Turturici-Cancilla Family
and extended familia




I wrote this using excerpts from:
~ From Italy to San Francisco, The Immigrant Experience
    Dino Cinel
(Asst. Professor of History at Tulane University), 1982, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0-8047-1117-8
~ Bancroft Library: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/italianamericans/index.html

The first Italian immigrants to San Francisco, beginning in 1850, were northern Italians, mostly from Genoa and the northern Alps of Piedmont and Lombardy. Some of the earliest settlers were fishermen, who had sailed up the coast from Italian enclaves in South America, most significantly from Peru.

Unlike other major immigrant groups, there was not an extreme push factor for northern Italians until the 1880s. There was not a famine, war, or religious persecution. Instead, the early immigrants came initially on the recommendations of their friends and family and as a natural migration from other Italian immigrant enclaves.

The ostentatious wealth of those who succeeded during the Gold Rush years brought with it a demand for stone and marble cutters from northern Italy to work on the mansions of the newly rich.

As late as 1890, there were more Italian immigrants on the Pacific Coast than in New England; 80% were northern Italians. Their reasons for leaving and for choosing California varied. Overpopulation and the French capture of the wine industry in the 1880s made leaving attractive to Ligurians from Genoa.

By 1880 the great agricultural and economic depression in Italy had created a leave or starve situation for Sicilian peasants, and mass emigration was happening in many communes. The majority of those leaving were bound for South America.

In the 1890's immigrants from Sicily, mostly from the Palermo Province, began arriving in San Francisco. Almost all of the southern and Sicilian immigrants were men, who intended to return after making some money.

Seven out of ten (70%) non-Italian married immigrants took their wives and children, whereas only one of ten (10%) Italians did the same thing. Wives of northern Italians arrived six to seven years later; wives of southern Italians arrived five years later.

Two factors may help to explain why southerners sent for their families earlier than northerners. First, southern/Sicilian Italians were more sexually jealous; the frequency and rapidity of family follow-up migration was prompted by suspicion and possessiveness.

Second, southerners/Sicilians were less culturally prepared to establish strong social relations outside the nuclear family household. Thus, for them, the reuniting of the family was more important than for northerners.

Of all non-Italians immigrants at the time of their first arrival to San Francisco, only about 10% had children (either traveling with them or stayed behind). About 25% of the northern Italian and 65% of the southern Italians had children (with or stayed behind).

In San Francisco, the 1900 census reveals that 25% of Italian immigrants’ children had died prior to their arrival, compared with 12% of the children of other immigrants.

In 1882 in the Province of Cosenza, 30% of all deaths were infants under a year old, and 51% of total deaths were children under 5. In northern Italy, the Provinces of Genoa and Lucca, 25% of all deaths were infants under a year old, and 51% were under 5.

In 1912, of total deaths the percentage of infants under age 4 was: 20% in Genoa, 28% in Lucca, 45% in Cosenza, and 50% in Palermo Providence (which includes Trabia).

Over the years, infant mortality did not decline significantly in Italy. In 1920 the mortality rate for infants under age four, per 1,000 people, was 174 in Italy compared to 95 in the United States.


In 1920 about 28% of U.S. born females 15 or older were single, compared to 14% of the immigrant females (same age group). In San Francisco, only 8% of the northern Italian and 5% of the southern Italian females 15 or older were single.

San Francisco's Italians were primarily from
5 Northern and 4 Southern/Sicilian Cities

Mostly from the north in the early years, 1870's and 1880's:

     Genoa, Lorsica, and Sestri Levante (Province of Genoa)
     Capannori-Porcari and Lucca (Province of Lucca)

Mostly from the south in the 1890’s and early 1900’s:

     Verbicaro (Province of Cosenza)
     Santa Flavia, Trabia, and Palermo City (Sicilian Prov of Palermo)


A distinguishable and separate Italian settlement in San Francisco took form with the arrival of the first immigrants in the early 1850's. A handful of Italians who had been working for some time in the gold mines of California were forced out by Americans, and sought refuge in San Francisco.

Together with Frenchmen, Basques, Mexicans, and Spaniards, they settled in the area later called The Latin Quarter, not far from Telegraph Hill, attracted by cheap rents and the freedom to live relatively undisturbed.

Although all of these men were Latins with similar languages, they were not very congenial with each other. Interethnic fighting within this predominantly male community, especially when they were drinking, was part of every-day life. However, their struggle for survival and a shared bitterness over defeat of attempts to control the gold mines softened their differences and cemented loyalties.

Italians carved out a little settlement of their own within the Latin Quarter, between Pacific and Clay Streets south of Broadway. As later Latin immigrants arrived, they moved south-ward and Italians arriving in the mid-1850's expanded the Italian settlement northward, across Broadway, around Du Pont Street (now called Grant Avenue).

By the late 1850's the community of Du Pont Street was known as Little Italy. In the following decade the Italian district expanded father north toward Telegraph Hill and North Beach, but the Du Pont area remained the center of the Italian community, which numbered 400 people by 1860.

Italians in San Francisco established two major settlements and one minor. The first and the largest was in the North Beach-Telegraph Hill area.

The other main Italian settlement was in the Mission District. As the city expanded and the value of real estate rose, they moved south, most of them to the Mission, and the rest to Noe Valley, the Outer Mission, and Visitation Valley.

The third and smallest settlement was started in the 1870's when some Italians moved to the Old Potrero District. From there the settlement expanded to Portola and Bayview.

No new settlements were created in future years.


In 1900, about 13,000 people lived in census Assembly District 45, bounded by Montgomery and Kearny Streets and S.F. Bay; half were American-born and half foreign-born.

There were about 2,500 Italians in District 45 (North Beach-Telegraph Hill area), or about 40% of the foreign-born in the district and 20% of the total Italian population living in San Francisco.

Ten years later, in 1910, Assembly District 45 had 22,000 people (a 75% increase since 1900), of which 30% (6,700) were Italians.

In 1910 Italians made up 14% of the foreign-born and 5% of the total population of census Assembly District 33, the Mission District.

By the 1930's about 10% of the city's Italians lived in a small settlement in the Richmond District. Another 9% formed a little enclave in a few blocks of the Mission District close to the Italian Church of the Immaculate Conception. About 15% lived in the southeastern section of the Bayview District. Another 15% lived in a compact settlement in the Old Potrero District north of Army Street and west of Pennsylvania Avenue. The remaining 40% ived in North Beach.

Of the 40% living in North Beach in 1930, three-fourths were in areas (later) classified by the Census Bureau as Tracts A1, A3, A4, A5, and A6.

Together the following five tracts, made up of about 170 blocks, contained more than 9,000 Italians, more than 33% of all the city's Italians. A few hundred more lived along the fringes of these tracts, most in B4, B5, and A8, west of Leavenworth, south of Bay, north of Vallejo, and east of Steiner Streets.

TRACT A4: About 10% (2,700) of all Italians in the city were living in Tract A4, the core of North Beach, a 32-block area bounded by Columbus, Chestnut, Montgomery, Greenwich, Sansome, Vallejo, Kearny, and Filbert Streets.

TRACT A3: About 7% of the Italians (2,000) lived in A3, consisting of 26 blocks bounded by Columbus, Leavenworth, Mason, and Green Streets.

TRACT A5: Approximately 5% (1,600) lived in A5, consisting of 24 blocks south of A4 up to Columbus and Pacific Streets.

TRACT A1: Of San Francisco's Italians, 4% (1,200) lived in A1, stretching from Leavenworth to Pacific along the bay.

TRACT A6: Another 4% (1,200) resided in A6, a triangular area bounded by Columbus, Pacific, and Mason.

North Beach rents were among the lowest in San Francisco.
North Beach avg rent in 1932 was $27; wages were $2.25-$2.50/day. In 1940, the average monthly rent for a 2 bdrm apartment in the A4 area was $31. In the A11 area monthly rent was $56; and in A12, monthly rent was $52.

Italian immigrants did not settle in North Beach and the Mission District solely because of cheaper rent. The main reason was the "chain migration" that brought most Italians to San Francisco (minimizing the number of Italian settlements created in San Francisco).


Establishment of neighborhoods and enclaves by immigrants speaking the same language and sharing common traditions is not unusual; however, Italians (especially southern and Sicilian) showed a more pronounced tendency to create enduring separate settlements, and enclaves within those settlements specific to immigrants from the same village.

For example, in 1910 there were 24,000 Germans, 23,000 Irish, and 15,000 Italians in San Francisco. In no single Census Assembly District was there more than 15% of the total Irish immigrant population or more than 10% of the Germans; however, 40% of Italians lived in Assembly District 35 (later renumbered 45).

A decade later in 1920, in no single Assembly District was there more than 10% of the total Irish or German population of the city, but 45% of the Italians lived in District 33. Among San Francisco immigrant groups, only Mexicans and Greeks lived in enclaves that approached the density of the Italians.

A striking difference between Italians and other immigrants to San Francisco is that about 90% of the Italians came directly from the same city or village where they were born. This was true of only 30% of the Germans, 20% of the Russians, and 40% of the Irish.

Moreover, 95% of the San Francisco Italians came directly from Italy, and only 5% had lived somewhere else in the U.S. before settling in San Francisco. In contrast, 38% of the British, 20% of the Irish, 27% of the Russians, and 41% of the Scandinavians reached San Francisco after living in other parts of the U.S. or in other countries.

Almost all Italian newcomers in San Francisco had a relative there who sent for them and often advanced the money for the ticket. When they reached San Francisco, they lived with relatives for a time; it was only natural that they settled in the same neighborhood when they took a place of their own.

Another reason why Italians did not disperse throughout the city as other immigrants is because of the way they came and their goals in coming. Most Italian immigrants did not intend to stay in America; most of them secured only temporary employment, usually seasonal, with the goal of arning and saving enough money to go back and buy land in their home community.

Discrimination against Italians, especially southern and Sicilia Italians, undoubtedly had an impact on their creation of segregated neighborhoods as a means of communal support.

A 1920 University of California master's thesis gives a hint of popular attitudes: "The idea that Italian immigrants came from an inferior race is not merely a matter of popular opinion; but one which has received substantial corroboration from careful investigations." [De Medici, Marino. "The Italian-Language Press in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1930 to 1940, "Master's thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 1963.]

Laura's note: I read numerous historical accounts of horrific atrocities committed in persecution of Italian immigrants in various areas throughout the United States, and came to the conclusion that, in San Francisco, discrimination against Italians may have been considered somewhat "mild" in comparison. I do remember my mother telling me how she felt when she was growing up (1927-1945 in San Francisco) during the many occasions she was chastised for being a dirty wop or dago [sp?].

Well . . . back to Specific Italian Enclaves . . .

LORSICA - Immigrants from the commune of Lorsica established two main settlements: One in the Richmond District, where about 30% lived in a few blocks north of Geary, and the other in the two tracts A3 and A4, wherein another 37% lived in the Columbus Ave area along Greenwich and Filbert Streets.

Other Lorsicans lived in the Mission District (10%), Portola (9%), and Potrero (6%). Most immigrants of Lorsica in tracts A3 and A4 (69%) were from the town of Lorsica.

Those in Richmond were mostly from the Lorsican village of Verzi (73%). The Lorsican immigrants in other districts (Mission, Portola, and Potrero) were from four of the other six villages in Lorsica. Almost no one migrated to San Francisco from Lorsican villages of Costafinale and Barbagalaria; most from there went to South America.

SESTRI LEVANTE - Immigrants from the commune of Sestri Levante settled in two main areas: 38% in Tract A1 and A3 between Bay Street and the next street south, Francisco, and 40% in A5, on the south side of North Beach around Sansome St between Vallejo and Pacific. Most of those who settled in A1 and A3 were fishermen from Riva Trigoso, a village of Sestri; those in A5 were from the main town of Sestri Levante.

PORCARI and LUCCA - Immigrants from Porcari and Lucca lived in almost every section where Italians settled, and in no San Francisco district was there a significantly larger settlement from the two towns than in any other district. The immigrants from Porcari and Lucca were generally dispersed among other Italians and people of other nationalities.

Of those from PORICARI, about 5% lived in Richmond, 8% in Mission, 10% in Bayview, 9% in Potrero, 12% in the two tracts B4 and B5, and smaller percentages in other parts of town.

Of those from from LUCCA, 7% lived in the Richmond District, 10% in the Mission; 11% in Portola, 13% in Bayview, 10% in Potrero, 11% in B4 and B5 (where Porcari immigrants also settled), 10% in A4, 7% in A5, and the rest in other parts of the city.

VERBICARO - About 60% lived in converging edges of A7, A8, and A9, the area round Leavenworth south of Green and north of Washington.

TRABIA - About 74% lived in a settlement between Army and Pennsylvania Streets. Less than 7% settled in North Beach; 8% in Mission, and about 10% in the Richmond District.

PALERMO - About 45% of those from Palermo settled in the southwestern section of the Potrero District; 35% in North Beach, mostly in tracts A5 and A3; the remaining 20% were divided between the Mission and Richmond Districts.

GENOA -About 35% settled in the southwestern section of Potrero, 20% in Richmond (with immigrants from Lorsica), 15% in Mission, and the remaining 30% in North Beach.

In the 1930s, 35 percent of pre-World War I Italian immigrants still lived within the confines of Little Italy, and 80 percent of post-World War I arrivals lived in North Beach. However, after the war, a generation that had just grown up moved to the Richmond District or Marin County, areas that weren’t ethnically dominated. At the same time, these first and second generation Italian-Americans often returned to North Beach for church, shopping, and dining out.

The center of the neighborhood was Washington Square, dominated since 1884 by Saints Peter and Paul Church. The priests worked hard to combat the anti-clericalism that was prevalent in Little Italy, fostered by Italian nationalism, the Freemasons, benevolent societies, and anarchists. Two key elements of this project were citizenship and learning English.

Before World War II, second-generation Italian-Americans began to move out of the Little Italy sections of Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach, and Telegraph Hill. This exodus became even larger after the war. This was mainly due to the growth of suburbanization in the San Francisco Bay area in general, as new families sought independent housing of their own.

Adding to this flight was a recalibration of identity by the younger generations that sought to emphasize the American, rather than the Italian. Having seen the internment and hearings affect their parents' generation, the Italian-Americans that came of age in the forties and fifties sought to purge questions about their national loyalties. On top of that, the Italian schools that had sprung up in the 1930s were gone, leading to a generation that had never been to Italy, nor did it speak its language.

As a result of this flight, the areas that had become associated with Little Italy became influenced by outsiders. Most notorious was North Beach, which became more known for its strip clubs and adult stores than its Italian restaurants. And even the restaurants only served to remind patrons of the past, as North Beach's population was populated by Americans of many different origins.
Today, the areas associated with Little Italy, especially North Beach, retain reminders of its ethnic roots. At the same time, the neighborhoods have become diversified, as the need to maintain an exclusive community dissipated.

Italian Theater
Italian Opera was brought to San Francisco in 1851. Soon other forms of performance art graced San Francisco's halls, as the city became a prime destination for performers, both Italian-born and American. The first major figure in Italian theater was Antonietta Pisanelli, who was the first established professional entertainer in the Italian community. Not only did Pisanelli sing and act, she molded the various amateur drama groups in the city into a professional theater company.

Just as it did to most of the pillars of the Italian colony, the 1906 earthquake devastated the Teatro Bersaglieri, which was the center of the San Francisco theater scene. Pisanelli opened three nickelodeon-type theaters, and it was in one of these, the Bijou, that the Stenterello character emerged. By this time, the Stenterello character had evolved from a xenophobe who favored Italian unification and independence to a man on the Florentine man on the street, a living connection between Little Italy and the mother country. This character's popularity faded as a new attempt to be identified as American emerged in the colony.

The other major industry for the first and second generation of Italian immigrants to California was fishing. It had been a search for fishing grounds that brought the first Italians to California, and California's many harbors and pleasant climate convinced a large number of fishermen to stay. There were a variety of reasons that Italians captured the San Francisco fishing industry, but this did not mean that the domination did not come without a fight. The Italians who came to fish the San Francisco Bay already had experience as fishermen and had boats that were ideally suited for the Bay. They were able to adapt to improvements in technology, whether it was switching from sailboats to motorized ones, or their use of the paranzella net, which proved to be too efficient. Also key in their capture of the fishing industry was the general prejudice in California against their principal rivals, the Chinese. Italians built fishing colonies in other harbors as well. The Genovese built large communities in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, while the Sicilians flourished in Monterey.

It was in the fishing industry that most of the conflicts between the more established Genoese and the Sicilian newcomers came to light. Indeed, conflict was a recurring theme in the history of fishing in San Francisco Bay, as the more established and successful fishermen banded together and bought tugboats, allowing them to catch larger amounts of fish further out at sea.

The 1900s and 1910s were decades in which independent fishermen were forced to fight for their economic lives against the Fish Trust of the wealthier fishermen and merchants. Most famous of these was Achille Paladini, who owned a company that included five boats, tow trucks, and had seventy-five employees by 1915. Although admired as an innovator for among other things, being the first to can tuna on the Pacific coast, he was reviled as a monopolist. His underselling of competition in order to drive them out of business got him in hot water with the government multiple times. But Paladini's legal problems were small compared with what other Italian-Americans were about to face.

Wine and Agriculture
Perhaps even more famous than California's Italian banking is its Italian wine-making. The ability of California's climate to sustain wine-making operations was a primary reason for many of the Ligurians to immigrate. Some of the more famous wineries such as the Italian-Swiss colony, which was presided over by Pietro Rossi, and Sutter Home were founded in the 1880s and 1890s. Families would often either send their sons to university or hire a graduate of University of California, Berkeleys programs related to venting. Although they initially met success in the Italian immigrant community, Californian wineries began to experience financial success outside of it as well.

There were, however, two major setbacks to this success story. The first was the devastation of the southern Californian wineries in the 1890s by Pierce's Disease. The second was the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920. Wineries were forced to scramble for their economic lives and some were forced to close. Those that survived marketed their products as sacramental wine or medicinal elixirs. But the repeal of the 18th amendment in 1932 made the wineries that did survive profitable again and cemented the perception of the general public that the wine industry was most closely tied to California’s Italian-Americans.

Italians in California did not confine themselves to winemaking.

The Giardinieri (or gardeners) developed a thriving industry growing produce on the outskirts of San Francisco. The size of the gardens ranged from small plots on the edge of town to large ranches. The small plots often grew smaller vegetables that were sold at the daily market, while the larger properties grew heavier vegetables for export.

In 1874, the Colombo Market was organized on Davis Street between Front and Pacific. Farmers would bring their vegetables by horse-drawn wagon past grocers, hotels, ships, and private residences before setting up shop in their market stalls.

In the 1930s, at Little Italy's population peak, approximately 50 percent of its inhabitants were involved in agriculture. Not all of these people were able to afford their own plots. Many "birds of a feather," especially young, single men, would work in California as agricultural workers during the spring and summer, and travel to South America to perform the same services in the winter and fall.

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my Email:
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