Italians in Baltimore: Featuring the Neighborhood of ‘Little Italy’  (Book Review)

Photo by Bill Hughes

Suzanna Rosa Molina has done it again! She authored another very entertaining book about the Italians in Baltimore. As expected, the celebrated “Little Italy” neighborhood, just east of Harborplace, is at its centerpiece.

The book features plenty of terrific photographs, along with detailed family and historical notes. Its title is: “Images of America: Italians in Baltimore.”

Molina separated her book into six chapters of about equal lengths. “Immigrants and Families” comes first.

She includes in this chapter photos of immigrants on the steamship leaving their homes in Italy and/or Sicily; arriving in America; settling in the U.S. with their young families at their sides; enjoying their weddings; at ease in the back yards of their homes in Baltimore with their families and kids; and she even presents a copy of an immigrant’s “certification of citizenship.”

Her second chapter focuses on “Growing Up Italian.” As expected there are a lot of photos of the children at play. You will also catch pictures of the grown-ups at the beach and/or at a pool, or attending a “Confirmation” ceremony.

One photo shows a group of Italian children at the Perkins Projects, which is located slightly north of Little Italy. I fondly remember playing at the Perkins Projects in a softball game against an Italian team around the late 40s or early ’50s. (I was on a team from Locust Point, coached by our recreation leader, Ms. Mae Dubow. Bless her memory.)

There is a photo in this section, too, of a young lady, Rosalia Scalia, making her First Holy Communion at St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church. As the fates would have it, I know Ms. Scalia as a fellow Baltimorean and author. She still lives in the Little Italy neighborhood.

Ms. Molino’s Chapter Three deals with “Italians At Work.” Of course, the restaurant workers and owners are front and center in this section. Little Italy is famous for its fine restaurants. Filling out this section are photos of a barber, a baker, a mailman, a fruit and vegetable seller, a policeman, a butcher, and much more. All are accompanied by interesting background stories.

Chapter Four is filled with “Events, Activities, Schools, and Sports.” In a soccer team photo, I recognized one of my contemporaries – Joey Speca. He was one of the best of that era. There are plenty of marching bands in this section, too, along with graduation photos, and church-related processions.

“Around The Italian Neighborhood” follows in chapter five. There are tons of photos of youngsters in this one. One that caught my eye is a smiling “three-year-old Johnny Manna” seated in a goat cart in 1941. Johnny and I were classmates at Calvert Hall H.S. back in the early-50s.

The author finished up her book of photographs with chapter six titled: “Italian Americans Serving the U.S.A.” Just about every branch of the armed services saw sons and daughters of Little Italy in their ranks. The high point, of course, was during World War II.

On August 7, 1942, the “Baltimore Sun” ran a piece reporting on the “eighty-five” soldiers who came out of Little Italy and were then serving in the armed services. There is a plaque on the wall of St. Leo’s church that also notes their service to our Republic.

There is another photo in the book that reveals five soldiers taking basic training, in 1960, at Fort Jackson, S.C. In this photo, I picked out Johnny Manna again and also Marco Scardina, a native of Highlandtown. The latter was also a Calvert Hall graduate, plus he played on its 1954 MSA soccer championship team with me. Marco, now deceased, and I both played on the line. (“Hap” Groom of East Baltimore coached that winning team.)

“Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (c) ex-Mayor Tommy “The Younger” D’Alesandro, and on the right – Governor Martin O’Malley”

The late Johnny Pica gets a big mention in the book and rightly so. He was a proud son of Little Italy. In WWII, he won a Silver Star, a Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge for his “exemplary service.” Pica also served two terms on the Baltimore City Council.

Not too long ago, some creeps toppled the Columbus statue, near Little Italy. Can you imagine what fate would have awaited those vandals, if Pica, and his buddies, who saw action in WWII, were still around? I can tell you this: you wouldn’t need the cops “to keep the peace.”

Naturally, Molino underscored the D’Alesandro family, who were for many years, Little Italy’s political pride and joy. Tommy “The Elder” served as mayor of Baltimore from 1947-59. His son Tommy “The Younger” finished only one term – 1967-71. Daughter Nancy (now Pelosi), is currently Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. She has been a House member since 1987.

When I was working as a deputy clerk in the courthouse back in the early 60s, three of D’Alesandro “The Elder” sons were my colleagues: Hector, Joey, and Roosey. Hector was the best company that you could ask for, especially since I was going to law school at night. If I needed someone to cover for me, Hector was always there ready to help out.

One of the last acts young Tommy performed before leaving City Hall was to appoint me to the City Solicitor’s Office. My political godfather, State Senator Harry McGuirk, worked out that deal, with an assist from the mayor’s then-top aide, Peter Marudas. Good teamwork in action.

It goes without saying that the anchor for Little Italy has been its church – St. Leo the Great. It was established in 1881. Soon after, a school followed. By 1980, however, as a result of fallen attendance, the school closed. The church, however, is still going strong.

Finally, I found Molino’s book, “Images of America: Italians in Baltimore,” with tons of great photos, and storylines in it, to be a special treat. I highly recommend it.