Tony DeFazio is the only living son of the late East Sacramento grocer Louis DeFazio and Christina (Tolerico) DeFazio. / Photo by Lance Armstrong
Anthony “Tony” DeFazio was once among East Sacramento’s larger families, as he grew up in the area’s Italian section with his parents and his eight brothers and sisters, Bill, Jim, Margaret, Louis, Jr., Richard, Marie, Eleanor and Bernadine.
But with the passing of years, only three of these 11 DeFazio family members are living today. And Tony is the last male member of that immediate family.
Last week, Tony, 81, sat down in his Sacramento home to discuss details about his family’s history.
Tony said that his father, Louis DeFazio (1901-1949), was born in Utica, New York, where he was raised by his parents, Calabria, Italy natives Joseph DeFazio (1860-1955) and Bernadine DeFazio (1867-1939).
“(Joseph) came out to California when he was about 14 or 15 years old, because Uncle Frank, his older brother, and my grandparents were already here,” Tony said.
The 1917 city directory mentions Louis as then residing with his father and his brother, Frank, on Park Avenue (now 5th Avenue), near today’s 59th Street.
By the following year, Louis, Joseph and Frank were living at 5930 2nd Ave.
In speaking about his grandfather’s early years in Sacramento, Tony said, “He originally had a little ranch along S Street, which is now near the SMUD building. (The ranch) was owned by the Davis family. My grandfather used to raise vegetables there and they would sell them at the market.”
Tony said that his father’s first job in Sacramento was working for the Southern Pacific Co.
“(Louis) went to work for the SP,” Tony said. “If it wasn’t for the Southern Pacific, we would have had nothing.”
Frank also worked for the Southern Pacific, as he was employed as a blacksmith for the company.
In 1928, Louis, who was still living on 2nd Avenue, became the proprietor of the Elmhurst Cash Market at 1531 7th St.
Another location of the store was located in the Elmhurst neighborhood at 4905 U St. That store was then owned by William J. Morris and Manuel J. Cordoza, who were also the original owners of the 7th Street store.
Louis’ brother, Antone – who was also known as Tony, but will be referred to as Antone to avoid confusion with the featured Tony of this article – worked as a clerk at the 7th Street market in at least 1929 and 1930.
In 1931, Louis opened a grocery store at 4900 J St. and Antone opened a grocery store at 5859 5th Ave.
Predating Louis’ operation of his 49th Street business, the structure had housed a grocery store owned by Andrew G. Christensen in 1926 and the building had afterward sat vacant until the opening of Louis’ store.
By 1932, Frank was working as a clerk in the 49th Street store. But by at least 1935, he was once again employed by the Southern Pacific, this time as a spring maker.
Frank’s son, Joseph, was also working in Louis’ store as a clerk in 1932.
And as a family business, Antone and Louis’ youngest brother, Peter, also began working at the 49th Street store during the 1930s.
Antone, who also worked for Louis during the 1940s, eventually became the produce man of Louis’ grocery business.
In 1935, Louis continued to operate his J Street store while opening a second store at 601 15th St.
By the following year, the 15th Street store was closed and Louis was operating another store at 2121 J St.
In 1937, Louis’ 4900 J St. store was his only business, and by 1938, he had replaced that store with a larger store with a basement at 4768 J St.
In the spring of 1938, the DeFazios moved from 5930 2nd Ave. to 2715 59th St.
Antone ceased working for Louis in 1943, when he was hired as an employee at East Sacramento resident Joseph J. Jacobs’ automobile dealership at 1500 K St.
About a year later, Antone began operating his own gas station at 4801 Folsom Blvd.
Tony said that his father closed his 48th and J streets store in 1944, and then took charge of a grocery store in Sloughhouse.
In another interview for this article, East Sacramento native Willie DaPrato said that he was a former business partner of Louis.
“I started working for (Louis) when I was about 14 years old,” DaPrato recalled. “When I came back from the service, that’s when we started (as business partners at a grocery store on 15th Street in West Sacramento). He promised to set me up in business. That’s what he wanted to do and he did it. I was there for 30 years.”
DaPrato added that the West Sacramento store opened on Jan. 31, 1949 and that he became the sole owner of the store upon the death of Louis on Sept. 8, 1949.
In continuing with the story of his family, Tony said that his mother, Christina (Talerico) DeFazio (1901-1982), was a native of southern Italy.
“My mother came from the (Italian) province of Catanzaro,” Tony said. “She worked in the mills in New York as a young kid. She was (later) a homemaker. She was a hard working person. She stayed home and sewed all of our clothes. Back in the days when poultry feed would come in a cloth bag – we had chickens – she would take those cloth bags and wash them and make clothes out of them, or make diapers, mainly, from those feed sacks. She would actually make kids clothing out of feed sacks, because the feed sacks were good material then in those days. That was during the Depression. It was an economic thing. Everybody had to deal with it. Everybody was in the same boat, so to speak.”
Louis and Christina’s oldest child, Bill, was born in New York, and like all of his siblings, he helped his father in his grocery business.
Bill was training to play as an outfielder for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League when he was drafted to serve in the war.
Tony said that Bill, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was reported missing in action.
“We were informed that he was missing and finally he showed up,” Tony said. “He was in a hospital in England and we finally got word that he was there.”
When he returned from the war, Bill assisted Willie at the West Sacramento store before establishing his own grocery store in the Carmichael area.
The DeFazio children eventually had children of their own.
Altogether they had 47 children, with Bill, who married Anna Rose Masi, fathering 10 of those children.
Tony DeFazio sits on his first horse, Gennie, in front of his father’s Sloughhouse grocery store in about 1946. / Photo courtesy of Tony DeFazio
Tony briefly spoke about his other brothers and sisters, as follows:
Jim: “During the war, Jim (did not) go in the service. My father got a deferment for him, because he needed him (for the store). He was the only one who could drive a vehicle at that time. (Jim) met Inez (Fernandes, whose parents were natives of Spain) and got married and had nine children.”
Margaret: “She worked for the state of California as an accountant. She was the (family) historian. She had a good memory and she was accurate with all the dates and everything. She ended up marrying a fellow named Raymond Jacobs, who worked at the (old Sacramento) Signal Depot for many years.”
Louis, Jr.: “He died at 12 years old of meningitis back in 1941. He had such charisma that as a 12-year-old, he was so mature. He would work in the store and he got along with people so well. He would watch over the little girls and everything. When we were little kids learning our prayers, he knew them all very well. He was very bright. Everybody loved him.”
Richard: “He was given the nickname, Scratch, when he was a teenager. I never could figure out why they called him that, but he picked it up somewhere. Scratch got called up to play (baseball) in the California League, and he got mad and quit after a couple of seasons. He played with Fresno (in 1952 and 1953 and Visalia in 1955) and they won a pennant (in 1952). He was a good ball player. He (eventually) worked as a batch man for a big cement company in North Sacramento. Scratch later bought my parents’ old house (at 2715 59th St.).”
Marie: “Marie lives in Paradise, above Chico. (During the 1940s), in Sloughhouse, the Gypsy kids (of some of the farm workers) would come in there and stay for a week during the harvest season. (Marie) would gather up the kids and she would get the water hose and wash them up and put clean clothes on them. Some of them expected it and some didn’t. She was like a little mother hen taking care of the little kids.”
Eleanor: “Eleanor married Royce Hodgkins and lived in Napa. She worked for a school district in the Napa area for a while and her husband was a (California) Highway Patrol officer.”
Bernadine: “Bernadine married Don Thayer and she lives in Anderson, near Redding. She taught school near Red Bluff and later went into the meat business with her husband.”
As for Tony, who graduated from Sacramento High School in 1949, he was known by the nicknames of Hambone and Swede. He received the latter name, since he had the lightest complexion of the DeFazio children.
Tony eventually spent many years riding horses and working as a horseshoer and a truck driver, first hauling freight and then gasoline for the Richfield Oil Corp./later Atlantic Richfield Corp. – a company that became a subsidiary of the United Kingdom-based BP in 2000.
From the union of Tony and his wife, Shirley, who he married 60 years ago, came their three children, thus adding to this notable Italian family’s history in the Sacramento area.