Residents fondly remember Italian heritage in Pitcairn
There was a time when the Italian Club on Eighth Street in Pitcairn was booming.
“This was the place everybody came to on a Friday or Saturday night,” treasurer Rich Tartaglione said. “And on a Sunday after church, every table was full.”
As Italians across the country celebrate their heritage on Columbus Day this year, Italian families in Pitcairn reminisce about a time on the hill when comforts of the old country were around every corner. An Italian bakery, barbershop, shoe-repair shop and convenience store were a few of the businesses.
There were more than 500 Italian Club members in the 1950s and 1960s, said head trustee Junior Ventresco, whose father and five uncles were among them.
Men brought vegetables from their garden and the women — who were considered auxiliary members — would prepare meals inside the club. A house band played every Saturday night, and the bar always was lined with patrons.
“It's not like it used to be,” Ventresco said.
Pitcairn was booming, both on Broadway Boulevard and on the hilltop. The rail yard and the brick yard provided the jobs, while two movie theaters and more than a dozen bars provided entertainment.
“They were busy streets,” said Pitcairn Mayor Betsy Stevick, who grew up in lower Pitcairn. “When you were little, you weren't allowed to cross the street.”
The hilltop had its own mom-and-pop stores, Ventresco said.
“At one time, there was at least 10 stores just on this hill,” he said.
Membership at the Italian Club remained strong through the 1980s, But as the rail yard and the brick yard closed and the population in Pitcairn dropped from about 7,000 people to about 3,000, membership at the club followed suit. A few years ago, the club was forced to reduce its hours from seven days a week to five, as membership dropped to about 100.
“(Watching)‘Monday Night Football' died out,” Tartaglione said. “Business is slow.”
While the number of Italians has dwindled, some traditions remain alive on the hilltop.
Three generations of Pizzutos have gathered with friends and family for the past 10 years to make a spicy cured sausage called sopressata.
“A lot of the old-timers are impressed that we're carrying it on” said Mike Pizzuto, 32, who is a fifth-generation Italian American.
The Pizzuto family's lineage in Pitcairn can be traced to the early 20th century, said Pitcairn Councilman Patsy Pizzuto, who is a third-generation Italian-American, and Mike Pizzuto's grandfather.
One out of every six people living in Pittsburgh in 1930 was an immigrant, and many of them were Italian, according to “Italians of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania” by Nicholas P. Ciotola.
Many were drawn to the area by industrial jobs including the rail yard and the brick yard in Pitcairn. The Italian Club on Eighth Street was chartered in 1934.
Tartaglione said he made a trip to the Allegheny County Courthouse recently in search of the club's charter.
“The last names were all this long,” he said motioning with his hands. “And everybody had a nickname back then.”
Remnants of Italian tradition still exist on the hilltop, including family dinners on Sundays and homemade wine, but it's not like it used to be, said Anthony Pizzuto, who is fourth-generation. He is Mike Pizzuto's father and Patsy Pizzuto's son.
“I've seen some change,” he said. “The old traditions are going away.”
Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Collapsed Old Ramsey Road slated for repair work
- Marching band competition slated for Gateway High School
- Monroeville spaces out police hires