Remembering the ‘Mayor of 37th Street’

There are many memorials that can be found in various places throughout the capital city. But one of the most hidden and less known memorials is that of former East Sacramento resident Ray Bertolucci (1911-2011).
At the end of a cul-de-sac on 37th Street, just south of P Street, is an area, which is rich with trees, ivy and other plants.

Although it is necessary to do some investigating on the southeast side of that area to locate Ray’s memorial, with relatively little effort, one can find that memorial, as well as memorials to his wife, Dorothy M. (Herbert) Bertolucci (1915-1997), and Jamil D. Nammour, a professor at Sacramento State University from 1969 to 1986.
Nammour, who taught philosophy for many years and was honored through the naming of Sacramento State’s annual Nammour (philosophy) Symposium, resided at 1633 37th Street from about 1978 to about 1985.

The plaque for Nammour, who was born in Backline, Lebanon on Sept. 3, 1937 and died in Carmichael on Jan. 13, 1986, reads: “This tree is dedicated to the memory of Jamil Nammour by his friends on 37th St. May 1986.”
The plaque honoring Dorothy, who graduated from Sacramento High School in 1933 and married Ray seven years later, reads: “In loving memory of our dear friend and neighbor Dorothy Bertolucci.”

Ray’s plaque has a shorter inscription, as it reads: “Raymond Bertolucci, ‘The Mayor,’ 1911-2011.”
With a glance at a listing of mayors who have served Sacramento, one would not find the name, Raymond Bertolucci.
Mayor Photo 05

So, with that in mind, the obvious question would be: Why was this man, Ray Bertolucci, recognized as a mayor on a memorial at the end of a portion of 37th Street in East Sacramento?

Although Ray passed away three years ago in his 37th Street home, and thus would not be available for comment, the answer to that question can be easily answered by many people who remember him as having acquired that title.

In an interview with this publication last week, Larry Bertolucci, who was Ray and Dorothy’s only child, said that his father began to be referred to as “the mayor” by his neighborhood friends in the 1980s.

“(Ray) was just very active in terms of when they closed 37th Street off (south of P Street, near the old freight train tracks/light rail tracks) and made it a cul-de-sac (in the mid-1980s), and he was just a real advocate for that general location,” said Larry, who graduated from Sacramento High School in 1962, and later graduated from Stanford University. “When people would move in, he would welcome them. If anybody was doing any nonsense, he was not afraid to confront them and say, ‘That’s kind of unacceptable for this area.’ And everybody just kind of rallied around him. I think it was partly because of age, partly because of his personality and partly because of his tenure of living there. So, you know, it just kind of came into fruition if anybody needed any answers about the area, (they would ask for his assistance). The guy had phenomenal recall. It was amazing that he could put the dates and names to places. He could tell you in Old (Sacramento) what store was there on what corner, what they did, who owned it. He would meet a guy in a store, at Corti Bros. or maybe at Safeway, and he would say, ‘Larry, I know that guy.’ He wasn’t afraid to go up and (talk to) the person and say, ‘I know you, tell me your name,’ or ‘I think your name is this. You were related to this guy.’ And the next thing you know, they were carrying on a conversation. He was absolutely uncanny.”

Mayor Photo 03In speaking about his father’s approach to helping his friends, Larry, 69, said, “His friends that were close to him, whatever help (they needed), he gave it to them. Whether it was financial – he didn’t have much, but he would give it to them. And he never expected anything in return. My dad said, ‘If you loan money to that person, just pretend you’re not going to get it back. You give it to them, because you know they need it for a reason.’”

Larry added that his father, along with Ray’s close friend Jack Peterson and others, played an active role in establishing the East Sacramento Little League in 1951.

“He was just an advocate for the kids,” Larry said. “Every kid in the neighborhood loved him. He tolerated absolutely no nonsense. He was old school. He would give them hell, then he would put his arm around them and love them. All practices in Little League ran an hour and a half. They were run like a major league practice. Everything was done drills, drills, no nonsense. We got our work done and then we went home.”
In regard to Ray’s aforementioned longevity as a resident of the neighborhood, he moved into his home at 1641 37th St. with Dorothy in 1941 and continued to live there for 70 years.

Ray, who was born in McCloud, Calif., was raised with his brother, Lorenzo (1904-1979), by his parents, Luigi and Matilda (Dini) Bertolucci, who were natives of Lucca, Italy.

In about 1920, Luigi acquired work as a laborer for the Southern Pacific Co. in Sacramento, and the Bertolucci family moved to 916 33rd St. in about 1920.

During his youth, Ray enjoyed playing baseball and later in his life, he played fast pitch softball.
When he was 16 years old, Ray abandoned his studies at Sacramento High School and began working for the Southern Pacific as a sheet metal worker, a position he would hold, except for brief periods of time, until his retirement 41 years later.

On one occasion when he was not employed by the Southern Pacific, Ray, who served for many years as the vice president of the Sheet Metal Workers Union No. 162, drove a hearse for the local funeral director George L. Klumpp.

Ray also spent some time working on a surveying crew in the Mojave Desert.

Certainly, one person who knew Ray and Dorothy very well was Dorothy’s sister, Lois (Herbert) Lindstrom.
In speaking about Ray, who married Dorothy in 1940, she said, “He did so much for his neighbors. On street pickup days, if there were tree branches laying in the street that they had put out to be picked up and they weren’t cut up in little pieces, Ray would take his chainsaw and go down and cut them up and pile them up for them.”

Additionally, both Ray and Dorothy would often take many of their neighbors’ garbage cans back to their neighbors’ properties after they had been emptied.

Lois described Ray and Dorothy as “the most hospital people you would ever want to meet.”

And after being asked to speak about Ray’s recognition as the “mayor of 37th Street,” Lois said, “They just sort of tagged that (title) on him, because if there was a problem of any kind in the neighborhood – sidewalks, trees or whatever – he was the one that went to the county. He knew all the county supervisors, he knew the assemblymen, he knew everybody that was connected to East Sacramento, and they were all on a first name basis. He would call their offices and they would say, ‘Oh, hi, Ray.’ And he was the one that got action, so they sort of tied that mayor name onto him.”

Lois named several people who recognized Ray as the “mayor of 37th Street.” Those people included his good friends, Dr. Tim Tautz and fireman Mike Taylor.

Larry added that he believes that Nammour was among the people who referred to his father as the “mayor of 37th Street.”

Both Lois and Larry mentioned that Ray had a sort of “open door policy,” which attracted many people to his house.

In speaking about some of those people, Larry said, “Everyone would come to his house and have cocktails at 5 o’clock, especially (during) the last 10, 15 years (of his life). They would always come over to his place. But one little nuance that he had was he hated people to come when he was getting ready to eat dinner. That always bugged him. You didn’t want to interrupt his dinner time.”

Ray, who drove his car until he was about 98 years old, passed away less than seven months shy of his 100th birthday.

Kathryn (Casey) Peterson, 91, who formerly resided at 1311 38th St. with her husband, Jack Peterson, fondly spoke about Ray and Dorothy.

“(Ray) was a terrific guy,” Kathryn said. “Even into old age, he was just somebody you could always count on. He was very clever. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t fix or do. And he was just a wonderful husband, and his wife was just charming.

Everybody knew him. He would be sorry if you were in the neighborhood and you didn’t stop to visit him. He was just that way, and his wife was, too.”

Julie Peterson, who is not related to Jack and Kathryn Peterson, presently resides in Ray’s old, white, brick house, which was built in about 1928 for John B. Matthews, a teacher at Sacramento Junior College – today’s Sacramento City College.

After being asked what she knew about Ray, Julie said, “I know that shortly after we moved here, a young man in his 30s or 40s came by to see him and didn’t know he had passed (away). It was just really heartwarming. He said that he lived in this house (next door) many, many years ago and that Ray helped raise him and was like a father to him. I know that we’re new to Sacramento, but we’ve met tons of people that knew (Ray) and knew our house, because they knew him. It really affected me, because I heard so much about Ray, and then for the guy to come by, I thought, ‘Wow, (Ray) really did affect a lot of people.’”

Mayor Photo 04

From Slovenia to Banjo-Rama, meet girl-band Navihanke

It took some complex negotiations, but Navihanke, the award-winning Slovenian women’s folk music group, has just been cleared for a national U.S. tour during which they will perform several times at the annual Sacramento Banjo-Rama on May 1-4 at the Clarion Inn, 1401 Arden Way.

Slovenia is a tiny nation of slightly more than 2 million people that borders Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Slovenia once was the northwestern corner Yugoslavia, a former Soviet satellite country, and the girls from Navihanke are excited to visit the United States, as they consider it important to build relations and cultural exchanges with the West.

The resulting mix of Slovenian folk music and America’s top jazz banjo players’ sounds is hoped to produce a musical experience that has never been heard before. Interestingly, the banjo player of Navihanke isn’t in the band anymore due to personal reasons.

If you want to be part of this experiment you are welcome to bring a banjo, guitar, ukulele, balalaika, or other fretted instrument and join in the unstructured jam sessions. There will also be workshops and formal concerts at various times during this year’s Banjo-Rama. While a mainstay of American music, Sacramento Banjo Band’s Jim Matthews traces the banjo’s pre-African roots along the Silk Road through China, Mongolia, and central Asia. Matthews, who is writing a book on the history of the banjo, will be presenting his findings at the first workshop of the four-day event on Friday, May 2, starting at 9:30 a.m.

The Arden-Carmichael News got the pleasure of speaking with Sacramento Banjo Band’s Bonnie Harris, Rex Inglis, and Jim Matthews about their involvement with the organization of this year’s Banjo-Rama.

Asked about how Navihanke was recruited to play at this year’s Banjo-Rama, Inglis first described how he came across their music to begin with.

“I was listening to my iPod. I had some old rock and roll and stuff I like. I downloaded videos. Jamaican steel band. Mariachi music. Then up pops two little girls in Germany 20s. They were maybe 12 or 13 at the time. They had on inline skates. One played a Steirische Harmonika, another a diatonic accordion. Then I searched. Then the song played Banjotastic played. These girls – they were making fun of the banjo player. We had more YouTube videos. I liked them. I figured they were from Slovenia. I went on the website. I tried to buy their CDs. That was a week or two before Christmas in 2001 and there was nothing but crickets.

“Then I got a message from them. I talked to manager. They said it would be 89 euros. And I said it would be nice if they autographed them. Six days later, here comes the CDs, signed by Sonja. She put a heart instead of dot over the ‘j’. I asked her if there was any chance they might be in the U.S. She said, ’sorry.’ In the meantime, I wrote a formal proposal and sent it off to the manger (performer Marjan Hercog’s father). Days later, I received a thank you. They said, ‘give us more information.’ And I asked them, ‘If we could raise the money, could you come?’ I went to Slovenia in 2012. I got lost and I went to the police department where I met all the girls. Then they asked to see if (we) could put a tour together. Maybe there are people across the country like us that have shows that could do it.”

The girls were able to fundraise their way to a full blown U.S. tour, which began in Cleveland on Wednesday. Other stops include: Pittsburgh, Lemont, Milwaukee, Duluth, Twin Cities, Sacramento for Banjo-Rama, and Palo Alto.

While none of the band mates play the banjo, Navihanke is sure to add a bit of je ne sais quoi to Banjo-Rama. As Bonnie, said, “I love banjo players and they are so good. But I get bored of them. This will be a refresher to spice up the banjo again.”

What follows are biographies of the members of Navihanke. To see a complete schedule for Banjo-Rama, visit banjo-rama.com.

Sonja Hercog
Her role with Navihanke is to blow into the saxophone, she is also learning to play drums, and she is the one to connect the program and animate the audience. She adores dancing and whenever possible goes on the dance floor instead to the stage. She spends her free time on nature walks and studying and gathering medicinal and wild plants. She doesn’t use her fingers only for playing saxophone, but also loves gardening, storing old seeds, making natural cleaners, creams, and cooking syrups. She is eager to learn and loves reading books about farming, spirituality, etcetera. She never runs out of questions and that is why her profession, which is ethnology and cultural anthropology, is a perfect fit for her. The majority of her work in the field includes interviewing people about various topics and learning about different ways of life currently and in the past. She is currently finishing her studies of nature conservancy and is advocating for a balanced relationship between nature, clean environment, and humans. She likes to be surrounded by funny people and loves to make people laugh by being cynical about herself, since, there comes a day when the motto holds: Why not make things more complicated, if there is a possibility for this? She is very responsible, detailed and flexible. She likes to sleep in, and before going to bed, she is happy to join a good debate with a glass of wine, and discovering the culinary specialties.

Tamara Gobec
I play guitar and sing for Navihanke. I’ve completed my Slovenian and English language studies and am soon to graduate. I plan to be a teacher and am therefore learning to be patient within a group with four other girls. Based on my “professional deformation” I like to annoy the other girls from time to time and correct their grammar, and they are of course happy to return the favor. As I’m in the process of taking my last few exams, I have very little free time. But when I do, I like to have a cup of coffee with my friends, see a movie, or go for a walk. I love animals and because I currently don’t have much space, I envy other Navihanke girls who already have almost real “farms” full of kittens, dogs, and horses. But I’m even happier when I visit them. My weakest point is definitely chocolate; this is something that anyone can bribe me with. But otherwise I adore sweets of all shapes and tastes. Luckily all the jumping on the stage during our performances is helping me out so that I can have some sweets every now and then. I’m good-hearted and kind, although very stubborn and sometimes moody. It’s likely that many would also say that my words precede my thoughts and that I can unintentionally offend them, but in my four years with Navihanke I learned to control this and be disciplined.

Maša Uranjek
I’m Maša Uranjek and I’ve been with Navihanke from the very beginning. Our 12 years have been truly magical as we went through many things together and experienced a lot. We had many beautiful and happy moments together on the stage and there is no end in sight, which pleases me tremendously, as music means almost everything to me. I’m the lead singer with Navihanke and also a flutist. I also play a guitar and a piano. On the stage we are bouncy and full of energy. People attending our performances are often wondering if the stage will be able to hold us or break down. I love nature, trees, sun, birds, streams, and farm animals. I also handle horses and have two beautiful horses at home. Jasmina and I often ride horses together around the countryside. I like to read spiritual books and evolve my thinking. I really like the books by Dobra vila Maja, Doreen Virtue, Louise L. Hay, Savine Atai, and others. My motto is: Spread love and peace around the world and be good to each other.

Tanja Čretnik
Tanja is at the best age for a woman and this is also how she feels. She has everything she needs to be happy and is only troubled by free time, which she never has enough. If she had more time available, she could probably do some things better, and she could take more time for other things out of pure pleasure. Cars are her weak point – and she always likes to turn around to check them out. If pop-folk music in Slovenia were more respected and better rewarded, she would have bought a brand new car and that would be a BMW 1-Series convertible in golden-sand color, 135i. But since there would not be enough space in the car for all the RUTAR accordions and all the keyboards, she would probably right now choose a bigger car. She goes to work, but she enjoys music much more. In Navihanke, she plays everything that has white buttons and white and black keys. She is the only one in the group that does not sing, as she is loud enough with everything else.
She adores her cat and the summer. No matter how hot it is, she would never trade the summer for the winter. In her life she regrets only the things that she hasn’t done yet and wishes that she grew four inches taller. Since this wish will be hard to fulfill, she is a big fan of high heels in all color combinations. She wishes that Navihanke would visit the United States and present their music and Slovenia in the best possible way – with positive energy and lots of cheerfulness!

Jasmina Šmarčan
I’m Jasmina Šmarčan. In the group I play bass guitar, guitar, and sing. When we are performing with Navihanke I usually spend more time in the air than on the ground. The rhythms of our music simply take over and release a burst of energy in me, which results in jumping and all the action on the stage.
In my free time, I enjoy being with the horses. Whenever I find time I love going on long rides with my young mare. This is a real therapy for me and it recharges my energy so that I’m ready for new performances and gatherings. I also spend a lot of time educating myself about healthy living, which includes everything from spirituality to healthy eating. My motto and a verse that I follow in life is “You are in this world to see the sun. You are in this world to follow the sun. You are in this world to be the sun and to drive away – the shadows.”

IF YOU GO:
What: The Sacramento Banjo Band Banjo-Rama 2014
When: May 1-4
Where: The Clarion Inn, 1401 Arden Way, Sacramento, 922-8041 (Formerly Red Lion)
Contact: Bonnie Harris 412-3020 or Rex Inglis at 209-955-2452
On the web: www.banjo-rama.com; sacramentobanjoband.com

SOURCES: www.banjo-rama.com

Stan Atkinson had a ‘career to remember’

Stan Atkinson, shown at the center of this 1980s photograph, spent about 15 years dedicating his time to the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon. Photo courtesy of Stan Atkinson

Stan Atkinson, shown at the center of this 1980s photograph, spent about 15 years dedicating his time to the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon. Photo courtesy of Stan Atkinson

Editor’s Note: This is part six in a series about local people connected to the early days of television.

Stan Atkinson, one of the Arden area’s more notable residents, continued his discussions about his storied career in television during a recent interview with this publication.
After spending two years working in television in Spokane, Wash., Stan and his wife at that time were experiencing a bit of California dreaming, Stan explained.
“My wife and I had both grown up in Southern California,” Stan said. “We were not crazy about the snow. We had a real bad winter up there (in Spokane). So we decided we were going to California and get the first job we could find. So, we took off in our little VW and drove to California and stopped in Redding to get some gas. And I asked one of the guys in the gas station, ‘Are there any TV stations around here?’ And he said, “Yeah, there’s one (KVIP Channel 7) that just opened up by the junior college.’”
Stan explained that he quickly made his way to that station and found that the people who were working there were in the midst of a crisis, as a snow storm had blanked out part of the signal between the studio and the transmitter, which was located on about a 6,000-foot peak above Redding.
“I walked in and everyone was beside themselves with this crisis they were dealing with,” Stan recalled. “So, they were kind of annoyed when I walked in the door. ‘What do you want?’ (he was asked). I said, “I want a job.” And they said, ‘What do you mean you want a job?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve been working at the ABC affiliate in Spokane for two years.’ And, they said, ‘You’ve been in television for two years?’ And I said, ‘Yeah,’ and I was hired on the spot.”
Among the employees of KVIP-TV at that time was Jon S. Kelly, who was one of the sons of Ewing Cole “Gene” Kelly, a founder of KCRA-TV in Sacramento.
Stan said that it was upon the recommendation of Jon to people at KCRA-TV that led to his hiring at that Sacramento station in 1957.
In describing an early experience he had at KCRA-TV, Stan said, “What happened, when I got hired, I looked like I was about 15 years old. So, the legend is that after my first night on the air doing the news, Gene Kelly came into the managers’ meeting the next morning and said, ‘Who in the blankety blank hired that blankety blank kid?’ He wasn’t involved in my hiring process. And at the same time, somebody had made note of all the phone calls that had been made the night before in the following morning, in response to my first night on the air. They were mostly from elderly ladies, who said, ‘Who is that young, sweet boy you have doing the news? We just think he is terrific. We’ll be watching him every time.’ So, I’ve always said it was the blue hairs who saved my career.”
Because television business was not compartmentalized like it is today, Stan’s early work with KCRA-TV was quite diversified.
Stan noted that he became involved in documentary work, including Channel 3’s first documentary, “Black Harvest,” which focused on a huge forest fire. He also worked on a documentary about the transient population in Old Sacramento.
In about 1959, Stan dedicated himself to working on a documentary pertaining to mental patients who had died under the responsibility of psychiatric technicians at the DeWitt Hospital in Auburn.
Stan explained that that the project led to a unique experience in his life.
“(The documentary) won a national award, the Albert Lasker Award for medical journalism,” Stan said. “There were four award winners and we were all presented the awards in New York by Lyndon Johnson, who was vice president then, and Mrs. (Mary Woodard) Lasker. Johnson invited us to go on this trip he was about to take around the world (in May 1961). And I went with one of our cameramen, THE LATE Ed Sweetman. And it was an amazing, amazing awakening for me to see what the rest of the world was like.
“We went around the world. The target really was Vietnam. President (John F.) Kennedy wanted Johnson to access the situation there. We had 500 American soldiers there who were training in the South Vietnamese army in the battle against the Northerners, which had started a few years before.
“It was really the precursor to upping the American investment of men and machines in Vietnam, because it was clear that the efforts from the North were dedicated to taking over the South and that the Army of the South simply wasn’t up to the task. The trip also went to India, Pakistan, Greece and Italy. I was really intrigued by the time we had in Saigon.”
Stan eventually returned to Vietnam after convincing KCRA’s owners to allow him to produce the documentary, “The Village that Refuses to Die.” The documentary focused on Father Nguyen Lac Hoa, the “fighting priest,” who led an anticommunist militia in the Ca Mau Peninsula in the southernmost section of Vietnam.

Stan Atkinson, bottom center, is shown with other members of television station KFTY Channel 50 in this early 1970s photograph. Photo courtesy of Stan Atkinson

Stan Atkinson, bottom center, is shown with other members of television station KFTY Channel 50 in this early 1970s photograph. Photo courtesy of Stan Atkinson

In recalling that experience, Stan said, “(Hoa’s) men settled there and began fighting and beating the Viet Cong. By the time I was there, I think it was 200 square miles he had liberated. So, I did this documentary and it was a big success, because in those days there wasn’t anything really much known of or about, and there wasn’t any pictorial record of what Vietnam was like and that included the defense department. And so, the Pentagon bought 200 copies of this film and used it in the training process for officers and (noncommissioned officers) who were going to Vietnam.”
In 1963, Stan left KCRA-TV to join David Wolper (1928-2010), the major independent producer of documentaries in the United States, in making documentaries.
During his time with Wolper, who was later the executive producer of the television miniseries, “Roots,” Stan worked on three series, including specials about actress Bette Davis and singer and actor Bing Crosby.
After departing from his work with Wolper, Stan joined a friend in establishing a production company.
Stan noted that he eventually opted to return to daily news.
“I decided to come back to work (in television), and I did, first at KTVU Channel 2 in Oakland, then I got a Ford journalism fellowship at Stanford (University), and then from Stanford, I went to KNBC and NBC News in Burbank,” Stan said. “That was a great experience in a top-of-the-line, incredible facility. It was a huge news machine. In those days, it was just amazing the work we did do and the people you worked with. And that was during the time that I covered the (Charles) Manson case, and that became the hallmark of my career there. It was 16 months and going to court every day and doing a lot of investigative stuff on the side to try to develop more about what had actually happened, which mostly came out in court. There were other diversions that took place in that case that you would want to pursue as a reporter. Also, it was the drudgery of sitting in court each and every day trying to glean something out that was newsworthy to put on the news that night. Manson and his girls would act up in court from time to time.”
Stan said that he later left KNBC to establish television station KFTY Channel 50 in Santa Rosa with a couple of his friends from KNBC.
“We put the station on the air (in about 1972),” Stan said. “We got clobbered by a huge recession and we just didn’t have enough money up front to sustain the two years that we needed to get on our feet financially. And after one year, we went under.”
After the collapse of Channel 50, Stan briefly took a different direction in his life, as he planted a vineyard in Sebastopol and taught journalism classes in a summer graduate program at Stanford University.
Stan’s time teaching at Stanford and his thoughts about the sudden closure of KFTY caused him to reevaluate his life, and he returned to television, first as a reporter with KGO-TV in San Francisco.
That experience led to his rehiring at KTVU Channel 2 in 1973.
Three years later, Stan left his work as an anchor at KTVU, as he was presented with an opportunity to return to KCRA Channel 3.
In recalling that moment, Stan said, “I knew that (KCRA) is where I always wanted to be. I loved the time that I’d been here in the early days. I always had a feeling I’d come back, always did, even from when I left before. I was so glad to be back, and of course the station was the best in the market. Everything was first class and professional and (the station had a) great gang of people to work with and work for. And the best part was I got a chance to not just anchor, but to go about and do some serious reporting a couple times every year on a major assignment somewhere in the world. I think there was something like 18 or 20 assignments in 30 different countries.”
After spending 18 years in his second stint with KCRA, Stan was hired to work as an anchor at KOVR Channel 13.
In explaining why he left Channel 3 to work for Channel 13, Stan said, “It was a bit of a contract dispute and (KOVR) found out about it. They had just changed ownership (at KOVR) and so they came after me and wanted me to come to work for them. The timing was perfect and I said, ‘Sure.’ It was a great time for me (at KCRA) and it was wonderful. I never had a regret about it, but I figured maybe after all that time, it was good to make a change. And it was good.”
Stan ended his lengthy career with a special edition of the 10 p.m. news on July 30, 1999. Following the broadcast, KOVR aired a special, hour-long program, entitled “Stan Atkinson: A Career to Remember.”
After being asked to summarize his career, Stan, who is enjoying his retirement years with his wife, Kristen, said, “I had 46 years of working in radio and television. I loved it on the last day as much as I did the first day. There isn’t much I would ever change. Overall, I was one lucky duck.”

Lance@valcomnews.com

Talini’s Nursery: Another successful East Sacramento, Italian business

For those familiar with East Sacramento’s historic Italian district, it is well known that the area, despite its changes, continues to be home to several successfully operated Italian businesses. And certainly among these businesses is Pietro Talini’s Nursery and Garden Center.
Left to right, Conor Wolfman, Jill Franklin (manager, holding cat) and Angela Pratt are among the staff of Talini’s Nursery in East Sacramento. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Left to right, Conor Wolfman, Jill Franklin (manager, holding cat) and Angela Pratt are among the staff of Talini’s Nursery in East Sacramento. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Located at 5601 Folsom Blvd., Talini’s has built a longtime reputation for providing its customers with such nursery items as perennials, annuals, shrubs, seeds, ground covers, natural weed killers, all-natural insecticides and pesticides, gardening equipment, concrete statuary, potteries and various gift items.

Although the name of this nursery would perhaps cause one who has knowledge of Italian names to blurt out, “Now, that’s Italian,” the business has a much deeper Italian connection than its name alone.

Named for Italian immigrant

Like many businesses that include the name of their founders in their names, Pietro Talini’s Nursery is no different – as the business was established by Italian immigrant Pietro Talini in 1976.

The road to Pietro’s founding of this popular East Sacramento nursery began with his arrival in America in the 1940s.

Departing from his former home in the town of Segromigno in Monte, near Lucca, Italy, Pietro came to the United States to reunite with his wife, Evole, and his son, Lou, who had made their way to America about six months earlier.

Pietro Talini’s Nursery and Garden Center is located at 5601 Folsom Blvd. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Susan Laird

Pietro Talini’s Nursery and Garden Center is located at 5601 Folsom Blvd. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Susan Laird

The family, which later included Pietro and Evole’s second son, Alfred, initially lived in the Monterey area before making their way to Stockton, where they resided until about 1952, at which time they began their longtime residency in East Sacramento.

The first of the Talinis’ East Sacramento homes was located at 925 52nd St., where the family lived until moving to 1116 49th St. by about 1957.

In about 1961, Pietro purchased the last of his East Sacramento homes, which resulted in a very simple move for the family, since this third house is located only about a block away from the 49th Street house.

Site of Stefani’s Nursery

Pietro, who was a landscape gardener with experience operating his own nursery in a small building on 51st Street in East Sacramento for a short period of time during the 1950s, purchased the former Stefani’s Nursery building, which was constructed in about 1952.

Following the early 1970s closure of Stefani’s, the building sat vacant for about three years.

Lou, 64, said that although the structure had been purchased by the Marie Callender’s pie shop and restaurant chain, there was “a problem with the zoning.”

“I don’t know what the problem was (with the zoning), but (the site) was later placed on the market and we bought it from them,” Lou said. “I remember (the property) had weeds on it that were two feet tall.”

 

Pietro Talini, shown above, was the founder of his popular East Sacramento nursery, which is now owned by his son, Lou Talini. / Photo courtesy

Pietro Talini, shown above, was the founder of his popular East Sacramento nursery, which is now owned by his son, Lou Talini. / Photo courtesy

Started as landscaping business

 

 

Pietro, who had a degree in horticulture from a university in Florence, Italy and obtained his contractor’s license in California, acquired the site in 1976 as a place where he could store his landscaping equipment.

Pietro’s Folsom Boulevard building, which was originally a place where customers could purchase leftover materials from construction jobs, eventually evolved into the popular nursery that it is today.

This evolution is evident through telephone book listings during the business’s earliest years. These books list the business as Talini Landscaping Co., while later books listed the landscape company, as well as the name Talini’s Nursery and Garden Supplies, a name that was later slightly altered to its present name, Talini’s Nursery and Garden Center.

The nursery has continued its growth through Lou Talini, who took over the ownership of the business following his father’s death in 1984.

Lou, a 1964 graduate of Bishop Armstrong High School, takes pride in the success of his nursery, which has been assisted through its line of managers, Steve Zien, Sandy Cappelletti, Jackson McCarty and Jill Franklin.

Family values

In complimenting his father’s character and knowledge in the nursery business, Lou said that Pietro was very intelligent, “honest and he would give his shirt off his back to somebody who needed help.”

“He was always willing to help somebody and he was a good businessman and he taught me everything I know,” Lou said. “I don’t think I’ll ever learn as much as he did though. He’s way ahead of me.”

Although Lou, who resides in East Sacramento and Walnut Creek, is not an everyday presence in the store, he is far from a silent owner. Instead, he splits his time between working at the nursery and working on commercial landscape construction jobs from the East Bay to Sacramento.

In addition to Lou’s knowledge and business experience at the nursery, the business is aided through the knowledge and professional service of Franklin, who manages the store and a staff of about seven employees.

Inner charm

Franklin, who grew up in Elk Grove and resides in midtown Sacramento, was studying horticulture at American River College when she was hired to work at Talini’s in 1997. She became the nursery’s manager four years later.

Talini’s, Franklin explained, is a great place to work, not only due to her love of horticulture, but because “it’s a great store.”

“(Talini’s) has always had a rustic, little charm about it,” Franklin said. “I’ve always tried to keep that feel going. It’s charming and there’s something to keep you interested around every corner.”

Talini’s is much more than a Folsom Boulevard storefront, as it also includes two-thirds of an acre of property with hundreds upon hundreds of perennials and annuals. The business consists of many corners.

As a bit of history, at the back of the property sits the former home of Carlo Stefani at the former address of 1421 56th St. At least one member of the Stefani family resided in the house from about 1919 to about the early 1980s.

Continuing this historic Folsom Boulevard property’s longtime tradition of presenting a successful Italian-owned nursery, Lou said that Talini’s will carry forth its efforts to expand and offer more products that are hard to find anywhere else, along with the common items that are expected to be available at a quality nursery.

Talini’s Nursery is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For additional information regarding this business, call (916) 451-8150.

lance@valcomnews.com

Sacramento couple to come full circle on Janey Way

From an East Sacramento street that already receives much coverage in this newspaper by way of Marty Relles’ “Janey Way Memories” column, comes yet another memory of the past, as well as a look at the present and planned future.
Tom Hart stands in front of his childhood home on Janey Way in East Sacramento. The house, which is presently being remodeled, is featured through 13 Internet videos. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Tom Hart stands in front of his childhood home on Janey Way in East Sacramento. The house, which is presently being remodeled, is featured through 13 Internet videos. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

For those who either grew up on or near Janey Way or for those familiar with Marty’s column, it should come as no surprise that many people have a very deep-rooted love for this local street.

This fact is even more understandable since the street was constructed more than 60 years ago.

But nonetheless, the great number of stories that derive from Janey Way can seem quite remarkable when considering that the street is a mere 909 feet long and never included more than its current total of 32 houses – three of which are actually duplexes.

Certainly, this article is not intended to replace Marty’s popular column. So, be sure to read his current “Janey Way Memories.”

Instead, this first and only edition of “More Janey Way Memories” is presented solely to tell the story of one more person who grew up on Janey Way and his lifelong love for this East Sacramento street and his current project to preserve a portion of its past.

Tom Hart discusses details of a new addition to his childhood home. / Valley Community Newspapers, Lance Armstrong

Tom Hart discusses details of a new addition to his childhood home. / Valley Community Newspapers, Lance Armstrong

This person is Tom Hart, who grew up on Janey Way.

Tom, 57, who follows Marty’s column, is familiar with many of the column’s related stories and people and can sometimes even read about himself, is working on a project that will bring him back to his old neighborhood.

Dust has been flying, machinery has been running off and on and hammers have been pounding at the old Hart house since last July.

This activity, said Tom, who is of Scottish, Irish and English ancestry, is part of a project that will fulfill his dream to move back into his childhood home, where he grew up with his mother Rose (Hawkins) Hart, his sister – the former Susan Hart, now Susan Chevassau – and for a shorter period of time, his father, Bernie, who passed away in 1961.

“When my mother (who passed away in the home on Dec. 19, 2001) was sick and I was staying with her, we would talk in the evenings and one of the things that I told her is I wanted to move back home,” Tom said. “That really warmed her heart and made her feel happy that her son was going to be moving back home and back into the neighborhood.”

Bernie Hart stands behind his boat and car in the driveway of his Janey Way home in about 1951. / Photo courtesy, Tom Hart

Bernie Hart stands behind his boat and car in the driveway of his Janey Way home in about 1951. / Photo courtesy, Tom Hart

The remodeling project includes the addition of about 400 square feet of livable space with the expansion of the living room and master bedroom, a new master bathroom, a new laundry room and the addition of more closet space and a covered porch area behind the house. Additionally, the old garage was demolished and replaced with a two and a half-car garage, the roof and windows were replaced and new insulation was installed throughout the home.

Tom, a 1971 graduate of Sacramento High School, said that although he had hoped to move into the house with his wife Diana by Christmastime, he is now setting a more realistic goal of once again becoming a Janey Way resident by April.

The upgrading of the old Hart house helps to preserve one of the street’s older homes.

Research for this article revealed the following history of Janey Way:

According to the 1949 city directory, the first houses to be built on Janey Way – those of the late 1940s – were the homes of Ross Relles, James Tomassetti, Dante Viani and Jose “Joe” Micheli.

During the time their homes were built, Relles operated his well-known Relles Florist at 2200 J St., Tomassetti was a painter for the Western Pacific Railroad, Viani worked for Koro Products Co. at 2116 19th St. and Micheli was a bartender at the Square Deal Café at 5723 Folsom Blvd., where the Espanol Restaurant is now located.

Bernie Hart enjoys the company of his nephew, Rick Dixon, and his son, Tom Hart, on Christmas day in 1958. / Photo courtesy, Tom Hart

Bernie Hart enjoys the company of his nephew, Rick Dixon, and his son, Tom Hart, on Christmas day in 1958. / Photo courtesy, Tom Hart

Apparently, at least two other houses existed on the street during this time, since Louie Viani claims that his house was the first home built on the street and Tom said that he was told by his home’s remodel designer that his house was constructed in 1949. Tom added, however, that the house may not have had any occupants until the following year.

Carmen Tomassetti, who married James Tomassetti on Aug. 14, 1948 and raised five children in her Janey Way home, said that she moved into her then-new house on Dec. 10, 1948.

“My house was built in 1948,” said Carmen, who is a native of Monte Porzio, Italy. “The first houses (on Janey Way) were built in 1948, then little by little different companies built different houses.”

The 1952 city directory shows the growth of the street by this time, as follows: Olin N. Boggs, Joseph C. Brady, Dominic J. Costamagna, Raymond Cullivan, Adelbert C. Jacobs, Richard Kinzel, Jr., Eugene E. McKnight, Jose Micheli, Gene C. O’Keefe, Virgil W. Petrocchi, Mateo Puccetti, Ralph Puccetti, Ross Relles, Joseph C. Romel, Loren E. Sizemore, Eugene R. Thomsen, James Tomassetti, Dante H. Viani, Louie E. Viani and three vacant homes. As an historical note, Janey Way no longer extended south of M Street to include its 1300s addresses by the late 1950s. This property is presently part of the site of St. Mary’s School.

Enzo Costa said that he moved into the neighborhood in 1972 and now lives in the last house that was built on Janey Way. He had the house constructed in 1976.

Neighborhood children gather in front of the Hart house for Tom Hart’s birthday in about 1958. Pictured from left to right are: Berna Tomassetti, Denis Tomassetti, Diana Viani, unidentified, Jennifer “Deedee” DuCray, John DuCray, Tom Hart, John Tomassetti and Josie Tomassetti. / Photo courtesy, Tom Hart

Neighborhood children gather in front of the Hart house for Tom Hart’s birthday in about 1958. Pictured from left to right are: Berna Tomassetti, Denis Tomassetti, Diana Viani, unidentified, Jennifer “Deedee” DuCray, John DuCray, Tom Hart, John Tomassetti and Josie Tomassetti. / Photo courtesy, Tom Hart

Tom, who with his wife, has three children, Angela, Rebecca and T.J., said that a prime example that his neighborhood is fairly old is the fact that Costa is considered one of Janey Way’s “new kids on the block.”

Costa may have had the last house built in the neighborhood, but as a resident of the street, he has much seniority over a family, for instance, who moved to a house on Janey Way about two years ago.

Fortunately, due to modern technology, most readers who are interested in seeing the old Hart house do not have to go further than their own computers to do so.

In order that Tom’s sister could observe various remodeling stages of the home, Tom has placed footage of these remodeling stages on the Web site www.youtube.com. The short videos, which currently present 13 remodeling stages, can be found using the search words: “Hart Janey Way remodel.”

Tom plans to load seven more videos onto the site to show a full-range summary of the project. He also plans to eventually take the main highlights of all his videos and combine them to create a 15-minute video that he will also post on the Web site.

Tom said that the simple fact that he desires to move back to his childhood house shows how special the home and its neighborhood and residents are in his heart.

“I just have so many fond memories of the place,” Tom said. “I’m coming full circle. My kids have grown and now I have a chance to come back home to be where still many of the neighbors live. Where, when I was smaller, these neighbors would take care of me, now I’m coming back home, so I can take care of them.”

lance@valcomnews.com

Italian memories plentiful at 14th annual Calabrese Picnic

Margaret (DeFazio) Jacobs, Louise (Arcuri) Schultze, Rose Marie Pane and Anthony DeFazio are among the senior members of their families who enjoy sharing their family memories at the annual Calabrese Picnic. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong
Margaret (DeFazio) Jacobs, Louise (Arcuri) Schultze, Rose Marie Pane and Anthony DeFazio are among the senior members of their families who enjoy sharing their family memories at the annual Calabrese Picnic. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

It is certainly not every day that families host get-togethers that involve the meeting of about 200 relatives using rented facilities. But such was the case last weekend as members of the DeFazio, Arcuri and Pane families – who are all descendants of immigrants from Castanga in the Calabria region of Italy – gathered together in East Sacramento for the 14th annual Calabrese Picnic.

On a picture perfect, sunny and mild weather day, these family members arrived at East Portal Park at 51st and M streets in East Sacramento to continue their tradition of enjoying each others’ company, sharing family memories and preserving their Italian heritage and culture.

For those familiar with the history of Italians in East Sacramento, the site of this event, which was held on Sunday, Oct. 10, made perfect sense.

After all, the park site had for many years served as the playground for those living in the now-historic “Little Italy” section of the city, which is roughly located from 48th to 58th streets between H Street and Folsom Boulevard.

For many people who unexpectedly passed by the park on this day, the gathering likely must have had the appearance of a community event, as opposed to a family affair.

Anne DeFazio shows off a plate of Italian foods made by attendees of the picnic. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Anne DeFazio shows off a plate of Italian foods made by attendees of the picnic. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

But those attending the event knew better, as they were well aware of the many large, immediate, local families with the last names of DeFazio, Pane and Arcuri, as well as other families with last names directly linked to these three family surnames.

As a pot luck event, the picnic’s food alone demonstrated the family members’ rich connection to their heritage.

As opposed to plates mainly filled with traditional American picnic staples such as hamburgers, hotdogs and macaroni and potato salads, most plates at the event featured homemade foods such as chicken cacciatore, sausage and peppers, pastas, meatballs, risotto and Italian salads.

 

Although the event was very much an Italian gathering, there were various exceptions to this theme.

A prime example of how the DeFazio, Pane and Arcuri families have blended with other cultures can be seen through the potluck, which included some non-Italian food, including the most dominant of these offerings: pork and nopales (edible cactus), which is a Mexican dish.

Family members enjoy each other’s company at the 14th annual Calabrese Picnic at East Portal Park. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Family members enjoy each other’s company at the 14th annual Calabrese Picnic at East Portal Park. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Throughout the day, a friendly competition of bocce ball – an historic sport most closely related to lawn bowling and popularized in Italy many years ago – was played on the park’s bocce ball courts.

After about five hours, the tournament was completed, with the winners being Mark and Vickie DeFazio.

Bill DeFazio, one of the tournament’s coordinators, said that the tournament is a great way to bring the families together at the event.

Since the annual picnic is in its 14th year, Bill, a Sacramento native who graduated from Jesuit High School in 1967, said that it is important to recognize the people who founded the event.

“(My first cousins) Mark and Steve (DeFazio) were the original organizers (of the tournament). No question about it,” said Bill, who is the oldest of the DeFazio grandchildren. “So, Mark and Steve really deserve the lion’s share of doing this thing.”

Bill added that the event, which is held on the Sunday closest to Columbus Day, stemmed from the DeFazio family’s occasional tradition of getting together “every so often.”

“(The event’s roots dates back to about) 40 years ago, but it was never an annual event,” Bill said. “Somebody would just say, ‘We’re all going to go out. Let’s just all try to get together.’”

During its initial years, the annual event was held at William Land Park and featured a golf tournament, followed by a picnic.

Vickie DeFazio, shown above, was a member of the bocce ball tournament’s winning team. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Vickie DeFazio, shown above, was a member of the bocce ball tournament’s winning team. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

When asked to share his feelings about the importance of holding the annual picnic, Bill said, “It’s huge for our families – the DeFazios, the Panes and the Acuris – to keep the tradition going, because we’re old-time Italian families in Sacramento and we’ve lived basically in the same area for probably 100 years, for the most part.”

Margaret (DeFazio) Jacobs, Rose Marie Pane and Louise (Arcuri) Schultz, a trio of the matriarchs of the three families, shared portions of their family histories for this article.

Passionately relating her family history, Margaret (DeFazio) Jacobs said that her grandparents, Joe and Bernadina (Piccoli) DeFazio, were the first members of her family to immigrate to the United States.

After settling in New York, Joe and Bernadina moved to East Sacramento in 1914.

Joe and Bernadina’s son, Louis DeFazio, who was Jacob’s father, married Christine Talerico on Feb. 24, 1924 in Utica, N.Y.

After moving to East Sacramento, Louis DeFazio became well-known for his grocery stores in such places as East Sacramento, Florin, Sloughhouse and West Sacramento.

Early immigrants of the Pane family to arrive in America were Rose Marie Pane’s grandparents, Giuseppi and Rosa Maria (Arcuri) Pane, and her great uncle and great aunt, Antonio and Malana (Mancuso) Pane.

A unique trivia of these couples is the fact that Giuseppi and Rosa Maria had seven boys and one girl and Antonio and Malana had seven girls and one boy.

Rose Marie, who resides in her family home that was built in East Sacramento in about 1935, said that another interesting part of this family trivia is that one of Giuseppi and Rosa Maria’s sons and one of Antonio and Malana’s daughters passed away in their childhood within months of each other.

Additionally, Ronnie Pane, who is a first cousin to Rose Marie, said that these children were the youngest born to each family.

Today, Rosie “Doty” Taylor, who is in her mid-90s, is the only survivor of these 16 children.

Joe Pane IV prepares to roll a ball during a game of bocce ball at East Portal Park. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Joe Pane IV prepares to roll a ball during a game of bocce ball at East Portal Park. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Schultz said that her uncle Joe Arcuri and her aunt Elvira (Massoni) Arcuri first arrived in America in the early 1900s. The couple soon traveled from New York to Roseville, where they had three sons and three daughters.

Joe Arcuri supported his family through his employment as a railroad worker in Roseville.

Shortly after the arrivals of Joe and Elvira Arcuri, who emigrated from Italy at separate times, Schultz’s father, Louis Arcuri, immigrated to the United States with his sister, Rosina Arcuri.

After coming to Sacramento in 1916, Louis Arcuri married Margaret DeFazio.

And following the death of Margaret, Louis Arcuri married Ellen Margaret Harris in 1928 and moved to Elk Grove.

Altogether Louis Arcuri, who worked various jobs, including his work as a taxi cab driver, laundry and hotel worker and used car and tire garage owner and operator, had 12 children.

Schultz, a 1949 graduate of Elk Grove High School, said that she appreciates the picnic’s ability to maintain her family’s history and heritage.

“(The picnic) keeps our family together and keeps our heritage up for our children,” Schultz said. “It’s through us that they learn about their heritage. We talk to them and tell them about their family, so they won’t forget where they come from.”

Although some attendees of the picnic expressed their concerns regarding the future existence of the event, 12-year-old Marissa DeFazio, the daughter of Steve and Sheri DeFazio, is among those of the younger generation who are dedicated to continuing the annual gathering.

“(The event) is really important to me and I learn a lot about my family history (at the picnic),” Marisa said. “It’s really fun. I would want to keep (the event) going (in the future).”

lance@valcomnews.com

‘That’s-a Italian’ – Authentic New York flavor at Giovanni’s Pizzeria

 
John Ruffaine, the "Giovanni" of Giovanni's Old World New York Pizzeria in Sacramento, is committed to creating pizzas with authentic New York taste. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua
John Ruffaine, the “Giovanni” of Giovanni’s Old World New York Pizzeria in Sacramento, is committed to creating pizzas with authentic New York taste. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

When displaced New Yorkers walk through the door of Giovanni’s Old World New York Pizzeria in East Sacramento for the first time, it is not uncommon for them to stop dead in their tracks, inhale deeply and then reach in their pockets for their cell phones.

“Mom, I’ve found pizza.”

This reaction does not surprise John Ruffaine, co-owner of Giovanni’s, in the least. It is something he has come to expect, and to reflect upon with pride as a native of Bedside, Brooklyn himself.

“I’ve had people literally cry at my counter because they were so happy,” he said. “They walk in the door, and they know they’ve found a taste of home. They can tell just from the smell.”

The sign on the building says “New York” pizza, and that is what John prepares for his customers every day. He is committed to providing Sacramento’s pizza lovers with the “real deal.”

“This is real Italian pepperoni,” he said as he prepared a pizza pie. “And this is real mozzarella from New York. We don’t throw dough here – we stretch it. Those guys who throw dough around aren’t authentic. Nobody in New York or Italy does that.”

The Pizza Rustica is prepared without sauce. It features Giovanni's hand-stretched dough, topped with Italian salami, fire roasted red peppers, spinach, ricotta salata, Romano cheese and mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

The Pizza Rustica is prepared without sauce. It features Giovanni's hand-stretched dough, topped with Italian salami, fire roasted red peppers, spinach, ricotta salata, Romano cheese and mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

John so enjoys making pizzas that customers sometimes laughingly accuse him of not wanting to hand it over to them. He seems to work with a perpetual smile on his face as he crafts each pizza. He is passionate about producing a pizza that is as New York as possible. He was taught by those in the know, in the Italian neighborhoods of New York. The recipes are Old World Italian.

“I made my first pizza when I was eight years old,” he said. “I was helping my mom in the kitchen. Old time Italians taught me, if you made a mistake you got more than just a payment – if you know what I mean.”

John with his wife, Jenny, and Carlo and Allison Grifone founded Giovanni’s in 2001.

“We’re two Italian American families, and our families are from Salerno, Sicily and Calabra,” he said. “A lot of what’s on our menu is inspired from Southern Italy – it’s actually what they use in their pizza. We don’t use any enhancers. What you are getting is genuine flavor and texture. We use only the finest ingredients. If it’s not made from scratch, it’s imported from Italy or New York.”

Sizes are larger than what most Sacramento residents are used to seeing. A large at Giovanni’s is a generous 16 inches across – a good value for a hungry family.

A standard Pizza Pie is made with Giovanni’s tomato sauce, mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and spices (Large, $17.95). The Little Italy is generously topped with meatballs, ricotta, garlic and spices ($11.95 for small, up to $24.75 for large).

Specialty pizzas are featured every three weeks.

A “Pizza Rustica” is lovingly placed into the oven to bake to delicious perfection by John Ruffaine, the “Giovanni” of Giovanni’s Pizza. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

A “Pizza Rustica” is lovingly placed into the oven to bake to delicious perfection by John Ruffaine, the “Giovanni” of Giovanni’s Pizza. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

“The specials focus on different regions of Italy,” John said. “Those are true Neapolitan pizzas.”

Customers can’t get enough – they are tremendously loyal.

“My mother is from New York and I’ve been out there lots of times. This is the closest thing around here to a real New York pizza,” said Tony Brown, Sacramento resident and loyal customer. “Not to mention, I like the customer service. John treats you real well.”

The pizzeria is large and spacious – intended for families and community gatherings.

“This is where baseball teams come after the game,” John said. “It’s where families gather. It’s where a kid can get his first job and bring his first date. And I’ve seen that happen a lot in the last nine years.”

“Giovanni” is Italian for John. His name, quite literally, is on the building. He is also known for his support of local schools and charities. Many a Giovanni’s pizza has raised funds for a worthy cause.

Giovanni's Pizzeria has ample seating for family, team and business gatherings. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

Giovanni's Pizzeria has ample seating for family, team and business gatherings. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

“There’s a lot of action behind what I do,” John said. “My name is on the building. I care about this business and the community. We help everyone in the community. Those kids are the future.”

Giovanni’s Old World New York Pizzeria is located at 6200 Folsom Boulevard in Sacramento. A second location is at 5924 South Land Park Drive in Sacramento. Visit www.giosnypizza.com and their page on Facebook.

susan@valcomnews.com

Land Park’s Masullo offers unique, tasty pizzas with Neapolitan flair

 

One of the restaurant gems in Land Park is a little “hole in the wall” place – a Neapolitan pizzeria called Masullo. Located on Riverside Boulevard, just across from the historic Masonic cemetery, this local restaurant is building a reputation for quality food, served quickly and with fresh, local ingredients.

Masullo’s “Maddy” pizza ($14) features farm fresh goodness, with mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, roasted bell peppers, zucchini and fresh tomatoes. The restaurant is now open for both lunch and dinner. / Photo courtesy of Erik Downey

Masullo’s “Maddy” pizza ($14) features farm fresh goodness, with mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, roasted bell peppers, zucchini and fresh tomatoes. The restaurant is now open for both lunch and dinner. / Photo courtesy of Erik Downey

Owner/chef Robert Masullo opened the restaurant in June of 2008. The building is from the late 1940s, and Robert chose to go with a “mid-century modern” design palate of concrete, steel and wood “to jive with the era of the building.” All the wood on the one-of-a-kind tables is from one tree in Sacramento.

“I opened (the pizzeria) because it’s just something I like,” Robert said. “My family took a vacation to Italy in 1987. I was amazed at how something I thought I knew – pizza – could be so incredibly different.”

Vive la differenza

American pizza is often heavy, with thick sauces, heavy toppings and baked in a commercial oven. Authentic Neapolitan pizza is baked in a wood-fired oven, has a thin crust, light sauces and fresh toppings that can include goat cheese, prosciutto and more.

The authentic taste of Italy begins with the dough for each pizza pie, according to Robert.

“The dough is mixed two days in advance and is refrigerated,” he said. “The longer and slower the ferment of the yeast is, the more the naturally occurring enzymes have time to develop and that’s where the good flavors come from.”

Pizzas are made to serve one person, and come in two varieties: with tomato sauce and without. Whether you are a tomato sauce lover or not, there is something for everyone on the menu.

For the traditionalist, there is the “American” ($12) which features tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and pepperoni.

For those who want to try something a bit more adventurous (and delicious), try the “Kathryn” ($13), which features tomato sauce, Fontina cheese, Noman Ranch ham, red Fresno chili peppers and Crimini mushrooms. The “Jacqueline” ($14) is served without tomato sauce, and features potatoes, Fontina cheese, Niman Ranch bacon and oregano.

Meat lovers should enjoy Masullo’s “3Meat” pizza ($15), which features tomato sauce, mozzarella, Bellwether Farms ricotta cheese, Fra’Mani Toscano salame, sausage and Mortadella mushrooms.

All of the pizzas and salads at Masullo use award-winning Frate Sole extra virgin olive oil. This olive oil is estate grown, hand-harvested and cold-pressed in Woodland. It is a delightful dipping accompaniment to the pizza for an extra $2.

Everything at Masullo is fresh, local and organic whenever possible. Pizzas bake quickly in the brick oven and are served promptly to hungry guests. A lunch menu has just been added to the regular dinner menu. It will feature soups, salads, sandwiches and a select group of pizzas.

“We strive to keep things straight-forward and simple, not complicated,” Robert said. “Our focus is on quality.”

Masullo is located at 2711 Riverside Boulevard in Sacramento. Limited parking is available, it is often best to park “around the corner.” Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday; 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday; and closed, Sunday. For more information, call (916) 443-8929.

The Mayor of Janey Way

Marty Relles
Marty Relles
The Viani family lived on the west side of Janey Way in the direction of the National Guard Armory: Lou Sr. (Big Lou), his wife Tina, Lou Jr. (Little Lou) and daughters Diana and Anna.

 

Big Lou served in World War II under General George Patton. He participated in the invasion of Italy where he survived tough fighting in Sicily and then the Italian peninsula. Then he returned home and settled on Janey Way with his wife. The Vianis had their first child, a boy they named Louis Jr., in 1947, the year I came into the world. When my family moved to Janey Way in 1952, Lou Jr. became my best friend.

 

We played sports, we played in the pit (the vacated sand and gravel site located behind the houses on the east side of Janey Way) and we also spent a lot of time at the Viani house. Big Lou was in the process of landscaping his backyard and Little Lou and I watched, helped sometimes, and mostly just played. We also spent a lot of time inside the Viani house. They had one of those collections of Time/Life books called the “History of World War II.” The books featured stark photos depicting the horrors of war. Pictures of war dead, demolished buildings and blank-faced looking soldiers festooned the pages.

 

When Big Lou saw us buried in these volumes, he told of his experiences in the war. “Never gulp water from a canteen,” said Big Lou, “you can choke that way,” or “General Patton was the greatest general because he used the tactics of the great warrior Hannibal.” Little Lou and I listened intently. Then, like all children, we went outside with our toy guns and pretended to be soldiers, not fully understanding the horrible reality of war.

 

In addition to these volumes about the war, Big Lou also had souvenirs from the war, including postcards showing the great sites in Italy such as St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Trevi Fountain and coliseum. He also had a postcard showing Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. It featured a dent just below the knee that supposedly resulted when the artist struck the sculpture and said, “Speak to me.” That made an impression on me, and I said to myself, “Someday I will see it and all the other sights in Italy.” Later in life, I did visit Italy and see these things.

 

People called Big Lou the “Mayor of Janey Way” because he seemed intimately involved in every activity that took place in our neighborhood. When he passed you on the street, he always stopped to converse and share the latest gossip from the neighborhood. All the neighbors knew and liked Big Lou. He seemed larger than life and always donned a smile and a story to share. He worked every Wednesday night calling numbers for bingo at St. Mary’s church. He and my dad cooked at the church dinners, an all-day event. Every Christmas, Big Lou and Little Lou erected the nativity scene inside St. Mary’s Church. Weeks before Christmas, they began this task, and during that time, the scene remained covered with sheets. On Christmas Day, the sheets disappeared, revealing a memorable depiction of the birth of Christ. We looked forward to that moment with great anticipation every year.

 

Big Lou, the last remaining father on Janey Way, has fallen on ill health lately; his family has placed him in a care facility. Some day soon he will pass. When that happens, a shudder will be felt across Janey Way like on the day the last shovel of dirt filled the pit and ended our childhood.

 

 

E-mail Marty Relles at marty@valcomnews.com.

Bocce Ball: An East Portal Park tradition

Among the premier historic landmarks of the East Sacramento area is East Portal Park and just about anyone who knows about this neighborhood park is familiar with its bocce ball courts.

(Left to right) Ottavio Luchini, Dante Urbani, Phil Brakebill, Ciro Negri, Sivio Mariotti, Gerard Sharp, Jim Fellos, Bob Martinez and Vern Cooper are among the most active members of the East Portal Bocce Club. (Photo by Lance Armstrong)
(Left to right) Ottavio Luchini, Dante Urbani, Phil Brakebill, Ciro Negri, Sivio Mariotti, Gerard Sharp, Jim Fellos, Bob Martinez and Vern Cooper are among the most active members of the East Portal Bocce Club. (Photo by Lance Armstrong)
As the centerpiece of the park, which has deep Italian roots, are the courts, which on just about any given afternoon or evening are occupied by groups of people engrossed in the game, which brings out heavy doses of both competitive spirit and camaraderie.

Originally connected to the rich Italian culture of East Sacramento’s historic Little Italy neighborhood, the game initially drew only men of Italian descent.

But despite continuing to draw about 45 percent Italian players to the courts, the sport is more closely a representation of the diversity of the community.

No longer is it a men-only sport and the East Portal Bocce Club, which is part of the United State Bocce Federation, consists of members with heritage from throughout the globe.

This decision to allow women and non-Italians to join the club was initiated in 1991 through the club’s then-president Vic Cima.

As a result of this decision, many new faces joined the club and became educated about bocce ball, which is believed to have been derived from a more primitive Egyptian version of the sport.

 

The first bocce clubs

Popularized in Italy, where the first bocce clubs in modern times were established, the game, which is generally played in groups of two or four and most closely related to lawn bowling, was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants who came to America in masses during the turn of the 20th century.

Originally played in Sacramento at Southside Park as early as the 1930s, the sport has been a staple of East Portal Park since its opening in about the early 1940s.

Although bocce has been played at East Portal Park since the park’s early years, it was not until the early 1970s that the club was founded under the direction of Tony Peretti.

As a proud Italian, American and war veteran, Peretti founded the East Portal Bocce Club Fourth of July Tournament, which continues to be held each year and begins with the Pledge of Allegiance and the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

The club hit one of its lowest points during the beginning of its second decade, as membership dropped by about 50 percent.

This decline in membership was not indicative of the popularity of the sport, however, as is evident by a joke among members at the time that the club had “too many visitors at Nicoletti’s” – the funeral home at 5401 Folsom Blvd.

In response to the club’s membership woes, Cima recruited new members from the Piemonte Reale Benevolent Society, where he was serving as president.

Cima’s inclusion of women and people of other cultures proved to be the biggest turnaround for the club, which grew to more than 150 members by the late 1990s and now consists of about 260 members of which about 80 are female.

East Portal Park includes four covered bocce courts, like the two shown above. (Photo by Lance Armstrong)
East Portal Park includes four covered bocce courts, like the two shown above. (Photo by Lance Armstrong)
Additionally, membership of the club ranges from about 20 years old to 93 years old and the average age of its members is 65 years old.

 

Diversity and depth

East Portal Bocce Club President Bob Martinez is a prime example of the diversity of the club.

Martinez, who is an East Sacramento resident of Mexican heritage, was first introduced to the game while vacationing with his wife in Monterey.

“We were staying by the Presidio right there by the wharf and it just so happens that in the Presidio itself there are three bocce courts and so I was kind of watching these guys playing bocce,” Martinez said. “The Sicilians were coming off the fishing boats in the late afternoon and they were playing the Mexican restaurant workers from the (nearby) restaurants. They invited me to play and I just rolled a few balls and I just got really interested in (the sport).”

A friend of Martinez later invited him to the East Portal Park courts, where he became more acquainted with the game and soon afterward joined the club.

Although each member of the club is proud of their own particular heritage, Martinez said that those who become involved in the game of bocce ball join an intimate group of people who are like a big Italian family.

“Once you (get involved with bocce ball), everyone starts recognizing you and you feel a part of something much bigger,” Martinez said. “It’s like an extended family and everybody’s Italian when you start playing bocce.”

Martinez, who joined the club seven years ago, said that although bocce ball is a very simple game to learn, it is undeniably a very challenging sport.

“A lot of people know this and it’s like (one of the club’s members) Chito (Negri) said, ‘It takes about 20 minutes to learn bocce, but it takes a lifetime to learn the strategy.’ And it’s true. It’s a simple game that’s easy to learn, but it can be very complex to learn in terms of strategy and that strategy is what’s endearing and creates kind of this opportunity for exchange in banter. So, I would say that anyone who is interested in learning something that is not all that difficult to learn the rules of (would likely) enjoy this game. You can be as good as you want to be. All you have to do is stay with it and the more you’re with it, the more you realize all the nuances that are associated with this game and the people and the camaraderie. It’s great.”

 

Mr. Bocce Ball

Poggio, Italy native Dante Urbani, 77, who is known as “Mr. Bocce Ball,” said that he is very aware of the strategy of the game.

Poggio, Italy native Dante “Mr. Bocce Ball” Urbani is among the regular bocce ball players at East Portal Park. (Photo by Lance Armstrong)
Poggio, Italy native Dante “Mr. Bocce Ball” Urbani is among the regular bocce ball players at East Portal Park. (Photo by Lance Armstrong)
“There’s a lot of strategy,” said Urbani, who grew up with the sport and joined the local club 10 years ago. “You have to have a lot of finesse and you have to be convinced that you are better than everybody and that gives you more of an edge. You have to have a lot of confidence, but I think that people should just have that in general in life and feel secure about things.”

Another member of the club, 84-year-old Ottavio Luchini, said that his memories of bocce date back to about 1935 when he used to play the game in his native town of Massarosa, Italy, near Lucca, with his childhood friends, Basilio, Renio, Filippo, Sandrino and several others.

“When I was in Italy, we used to play with rocks on the dirt, because we didn’t have any balls or courts,” Luchini said.

Although he first arrived in Sacramento on Feb. 4, 1949, Luchini said that he has only been playing bocce in the capital city since about 2000, since he was a longtime card player at the Dante Club.

 

Known nationwide

The East Portal Bocce Club is far from just a community story as the organization has gained much recognition as a premier club throughout the nation.

And being a premier Northern California club is alone quite notable, considering that the majority of the nation’s bocce clubs are located in Northern California.

Hanging from the wooden rooftop that covers a pair of the East Portal Park’s four courts is a banner, which celebrates the 2004 USBF B-bracket national champions, which was won by a team consisting of Jim Fellos, David Zaffa, Jack Roupp and Jack Toige.

With efforts being made to add bocce to the sports of the Summer Olympics, the club hopes to have a few of its members become Olympians, including Vern Cooper, who is currently ranked No. 10 in the United States.

Cooper, who is working toward his goal of participating in the World Bocce Championships, is also a certified world bocce referee.

Martinez said that he enjoys being a part of the rich tradition of bocce ball at East Portal Park.

“It really is something that’s community affirming and I’m very much committed to the East Sacramento community and to me, bocce is very much a part of its lifeblood,” Martinez said. “It sustains and enhances the community and it brings that cultural vitality and to me, that’s what makes it so special. And also, I just love playing it, so anything I can do to encourage others to play, I want to do it.”

And encourage, he does, as Martinez said that he always advocates new membership in the club.

With league play occurring every Monday through Thursday from the spring through the fall, Martinez noted that generally the best time for newcomers to visit the courts is on the weekends.

“There is always somebody down here on the weekends who is willing to talk to people about the club,” Martinez said.

Those desiring to learn more about bocce ball, the club or are interested in becoming a member of the club can call Martinez at (916) 717-1947 or visit the Web site www.eastportalbocceclub.com.

 

E-mail Lance Armstrong at lance@valcomnews.com.