Sound recording of a community panel discussion on growing up in the Greenbush Neighborhood. Panelists Tony Bruno, Katie Stassi-West, Sam Moss, John Caliva, and Nick Baldarotta speak to their varying experiences as children and teenagers in the historic Greenbush neighborhood. Community traditions and important gathering places, like White Front Grocery, The Loft, Central High School, and numerous family residences are discussed. The panel also speaks to the urban renewal project in the 1960s which razed the neighborhood and the effect this had on the social fabric of the community of Italian, Albanian, Jewish, and African-American families that largely made up the Greenbush. Frank Alfano is panel moderator.
10:00 – MRS. COLLETTI’S PORCH
14:30 - PROHIBITION
26:00 - NEIGHBORHOOD DIVERSITY
33:00 - GRANDMA’S COOKIES
38:15 - ITALIAN WORKMEN’S CLUB
41:00 - JOHN ICKE
48:00 - URBAN RENEWAL IN GREENBUSH
51:30 - RESPONSE TO URBAN RENEWAL
1:00:02 - WHERE DID YOU GO ON A DATE?
[START OF RECORDING]
[SOUND OF PEOPLE TALKING]
FRANK ALFANO (FA): Living History of the Madison Public Library is a pilot effort to work with community members and organizations to gather and preserve Madison history. The community history panel tonight, these distinguished people, sets off an ongoing set of events that will range from one on one interviews to group story sharing and events. Living History is not possible without community members who are willing to share their stories. The first set of events for Living History are place-based, meaning focused on a particular neighborhood; in tonight’s case, the historic Greenbush Neighborhood.
As you can imagine, once I started looking around, the first place that came to mind is the Greenbush. That’s why we’re here tonight. Upcoming efforts will focus on the East Dayton Neighborhood and South Madison. If you can speak to the history of either of these neighborhoods or know folks who can, please follow up with the people from the library and the City here tonight after we’re done.
To introduce the panel; we have Nick Baldarotta, from the Italian Workman’s Club; John Caliva, with the Workman’s Club; Katie Stassi-West, with the Italian-American Women’s Club; Sam Moss, a member of the Jewish community, is from the Bush era; and Tony Bruno, who is with the Italian Workman’s Club.
To introduce two people; Laura Damon-Moore, who is with the Madison Public Library; and Amy Scanlon, who is with the City of Madison Planning Department. They’re the two who contacted us original. With our president back there, Dave Rizzo, it’s sort of comical, they had this whole program worked out [about] why we should get involved with this. We’d be in the Italian Workman’s Club. Probably about five minutes into their presentation, we said, “Give us a date. When do you want to do it?” I think it ruined their whole program, and they’re still wondering what’s going on.
I’ll ask a question and then direct it to each of these people for an answer. We’ve done this before, and some of the answers can be rather interesting.
First question: what is your association with the Greenbush Neighborhood? Nick?
NICK BALDAROTTA (NB): I was born in the Greenbush. I was born right across the street on Park Street. I lived in the neighborhood until I was 21. I know a lot about the Greenbush and the Italian neighborhood that we had and the things that we did. It was a great neighborhood. I don’t think any of us had any keys—didn’t have to lock your doors at night because nobody was going to bother you.
The biggest thing is that everybody had a porch. In the summertime, there was no air conditioning, everybody’s outside. When you walk through the neighborhood, you have to say hello to everybody, so everybody knows you. So when I was a kid, if I did something wrong—and we never had a telephone—when I got home, my mother would be here like this (laughter), and I was about this far off the ground. So it was a unique neighborhood.
FA: You never did anything wrong, though, right?
NB: I never did anything right! I kept pleading my case, but my mom just didn’t believe me.
FA: All right. John?
JOHN CALIVA (JC): I’m John Caliva. I grew up in the Bush—717 Mound Street. I’m a proud Sicilian. My grandmother and grandfather Caliva came over here in 1911 on the Italia. They came through Louisiana, worked their way up to Madison. My mother’s parents came through Ellis Island, 1913. They all settled in the Bush, one of the best neighborhoods, ever, in all of Dane County, possibly the state, until they had some idiot with a urban renewal project—
FA: We’ll get to that later.
JC: Okay. Alright. Fine! Like I said, I’m proud to be here, keep our heritage alive, and hope you people will understand our feelings as we go along. Thanks, Frank.
FA: Thank you. Tony? Tony?
TONY BRUNO (TB): My turn?
FA: Yeah, you’re Tony.
TB: I’m Tony Bruno. I grew—the house I lived in was right where Dean Clinic is right across the street here. I lived here in my grandfather’s house. Later on we moved to the end of Regent Street. Tantillo’s Grocery was on the corner of Regent and West Wash. Paley’s junkyard was next to that, and our three-flat was next to that. When I was in sixth grade, we moved to a foreign country—corner of Orchard and Bowen Court down in the Saint James Neighborhood with all the Germans. But managed to hang around here in the Bush. Went to St. Joseph’s Grade School, which is no longer, on the corner there, and St. Joseph’s Church.
SAM MOSS (SM): I was born in 1939 and I was born in Madison here. I’ve lived here most of my life. We had the Milwaukee Bakery, which I’ll talk about later. I moved back to Madison after a corporate career out of the country, in 1972, I think. I’ve been here since then.
FA: Thank you. Katie?
KATIE STASSI-WEST (KSW): Katie Stassi-West. I grew up mostly on the 800 block of Regent Street in the middle of it, and there were all Italians and Albanians on that block. Actually there were only two Italian families in that whole block all that time. Let’s see—I’m a third generation member of our club. I’ve been a member of our club for 70-some years—can’t believe it. I joined when I was 18 years old. Because you had to be a member—you had to be 18 years old in order to get into the club, and I have a lot of friends right in this whole place right here. My grandfather was one of about five brothers that came over to this country at the same time, and he was a Parisi. All those Parisis had a lot of Parisi children. And on top of that, he had two sisters who were—one married a Cuccia and one married a Cerniglia. So if you had one drop of Parisi blood, and you were related to everybody in that neighborhood. I miss it a lot. I come by here and I just cannot believe what these buildings are doing to our—when we played, the streets were—Regent Street was very narrow at that time. We played in the streets at night, but I’ll tell you about that later, too.
TB: My mother’s name was Stassi, so Katie and I are cousins.
FA: They often say anybody in the Bush, they were all cousins, one way or another. (laughter)
JC: All cuginos.
TB: Everybody were cousins.
FA: Parisis and Stassis, and, you know. Okay. Next is: share a story about a person or a place related to Greenbush history that you want people to know. Nick?
NB: White Front Grocery Store.
JC: All right!
NB: White Front Grocery Store was on the corner of Mound Street and South Lake Street, and that was a gathering place for all of us kids. We’d go to the park almost every day, so we’d always meet there. Then we’d go out to Brittingham Park and play, and do other stuff, then come back. It was a gathering place for all the kids in the neighborhood. We had a lot of fun. It was a great place.
JC: He’s talking about White Front Grocery. That’s my uncle’s grocery store. They never knew his last name; they’d just call him Mr. Jim. White Front.
NB: Hey, Mr. Jim, yeah.
JC: Last name was Caruso. My favorite place was right down in the next block. Mrs. Coletti’s porch. In the evening, after supper, after everything was done—homework, everything—all of us young men would go to Mrs. Coletti’s porch. We stop either at Mr. Aiello’s, Mr. Jim’s, Mr. Cuccia’s, and get a nickel bag of "semenzies". For you who don’t know what semenzies are, they’re squash seeds. Salted squash seeds. For a nickel, you get a bag like this. We would sit there and crack semenzies until your lips parched. (laughter) Or until Mrs. Coletti says, “you’re going to sweep them up, and you’re not going to leave until they’re all gone.” And that was our gathering spot.
FA: Okay. Thanks. Tony?
TB: Down the street here, next to Buckingham’s Tavern, it used to be Di Salvo’s Grocery Store. Right across the street, Greenbush Monument is there. That used to be Sinaiko’s Junkyard in that area there, and my cousin Dominic and I would sneak in there on Sunday because there was nobody there; they weren’t open on Sunday. And we’d find the leftover batteries from the railroad lanterns—they were all battery operated at that time, and there was always some juice left in that battery. And we’d have a little crystal set, and we’d make a radio from however many batteries we could hook together, and connect it to that little crystal set. We could get—we used to get WGN in Chicago, and we thought that was the greatest thing we ever heard of, was to get all the way to Chicago and listen to the news from Chicago, which was not ever good, but, it was something.
SM: I made some notes on one story that I wanted to tell. It’s an interesting story told to me by my Uncle Simon, known as Buck, original name Moskowski, as all the males in our family were. Mine was changed in the 40s when I was still a minor, so it wasn’t my choice. I was named after my grandfather, who passed away in 1934. He was a baker, original baker, and I wasn’t born until 1938. The name was changed in the mid-40s. If it were up to me, I would not have changed my name because I respected him so much I would not have done that. It was a matter of convenience, I guess, for most of my uncles.
Anyway, what I wanted to talk about was—which is not really talked about very often—is the era of the prohibition in the Greenbush area, how it impacted here. And I only know it, because I wasn’t alive at that time, from my Uncle—I call him Shim, Simon Buck—what he told me about it. One such family was the Romano family that lived on the 800 block on Milton Street, which doesn’t exist anymore. At least four of the very stout Romano boys I knew—Tony, Frank—I knew him as Fluffy—Ben, and Paul. Paul, also known as Popeye, was a particularly good friend of my Uncle Shim. They were both on the—members of the 1940-1941 Central High School Big 8 championship football team.
During prohibition era, it was not uncommon for home brewing activity to occur in many Greenbush homes, including the Romanos’. I think the statute of limitations is over on that and they’re all passed away now, so—
TB: They’re safe now.
SM: Yeah! The revenuers are not out looking for anyone now. Anyway, the ingredients required to process brew included sugar. Sugar was restricted to the general population by the federal government, so you could only get so much of it; they didn’t want people making the brew. But it wasn’t restricted if you had a bakery. I remember in the old days in our storage area in the back of the bakery, there was 100 pound sacks of flour of various sorts, sugar, salt, and other ingredients that were used in the baking process. Our bakery was opened in 1924 and remained open until the early 50s, for 28 years I believe.
The philosophy in Greenbush was, you could say, was you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. That was the Greenbush store and home philosophy. Our Milwaukee Bakery was protected from vandalism, and sugar was dispersed by our bakery as needed.
Shim told me that it was not unusual for him to bring some French bread over to the Romano home for a spaghetti meal. During one such occasion, the Federal Revenuers knocked on the door, and the four big Romano boys blocked the door until they dispersed of the ingredients. (laughs)
I don’t know how Paul became known as Popeye—that’s what I always called him—but there was a cartoon in that era with the character named Popeye the One-Eyed Sailor. And I—do you remember that?
KSW: Yep, Popeye the sailor man.
SM: —who ate spinach and had a girlfriend named Olive Oil. I’m sure Paul ate more pasta than spinach, and I don’t know that he had a girlfriend named Olive Oil. He may have, but I didn’t know that. Both my Uncle Shim and he enlisted in the Navy, so they have that, you know, there was a draft back then, it was no volunteer enlistment then. You were either drafted or you enlisted. And they were in the Navy, both of them.
After returning, Popeye had tryouts with the Bears, and I remember seeing him play at Breese Stevens Field in 1948 for the, I think the Wausau Muskies, which was a semi-pro team, against a Detroit team that—
I think he passed away the same year as my mother in 1994. That’s why I remember it, because it’s the same month my mother passed away in—a fairly young man. He was considered by Central High School, Gus Pollock, the football coach, as one of the best of his Italian running backs, and the most versatile of them. There were others, but particularly him. After he returned and tried out for the Bears and played the semi-pro team, he—I think all the Romano brothers that I knew worked for the City of Madison in one capacity or another. Paul was an inspector for the Property Inspector when he passed away. That’s the story I wanted to— (unintelligible)
KSW: Education was very important in our neighborhood. Our—all the parents really didn’t have a good one; they wanted their children to have one. Actually, we produced—we had a doctor, a dentist, a lot of nurses, a court reporter—that was me—(laughs) and they went—most of the kids on our block went to school, went to Central. I went to West because we happened to be living on the other side of Park Street at the time that my brother started school, so we got to go to—
Summers you played with all of them. It was—the language was terrible, really, and I was right in the middle of them. But I went—after school started, I went to West, and I never swore once, not once all the time I was there, but—just a little cycle, but it was so right, it was so easy to do when you were with all these kids.
I just had—I just grew up in a great neighborhood. I didn’t realize it at the time how great it was.
But our people were—we had a lot, we had, I think, about four girls in the WACs, in the WAVES. Every boy, every family had a boy or son in the—that was drafted. But, no, I know—but they, we just—I think about them and I think what they’re doing and I just realize that I’m just older than any of them were at the time, but they were—they did a lot for our neighborhood. Italian boys were very popular, they were very good athletes. So they were very popular and very well respected, too. The girls, we didn't do a lot. We didn't get a chance to do a lot because you were supposed to stay home and learn how to sew and things like that, but it was a great neighborhood to grow up in. I have very many happy memories.
FA: So the Italian boys were popular [because] they were good looking too?
KSW: I know it! They were! (laughter) They are—everybody wanted them. All those American girls, as we called them. (laughter)
TB: Ameriganis! Ameriganis!
FA: All right now. Remember, this is being video-taped. (laughter) This program is being developed—next question—as a way to preserve the day-to-day activities that seem ordinary in the moment, but become extraordinary as time goes on and times change. Share an ordinary day-to-day story that will show the neighborhood’s extraordinary qualities. Katie, we’ll make you first this time.
KSW: Oh great, oh, let’s see. Well, I’d have to go back to education; that’s what did it. We had boys that were going to study in subjects that no one even heard of, you know—would have done 30 years before that—they were very well—the Scaro boys, the Peckara girls—they all went into high—they all got college degrees, they—some have masters, some have PhDs. You probably don’t even know who they—people don’t even know who they are, but they—I remember all of them, and I always wanted to be like that, but I never was quite as smart as they were. My mother wanted me to be a secretary, you know, so I went to business school and got to be a secretary, and I never liked it. So I—that’s when I went into court reporting. I don’t think we have another court reporter in that neighborhood that I can think of, but I just—I got to do things that I never thought I’d be able to do. And I wish I could do them all over again, too.
SM: This is a one day story on—
SM: —what happened in Greenbush? Well, from Longfellow School, Central High School, we had to walk from Murray Street to Central. One of my very good friends was Albert Smith, and we used to—get to there until I—my grandmother decided I should have a car. I got the—I don’t want to go into the details of the car business. And we used to get to Central—bunch of us—walking, and my cousin Suzy Pikus always wanted to know why she could not ride in the car with us. I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe it was the language we used or what (laughs). I don’t know, but she never did ride in the car with us. And she complained about it!
FA: Boy, times sure do change. Tony?
TB: My grandfather had a little garden in the backyard, probably as big as this area here—from the treat case to the tables here. He would grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and vegetables that would [be] put up for the winter so he had something to eat in the winter. But that wasn’t enough for him, so he went around to everybody in the neighborhood that had a spare lot next to their house and made a deal with them that, if they let him grow vegetables on that little lot, he’d split whatever he grew with the owner of that house.
When we moved down to Orchard Street, he tried to do that, and that was kind of a strange thing for that neighborhood. People just didn’t do that. But sooner or later, he talked them into it. After he got the first couple and they got some of his tomatoes, then the resistance went right down. (laughter) Everyone wanted their front yard, or their backyard, or their side yard in a garden where my grandfather could grow vegetables.
FA: These guys, they tell you the story about the—you know, the (unintelligible) tomato season when they were ready, they always carry the salt shaker in their pocket. (laughter) To do taste tests of the tomatoes in the neighborhood.
TB: And apple season. Apple season.
JC: What’s the question?
FA: (unintelligible)—that seem ordinary in the moment, but become extraordinary as time passes and things change.
JC: Me? Is this a test? (laughter) Well, first off, we never knew we were poor. We never knew we were poor. We didn’t know that we are/were of color, or different color. We never locked our houses. In fact, I did not find the key to our house until the bulldozer was in the backyard, and the house started shaking, and the key fell off the ledge. It was a skeleton key. You [could’ve] opened up any door in the Bush.
Talk about things—starting on one end of our block was the Briskelady?? club, next door to that was the Neighborhood House daycare center, which was run by Mrs—
JC: —and Ms. Braxton, which later was staffed by a Polish family, the Zmudzinskis. Next to that was the Carvellos, Laternos, us, Calivas, Caruso, Onheibers, Skedara, Mrs. Molesly, the weather lady, the Jewish synagogue across the street, Baptist church, black Baptist church, the Johnsons, Mr. Applebaum the hermit, Steves’ Butcher Shop, Trenal’s fine tomato garden, and the Vitalis, that owned the liquor—
FA: What extraordinary qualities did all of that area show you?
JC: That we were diversified.
FA: OK. Thanks, John.
JC: We didn’t know—we didn’t have any boundaries; racial boundaries, color boundaries. Ilana would make pasta on Saturday, feed half the Bush. Mrs. Smith, the black lady, made the best frying pan corn bread in the world with sorghum. We’d all go over there. Mrs. Onheiber would make some Jewish (unintelligible) something. That’s (unintelligible) diversification. That was good quality.
FA: Don’t you wish the full circle that—could come back today? Nick?
NB: I think the, the best part of the Bush was that everybody knew everybody, so you couldn’t go anyplace without knowing anybody. You knew everybody in the Bush. You got a lot of respect, they’d teach you respect. I never heard my father ever call his friends by just their last name. He called them Mr. Joe, Mr. Smith, Mr—I think, what I take from [that] is that they had a lot of respect for everybody. And that’s what I take away from it.
FA: Thank you. Next, oh, this one should be good.
TB: Frank. Frank. Frank. Simon, [Sam] Moss’ uncle, who we talked about, was asked one time about how it was to live in the Greenbush, and he said, “Well, we were all in the same boat. We got along because we were all in the same boat, and the name of the boat was poverty.” Best description I’ve ever heard.
FA: Let’s see. Share a story about the Greenbush community traditions and if they are still observed by the community today or your family.
NB: What was it again?
FA: Traditions from when you were growing up to today. Are they still being used, like, in your family, or here at the club, or in general? An example would be like at Christmas, we always had big pasta dinners.
NB: Yeah. Yeah. I think every Sunday was our thing. We had spaghetti and meatballs every Sunday, and my father was a great cook. He would cook all of our Saturday and Sunday meals and all of our holiday meals and my mom would cook in between. She was good at making pasta sauces and stuff, but my father would make this—get up early in the morning on Sunday and he’d make the sauce with the meatballs and sausage and some pambergeloni?? or whatever.
My mother would put—when we sat down we—and we ate at 12 o’clock right on the dot. Now, if you wanted to have somebody over for dinner, you could invite anybody you want for dinner, they had to be there at 12 o’clock sharp. We’d go and we’d invite somebody, and 12 o’clock comes and I said “Pa, you know, maybe they’re just getting out of church, maybe they’ll be here in about 10 minutes.” He said, “What time you tell them to be here?” “12 o’clock.” He says, “What time is it?” “12 o’clock.” He said, "12 o’clock? Mangia.”
So my ma—my dad wore a white shirt only once, and that was on Sundays. So my mother would put—what, not a dishrag, what do you call [them]?
JC: Yeah, a dishrag. The white one.
NB: Yeah! A dishrag. Put two of them around his shirt so he wouldn’t get any sauce on his shirt, right? My dad would—he put a nickel by his plate, and whoever ate their pasta first would get the nickel. He never lost, never. So anyway, my—
FA: He never lost.
NB: —after we get through eating, he’d take that thing off like this [action]—had spots on it. My mother yelled at him for 52 Sundays every year. My father would go [action]. And that was that. (laughter)
FA: Done? (laughter) I can relate one, and I’m from out east, okay. But back in the fifties, forties, Catholics—we couldn’t eat meat on Friday. And how many times did we have pasta with olive oil and garlic?
JC: Oh yeah. Yeah. Like I said. Sunday, Sunday was pasta day.
NB: Everybody ate pasta.
TB: It was pasta day.
JC: To go further, Christmastime. Nana Caruso would make cuciadatis, the hardest Italian cookie to make. I mean, it was complicated. From soaking the figs, the raisins, the fruit—the candied fruit—with a hand grinder. You clamped it on the table.
(speaking at the same time)
She knew to the cookie how many she made. She would lay them out in the spare bedroom on the bed with the white sheet. You trying to be sneaky, you’d fudge one in the middle, right? (laughter) Move the column over? Did not work. Did not work. (laughter) Grandma had a broom with about a 20 foot handle on it (laughter) because she never missed! Never missed! But boy, they were the best—it was worth it! (laughter)
FA: It was worth the punishment?
JC: It was worth the punishment, man! It was worth the punishment!
FA: You were a lot of trouble when you were growing up.
JC: Yes I was!
KSW: They had a lot of—their traditions were connected with holidays. There was one Mardi Gras one they did—I think—I have—I don’t even know, did we have Mardi Gras? But they had—where they would come in—they had—they would go over to each other’s homes or here at the club house, and they would sit around—they would have the chairs in the big circle, and somebody would go around trying to make that person laugh. And he would go through everything, and once they laughed, he would—the game was called moshkada??, and they—he would mark their face with coal. And by the time they finished, they were just all a riot in black. (laughs)
Their Christmas parties were another tradition here for the children. And I re—Sam—John Raymond was Santa Claus. We sat there and waited for this Santa to come for [an] hour, singing songs, and he would come in—was a couple of years before I found out who he was—but they gave you a bag of candy, and some—maybe an apple or something, and we sang songs for quite a while until this Santa came.
They were always with hol—the holiday ones were the best that I can remember. But they danced a lot. They would come in here, and they would dance up there. We didn’t have babysitters then, so I got—they dragged us along. And right back here, there was a pool table, and we played around there. When it got late, we were tired, they’d put us on the pool table to sleep. (laughter) And they would have their party. Mr. Salerno would play the accordion, and Mr. Joe Stassi, who was the—did all the taps for all the military things. There were about seven of them. Only two could read music, Mr. Salerno and Mr. Joe Stassi, who was a, had a shoe stop on Main Street about five blocks this side of the Capitol Square.
He [Stassi] played, of course he did that for years and years, but they were the only two that could, but the others tried, I mean they—I thought they were good, you know, I say. I got to sing “O Sole Mio”, you got to learn all the Italian songs, and they danced a lot, and just had such a good time.
SM: A story about a holiday festival? Is that it? No.
FA: Well, a community tradition.
SM: Okay. For Halloween, one of my mother’s very good friends was Georgia Cerniglia. We’d always go over to—she would take me over to the Cerniglia’s house before Halloween. Skinny Pete and Buffo (laughs)—they all had nicknames because it was two different families with the same first names, you know, would—first of all, we would get our pumpkins from—my favorite grocery store was the White Front Grocery. We always get, we would get our pumpkin there. That was my very most favorite grocery store.
Anyway, we would go over to the—Georgia’s house, and many times when we went over there, Buffo and Skinny Pete were— (laughs) they didn’t have a bathroom upstairs, so they had a kind of a tub, you know, in (laughs) the area there that they would be bathing in while we were there. (laughs) Nobody really looked at them and that; they were young, they were kids, you know, and so forth.
FA: Remember. This is being recorded!
SM: Anyway, there was a bathroom downstairs on the next floor, or something, I never was down there, so I didn’t know, but Buffo always used to tell me that (laughs) they were in there taking a bath while we were talking, in the—right in the same room, but not where they were, you know?
Anyway, we would go around to the neighborhood there, and in those days, we didn’t say “trick or treat.” It was “soap or grub.”
TB: Soap or grub.
SM: Soap or grub. We had a bar of soap, you know, and we would mark the windows, or whatever if we didn’t get—I don’t remember ever doing that myself.
JC: (throat clearing) Oh, excuse me.
SM: Since I’m on camera, I won’t say I did.
TB: Statute of limitations.
FA: Statute of limitations might be over. We’ll check. Tony?
SM: I’ve consulted a lawyer on all this, you know? Anyway, we used to have a great time going around to the neighbors and get treats and so forth.
TB: One of the lasting traditions, you’re sitting in right now. This building. This was the cultural center of the neighborhood. Everything happened here—dances. Up until a few years ago, where the bar is now was a stage. And so, there were stage presentations. Funerals were held here, weddings, wedding receptions. The men used to be able to come in here—everybody that was a member had a key, and the only way you could get in the door was with a key. If you didn’t have a key, you didn’t get in. They would come in and play cards, and they would lock the door. And so, the mothers, their wives, would send the kids over to get the father, and have to bang on the door outside until somebody came. (laughs) There wasn’t a phone in here until the 1950’s. They didn’t even have a phone. That’s how—they had—this was their inner sanctum. This was a place where they were able to play cards and be themselves.
This place has now spawned a lot of other activities that you’re probably familiar with. Festa Italia, we have a golf outing, we have a presentation at the international day, we’re involved in the community, in events like this—talking about the old neighborhood, and a lot of fundraising things.
One of the traditions of the neighborhood—this is one of the last buildings in the neighborhood. This building, Di Salvo’s old grocery, which is now Buckingham’s. Two houses, one next to Fraboni’s and one on the other side of that parking lot are the last buildings left from the old Greenbush. So, this is a tradition that’s still here.
SM: The story I want to tell about somebody who’s been a good friend of mine. We were both at Longfellow Grade School—fella’s name is Tony Fiori. Who—he and I got in a rumble on the hospital—Madison General Hospital hill there. It didn’t last long, and there was no winner or loser, (laughs) but we remained good friends. He became a football and basketball coach. He doesn’t live in the city anymore, but I see him on occasion. And so we made good friends.
FA: Did you roll down the hill together?
SM: Yes. Pretty much!
JC: That was a long hill, man! Remember?
KSW: I’m not sure I— (unintelligible) the subject—when this building was planned, they—it was done by—all labor was done by the members of the club. But John Icke, who was a city engineer at that time, took an interest in these men. He hired them every year because they were so loyal and so good, and when they went to build the building, he provided all the equipment they needed—trucks—they—whatever they needed. The only thing that they didn’t do was they had to put the frame or something in. That had to be done professionally. But otherwise, the men did that all by themselves. I remember the outside was—they had—cement sidewalk, stairs going up. The street was very narrow at that time, so it went out for—you came in right about here, at the top of the stairs—yeah, came in here.
It's amazing how these men, who had never done it before, but they were so—I know my father worked for him for a long time—and they were so loyal that he would hire only these Italian men. And that he—and I know who—I know the John Icke family, but they were very loyal to this club. That’s it.
FA: I can tell you from working to maintain this, they built it pretty solid, too. This building was built in 1921, and the major addition in the mid-thirties, and that would be the front as you’re coming in the steps—or coming off the sidewalk, not the steps—indoor plumbing. Other than that, it was out to the back!
TB: The bacouz!
FA: The bacouz. Sam, like you—if you would, if you wanted to—about changing the name.
FA: Why you, you know, changing the name, what the benefits of—
SM: Well, I think a lot of Italian families as well changed their name to shorten it. But the male members of our family all changed it to Moss. I didn’t have any choice in the matter, and I would not have done it because, as I said, my—I was named after my grandfather—it was Samuel Moskowski, not Moss. His name was never Moss. That’s as best I can explain that.
FA: What’s also, Sam, you know, relate to it a little bit. Back when they had the bakery, people wouldn’t buy from a bakery with a Jewish name. So they basically shortened it to Moss.
SM: No, the bakery was the Milwaukee Bakery.
FA: Milwaukee Bakery they made it, yeah. So, back in those days, it was interesting.
FA: As Halloween approaches, are there any Greenbush ghost stories (laughter) or odd or spooky urban legends? Nick?
NB: I don’t know of any.
TB: We were spooky enough.
FA: OK, Yeah. (laughs)
JC: Yeah! The yard next to Reverend Peroni’s church was the graveyard for the—oh god darn it—he had the Italian Methodist Church. Reverend Peroni!
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Are you looking at me?
JC: No, no, no!
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: I went to St. Joseph’s!
JC: I know you were! Yeah. I think there was ghosts in his side yard. Because we were not allowed to go trick or treating to their house. Because Reverend Peroni would not come to the door.
JC: Yeah. I think that was ours. Other than that—oh, and were weren’t allowed to go past the boundaries of the Bush, you know. But, other than that. Maybe there were some in Gehrke’s Junkyard, I don’t know.
KSW: I never went trick or treating.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Someone had to stay and hand out the candy, huh?
KSW: I know! I never went. I don’t—the boys went, I think, but I was not allowed to go out to go trick or treating, so I never knew what it was about. I never got all that candy. I never got any of that. Very deprived.
TB: My grandfather threatened to make me a ghost a couple times, but I never saw any.
SM: I don’t—
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Wait!
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: For those of you who are first generation, your parents (unintelligible) were always born in Sicily, correct?
JC: No. My parents [were] born here. My grandparents [were] born in Sicily.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Your grandparents—
JC: My parents, here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Do you remember (unintelligible) how they connected the celebration November 2nd—the feast of— (unintelligible)
FA: Do you have any special, you know, festivities around Halloween?
NB: I don’t remember any—
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Did they tell anything about how—
NB: Yes, I under—yeah, I know what it is—
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: November 2nd was celebrated in Sicily, where the children receive presents from their dead relatives that were surprise—
(speaking at the same time)
NB: I don’t recall; maybe I’m too old to remember.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Pardon?
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: All Saint’s Day and Halloween.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: November 2nd in Sicily. They probably, you know—the first generation, but also were born here, and their parents were (unintelligible) Sicilian. And that’s when, in Sicily, you received—when children expect presents—their home—their dead relatives, especially grandparents, uncles, et cetera. Better if you have a grandparent, the more present given (unintelligible) of course, so—
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: They really—it was almost like Halloween. It is like Halloween because the night of all saints, they were all expecting—
FA: Now, see, American kids, we get all candy. Much easier.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Oh! I just looked it up on Google. November 2nd is the day of the dead. Also celebrated on November 2nd. All Soul’s Day—considered the day of the dead.
FA: Well, you go down to New Orleans, it’s still celebrated that way. Okay. Moving right along—
If we don’t move along, we might be here at Christmas. Who knows? Okay. This is the question that I know is in everybody’s mind. Describe some of the businesses, cultural landmarks, and/or physical attributes that were lost to the development in the 60s.
JC: Jewish clothing store, Italian meat market, Jewish meat market—
JC: Jewish grocery store, black church, Italian Methodist church, Catholic Church, the Key Club, Schwartz’s Pharmacy, Gehrke’s Junkyard, Paley’s Junkyard, Heifetz—anything else?
SM: The Neighborhood House.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Buccio’s Tavern. Buccio’s Tavern on West Wash—
(speaking at the same time)
JC: The Neighborhood House, Buccio’s Tavern, Di Salvo’s, Three Sisters.
FA: Okay. Those are all businesses. What about homes? Neighborhoods.
JC: They’re all gone. Mound Street is gone. Milton’s gone.
FA: For those of you who don’t know, this is the map that Tony Guastella did of the Bush from the early 60s, late 50s. All the places these guys are talking about you’ll find in this area here. For example, we are up here now, at the Workman’s Club, okay? This is the area—what is it, South Park? Right in through here– the Triangle, it was called, that was taken down in urban renewal, late 50s, early 60s.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: My dad’s paint store, that he built. Clinton Paint Store got moved down Regent Street when they redeveloped it. Yup.
FA: So, anything— any other comments about that development from anybody? Or redevelopment?
JC: It’s gone.
KSW: The Clubhouse wasn’t included in that because they were on the other side of the street there.
FA: Who wasn’t?
KSW: This Clubhouse.
FA: Right. We were on the wrong side of the street. Yeah, fortunately.
KSW: But this club was going to be, at one time was gonna be rebuilt. And it would’ve been on the lot where St. Joseph’s Church is on the Beltline. That’s where their plans were headed.
JC: Caliva’s Tire and Battery Shop.
NB: Initially this Clubhouse.
TB: If the question is, what [of] those do we miss, we miss [them] all.
SM: Brittingham Park.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: It’s still there!
SM: It’s still there, but it’s not like it was.
KSW: It’s not a city park like we had.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Losing your identity. The whole Italian identity.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: No sense of family. The whole area was family.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Even Southshore Beach, where a lot of Italians were on the south side. West Lakeside.
FA: I think one of the things you been hearing about, you know, here in this whole presentation, has been family, neighborhood, you know, everybody’s close, knowing each other. And obviously, when you come in and tear it down, you know, you lose that. I came here in ‘61, and talking to these guys and stuff, you know, you’re never going to regain it, unfortunately. You know, they did things back there during that redevelopment—there is no way you could even think of doing that today. You imagine trying to tear down churches and synagogues and schools for housing? Not in Madison!
TB: Try tearing down Williamson Street. See how far you get. (laughs)
FA: Yeah! So, okay. Now we’re going to—yeah, Mark?
MARK: Could I just probe this slightly there—do you remember the strong expression of emotion from back at that time—with renewal—of somebody who was really angry, or somebody who was really sad? Is there a day that you’re just remembering moving out of your house, and finding—yeah? Tell us about it. What was the anger?
JC: Angry? Angry? Huh? First off, the city raped them with no concern of where they were gonna go. I would say that 75% of the elders died of a broken heart. They lost all of their compades, they lost all their friends. They didn’t know where to go shopping because everything was in walking distance. Get a plate of pasta, clothes, communion, all in the [neighborhood]. Wedding receptions here, get married across the street, have a reception here. They put [them] out—psssh. That’s it. We’re renewing you guys, that’s it!
My grandmother was one of the last houses to get tore down on Mound Street. She was sitting on the porch, front porch—her black dress on that they wore because she lost her husband. She had a rosary. We had to convince the guy with the bulldozer to work from the backyard up. When her front door of her house hit the porch, she knew it was over.
Tell me they weren’t mad? Psssh. How—no, really! How would you guys feel? Today. They say, okay, we’re taking your house. Here’s a check for nothing. Goodbye.
NB: The biggest thing is, most of these people—because—
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: My grandmother had—she lived on Milton Street, and had to move into the low income housing, remember—what was that called?
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Bayview. They did move a number of the elderlies, mostly widowed ladies, into that project over there, my grandmother—
JC: Ours went on—my grandmother went on—the one on Lakeside Street.
FA: Okay, just a minute—ready?
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: Did they get to keep all their stuff?
FA: Did they get to keep all their stuff?
NB: The biggest problem was that, in our neighborhood, everybody spoke Italian. I mean, our parents and everybody spoke Italian. So when they move these people out, they’re in their 70s and 80s, all they spoke is Italian. They went into a neighborhood where they didn’t know their neighbors—who never spoke the word. The only way they could [communicate] was by telephone. That was a really big problem for them. And they—a couple of them—of the ladies almost had a nervous breakdown because they were all by themselves.
FA: Sam. Question. We’ve heard about the Italian community. How about the Jewish community? How did they—
SM: Well, what happened was, there were two orthodox synagogues: one across the street from our bakery on Murray Street, Adas Jeshurun, and the original one. That was built in 1938, and then the original shul was on the corner of—the southeast corner of Park and Mound Street. And that was Adas Jeshurun, and that’s where I went to Hebrew school, and so forth. That moved out to Randall Street, where it is now—to Randall and Mound. That’s Beth Israel Center now. It’s no longer Orthodox, it’s conservative now.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Oh, it’s conservative now? My mother catered there. I mean was—Jewish. (laughs) My mother came from the Italian (unintelligible) to become a Jewish caterer in Madison.
FA: How about the Jewish families?
SM: Well, they dispersed. They dispersed. The kids that I knew went to Central High School, and Central was downgrade. My family moved out in 1957. My mother and I went out to California, where I got my bachelor’s degree. The rest of them moved west, on the west side of Madison. The ones that were left—of my family that was left in Madison.
KSW: Saul (unintelligible) is still there, though.
SM: Oh yeah, I see him regularly.
FA: Okay, now we’re going to open it up to questions and answers. Dave has the microphone; please use that. Phyllis?
PHYLLIS: Approximately how many residents were there in the Bush? How many people lived there?
FA: Anybody know a number? Roughly?
NB: I have no idea.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: If Buffo was here, he’d know it.
TB: Several hundred.
FA: I’d say several hundred to a thousand.
SM: All families.
FA: It also depends on what you’d call the Bush. If everybody lived in the Bush that said they lived in the Bush, you know, it’d be 10,000 people.
TB: We’d be in Milwaukee.
FA: But 700 to a thousand is what I’ve heard from these guys. Mark?
MARK: So, when you said the city raped the Greenbush, are you referring to what they—
MARK: That they didn’t—give enough money for the property?
NB: Eminent domain.
JC: Money! Yeah, if that.
MARK: So, do you remember, any of the houses were, your own experience, or your family, of knowing what the property was worth and then knowing how they—
JC: Well, the city said my grandmother’s house was worth $3875. Was a two-flat, with a four-stall garage, a garden, porch, upper and lower. Three bedrooms. You know. She got a check for about four grand or something like that. This is in 1964.
FA: Supposedly, in the State Historical Society records and stuff like that, the person who was in charge of the Redevelopment Authority, he bought a lot of the houses like this and sold them back to the city, so there was that type of stuff. Also, these guys have told stories about—if you could speak English, you got a certain amount. If you couldn’t speak English, you got a lower amount. So—
JC: And they had no guidance, they had no legal—
JC: They were elderly. And by that time my mother and father, they had already moved out, and they ended up by Vilas Park by Cerniglias and Parisi, (unintelligible) so the little Italian community like that—they didn’t know. All of sudden, here’s your check, Mrs. Caruso. Per se. She didn’t know. Her husband had passed. It’s condemned. If you didn’t [take the money] they were going to condemn it, let’s put it this way, they’d find something wrong with it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I remember standing on Park Street with my father, who never cried. And he cried over what was happening. And he talked a lot to me about what this meant, to lose the Bush, that he grew up in. And the stories he’d tell me, I would be jealous that I hadn’t been old enough to experience making the paste on the boards out there, all the responsibilities everybody had—
TB: Crushing the grapes.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Making the sauce, and all of these things, and no locking of the doors. And my father, he explained how, no matter what, you were safe. And no matter what you could turn to anybody, anybody in the Bush, and they would help you. Anybody. And so I never understood. I kept asking my dad, because I was young, I was less than ten when this happened. And the City would say, oh, it’s just a slum, and the houses and this and that. I would have loved them to have gone in my grandmother’s house.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: You could eat off the floor. It was beautiful.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We had many relatives, the sons who had families that transitioned through the apartment. It was a fabulous house. It was all about what [the City] wanted to do, and they did it. That’s exactly what my father called it—they raped them. Pennies on the dollar. They considered us nothing but garbage.
JC: That’s right.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And it’s a disgrace.
JC: They didn’t realize that we built the Bush on garbage.
BOBBY: You know when you talk about what they would pay, my uncle Vito Scurio, they offered him (unintelligible) for his house. He turned it down, so they condemned his house, and gave him the lowest price they could give him. Then they turned around, they sold it to Vince Corona, and moved it over on Mills Street. So the house was condemned, but they sold it.
SM: And they moved it. Yeah.
FA: Okay. Anything else? Mark?
MARK: I can remember my father George and I were walking one day, and he and the other Italian kids would play Tarzan. Tarzan was really popular in those Saturday matinees at the time. And right over by the Park Street viaduct was a house that had two of those trees that grow the big long seed pods. He and the other boys used to pull those down and say they were bananas, and this old Italian lady would come out on her porch and go, “You boys leave that tree alone, you’re gonna kill that tree!” And one day my dad and I were walking along, he said, “Look at that. The whole neighborhood’s gone. All the houses are gone." Businesses—the old Italian lady’s and those trees are still there. And they were up—until they did the bike path and they finally took those out.
FA: Interesting. To leave this on a high note, I have a question for the panel members. And I’ll give them a couple of minutes to think about this. I know what [John’s] answer is going to be. Where did you go on a date?
JC: Where did you go on a date?
FA: OK, don’t tell a story about you getting stuck in a car!
NB: With whom?
JC: No, I’m not going to—No, no, no.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Is this—they’re teenagers?
FA: As a teenager.
JC: Well, the Loft was the meeting—
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: The Loft! On Doty Street?
JC: The Loft, or the Neighborhood House. If you were lucky enough to convince the parents of an Italian girl—
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Good luck with that.
JC: If you were good enough to take her out. And she will be home by 9 o’clock.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: God, I wish I could do that still today.
NB: I’m just trying to think of—
JC: Or a movie.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My mother used to take us down to the Majestic Theater, and the downtown Orpheum. The movies were like twenty-five cents. Saturday morning, they had Flash Gordon, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers. A lot of people in those days, because I grew up right next to Jimmy’s Spaghetti House, that my parents started. I grew up there, and I was there. I’d get done with school, and she’d pick me up at school, bring me to the restaurant, and I used to work at the restaurant. (speaking at same time) A lot of people used to come to that restaurant, I mean, for dates. A lot of young people. That was the—excuse me, I’m biased, but that was the restaurant on Regent and Park there. Jimmy’s Spaghetti House. They came from all over, the pictures that my mother had—I can’t find them—Anheuser Busch, you know. Liberace came there, Bob Hope, [Bing] Crosby.
FA: Tony? Where’d you take Mary on a date?
TB: I didn't know Mary then. She was still up in Lodi then.
KSW: We mostly went to the dances at Blessed Sacrament, the Loft. There were a couple other places, but we went there, but we were all together—my cousin John, I don’t know if you remember my cousin John Cuccia, he was my (unintelligible), and he was always right there so I couldn’t do anything wrong. And nobody else around me could. But we went to those dances every Saturday night. No, it was Friday night—Friday night.
FA: Friday night dances.
TB: Well, we never had any money, so you, we would go down to Vilas Park, go to the zoo. Go to Brittingham. Go swimming. Things that didn’t cost any money, because we didn’t have any money.
FA: Well, you’ve told—I’ve heard you [Tony] talk about it—asking a young lady out and going to her house to pick her up—
TB: (laughs) Oh, I was there with some friends of mine, and we went to this girl’s house, and the father asked me what my name was. And I told him, and he said, “Is that Italian?” I said “Yes.” He said, “Get out.”
TB: That was in Nakoma.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: In Nakoma, oh, of course. WASP-y.
FA: Sam? You have any trouble with women?
SM: (laughs) Ah—
FA: Statute of limitations are up on that, too.
SM: I remember, my first official date was when I was in high school. And my good friend Harvey Baruch, orthopedic surgeon, retired now, he and I and our dates went to Lombardino's.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Lombardino's. Yep.
KSW: Oh, yeah.
SM: But we went to the Loft, at other times, and so forth.