Most people in San Pedro know me as the ‘gal who does the tours’ or the one who ‘writes for the paper’ (they mean San Pedro Today). In one of my latest stories for San Pedro Today, I come clean about my new estate sales shopping habit and how it innocently started as a desire to preserve San Pedro history. I’ve been doing it for a little over a year and have found some pretty cool things, but the question I immediately get is, “Where are you putting it all?”. It’s not much yet, but I am definitely amassing a hoard. So I’ve decided to give you a glimpse into some of the stuff I’m finding and what I plan on doing with it.
One of my favorite parts about learning San Pedro history and collecting it, is sharing it with whoever finds it interesting. Another reason I want to share this specific portion, is to educate you all on what I’m doing- because for some, it might be unsettling.
When I first started, it was a little heavy to think that I was going through the belongings of someone who probably died recently. Knowing that I was helping to preserve something the person treasured made it easier. The sales I go to are run by professional companies and the family is almost never there. I’ve been to only one sale where they were and it was rough.
The biggest heartbreak for me, is to see people selling off family photos. I’m a little sensitive because I inherited all my Mom’s photos when she died and they were extremely important to her. So, when I can find a reason to give the photos a good home, I will. My criteria is simple, I’m looking for San Pedro in the background- houses, parks, landmarks, etc. One time I was looking through a stack of negatives at the sale where the family was present because other items in the sale gave me the impression that the man had been pretty involved in San Pedro civic life. I was right to look and immediately found images of a labor strike. I could hear one of the family members gasp from the stairs where she was sitting, “Wow, that’s so creepy!”. As I was separating the negatives I wanted from family images like baseball games and swim meets, a man approached me and asked me where I had gotten the negatives from. I told him where I found them, gave him my business card and let him know that I was a historian. You could see some of the horror leave his face as he proudly shared some historical details about his father but apologized to me because the negatives weren’t for sale. I was bummed a little, but the last thing I would ever want to do is take someone’s photos when they still want them. I’m actually glad I pulled them out of a box before someone else bought the entire lot.
So far, I’ve only purchased one photo album- The DiLeva Album. I bought it over a year ago from the estate of Luisa Cafasso DiLeva. I wanted to use it to show you what I can learn from your personal photos and what I’m looking for.
The DiLeva Album
It’s most definitely a baby album. It’s filled with photos and cards for a little girl named Christina Adele DiLeva. Some clippings from the News-Pilot Society pages featured a couple of Christina’s birthday parties and mentioned that her grandmothers were Christina DiLeva and Adele Cafasso, so it was easy to see where little Tina got her name. The clippings also tell me that her father is Anthony John DiLeva and he is a commercial Fisherman and that both birthday parties were given at the family home on 884 18th Street.
What I’m Looking For and What the Pictures Tell Me
Most of the photos were dated on the back (thank you Luisa!) and include a small caption like, “Tina and Nonna”. Here are a couple of photos of 1 month old Christina and her mom, Luisa.
They’re pretty standard family photos- a proud mother with her newborn. Now let me show you what I’m looking at with my history goggles and why I would be interested in purchasing photos like this.
So I saw a car, which I could use to potentially date the photo if they weren’t already dated. I was hoping the lettering on the side of the car was of a local business, but it’s from a furniture store in Long Beach (boo). Next, I’m looking at the houses. There was no Google Street View back then and people didn’t really take pictures of homes or neighborhoods because film was expensive and no one thinks about taking pictures for history’s sake, not even me (although I should).
This is just a better vantage point of the stucco building. Both of these home styles look so familiar and having a mild photographic memory, I’m racking my brain trying to figure out where this could be. But at this point, I don’t know where these pictures are taken. If the homes are in San Pedro, they could’ve been torn down. So that’s a mystery that needs solving. More on that later.
Here are a couple of photos marked, “Tina and Nonna at Plaza Park”
I can easily confirm that Tina and Nonna are at Plaza Park by looking in the background.
You can see the Mobiloil tanks that are still across the main channel and you can see the old fish market stalls where roughly the area between Acapulco and the newer San Pedro Fish Market is now. If these pictures were bigger or the subjects farther away, I could probably get some more information from them.
This is a photo of Christina with her God Parents outside of the old Mary Star on 9th Street. You can tell it’s Mary Star because of the old shingles on the building.
Here is a picture of the old Mary Star from my files.
The doors opened out onto 9th Street and you can catch a small glimpse of the houses under the Godfather’s arm. I already know they’re on 9th Street, but it’s always fun to see if the buildings in the background are still around. I had to stretch a little and darken the image to see, but I’ve marked the photos and you can see that I’ve made a match.
How Other Sources Help
Whenever I give a tour, I always give a little disclaimer that my information is only as good as my research. More information can only help you tell a better, more well-rounded story. So I don’t just stop at what the pictures have to say. In the DiLeva’s case, the only locating information that I knew came from the clippings about Christina’s birthday, 884 18th Street. But the only picture that seemed to be from that neighborhood is this one.
You can clearly see the fence up above from San Pedro High School, which would make Christina’s location Meyler between 17th and 18th. Look at the corresponding Google Maps street view below. You can see how the houses have changed and how there looks like there used to be a house on the hill where the basketball courts are now.
OK, so I’m not able to place any of the other structures in the photos based on the address I have, so now my next best tools are the trusty San Pedro City Directories. I talk a little bit about these in my article for the September 2016 issue of San Pedro Today. They are a God-send but you can only access a few online through Los Angeles Public Library. There are only two other places to access them- the San Pedro Library or the San Pedro Bay Historical Society Archives. Luckily, I got a hit in the 1946 online version. The DiLeva family is listed as living at 1231 8th Street. This shifts my focus and I’m able to find the location of a couple of other photos.
Both of these photos were taken within steps of the DiLeva home on 8th Street. The one on the left is in the alley right next door, that’s their hedge behind her on the left. The picture on the right is most likely taken directly in front of the home looking towards Walker and 8th. Below is a modern photo of the house on the corner. You can see that not much has changed.
How Other Sources and Good Sleuthing Skills Ruin Everything
As with every game, and sometimes these are very much like puzzles to me, you win some and you lose some. At this point most of the photo locations are accounted for and the biggest hole in the collection is the location of Nonna’s house where the first pictures were taken.
Luisa never distinguishes between Nonna. There’s White haired Nonna (above at Plaza Park) and Black Haired Nonna. The house belongs to White haired Nonna, but I don’t know if she’s Nonna DiLeva or Nonna Cafasso. There aren’t any Cafassos listed in San Pedro in 1946 and there aren’t any other DiLeva’s making a hit with my gut (my gut has taken me far in San Pedro history hunting, I can tell you some crazy stories).
So now we start making some educated guesses to see what pans out. OK, there are photos of White Hair Nonna with just Luisa when she is pregnant. I just don’t feel like you would take those kinds of photos with your mother-in-law. So if we say White hair Nonna is Nonna Cafasso and a later picture when Christina is 8 confirms that Nonno Cafasso is still alive, then the Cafasso’s must not live in San Pedro. Ugh.
I turn to Ancestry.com for confirmation. The 1940 Census places Attileo and Adele Cafasso living in South Los Angeles near Slauson and Broadway. There’s even a photo of Christina on her grandparent’s street where it dead ends into a dirt mound that would one day be the 110 Freeway. My dreams of more old photos of San Pedro homes was dashed. Here’s the confirmation.
The South L.A. homes have definitely seen better days and we have proof! But there you go, White hair Nonna is truly Adele Cafasso and she never lived in San Pedro.
Well, I took the album apart and I’ve scanned most of the photos. I will most likely catalog the scans in my spreadsheet of location photos but that’s about it. There’s still a lot more research that can be squeezed out of this story, like maybe finding out the story on the Cafasso’s and the role they played as Italians in South L.A. I could also find out more about the DiLeva family in general. My hope when I bought the album, was to make this post showing people all I can glean from the stories that even a small collection of photos has to tell. Maybe then people wouldn’t sell their albums and instead donate them to the historical society. Then I thought that maybe Christina would get wind of this post and she’d email me (she’s in her 70’s, she can email) asking for all her baby pictures back. I would gladly give them to her or her children/grandchildren. But maybe she doesn’t want them and that’s why they were in the sale.
I’d like to thank Luisa for all her help. I hope she doesn’t mind that I used her baby’s album as a teaching aide.