from Italian enclaves
in South America, most significantly from Peru.
other major immigrant groups, there was not an extreme push
factor for northern Italians until the 1880s. There was not
a famine, war, or religious persecution. Instead, the early
immigrants came initially on the recommendations of their friends
and family and as a natural migration from other Italian immigrant
ostentatious wealth of those who succeeded during the Gold Rush
years brought with it a demand for stone and marble cutters
from northern Italy to work on the mansions of the newly rich.
late as 1890, there were more Italian immigrants on the Pacific
Coast than in New England; 80% were northern Italians. Their
reasons for leaving and for choosing California varied. Overpopulation
and the French capture of the wine industry in the 1880s made
leaving attractive to Ligurians from Genoa.
1880 the great agricultural and economic depression in Italy
had created a leave or starve situation for Sicilian peasants,
and mass emigration was happening in many communes. The majority
of those leaving were bound for South America.
the 1890's immigrants from Sicily, mostly from the Palermo Province,
began arriving in San Francisco. Almost all of the southern
and Sicilian immigrants were men, who intended to return after
making some money.
ARRIVING WITHOUT WIVES & CHILDREN
Seven out of ten (70%) non-Italian married immigrants took their
wives and children, whereas only one of ten (10%) Italians did
the same thing. Wives of northern Italians arrived six to seven
years later; wives of southern Italians arrived five years later.
factors may help to explain why southerners sent for their families
earlier than northerners. First, southern/Sicilian Italians
were more sexually jealous; the frequency and rapidity of family
follow-up migration was prompted by suspicion and possessiveness.
southerners/Sicilians were less culturally prepared to establish
strong social relations outside the nuclear family household.
Thus, for them, the reuniting of the family was more important
than for northerners.
all non-Italians immigrants at the time of their first arrival
to San Francisco, only about 10% had children (either traveling
with them or stayed behind). About 25% of the northern Italian
and 65% of the southern Italians had children (with or stayed
San Francisco, the 1900 census reveals that 25% of Italian immigrants’
children had died prior to their arrival, compared with 12%
of the children of other immigrants.
1882 in the Province of Cosenza, 30% of all deaths were infants
under a year old, and 51% of total deaths were children under
5. In northern Italy, the Provinces of Genoa and Lucca, 25%
of all deaths were infants under a year old, and 51% were under
1912, of total deaths the percentage of infants under age 4
was: 20% in Genoa, 28% in Lucca, 45% in Cosenza, and 50% in
Palermo Providence (which includes Trabia).
the years, infant mortality did not decline significantly in
Italy. In 1920 the mortality rate for infants under age four,
per 1,000 people, was 174 in Italy compared to 95 in the United
In 1920 about
28% of U.S. born females 15 or older were single, compared to
14% of the immigrant females (same age group). In San Francisco,
only 8% of the northern Italian and 5% of the southern Italian
females 15 or older were single.
Francisco's Italians were primarily from
5 Northern and 4 Southern/Sicilian Cities
Mostly from the north in the early
years, 1870's and 1880's:
Genoa, Lorsica, and Sestri Levante (Province
Capannori-Porcari and Lucca (Province
from the south in the 1890’s and early 1900’s:
Verbicaro (Province of
Santa Flavia, Trabia, and
Palermo City (Sicilian
Prov of Palermo)
A distinguishable and separate Italian
settlement in San Francisco took form with the arrival of the
first immigrants in the early 1850's. A handful of Italians
who had been working for some time in the gold mines of California
were forced out by Americans, and sought refuge in San Francisco.
with Frenchmen, Basques, Mexicans, and Spaniards, they settled
in the area later called The Latin Quarter, not far from Telegraph
Hill, attracted by cheap rents and the freedom to live relatively
all of these men were Latins with similar languages, they were
not very congenial with each other. Interethnic fighting within
this predominantly male community, especially when they were
drinking, was part of every-day life. However, their struggle
for survival and a shared bitterness over defeat of attempts
to control the gold mines softened their differences and cemented
Italians carved out a little settlement of their own within
the Latin Quarter, between Pacific and Clay Streets south of
Broadway. As later Latin immigrants arrived, they moved south-ward
and Italians arriving in the mid-1850's expanded the Italian
settlement northward, across Broadway, around Du Pont Street
(now called Grant Avenue).
By the late 1850's the community of Du Pont Street was known
as Little Italy. In the following decade the Italian district
expanded father north toward Telegraph Hill and North Beach,
but the Du Pont area remained the center of the Italian community,
which numbered 400 people by 1860.
Italians in San Francisco established two major settlements
and one minor. The first and the largest was in the North Beach-Telegraph
other main Italian settlement was in the Mission District. As
the city expanded and the value of real estate rose, they moved
south, most of them to the Mission, and the rest to Noe Valley,
the Outer Mission, and Visitation Valley.
third and smallest settlement was started in the 1870's when
some Italians moved to the Old Potrero District. From there
the settlement expanded to Portola and Bayview.
new settlements were created in future years.
In 1900, about 13,000 people lived in census Assembly District
45, bounded by Montgomery and Kearny Streets and S.F. Bay; half
were American-born and half foreign-born.
were about 2,500 Italians in District 45 (North Beach-Telegraph
Hill area), or about 40% of the foreign-born in the district
and 20% of the total Italian population living in San Francisco.
years later, in 1910, Assembly District 45 had 22,000 people
(a 75% increase since 1900), of which 30% (6,700) were Italians.
1910 Italians made up 14% of the foreign-born and 5% of the
total population of census Assembly District 33, the Mission
the 1930's about 10% of the city's Italians lived in a small
settlement in the Richmond District. Another 9% formed a little
enclave in a few blocks of the Mission District close to the
Italian Church of the Immaculate Conception. About 15% lived
in the southeastern section of the Bayview District. Another
15% lived in a compact settlement in the Old Potrero District
north of Army Street and west of Pennsylvania Avenue. The remaining
40% ived in North Beach.
the 40% living in North Beach in 1930, three-fourths were in
areas (later) classified by the Census Bureau as Tracts A1,
A3, A4, A5, and A6.
the following five tracts, made up of about 170 blocks, contained
more than 9,000 Italians, more than 33% of all the city's Italians.
A few hundred more lived along the fringes of these tracts,
most in B4, B5, and A8, west of Leavenworth, south of Bay, north
of Vallejo, and east of Steiner Streets.
10% (2,700) of all Italians in the city were living in Tract
A4, the core of North Beach, a 32-block area bounded by Columbus,
Chestnut, Montgomery, Greenwich, Sansome, Vallejo, Kearny, and
About 7% of the Italians (2,000) lived in A3, consisting of
26 blocks bounded by Columbus, Leavenworth, Mason, and Green
Approximately 5% (1,600) lived in A5, consisting of 24 blocks
south of A4 up to Columbus and Pacific Streets.
Of San Francisco's Italians, 4% (1,200) lived in A1, stretching
from Leavenworth to Pacific along the bay.
Another 4% (1,200) resided in A6, a triangular area bounded
by Columbus, Pacific, and Mason.
North Beach avg rent in 1932
was $27; wages were $2.25-$2.50/day. In
1940, the average monthly rent for a 2 bdrm apartment in the
A4 area was $31. In the A11 area monthly rent was $56; and in
A12, monthly rent was $52.
IN NORTH BEACH
North Beach rents were among the lowest in San Francisco.
immigrants did not settle in North Beach and the Mission District
solely because of cheaper rent. The main reason was the "chain
migration" that brought most Italians to San Francisco
the number of Italian settlements created in San Francisco).
of neighborhoods and enclaves by immigrants speaking the same
language and sharing common traditions is not unusual; however,
Italians (especially southern and Sicilian) showed
a more pronounced tendency to create enduring separate settlements,
and enclaves within those settlements specific to immigrants
from the same village.
example, in 1910 there were 24,000 Germans, 23,000 Irish, and
15,000 Italians in San Francisco. In no single Census Assembly
District was there more than 15% of the total Irish immigrant
population or more than 10% of the Germans; however, 40% of
Italians lived in Assembly District 35 (later renumbered 45).
decade later in 1920, in no single Assembly District was there
more than 10% of the total Irish or German population of the
city, but 45% of the Italians lived in District 33. Among San
Francisco immigrant groups, only Mexicans and Greeks lived in
enclaves that approached the density of the Italians.
striking difference between Italians and other immigrants to
San Francisco is that about 90% of the Italians came directly
from the same city or village where they were born. This was
true of only 30% of the Germans, 20% of the Russians, and 40%
of the Irish.
95% of the San Francisco Italians came directly from Italy,
and only 5% had lived somewhere else in the U.S. before settling
in San Francisco. In contrast, 38% of the British, 20% of the
Irish, 27% of the Russians, and 41% of the Scandinavians reached
San Francisco after living in other parts of the U.S. or in
all Italian newcomers in San Francisco had a relative there
who sent for them and often advanced the money for the ticket.
When they reached San Francisco, they lived with relatives for
a time; it was only natural that they settled in the same neighborhood
when they took a place of their own.
reason why Italians did not disperse throughout the city as
other immigrants is because of the way they came and their goals
in coming. Most Italian immigrants did not intend to stay in
America; most of them secured only temporary employment, usually
seasonal, with the goal of arning and saving enough money to
go back and buy land in their home community.
against Italians, especially southern and Sicilia Italians,
undoubtedly had an impact on their creation of segregated neighborhoods
as a means of communal support.
1920 University of California master's thesis gives a hint of
popular attitudes: "The idea that Italian immigrants came
from an inferior race is not merely a matter of popular opinion;
but one which has received substantial corroboration from careful
investigations." [De Medici, Marino. "The
Italian-Language Press in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1930
to 1940, "Master's thesis, University of California, Berkeley,
note: I read numerous historical accounts of horrific
atrocities committed in persecution of Italian immigrants in
various areas throughout the United States, and came to the
conclusion that, in San Francisco, discrimination against Italians
may have been considered somewhat "mild" in comparison.
I do remember my mother telling me how she felt when she was
growing up (1927-1945 in San Francisco) during the many occasions
she was chastised for being a dirty wop or dago [sp?].
. . . back to Specific Italian Enclaves . .
- Immigrants from the commune of Lorsica established two main
settlements: One in the Richmond District, where about 30% lived
in a few blocks north of Geary, and the other in the two tracts
A3 and A4, wherein another 37% lived in the Columbus Ave area
along Greenwich and Filbert Streets.
Lorsicans lived in the Mission District (10%), Portola (9%),
and Potrero (6%). Most immigrants of Lorsica in tracts A3 and
A4 (69%) were from the town of Lorsica.
Those in Richmond were mostly from the Lorsican village
of Verzi (73%). The Lorsican immigrants
in other districts (Mission, Portola, and Potrero) were from
four of the other six villages in Lorsica.
Almost no one migrated to San Francisco from Lorsican villages
of Costafinale and Barbagalaria;
most from there went to South America.
LEVANTE - Immigrants from the commune
of Sestri Levante settled in two main areas: 38% in Tract A1
and A3 between Bay Street and the next street south, Francisco,
and 40% in A5, on the south side of North Beach around Sansome
St between Vallejo and Pacific. Most
of those who settled in A1 and A3 were fishermen from Riva
Trigoso, a village of Sestri; those in A5 were from the
main town of Sestri Levante.
and LUCCA - Immigrants from Porcari and Lucca lived in
almost every section where Italians settled, and in no San Francisco
district was there a significantly larger settlement from the
two towns than in any other district. The immigrants from Porcari
and Lucca were generally dispersed among other Italians and
people of other nationalities.
those from PORICARI, about 5% lived
in Richmond, 8% in Mission, 10% in Bayview, 9% in Potrero, 12%
in the two tracts B4 and B5, and smaller percentages in other
parts of town.
those from from
7% lived in the Richmond District, 10% in the Mission; 11% in
Portola, 13% in Bayview, 10% in Potrero, 11% in B4 and B5 (where
Porcari immigrants also settled), 10% in A4, 7% in A5, and the
rest in other parts of the city.
About 60% lived in converging edges of A7, A8, and A9, the area
round Leavenworth south of Green and north of Washington.
About 74% lived in a settlement between Army and Pennsylvania
Streets. Less than 7% settled in North Beach; 8% in Mission,
and about 10% in the Richmond District.
About 45% of those from Palermo settled in the southwestern
section of the Potrero District; 35% in North Beach, mostly
in tracts A5 and A3; the remaining 20% were divided between
the Mission and Richmond Districts.
35% settled in the southwestern section of Potrero, 20% in Richmond
(with immigrants from Lorsica), 15% in Mission, and the remaining
30% in North Beach.
the 1930s, 35 percent of pre-World War I Italian immigrants
still lived within the confines of Little Italy, and 80 percent
of post-World War I arrivals lived in North Beach. However,
after the war, a generation that had just grown up moved to
the Richmond District or Marin County, areas that weren’t
ethnically dominated. At the same time, these first and second
generation Italian-Americans often returned to North Beach for
church, shopping, and dining out.
The center of the neighborhood was Washington Square,
dominated since 1884 by Saints Peter and Paul Church.
The priests worked hard to combat the anti-clericalism that
was prevalent in Little Italy, fostered by Italian nationalism,
the Freemasons, benevolent societies, and anarchists. Two key
elements of this project were citizenship and learning English.
World War II, second-generation Italian-Americans began to move
out of the Little Italy sections of Fisherman's Wharf, North
Beach, and Telegraph Hill. This exodus became even larger after
the war. This was mainly due to the growth of suburbanization
in the San Francisco Bay area in general, as new families sought
independent housing of their own.
to this flight was a recalibration of identity by the younger
generations that sought to emphasize the American, rather than
the Italian. Having seen the internment and hearings affect
their parents' generation, the Italian-Americans that came of
age in the forties and fifties sought to purge questions about
their national loyalties. On top of that, the Italian schools
that had sprung up in the 1930s were gone, leading to a generation
that had never been to Italy, nor did it speak its language.
a result of this flight, the areas that had become associated
with Little Italy became influenced by outsiders. Most notorious
was North Beach, which became more known for its strip clubs
and adult stores than its Italian restaurants. And even the
restaurants only served to remind patrons of the past, as North
Beach's population was populated by Americans of many different
Today, the areas associated with Little Italy, especially North
Beach, retain reminders of its ethnic roots. At the same time,
the neighborhoods have become diversified, as the need to maintain
an exclusive community dissipated.
Italian Opera was brought to San Francisco in 1851. Soon other
forms of performance art graced San Francisco's halls, as the
city became a prime destination for performers, both Italian-born
and American. The first major figure in Italian theater was
Antonietta Pisanelli, who was the first established professional
entertainer in the Italian community. Not only did Pisanelli
sing and act, she molded the various amateur drama groups in
the city into a professional theater company.
Just as it did to most of the pillars of the Italian colony,
the 1906 earthquake devastated the Teatro Bersaglieri, which
was the center of the San Francisco theater scene. Pisanelli
opened three nickelodeon-type theaters, and it was in one of
these, the Bijou, that the Stenterello character emerged. By
this time, the Stenterello character had evolved from a xenophobe
who favored Italian unification and independence to a man on
the Florentine man on the street, a living connection between
Little Italy and the mother country. This character's popularity
faded as a new attempt to be identified as American emerged
in the colony.
The other major industry for the first and second generation
of Italian immigrants to California was fishing. It had been
a search for fishing grounds that brought the first Italians
to California, and California's many harbors and pleasant climate
convinced a large number of fishermen to stay. There were a
variety of reasons that Italians captured the San Francisco
fishing industry, but this did not mean that the domination
did not come without a fight. The Italians who came to fish
the San Francisco Bay already had experience as fishermen and
had boats that were ideally suited for the Bay. They were able
to adapt to improvements in technology, whether it was switching
from sailboats to motorized ones, or their use of the paranzella
net, which proved to be too efficient. Also key in their capture
of the fishing industry was the general prejudice in California
against their principal rivals, the Chinese. Italians built
fishing colonies in other harbors as well. The Genovese built
large communities in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, while the
Sicilians flourished in Monterey.
It was in the fishing industry that most of the conflicts between
the more established Genoese and the Sicilian newcomers came
to light. Indeed, conflict was a recurring theme in the history
of fishing in San Francisco Bay, as the more established and
successful fishermen banded together and bought tugboats, allowing
them to catch larger amounts of fish further out at sea.
The 1900s and 1910s were decades in which independent fishermen
were forced to fight for their economic lives against the Fish
Trust of the wealthier fishermen and merchants. Most famous
of these was Achille Paladini, who owned a company that included
five boats, tow trucks, and had seventy-five employees by 1915.
Although admired as an innovator for among other things, being
the first to can tuna on the Pacific coast, he was reviled as
a monopolist. His underselling of competition in order to drive
them out of business got him in hot water with the government
multiple times. But Paladini's legal problems were small compared
with what other Italian-Americans were about to face.
Perhaps even more famous than California's Italian banking is
its Italian wine-making. The ability of California's climate
to sustain wine-making operations was a primary reason for many
of the Ligurians to immigrate. Some of the more famous wineries
such as the Italian-Swiss colony, which was presided over by
Pietro Rossi, and Sutter Home were founded in the 1880s and
1890s. Families would often either send their sons to university
or hire a graduate of University of California, Berkeleys programs
related to venting. Although they initially met success in the
Italian immigrant community, Californian wineries began to experience
financial success outside of it as well.
were, however, two major setbacks to this success story. The
first was the devastation of the southern Californian wineries
in the 1890s by Pierce's Disease. The second was the passage
of the 18th Amendment in 1920. Wineries were forced to scramble
for their economic lives and some were forced to close. Those
that survived marketed their products as sacramental wine or
medicinal elixirs. But the repeal of the 18th amendment in 1932
made the wineries that did survive profitable again and cemented
the perception of the general public that the wine industry
was most closely tied to California’s Italian-Americans.
Italians in California did not confine themselves to winemaking.
Giardinieri (or gardeners) developed a thriving
industry growing produce on the outskirts of San Francisco.
The size of the gardens ranged from small plots on the edge
of town to large ranches. The small plots often grew smaller
vegetables that were sold at the daily market, while the larger
properties grew heavier vegetables for export.
1874, the Colombo Market was organized on Davis Street between
Front and Pacific. Farmers would bring their vegetables by horse-drawn
wagon past grocers, hotels, ships, and private residences before
setting up shop in their market stalls.
the 1930s, at Little Italy's population peak, approximately
50 percent of its inhabitants were involved in agriculture.
Not all of these people were able to afford their own plots.
Many "birds of a feather," especially young, single
men, would work in California as agricultural workers during
the spring and summer, and travel to South America to perform
the same services in the winter and fall.
o t net
to TURTURICI-CANCILLA HOMEPAGE