Gabe Silveira: A tribute to a Sacramento original
Among the many locals who have made notable marks during Sacramento’s 161-year history is, undoubtedly, the late Sacramento resident Gabriel “Gabe” Luiz Silveira.
Although many Sacramentans today are unfamiliar with this name, with this year marking 40 years since his passing, it is a good time to familiarize more people with this notable, local figure.
An immigrant of Santa Amaro, Pico in the Azores islands of Portugal, Gabe first came to Sacramento with his mother, Mariana, and his sisters, Marie and Gabriella, in about 1917 when he was about 10 years old.
Those most familiar with Gabe are quite aware of his lifelong love for entertaining others.
The early years
When he was 21 years old, Gabe began the first of his six years of composing music with another Portuguese immigrant, John Nunes.
It was also during this era that Gabe performed in leading roles and sang Portuguese songs in Portuguese language plays held for the benefit of the St. Elizabeth Roman Catholic Church.
The plays were originally held in the basement of the church at 1817 12th Street and later at the Tuesday Club House at 2722 L St., across from Sutter’s Fort.
During the late 1930s, Gabe, who married another Portuguese immigrant Gloria Peters (the anglicized version of the Portuguese name
Pires) on Nov. 20, 1933 and had two children, Don and Diane, began hosting a program, called “Memories of Portugal,” on the local radio station, KROY 1210 AM. The program, which included live music by Gabe and other Portuguese musicians, was entirely presented in Portuguese.
The program run with KROY came to an end due to World War II, since all foreign language stations were discontinued during this time.
‘The Lost Gaucho’
KFBK picked up the program in an altered version, as the program, which continued for 16 years, became known as “The Lost Gaucho” and was presented in English and featured recorded versions of Latin music, including Portuguese songs.
Don said that many Latinos in Sacramento were very familiar with his father due to the program’s popularity with local Latinos during this era.
Gabe was also known for performing with his own bands at Sacramento venues, including the Hotel El Dorado – today’s Radisson Hotel – at 500 Leisure Lane, the Argentina Café at 610 J Street and the Trianon Ballroom at 910 K Street, above the Senator Theatre.
Gabe and his bands, one of which included his son on trumpet during the 1960s, also played across the Tower Bridge at venues on the old Davis Highway – now West Capitol Avenue in West Sacramento. These venues were the extremely popular El Rancho Hotel and Club Mocambo.
During this time, Tuesday evening dance exhibitions were presented at the El Rancho by the Arthur Murray Dance Studio of Sacramento.
Gabe’s bands provided Latin tempos on these evenings and on many occasions Gabe could be found on the dance floor.
While recently reminiscing about her father, Diane said, “My father was an outstanding dancer.”
Diane added that her father was a perfectionist in every activity in which he became involved and that he was a very motivated person, noting that h
e taught himself how to play music.
Furniture store owner
In addition to his notoriety in the local music world, Gabe was also well known as the owner of a furniture store, called G.L. Silveira Co., which he operated with Gloria.
After working during the mid-1930s as a delivery driver for the Dallman Supply Co., a plumbing, heating and engineering supplies and roofing materials business at 6th and Q streets, Gabe went to work at the household appliances and furniture business of George F. Lamb.
But after a dispute with Lamb, whose business was located at 1516 Del Paso Boulevard in North Sacramento, Gabe, who was Lamb’s top salesman, left the business in 1939 and established G.L. Silveira Co.
The opening of this business, which was located at the former site of Chris Pulon’s grocery store at 1616 Broadway, marked the beginnings of Gabe’s longtime notoriety as a furniture dealer.
Two years after opening his Broadway store, Gabe relocated the business to 2325 21st Street, where Joseph Gentner, a longtime Sacramento sausage maker and grocery store owner formerly resided.
Apparently, Gabe’s store did not immediately focus on furniture, considering that a 1941 Sacramento telephone book lists the business as specializing in electrical appliances.
The following year, however, the city directory lists G.L. Silveira Co. as one of Sacramento’s 22 retail furniture dealers.
Commenting about these listings, Don said that although his father always sold furniture from the time he opened the business, he believes that his father may have had more electrical appliances because he was still in the process of increasing his furniture inventory.
In 1947, Gabe had his own building constructed at 2100 X Street, across the street from Joseph Gentner’s Gentner’s Market. The market building, which included upstairs apartments, was located on the northeast corner of 21st and X streets, while the furniture store was located on the southeast corner.
A 1952 advertisement for Gabe’s business presents the store’s offerings at the time as follows: furniture, Frigidaire appliances, Occidental gas ranges, Youngstown dishwashers, Easy washing machines and Beauty Rest Sealy and Englander mattresses.
The store, which eventually sold drapery and carpets for many years, was also one of the city’s earliest television dealers, as the business exclusively offered Zenith television sets.
Although Gabe, who only had one grandchild, Valerie Cortopassi, passed away on July 22, 1970, Don continued to operate the furniture store until his retirement in 2002.
Today, the building is home to The Antique Company, dealers in an eclectic mix of antique, English imports, including a large selection of furniture.
Always very active in the community, Gabe was involved in many affairs outside of his participation in local entertainment and operating his store.
These things include: assisting in efforts to sponsor the city’s first civic ballet (1946), serving as president of Sacramento’s Cabrillo Club No. 5 (1958) and the club’s state president (1961), assisting in the naming of Cabrillo Elementary School at 1141 Seamas Ave. (1958), serving as the chairman of Cabrillo Day at the State Fair (1958-1970) and running for a city council seat (1961).
As a Cabrillo Club representative, Gabe worked to have Portuguese taught in schools and dedicated many hours to an effort working with the governor’s office to proclaim Sept. 28 as “Cabrillo Day” in honor of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who sailed into San Diego Bay in 1542.
Knighted by Portugal
Among the many awards that Gabe received during his life was the Ordem do Infante Dom Henrique (Order of Prince Henry the Navigator) for his “undying devotion to the Portuguese-American community” in Sacramento. The honor is a Portuguese national order of knighthood.
Don described this award as being a “very prestigious” honor, adding that the award is the highest Portuguese award that one can receive without being a Portuguese citizen.
Although it has been four decades since his passing, Gabe leaves behind a very rich legacy – one that should be recognized and appreciated for many years to come.