The Italian American Community in Philly Remains Strong

Sep 03, 2021 1456

BY: David J. Domino

New York City definitely has the largest Italian American population in the nation, yet Philadelphia is in second place. Italian Americans in the city primarily live in South Philadelphia. Many Italian immigrants began arriving in South Philadelphia from the northern Italian regions of Liguria and Veneto in the 1860s. According to the 1870 census, there were 517 Italian residents in Philadelphia, primarily in South Philadelphia.

More Italian immigrants made their way to South Philadelphia from the boot in the late 1880s. The majority of these newcomers came from the southern Italian provinces in Sicily, Calabria, and Abruzzo. South Philadelphia is still home to a large number of descendants of those particular southern Italian immigrants. While South Philadelphia is not as massive of an Italian neighborhood as it was decades ago, it is still predominantly Italian American.

In addition to that, the neighborhood is home to the nation's greatest cheesesteak spots, including Geno's Steaks, a very popular Italian American establishment in Philadelphia. The neighborhood is also home to Philadelphia's best authentic Italian restaurants, such as L'angolo. A two-time Best of Philly award winner, L'angolo is known to have excellent eggplant parmesan and gnocchi. An Italian chef named Davide Faenza opened the eatery in 2000.

Dante and Luigi's Restaurant on 10th Street is another delightful Italian restaurant in the area. It has been open since 1899 and still serves great Italian food to this day. South Philly is also known for incredible Italian bakeries, including Carangi Baking Company. Known for delicious Italian bread, this gem is a go-to spot for many Philadelphians.

The neighborhood is also known for its wonderful attractions, such as 9th Street Italian Market, an outdoor market that has some popular Italian American businesses, including P&F Giordano Fruit and Produce, a haven for fruit and vegetable lovers.

Another wonderful spot in the Italian Market is Anthony's Italian Coffee House. Make sure to grab an espresso and some delicious biscotti if you are ever there. Fans of the film Rocky would enjoy visiting 9th Street Italian Market as there is a scene where Rocky Balboa ran through it while training for the big fight against Apollo Creed.

St. Nicholas of Tolentine is the local Roman Catholic church in the neighborhood. The church has an Italian mass every Sunday morning and a large Italian American congregation.

Like Detroit, the City of Brotherly Love has always been a musical city and South Philly is the birthplace of some of the greatest Italian American singers of all time. The first famous Italian American vocalist from South Philly was Mario Lanza.

Born Alfredo Cocozza to Italian parents at 636 Christian Street, Lanza attracted attention with his outstanding voice by the age of 16. Tragically, the legendary tenor died of a heart attack following a complicated weight loss program in Rome at the age of 38. A fabulous mural commemorating Lanza is located on the corner of Broad and Reed streets in South Philly.

Another great Italian American vocalist from the neighborhood was Al Martino. Born Jasper Cini in 1927, Martino served in the U.S. Navy during WWII before making it big as a pop singer.

Legendary Italian American rock and roller Frankie Avalon was born Francis Thomas Avallone in the neighborhood, on September 18, 1940. Rock and roll icon Bobby Rydell was also born in South Philly to an Italian family. His given name is Robert Ridarelli. Other notable Italian American singers from the neighborhood include Jim Croce, Buddy Greco, James Darren, and Fabian Forte.

There are currently some Lebonese, Vietnamese, and Mexican families in the area, but the Italian American community is still going strong and not deteriorating anytime soon. Italian Americans recently proved just how strong their numbers are in South Philly after a ton of burly Italian American men kicked a mob of vandals out of the neighborhood, who wanted to destroy the Columbus Statue at Marconi Plaza in June 2020.

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