Little Italy

In the Spring of 1938 Tacoma’s daffodil parade was the thing. If you weren’t in it you were probably watching it from the sidewalk or a rooftop as every high school marching band, uniformed drill team and groomed equestrian club took the occasion to show off down Pacific Avenue. But by the 1930’s the big crowd pleasers were the flower covered floats with their fantastic themes, elaborate costumes and slightly whacko sculptures. In the waning years of the Depression a certain exuberance worked its way into the big parade as Tacoma readied itself to host the Washington Statehood Jubilee in the fall of 1939 and then the opening of the graceful new suspension bridge over the narrows in the Spring of 1940.

The Sons of Italy Virtus Lodge Number 1243 really went for it in 1938 with a Venetian inspired rocking floral gondola completely encased in yellow daffodils with a puffy shirted, mustachioed gondolier and a charming young couple waving at the crowds. In the excitement of the day, the Sons of Italy float stopped long enough to have it’s picture taken in the heart of Tacoma’s Little Italy, just across from the Pagni & Lenti’s grocery store where imported Italian red wine was never unavailable during prohibition and just around the corner from Vittorio “Bimbo” Perniconi and John Teglia’s Avenue Cafe at 1516 Pacific (which survived a major police raid in 1931 and was renamed Bimbo’s in 1952).

Food and wine were the mainstay of Tacoma’s Italian merchants before and after prohibition, running popular restaurants near Union Station and the public market and operating wholesale food enterprises like Eagle Macaroni Manufacturing Company at 25th and Pacific.

The Rosellini Brothers sold both but their shop did not survive the outlawing of liquor. Two years after the photograph below was taken their business was was forced to close and brother Giovanni moved his wife, three daughters and six year old son Albert to Rainier Valley. That little boy might well have been shaking hands in the crowd during the 1938 parade since he was eagerly running for the Washington State Senate and was easily elected later that year. A little more than a decade later, the future governor would convene Senate hearings into organized crime and corruption in Tacoma, targeting fellow Italians like Vito Cottone and Frank Maginni. The Rosellini Hearings, as they have come to be known, were sort of a softball game when it came to putting criminals in prison but they are generally considered the reason Tacoma completely scrapped its form of government in 1952 after turning out most of the well paid politicos who ran the city.

But the daffodils were in bloom on this April day in 1938, a parish dinner was planned for St. Rita’s that evening, the Italian girls in their golden drill team uniforms were angelic and across the ocean the Easter Accords between Italy and Britain suggested a break in the storm clouds of war over Europe.

In Tacoma a bright yellow gondola floated down Pacific, the pride of little Italy.


Rosillin store 1914

Black and white photographic image of Rosellini Bros., a grocery and wholesale liquor store owned by John and Vittorio Rosellini, 1523 South C Street, Tacoma, Pierce County, WA, ca. 1914.

macaroni makers

Eagle Macaroni Manufacturing Company work force, posing sitting and standing in front of a company delivery wagon, which is parked on the street in front of the business at 2505 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, Pierce County, WA, ca. 1913.



Watercolor painting on heavy off-white paper. The image is comprised of three panels, each of which is a proposed design for the uniform to be used by the Sons of Italy, Virtus Lodge No. 1243 drill team.


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