Niagara Gazette

February 26, 2012

HIGGS: Back to Pine and the 1800 block

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Column by Norma Higgs — Back to nostalgia this week, as we continue along the even numbers on the north side of Pine Avenue. We left off at Trapasso’s which advertised everything from 5 cents to one dollar. Next-door at 1822 was Cicero and Brundo Music Center owned and operated by Peter Cicero and Vincent Brundo.

I had a long conversation with Joyce Penders Lucas who worked for them. She told me Pete Cicero came to the music store on Falls Street where she worked with Pierrette Silvestro and told them his store was the place to be. They both took him up on his offer and found out he was right. All the celebrities came there to borrow instruments when they were booked at Melody Fair and other venues. In those days no one came with an entourage in a big convoy of buses; they came alone and borrowed instruments from these local music stores. Joyce and Pierrette were in their glory — they attended all the shows at Melody Fair highlighting the Four Freshmen, the Four Lads, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jerry Vale and many others. The girls sold tickets to shows at Melody Fair, the Town Casino and the Glen Park Casino and were always invited to the lunches held in Buffalo with the celebrities. They went to other places like Luigi’s at Ontario and 18th Street which featured entertainment as well. Joyce says she turned down the invite to lunch with Elvis. “He was just starting out and I thought he would not last,” she told me. Oh Boy! It was a fun job and she had to run for the bus each day which took her from Youngstown where she lived to get to Niagara Falls in time for work after a big night out.

It was a real music town at the time and a lot of famous musicians began their careers in Niagara Falls. One was Thomas J. Tedesco, born in the Falls on July 3, 1930. He gave guitar lessons at their store and eventually made his way to the West Coast where “he became one of the most-sought-after studio guitarists between the 1960s and 1980s,” according to Wikipedia. Since I could not reach Dom Iannuzzi I went back to Wikipedia to find out more about Tommy. His credits include the iconic accompaniment theme from television’s “Bonanza,” “The Twilight Zone,” and many others. He was shown on-camera for a number of game and comedy shows. Primarily a guitarist, he also played the mandolin, ukulele and the sitar as well as 28 other stringed instruments.  

Tedesco was described as the most recorded guitarist in history, having played on thousands of recordings, many of which were top-20 hits (Wikipedia again) with most of the top musicians working in the Los Angeles area. He wrote a regular column for Guitar Player called “Studio Log” where he told about his day’s work recording a movie, TV show or album, relating the special challenges each job posed and how he solved them. He wrote what instruments he used and how much money he made on the job. There is a lot more about Tedesco on Wikipedia and if you have access, you can read all about him. His image is painted on the building across from the Como Restaurant further down the block. He suffered a stroke resulting in partial paralysis and died in Northridge, Calif., in 1997 at age 67 from lung cancer.

One of Tedesco's guitars can be found at the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando, Fla., located in the rear of the Rock Shop, on the third floor. His published autobiography, “Confessions of a Guitar Player” is available in paperback from Amazon.com or on Kindle. This autobiography traces his career and includes many studio photos and quotes from some of the world's most famous musicians.

Pete Cicero retired and Vince Brundo moved across the street and continued the business. Joyce still lives in Youngstown with her husband George Lucas and has many fond memories.

Time to move to the south side of Pine Avenue. Back in the 1950s, a small grocery store started by Ferrante Castellani, where Submasters now sits, paved the way to today’s Tops Markets. His son Armand took over the management and it became the Great Bear Market and moved across the street next to the City Market which is now the dance studio. Since Tops is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, I will not dwell on its history as that is their story to tell but we all know what they have contributed in the way of employment, honest business and, of course, good products to choose from. Well-known local names that were partners and managers during the early years of Niagara Frontier Services (Tops Markets) were Thomas Buscaglia, Savino Nanula and Anthony Bax.

The lasting Castellani legacy sits on the Niagara University campus in the building housing the Castellani Art Museum founded by Mr. and Mrs. Armand J. Castellani who became art collectors as the grocery business grew. From a young lad of 16 working in his father’s grocery store, serving in the military and returning to the grocery business and establishing a supermarket concept which has endured for fifty years, Armand Castellani did not sit on his laurels. He and his wife presented a lifetime treasure in the local art museum for our future enjoyment.

More next week.  

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