Niagara Gazette


January 15, 2012

HIGGS: A few local insights and more on Pine Avenue

Column by Norma Higgs — Well, last week certainly brought out the best in everyone. I received lots of phone calls and emails and the best one was the comment “I love the fact that Dr. Merletti renovated a former shoe repair shop for his podiatry practice.”

Speaking of that, Henry Filicetti called to tell me that the shoemaker, Phillip and Henry’s grandfather Eugene were brothers. Frances McCune is, in fact Philip’s great niece and his daughter, Irene Lucchetti, still resides in Niagara Falls.

I do not know why I bother with Wikipedia when I have a walking encyclopedia as a friend. Domenick Iannuzzi let me know that he knew Sal Maglie well and Sal was considered the “ambassador of the sporting world.” He pitched a no-hitter on Sept. 25, 1956, for the Brooklyn Dodgers and never left the city he loved. The New York teams wanted him to move there but Sal was a close friend of Western New York and his local fans and refused to permanently move. He lived in Riverdale in the Bronx during the 1950s baseball season. He was a regular at the Como Restaurant and the Sal Maglie Stadium on Hyde Park Boulevard was named in his honor for the fame he brought to our area.

Back to Rodney Rhodes, who grew up at 1622 Pine Ave. over the ice cream plant owned by his and the Searles family. LaVerne Searles introduced the novelty items such as popsicles to the business. His son, Frank, eventually ran the Searles Dairy at 918 Niagara St. Rodney’s dad, Everett was active in youth sports serving as a scorekeeper at local school games. As a result he hired many of the students he met to work in the Belmer’s throughout the city. A few well-known “scoopers’ were Mike O’Laughlin, Tony Rendina, “Murph’ Pitaressi, Bob Sdao, Sam Russo and others. Rodney went on to become a 20-year physical education teacher for the Niagara Falls School District and covered classes at many of the schools no longer part of the system. He mentioned Ferry Avenue School, Pacific Avenue, Cayuga Drive, 5th Street, 10th Street, 13th Street and Ashland Avenue. Physical education teachers traveled and taught at all the neighborhood schools and that is how he met his future wife, who taught girls at the same places he covered with the boys. “A marriage made in heaven” he told me as no doubt they had a lot to talk about.

Neil Gruppo called to tell me he and Mary Brooks held their wedding reception in 1951 at the Plantation on Pine and Military that I mentioned earlier. The invited 35 people and the cost was only $68 for dinner and open bar. He also was part of the Fred Jones group when he was a young boy of 10 or 12. Fred provided entertainment at the Plantation and held recitals at Trott Vocational and elsewhere. He lived and taught singing on Independence Avenue next door to a long time friend of mine, Ed DiBacco, who often told Neil in their later years that “he could hear him screaming” next door. Don Gage usually provided the piano accompaniment. Popular recording artist April Stevens was also a part of his group.

Moving to 1618 we remember John Riggie who sold household appliances. During 1956, 1622 Pine was owned by Samuel Kranitz and Paul Bruno, who purchased the former Belmer’s dairy plant, renovated it and operated as the Sam-Paul Men’s Shop for many years. I bet there are still some garments hanging in local closets with their label inside.

We can finally cross over to the even numbers on the 1700 block where John Zito sold real estate. Since he was on the corner, he had a large mural on the outside wall stating, “If Zito can’t sell it, give it back to the Indians.” It would appear he was successful at least until Gov. George Pataki came along and “sold” 50 downtown acres including our former convention center to the Seneca Nation.

Edmund H. and Mary T. Mundy resided at 1706 Pine as well as family members Edmund J., Mary L. and Helen Mundy. Mary was employed as an office worker at Carborundum where Edmund H. also worked as a machine tender. Helen was an operator at the N. Y. Telephone Co., probably at the traffic department exchange building at Walnut and Portage Road, where many of the local girls found employment after their high school education.

At 1708, Clarence Miller operated a barber shop formerly run by Luigi Catalano. These buildings were removed when Garibaldi Square was built. DiCamillo’s Bakery replaced Zito’s building and the New York state Assembly has occupied a rear portion of the square for several years with other tenants coming and going.

And at 1710 Pine, Anthony Perricelli Pharmacy moved in where William Bemish was employed at the former Maggadino Memorial Funeral Chapel. The funeral home occupied the space currently used by Latina’s as overflow space in their market store next to McDonald’s and the City Market. It seems the funeral chapel was on Pine Avenue for more than 10 years before moving to a new building at Portage and Niagara Street around the time of my story.

There was a retail store selling plastic products in 1712 Pine during 1956 which no one seems to remember. It was called Plastic Plants of Cleveland and is now the main part of the Latina Importing Company store.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council. Her columns appear Mondays in the Gazette.

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