Saturday, May 14, 2016

Vince Furfaro Retired Boeing, Military AOC & USN Aviation Ordnance Chief

Mr. Furfaro will be sharing with us his memories of the close Italian community that lived in an area once called Garlic Gulch. It was centered around two churches and a vibrant commercial district, entirely destroyed, where the entrance to the I-90 Tunnel is now.  

Vince Furfaro. Photo: Madeline Crowley©


This interview has been edited, condensed
and some pictures repeat to break up the text. 

Would you like to start with the pictures you brought?

Furfaro Family. Photo: Collection Vince Furfaro

This is my mother and father and my two older brothers (pause). Now, everyone in this picture is dead.

I'm sorry.

You look quite a bit like your father.

This has to have been taken about 1925 because I guess this one (points to photo) was born in 1924 and he died in 1932. So (pause) this other uncle just died about five years ago; he was born in 1923.

You also have your mother's eyes. She looks like a really kind person.

Oh, she died when she was 39.

She died really young.


How old were you?

I was about eight.

I'm sorry that must have been tough.

I remember because I had a younger brother, he was what a year and a half, about 18 months.

Oh! Your poor father...

(pause) Yeah. And there were two older brothers too. There was four of us. (shows another picture) This is another one. Now, this is my dad here and my uncle. I figure this had to be taken about 1940.

Vince Furfaro's Father & Uncle Photo: Collection Vince Furfaro

Was this taken where you live now?

Yes. It was taken on what was a front porch, then. That's the house I grew up in, actually, the houses were side by side. I mean, I'm living in my uncle's house now because it's smaller. That's the only reason. I still have both properties.

That's terrific. Where is this picture taken?

I don't really know where this was taken (pause). It may have been taken in the old house because when I look at the lamp… (pause) but I can't tell. Since we had a fire in 1933 a lot of pictures were destroyed, family pictures and stuff.

How old were you then? (pointing to a picture, not shown)

I was probably about 18 months. Not quite two years old because it was I think November of 1933.

Do you remember that fire?

I was upstairs. This uncle came up and he got my mother, he just dragged her out. I was thrown out of the top floor, the back window and another neighbor caught me. The house was an old Victorian with, basically, (pause) four floors. There was two basements, a main floor and then an upper place where the bedrooms were.

House Vince Furfaro's father built. Photo: Collection Vince Furfaro

Wow. Yes, that would be pretty memorable. So your family lost that house. Did you have a barn attached at that point?

It was just a house. They said it was wiring, the wiring in the house caught on (pause) fire. Of course the wiring probably came after the house was built.

That makes sense back then wiring was not usually done by an electrician and some of those lines would have been covered in fabric.

Most of them probably were. (pause) (laughs) I don't know if I'd call it fabric but...

Wasn’t it similar to cotton twill?

Image from:

You have to be careful with fire. (pause) Recently a friend, threw an aerosol that he turned on to to kill all the fleas and such in his chicken house. He just turned it on and threw it into the chicken shack and then left. (laughs) Well, he caught the thing on fire.  The chickens were lucky; they got out. It did destroy the shed where they were kept. Just the heat from (pause) the aerosol cans was enough to cause a fire.

That's why I was wondering if it was a barn because it doesn't take much heat with hay. The dust is just ready to ignite. Mr. Crane had mentioned that there were a lot of farms, small family farms, in this area when you were growing up.

Oh yes because we grew our own food. That's why right now the land is so popular. (laughs) You know they say they could put up, a figure of around 60 units just on the land that I own. Maybe even more if they went with these (pause) box things that they're building now.

They are about the size of this room. Most of 'em aren't even this big. Oh, they could put more condominiums than that right on my land. Right across the alley from me, they just put in three units. They let them (the new construction) go right back up to the alley. Before, when we wanted to build, we all had to be at least 10 feet away from the alley, not anymore. For these three new units, the cheapest one went for four hundred and thirty-five thousand. They put three of 'em up on what was a single family lot.

Yes, (pause) it’s definitely changing the nature of the city again.

(pause) Well, like I say, I grew up, I think, when it was a better city, much better.

I'm really curious to hear more about that. It sounds like your family had a big stretch of land.

It wasn't that big, I mean my dad's (land) was four thousand and my uncle had eight thousand square feet. The point is in those days you couldn't have your house occupy more than what was it, a quarter of the lot? Well, my uncle's house was six hundred and twenty-five square feet. And ours was about, eight, eight or nine. So that (laughs) left a lot of land (pause) to grow food. Every year we canned.

Uncle's House (where I-5 is now). Photo: Collection Vince Furfaro

What grew best?

Oh well, that's hard to say because they (my parents and their siblings) did an excellent job. Everything grew (laughs).

So they grew corn, and vegetables, and tomatoes...

Peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers. Oh, God - what else (pause) lettuce. I'm trying to think. (laughs) Oh, green beans, and peas they used to grow on a framework.

Sweet peas?

Yes, there were sweet peas (pause) Oh, they owned carrots too.


Oh yes! (laughs) A lot of potatoes.

Did you have chickens?

Oh yes. Chickens and rabbits, both. I had a pet goat (laughs). When they were building the first Highway 10 (which was before I-90) one of the steam shovels killed it (pause).

Pygmy goat. Image:

How? It scared it to death?

Well I… I don't know it got loose or something because of the noise.

Oh. It probably was afraid and ran.

It was all that construction.

Goats are funny. They have very interesting personalities.

I know. (laughs)

They're starting to let people have animals again in city limits. Now you can have two dwarf goats.

Pygmy, yeah.

In the city limits I think you can now have pygmy goats and three or four ducks or chickens...

Oh, I think they raised the limits but you used to be allowed four animals of all kinds. I mean, included cats, dogs, chickens, everything. But now they raised it because so many people are raising chickens. I don't know what the limit is now.

Did you have other animals?

Well, that was mainly it. Of course we had a couple of dogs and cats but (laughs) I don't consider those...

They're just pets.


And what was the goat used for?

Nothing he was just, just a little, he, he never got that old (laughs). I would have probably used him to cut the grass down or blackberries (pause). That's something I'm still surprised at with the city (pause), that they don't use goats and sheep more often. 

Some people are doing that.

Yes, but why isn't the city? (pause) When I was in the service we used sheep and goats on top of the ammunition hills (dug-in bunkers) to keep the grass down.

Maybe the city has contracts with unions?

Well, yes. That's another thing, because I don't consider (pause) people who work for the city necessarily should have a union. (pause) I mean, their benefits are pretty good compared to the average worker. (pause) I just wish more workers were unionized.

Furfaro Property. Photo: Collection Vince Furfaro

It's a troubling shift in the working world.

Oh, you read some of the stuff that's going on (pause). I think it's really… when know how far and how hard people fought to get unions.

Lots of labor activists, who on top of raising families and working long hours and raising food and doing laundry by hand, they unionized. They made a lot of the things we take for granted available, the five-day work-week and benefits.

I don't even know how we did all the stuff that we did considering everything that had to be done back then. How did we have time to do everything? And today, we have all this stuff and we don't seem to have any time, (laughs) any spare time.

Yes, it defies understanding (pause).

Your family raised all your own food for yourselves and you canned food. Then did you also sell some of that food or was just enough to keep the family?

Well, no we gave a lot of it away. I mean, there was an awful lot of food (laughs). Especially, the one I laugh about is zucchini. Because, you know we used to ring somebody's bell and run because no one wanted it.

Right, bushels and bushels...

And now everyone wants a zucchini. I think it's kind of funny!

Do you know Mutual Fish?


He used to be down one block on 14th Avenue. I'm talking about 1930. The building is still there, the original site. We used to buy tuna from him every year because we canned our own tuna. (pause)

Also we also used to buy extra corn because we couldn't raise enough (ourselves). Well, in those days if you didn't can it – you didn't have it - and the winter was long.

What happened to the Mutual Fish store during internment?

(pause) I'm not sure...

Because they reopened, so somebody must have watched their business for them.

Well, I know the people in back of us were Japanese; they lived across the alley. They they kept their owns. They did go to the internment camps but when they came back, I guess they had honest people that didn't steal their business or homes.

Judkins Park Area - 1891 Image: Collection Vince Furfaro

So they moved back?


I've read only 50 percent of the interned Japanese from Seattle who lived here came back. (pause) Apparently a lot of people lost everything.

That's true but I just assumed they started over again.

I guess many people because they had already lost everything then moved where nobody had been interned. A lot of people moved east.

Well, I do know that the Italians that they (interned) took and relocated in Idaho. I understand a lot of them stayed there, but they'd settled and started farms and stuff and...

There were Italians relocated during World War II as well?

(pause) There were probably were Germans too.

They were imprisoned also in Idaho?

Well, I know the Italians were because somebody wrote a book about it.

Okay, I'll do some research on that, (see below): 

Did your family know of anyone?

Not there, no.

So, it wasn't people from Seattle?

I think (it was) if they weren't citizens. I guess that's the only way, that was the only difference; they weren't citizens.

Right. Although with the Japanese Americans here all their kids were citizens so... it's hard to figure out the logic of that.

Well, with the Japanese I don't want to say I understand it, because they did not intern anyone that was living in the east (part of the state). You just had to be on the coast (to be interned).

Was the fear at the time was that they would send signals to the ships or something?

Yes. They figured that they would help (Japan). As far as I know, there was never an incident that they could recall.

No, there was nothing. That was proven. There were some people who in the face of war, chose to send their eldest son home and those sons were then put in the military in Japan. But that was more out of fear rather than allegiance or spying or anything like that.

But the thing was that, because I know people here that when World War II started who weren't involved (with the country of origin). Still, they had to go back to Italy and because they were all in the army, sort of a reserve deal, so they went back there.

St. Mary's Church. Photo: Madelinc Crowley

So were they legally required to go back?

I don't know how legally that could be if they'd been living here for 10 or 12 years.

Yeah, I don't know. Maybe then it was family loyalty, the family back home...

No. There was something where they had to go back. I think if they weren't citizens because I think at that time you could only be a citizen in one country. Now you can have dual citizenship which (laughs) doesn't really makes sense to me but...

 (pause) It's interesting trying to reconstruct what happened.

So as you remember the neighborhood as a child, it sounds like there were a lot of Italian families there and they had enough land to feed their own families. And then there were some Japanese, did they also have farms there?

(pause) I wouldn't say that, not in our neighborhood.

Kent Valley farmers. Image from:
They (the Japanese in the Central Area) they planted some of persimmon trees that still produce fruit. They're still there, I think they were the first ones I know of that had a koi pond in the backyard. I do know that around Kent (WA), there were a lot of Japanese farms there.

Yeah, I wonder what happened to those farms during internment...

They were taken over by others, to run.

Yes, during war time the government was not going to let the land go fallow...

In fact, that's to me one of the worst things they ever did here – to allow farmland to be converted into homes. Now, I think they wish they had the (kept) Kent Valley (agricultural) because that was one of the most productive valleys (pause) you know in the world before they turned it into manufacturing.

Now it's all super stores. It’s a flat, flat plane, perfect for farming.

So as a child what was your day like, do you remember?

(pause) We went to school all day and didn't get home until, three or three thirty, something like that. And basically, we played. Now also, of course I sold newspapers in, I think 1943 or 44?

I don't know if you've ever heard of this guy Frank Turco? They've got a plaque for him down at the, in front of the old Woolworths building at 3rd and Pike? That's where we sold newspapers.

Newsstand photo Seattle Municipal Archives Photograph Collection
Item No: 40567 Description: Newsstand, Third and Pike; SW corner
Date: May 10, 1946 

(Referring to news photo below) Now, this kid here was killed in the (pause) first days of the Korean War in July. He was just due to get in out in July of 1950 and the Korean War started in June. He was killed just right (pause) before he was due to come home.

Oh his poor mother, how heartbreaking. (pause)

It’s a wonderful photo. 

Well, this was the one I think I saved (pause) because this is when they were still having raids. This was on the backside of the newspaper.

They just had things set up so that the air raids they just handed out funeral money (pause) right after the bombings.

Wow (pause). People complain about how difficult things are now. But when you think about what it was like, you know the First World War and the Second (WWII) and the Great Depression and those were incredibly chaotic times to look back on...

I did read something about somebody just recently after this last recession. They said the grandparents had no problem adjusting (to recession). They said their son (pause) had a little problem but not much. But they said the grandsons, the grand children were completely lost during this last recession.

That makes sense.

Vince Furfaro's older brothers fixing a machine gun on the wing of a plane, WWII.
Ardennes Forest, Thanksgiving Day. 1944
Collection: Vince Furfaro
That's another thing I have actually with the schools. When I came out of high school I was ready to have a job. I could support myself. Today, half the kids graduating can't do that. That to me is a failure of the system that (idea) that everyone's going to go on to college. I sit back and say, how did they design this? Say, even the pyramids, how they did they do that? How did they develop wine, was it an accident or (laughs and gestures) or (just going out and doing it).

Did your parents make their own wine?

Everyone on the block made wine. (laughs) (link goes to story with pictures from another family, showing press, barrels, jug bottles, etc)

Did you have a grape arbor? Was it close to the house?

No, no. We bought the grapes, they were sent up from California.

When the grapes would come from California, did everybody buy a share? How did it work?

We would buy, I think, 50 boxes at a time. They were 25- or 35-pound boxes, I think. No, they were 24-pound boxes because I think they're 32 now. And then we'd make the first group of wine, and then more after because that's all we had room for.

So you and your family would make your own wine, or would you do it as a block?

No, no, no! Each family did their own. We used to go help all the others but...

Did you have a tub that you would stomp the grapes in? Or how did it work?

Well, my dad made presses. They had a giant press and then he had that grinder.

Vince Furfaro as newsboy. Collection: Vince Furfaro

So was the press wooden with a big screw?

It was more like we made (it) from a washing machine. Remember the old... (gestures)

The crank washing machines?

It was based on that but they were metal. So we sat there and we'd spend all night squeezing (laughs). Because the way he had it set, he had 14 and 17… the barrel would hold for fermenting. And as soon as we got rid of those (grapes) we'd order (more) again. So we could make, I think it was between two and three (rounds of fermenting). We usually had 200 gallons.

Each family had roughly 200 gallons of wine?

Yes, each.

Wow. So each family knew how to ferment and how to store and how to cork.

Well, what's funny is that one of my cousins finally took out somewhere. He said it was completely different. The way, he said they'd do it. We'd never used airlocks and stuff like that but we'd never lost any wine either. 

Right. So all of the knowledge is sort of lost?

I think it will be when (pauses) my generation's probably the last one. Then John Croce I think I mentioned him, he has that Pacific Foods Importers (PFI), well, he still makes wine. (pause) Actually, it's pretty good wine; he's the last one I know. Well no, I'll take that back. There's another lawyer but he doesn't - I don't know, I don't know how he does his. I think John Croce has what they call a ‘Dethatcher’ that pulls all the stems out of the grapes. Then he just throws the grapes in. Where we threw everything, everything went in, bugs anything… anything that was in the grapes went into the wine to ferment. And it's funny how each person had his own way of making wine.

Colman Fieldhouse Built by the Italian Community. Photo: Madeline Crowley

And so each family's wine would have been a little bit different.

My dad's was probably the driest (pause) and probably the most strongest.

And then would the people sort of share wine? Was there one guy who everybody was trying to get his wine?

No... I would say that (pause)… How do explain it? Well, like Easter was on a Sunday. My dad would have taken a gallon of wine, and we would have probably gone and visited all our friends with that gallon of wine. And they'd be drinking theirs and vice versa. Then this John Croce set up a deal, probably 50 years ago, to judge the best homemade wine. I don't know if that's still going on or not.

Well, it sounds like it would be two people competing every year, if it's just John and the lawyer left!

Oh, oh no. That's the older generation, oh there must be more. Actually, I would love to get my hands on a press again. My brother, the one that was in that picture, this year he moved to California. He got all the grapes he wanted for nothing so he took the wine press down there, then he said he didn't have time to make wine, so he gave it away instead of asking if anyone wanted it! Anyway I know one of my nieces wants to make wine again. I told her it just doesn't pan out anymore - money wise. We used to pay maybe (pause), I doubt if we paid in two dollars for a box. That’s because I remember (laughs) how upset my dad was when it hit two dollars a box! In those days I don't even think they wanted a dollar for a box of grapes. You'd only make maybe a gallon out of each box.

So you'd bring the grapes and then you'd put them through the press and then did they go directly into the bottles? What was the process?

Oh, no. We'd let them ferment. My dad would let it go for eight days.

Furfaro Property. Photo: Collection Vince Furfaro

In the big barrels?


And the barrels, what kind of wood was that?

Well, oak, whiskey barrels usually. Almost everyday we had these huge wooden paddles and had to keep, turning it because could (pause) get kind of - shall we say explosive? (laughs) You had to keep the bubbles (from building) because I know when we took the (pause) the little stops out of the barrel out of the bottom it came out under pressure. And we had half barrels too. We'd let it run there and then we'd take it pause) like pitchers and a quart at a time pour it into a 50 gallon barrel, straining it at the same time (laughs).

Through cheesecloth?

Yes. And then when you got through filling all the three barrels (pause) usually you would fill the three barrels with one making. Then just, the second round you'd fill, you top 'em off because we had I think, three or four barrels for aging, and three barrels for fermenting.

What would you top them off with?

(pause) We wouldn't. I mean you just (pause) poured the wine in there. When I say top it off, I meant that whatever you didn't fill entirely from the first group, you just added it to the second. All the barrels weren't necessarily full. Then, you did lose some to evaporation because all we had was a piece of wood over the top of the hole for breathing. Then I guess they’re ready to drink at three or four months. That's the other thing, we still had wine in some of the other barrels from the year before. In fact I think I got 16 gallons, in the last wine we made.

So you kept it in the barrels until you were ready to drink it and then you'd fill up a gallon, and bring that upstairs?

Well, no. We had canners. Then we'd bring those up.

So it'd stay in the barrel until it was ready, until you were actually ready to drink it. Interesting.

What is what is amazing is in Europe where they had these thousand gallon barrels. (pause) See, that's the other thing - we'd have to clean the barrels after they were empty. Wash 'em out with cold water, you know (laughs), obviously you didn't use soap for anything.

Furfaro Property. Collection: Vince Furfaro

It sounds like it was a fairly intensive process for a while.

Oh, yes. It would be because the grapes would actually start melting in the basement. We had to have space for 'em in the basement. Once they were delivered to the house you didn't want to wait too long before you started putting them in the barrels.

Would you take time off from school during that time period, or you would just come home from school and get right to work?

Well, my dad always worked nights so he came home at 12 o'clock and that's when he'd do a lot of it. We also had the press, that's where we took all the musk from the (pause) fermenting barrels, I guess.

That must have been stinky.

It was.

Did it get on your clothes?

Not really. If it did it washed out. We’d put it in this press and then it stayed there everyday for maybe three or four weeks. Everyday we’d turn it one or two turns. And you'd end up with maybe a ton of grapes, then (after pressing you’d end) with something maybe six or eight inches tall. Then we used to pick that up, to break it up and take it out and bury it in the backyard (laughs).

When you would come home from school your dad was at work, so how did you guys know what to do?

Well, we just did.

You just had learned it by that point.

We all worked from when we were young. Like in this photo here, when I was selling papers on Saturdays I'd go there at 10 o'clock in the morning. I'd stay there until maybe 10 o'clock at night. I worked a 12-hour day (when I was a kid), my brother, too. We all worked for him (Mr Turco). We brought 50 cents home for working 12 hours! Some of the others made a little more because they used to stay until midnight but they were older than I was too.

Article on Mr. Turco, displayed at his former news stand, 3rd & Pine
The Turco name incorporated into the news stand structure
The former Turco news stand, 3rd & Pine

Later when I was older at 6 o’clock in the morning I used to buy the papers right off the press, I was going home and I wanted the latest paper for the sports. This guy would find me downtown, he’d be going down their to get the papers to sell and it was funny he’d always find me. His name was Jim.

He wasn’t Never Sleep?

No, that guy was along Jackson.

So you would come home and, and if you had your paper route on Saturday, who would be working on the wine during that time? How did things get done?

(laughs) That's what I'm talking about. When I look back, I don't know how it got done because actually every night after school I went down and worked ‘til six o'clock. From four to six selling newspapers.

Then you would come home and you must have had to, well, someone had to cook.

Well (pause) I guess we did.

Because it didn't sound like you had a stepmother.

Oh, I did. We got one later but that was after World War II.

By the time you had a step mother you were about what age?

12 (laughs).

So for four years your dad was working, dealing with everything?

Well, I stayed with this aunt for maybe a year. The thing was that were four boys and at that time CPS would not allow a father to have, a single father to have children. (pause) Now, I guess either a teacher or someone turned it in. So the judge decided that we should stay with the family. All the neighbors around us said that they would take care of us. (pause) You know, I can't imagine that happening today. Anyway, the judge said that we would stay with the family. So, I ended up staying like two years at one place, and another year at another place. And then another place. In the end, there about four or five families where I was moved around.

And all of those families were right in this same neighborhood.

Well, they were all related... everyone was related or else in the same two families on the same block. It was a close-knit (pause) community. And I don't think people realize how close they were. (pause) Now, I don't know if it was because everyone was from the same community in Italy.

Oh, they were? Okay, that makes sense.

Everyone in this area was from Calabria. They all came over here and they all stayed, basically, in the same area.

Did people from the old community do the San Gennaro Festival?

All of that is gone. We don’t do any of the things we did growing up. We had meetings (get togethers) every week, then Easter and Palm Sunday were very big days. They were big holidays were people visited (each other’s houses) and dressed up in their very best.

With shared food similar to a village party? Were the streets closed off?

No, the streets weren’t even paved back then, the street I live on was only paved less than 25 years ago.

Your poor father, first he lost his wife, and if the community hadn't been willing to take you boys he would have lost his entire family in one fell swoop.

Yes, but the oldest boy was 17 and another was 14, (pause) then there was myself and the baby. (pause) See, we were raised differently than the others. I was born more or less responsible for my younger brother. And the one next to me was responsible for me. It sort of worked that way that each one a had a responsibility of looking out for each other. Then again, we had Godparents. I don't even know if they exist anymore.

They do but they don't have any real function anymore. (pause)

Of course, mine were in Vancouver so they were out of the question. While all the others from the family were here (in this neighborhood).

Did you have a good relationship with your uncle and your aunt? Moving to their house wasn't disruptive.

No. It wasn't. (pause) Other than the fact that you feel you're in the way. (pause) Everyone in this neighborhood had four, five, or six kids! You have to realize that most of the houses around here then were two or three bedroom houses and all those kids.

Photo: Colleciton Vince Furfaro 

Right. You said the houses were quite small like your uncle's house was about 600 square feet.

Yes, but he also had three stories too, three floors.

Well, that helps. (laughs)

Yes, there were two bedrooms up above. The girl had one (laughs) and then four boys in the other (laughs). That was his (the uncle’s) kids! Then I'd think about the people who used to come and visit from out of the city like Vancouver and places like that, and, I says where did they stay?

They probably threw a sleeping bag on the living room floor.

Yeah, that's about what it amounted to.

Then when you moved to their house where did you sleep?

Well, I was in a bunk bed up in the fourth or the third floor.

With all the boys. That must have been hard, you lost your mother and you lost your house.

(pause) But then they rebuilt it here again. They turned around and two guys, they basically rebuilt that house. I don't think it took them a year. They did everything themselves from the cabinets (pause). You know, it's a funny thing. I still haven't replaced anything that they did.

People knew how to build back then.

I knew the city went in there (the house) they were going to do something at one point. They looked at the basement where we have 8 by 8 beams holding up the main floor (laughs). They were sort of shocked when they saw how the concrete walls were this thick. See, that was all done by neighbors.

Did your uncle and your father build it?

No, no, no. They hired some one named Prentice, and he built that house.

In fact, one person who owned a grocery store, he said, 'I can't help you financially but you can have all the food you need.' My dad said it took him until World War II to pay him off.

That was an Italian grocery on Hiawatha; it was in their house. It’s where the big apartment building is now, the artists’ lofts. It was the DeMarti’s Grocery store. I don’t think anybody would do that today. In those days you didn’t buy that much from the grocery store, you’d buy 50 lbs. of flour, 50 lbs. of sugar or a 100 pounds because everyone did their own baking.

Artists' Lofts. Hiawatha Avenue. 

That's the kind of friends you had. I can remember going to others people's homes when they were doing some work or moving their houses in. A lot of the houses weren't built on the site.

Right. So when something would happen to anyone, the entire small collaborative community would come together and pour a foundation or provide groceries until the family was back on its feet. That kind of connection also existed in the Japanese community, and in the Chinese community and maybe every small community back then.

I think it did, I think it did.

There was a strong Danish community and a strong Swedish community in the neighborhood. Also a strong Jewish community so people kind of took care of their own.

You know those three houses across the street here? (Yesler & 23rd)

Photo: Madeline Crowley

Across from the (Douglass Truth) library? The pretty gingerbread Victorians?

Yes. Now, I knew the Jewish families that lived in those in the 40s. This was a Jewish community at that time. 

I walked to the old Washington Middle School where Pratt Park is. That was the one I went to and (pause) I'm trying to think what was the name of it before it was Langston Hughes (laughs).

Oh, the Bikur Cholim.

Yeah. And right down the street from this library (Douglass Truth) was the old Brenner Bakery.

Now, it’s C-A-Y-A.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

Oh, that was the first Brenners?

That was the original Brenner’s bakery. I think the last brother died about, of the original ones, about two years ago or something. (Charles Brenner Obit)

And then they moved...

I know they're in Bellevue the last I heard.

They moved after there was a fire I think in the 60s during the time of unrest. And they then moved to Bellevue. Understandably.

Well, the point is at that time though the Jewish community had more or less begun to dissolve. Actually, it was bussing, I think, that's really caused the exodus out of Seattle.

Going back to when you were growing up, the community was incredibly tight and would pitch in to help build each other's homes. Did everybody go to the
church that's right there?

Either St. Mary's or (pause) Mt. Virgin.

St. Mary's Church. Photo: Madeline Crowley

So not everybody went to the same church?

Not necessarily. I mean those that were around the old Colman School (now NAAM) most of them went to Mt. Virgin. But those around here went to St. Mary's. Back in those days, St. Mary's was the premium Catholic Church in Seattle, not St. James. That was because of the Italian community here.

Premium in what sense?

Well, the most priests wanted to be there because it was considered, well, a regular Italian community.

So it was kind of a plum assignment because you'd get good food, good wine and loyal parishioners?

Well, yes. You know where St. Mary's is? St. Mary’s would be down right a block south of Franz Bakery on 20th.

Oh yes. Is it called St. Mary's still?

Yes, it's still is...

The Giddens School is there...

Yes, the Giddens school is there but also the church. It is now the largest Hispanic church in the state.


The rectory across the street was where the priest lived, that was built by the community. Or I shouldn't say the community; one family donated it. I think it was the Scalzo family. He said if they took care of their daughter (pause) he would build them a sanctuary. 

St. Mary's Rectory. Photo: Madeline Crowley

The parishioners put the money up for those buildings, not the church? I grew up in churches but they’d long been built before I was a child so, I didn't know that.

You know where the old Colman school where that little field house is? That was also built by the Italian community, said they didn't have the money or something. So they built that and (pause) it stayed as a field house and then they finally remodeled it and it was closed for years. That was like a community center.

When they remodeled it did they leave the character?

Pretty much so on the outside. To go downstairs you still have to go outside (laughs). They didn't put in any stairs inside.

So the Italian community really took care of itself. It must be shocking now how things are now, comparatively.

Yes. How people (pause) just don't help each other.

It’s true. I think it’s regarded as an intrusion rather than an opportunity to give.

Well, everyone on our block (even today) basically knows each other. I would say maybe half the people get together. We try to have a couple of street parties each year. We used to have three or four! Almost one a month during the summer time. Now, it’s only this event, Night Out Against Crime. I'd like to say we have quite a group that comes too.

Yeah, that sounds like your block is a lot more fun than many.

(laughs) When you look back at even how many theatres there used to be; it’s really changed. There was a Madrona Theatre, a Mt. Baker Theatre that was around 25th and Jackson. (pause) and then there's was one on Capitol Hill about 11th and Broadway. The Venetian Theatre was on 15th and Madison, it's sort of a triangle. There used to be a theatre there.

29th & Cherry. Former site of Madrona Theatre. Neon sign visible to the right
Seattle PI - Now & Then, Seattle Movie Theaters 

You were busy, going to school and to work and...

Well, we also played. I remember playing baseball games.

What did you eat as a kid? Do you remember what you had for breakfast?

Oh, boy! Well, I was never a breakfast person. I’m pretty sure we’d have what we called mush.



And for lunch a sandwich?

Yeah, but we didn’t like it because we would bring home made bread and everyone else had the new American sliced bread. (laughs) {Garlic Gulch food history} 

So you were embarrassed?

(laughs) Yeah. But I also remember buying the school lunches, they were only a dime back.

What would be inside the bread?

Well, stuff you don’t see today.

That’s why I’m curious.

Well, eating boiled ham in square tins was a delicacy; it was a privilege to get it. It was very expensive compared to bologna; that was 20 cents, if that.

Was it ham from Italy?

I remember the Cotto Salami. We used to get that in 5 or 10 pounds at a time. It was good because you could slice it for breakfast. It’s a dfferent salami. It comes in a round loaf. We used to make head cheese too.

Cotto Salami -

What’s head cheese?

Would you slather that on the Cotto?

Well, I don’t know. You could, we ate a lot of cheeses.

Were they made at home?

No, they were bought, I guess from Croce. I can remember round balls of cheese hanging from the ceiling in the basement.

We grew up with gourmet cooks, though we didn’t know it at the time. We made our own sausage, salami, and whatever else.

What were used for casings?

Pig intestines. Everything was good; it wasn’t like today. We just used to go out and buy food; it was clean (compared to today).

My dad would get home at like twelve, one o'clock in the morning. That's when he used to go out and dig in the garden because he said no one was there to bother him. Nowhere to be. He'd go out and he'd basically turn the soil, he'd do all his preparing at night. My uncle here who had the two lots, he would get home around... five o'clock or say six. So he'd go out in the summertime and probably work until eight or nine. And then go to bed. It's just amazing at how much they got accomplished with just hand tools. They didn't have a rototiller or anything like that. (pause) But we had our own little hot boxes where you start your plants and stuff. They had wooden boxes with a window over it. Nothing elaborate (laughs) but it worked.

And so you'd start the vegetables in roughly February?

Or whenever. So that you could plant them when (pause) they actually started sprouting, the little like pepper plants and so on...

Photo: Madeline Crowley

I guess in the summer you'd kind of share resources and people would help each other harvest too...

Well, I don't really remember that so much but I do remember we always had excess food you know, vegetables especially. (Pause) But then again we also had excellent cooks.

Did your dad cook?

Yes, he did. He used to make his own lunch and everything to take to work.

Did he teach you to cook?

No. Actually I've forgotten how to cook because of the microwave. (laughs) I basically warm food up now, I don't really cook from scratch anymore.

It's a lot of work. And it's hard to do it for one person.

It is. That's the hardest part. I liked this idea that when you look at something and it's just for two people, and you know that'll be enough for one meal (laughs). I know that they're working on that right now trying to settle this serving size deal. I think it's just ridiculous, I don't know anyone who eats the same three ounces of meat. I even have a problem with those four or five ounces (laughs). Well, I don't care for steaks anymore.
I used to and now I just don't care anymore.

Does the meat tastes different?

I'm pretty sure it does but I don't know if that's me, or...

Photo: Madeline Crowley

It's raised so differently. It didn't used to be raised in a factory.


Yeah, they're going back to grass fed beef.

Where are they going get enough grass? (laughs) I look at that deal that they're doing to that (pause) rancher down at Texas. Is it Texas? 

We've moved from a democracy to a corporate oligarchy...

I don't really know what we've got anymore. It certainly isn't (representing) the people.

No, it's not. Did you go to Garfield High?

No. I went to Franklin. Went to the old Colman's school, and then the old Washington Middle School, then onto Franklin High.

When did you graduate from Franklin?


What did you do after you graduated?

(pause) Actually I went I think into the service because I worked in theatres first when I was in high school.

As an usher?

No, a doorman. Actually that was the first paying job I ever had - a whole dollar an hour (laughs). But it was because my brothers all worked in theatres. The brother here in this photo, he was the manager at one point of the theater on 5th Avenue, and then the Neptune. He did the box (office) in Spokane, and then they transferred him to California and, he had a bunch of theatres down there.

I just remember him being mainly at those two theaters (in Seattle). The other brother managed at the Orpheum and the Liberty and the Paramount. The Liberty and the Coliseum, the Blue Mouse and the Music Box. Between my brothers we had every theatre in town covered, really (laughs). I worked basically all of them but I never went any higher than doorman.

Back then did people buy food at the theatre or did they bring their own food?

All they had was popcorn but then you've got to remember it was only 15 or 20 cents for popcorn.

Okay, so people would come in and buy popcorn...

And I think it was 10 or 12 cents for a candy bar. I think if they were 10-cent bars and they charged 12. Not like it is now (laughs). And it was only a dollar and a quarter to get in.

How often did people go to the movies?

Oh gosh, I don't... (pause) I would probably say two to three times a week.

So it wasn't a special treat, it was sort of something you did as often as you had time.

I think I remember Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights were the big days. The thing you have to remember is on Sundays that was the about the only thing that was open. We had blue laws in effect so you could go to a baseball game but you could buy only food.

Back then, how long was Mass? Would the community stay together and eat together, or would everybody go home?

Most people went home right after Mass. For certain events they would stay at the church but as a rule, you just went to school, Mass, and then went home.

Then was Sunday a day of rest?

Pretty much so. Then again when you work in theatres, you had to work. So for everyone else it was a day of rest, which at that time I sort of resented. Now I wish we had that again. I think it does a lot (pause) to have family time. From what I can see now most families, they’re not as close (laughs) as we were.

No. You guys worked really hard and you shared, your time and your efforts. I bet all of the money all of the boys were making also went to taking care of the family.

Oh, yes it did. (pause) I remember that one brother saying how important that was especially during the Depression. Then I think my dad worked three days a week; he didn't get laid off, but (instead) they cut the hours of everyone.

What did your dad do at that point?

He worked at the Olympic Foundry


Oh he did? Okay, that's still there.

Yeah, but I don't think they're a foundry anymore because of the smoke and all that. I think it's interesting when you go down the street and look at the water main or something and there’s just a little foundry mark on it (laughs). He started there in 1912.

Did a lot of Italians work there?

That was one of the problems, I think at one time they put a picture in the paper and they said these seven guys or eight guys worked something (in total) 300 and some years there. My dad retired in 1958. He'd worked there 46 years and the only reason he retired was he didn't want to go on a picket line and they were going to out on strike! He just said they're not going to get what they want. They wanted 30 cents an hour. The company offered a dime and he told us, they're gonna settle for a dime. And they did after three weeks (laughs).

So he retired at that point.

Yes but he was 70 also, so… (laughs)

He was ready.


And so you went into the Service after?

See, I had enlisted actually when I was in high school. And then (pause) actually the Korean War started two days after our high school prom. I didn't go right in there but I did go within a year and a half or something. I did. I was in the Reserves so I was already attending and going through training and everything. I think it was in 1952 when I was activated, the last two years of the war. I basically stayed. I ended up retiring in '94, so. (laughs)

You stayed in the military?

Well, as a Reservist mainly. I did have two or three stints of active duty.

A Gift of the Italian Community. The Colman Fieldhouse. Photo: Madeline Crowley

You went to Korea three times? 

Oh no, I went there basically just once. The point is when you're in the Navy you don't go out. The time I did go, I did go on land. But I mean most of the time we stayed off shore. I was in the Navy Air (pause). I would say we were in a special group because we had to go twice a year. We were (pause) mainly self-employed most of the time. I worked for Boeing (Company) for quite a few years. And they had to more or less let you go anytime the government requested it (reserve service).

Boeing was probably more sympathetic to that than most companies.

(laughs) Yes, very. (pause) Actually, for a while there they'd make up the difference in pay that you were getting. Then after a while you were making more than you were at the company (laughs) working for them (the Navy Reserve) and Boeing. But I did get to go twice a year - you had to go to some place in the Far East. We mainly went west. A couple of times we went east to Spain and those places. I did that well probably until late 1984 or '85.

So you were career military?

I'd have to say so, yes.


Yes. I get a pension and I get all my medical and everything taken care of so…

That's terrific. A lot of people don't make it to military retirement.

Well, the main reason I stayed was for the medical. I'd known too many people at 25 dollars a day they couldn't even (afford a day in hospital)… Well, that was what the hospitals used to charge then (per day) not the two thousand dollars a day now.

Well, you were wise, because a lot of people can't stick it out to military retirement. It really pays off if you do.

Well, I was in with a good group; I mean I was not the Army. Now, I don't know if I could have stuck it out in the Army. But the Navy and the way we traveled, and the assignments we would get. (pause) I mean, we were loaned out to foreign countries to go down and help them and stuff like that.

So you would help if there was an emergency?

Well not necessarily that like… We'd go down to Panama, say. Then we'd help… (pause) well, for stuff that was going on in Ecuador, and Colombia. We'd be loaned out to those people to look for drug runners and...

Oh okay. That kind of thing is tough.

Yeah. And (pause) well like that. I'm trying to think we also went to... El Salvador.

But to return to talking about the neighborhood, the biggest change in the neighborhood was when they put in I-90.

Was there a commercial strip of Italian businesses

One Italian Business from that area. From:

Yes, they were mainly on Atlantic and Rainier Avenue. It’s all gone now; it was where the entrance to the freeway is now. There were two drugstores, four grocery stores, two barbers, a shoe repair and a cleaner and the Victory Theatre. Also the Cusic Glass Company.

Then was the decision to put in the freeway financially devastating for the Italian community? That’s a lot of businesses.

Yes, it took the entire thing; it took it out.

Did the government make good on the loss of the businesses?

Well, I don’t feel that they did. We also had Darigold Milk right there. They offered them 400K for their acres and the business. I know most homeowners got 5K for their house and land.

I knew the family on 23rd and Judkins who had a brick house. When the state bought that (land for the highway) there were two houses and the brick house. That guy was so mad at the State because they offered him six thousand for his house where Smith Park is now.

For your neighbors who’d come from Italy it must have felt like whatever ground they’d gained building a business and a home, they lost when then the freeway
came in.

The only one that I know that didn’t (lose ground) was the person that went on to start PFI (Pacific Foods Importers), John Croce, he had a grocery store there.

What I-90 was built beside devastation of the commercial part of the neighborhood, what other effects did it have?

Well, at that time it was mostly the old people who’d stayed in the area. I think we were successful in delaying it (the highway) long enough that most of the old people had died out. Most of their kids were not interested in staying in this neighborhood. Then when bussing started and that didn’t help either. That caused a lot of people to move out too.


See, after WWII most of the (returning) soldiers had the dream of the big house on a big lot with a white picket fence. Then when Bellevue started being built up in 1948 a lot of people moved to the east side. Houses were cheaper there plus in Seattle the houses had small rooms in that most homes were two-three bedrooms. We had large families in those days so they wanted the new bigger houses. After the young men came back from the war and moved to Bellevue that meant the (remaining) community was roughly then about half the size.

Several of the families kept their property after they moved; they hung onto the property. I don’t know if they still have it.

Since you stayed, did you find the construction really disruptive?

Well, not really. It was in the sense that streets were closed off especially the streets we used to go down.

So very little of the area resembles what it did before?

No, it doesn’t. We had two blocks were a little enclave at the bottom of the hill there.  It’s zoned commercial – it’s all apartments there now.

What used to be there?

The were homes, actually it’s pretty much in character was with what’s up the hill there (from Hiawatha Place and towards Dearborn Street).

Across the way, though is very different. I hate to say it but Judkins Park used to be a dump. They brought in steam shovels and when they covered it over, we’d walk over it to go to school. Underneath, though, the springs are still there.

Even over near my house, there was a Japanese guy on Hiawatha and he had a natural pond there with fish in it and everything. He didn’t have to fill it, it was there (the natural springs). Then, when they (the city) paved our street it dried up and he was very unhappy. Now, that I think about it, we used to have a well where we could get water. And that dried up.

A lot of parks in Seattle were built on landfill: Judkins and Genesee being just two. The whole landscape was transformed, all the way from Rainier Beach to Franklin High School used to be under water ‘til they lowered Lake Washington. That’s why Rainier Avenue was raised; it’s about 30 feet higher than it is naturally. If you go to Bud’s on Dearborn (Speedway Bud's Muffler) and you look, well you can’t really tell, because they did the fill. If you look in the back, at the way the alley goes down that was the normal level, and you can get an idea. If you look where the Burger King is now, there used to be a sauna there but it was 30 feet below ground level now.

Alley behind Bud's looking up to Dearborn,
gives a sense of rise up to current street level
Photo: Madeline Crowley

My aunt used to go to parties two houses south of Buds in 1915, They had a party in there because two of my uncles were going back to Italy. Where the Darigold was (where the highway entrance is) there was whippoorwills there. Up to 3rd Avenue & Jackson was all water. It was wetlands.

You mentioned also that there was ditch? Was it natural?

No. In the old days when they cut through for H-10 (Highway 10 which preceded I-90) they had cut steep banks. You can still see it when you come out of the tunnel and look to the right that concrete wasn’t there and then you’d have a huge ditch (that the freeway ran through). The only way we got it is, we said, the people on Mercer Island are getting a tunnel; we want one too. We had it structured so that they couldn’t build on it either. A lot of places over the freeways they’ve built a series of apartments and we didn’t want them to do that.

So, you know our group was responsible for getting them to build a tunnel. Before they built the new I-90 there was a deep ditch there with a walking bridge on 24th Avenue and one for cars at 23rd (Avenue).

Thank you for the interview and more importantly for working to sure the City provided a tunnel, parks and received some benefits from the freeway coming in.

More on Vince Furfaro: Vince Furfaro on Sand Point

Transcribed by the warm, wonderful Zoe Chee to whom we are very grateful.

 ©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2016   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

This project was supported in part by 
4Culture's Heritage Projects program

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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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