Maple Hill was a peaceful neighborhood in 1905, populated mostly by immigrants from Sweden and Poland. The ethnic flavor of the neighborhood began to change over the next two decades. Lured by work on the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads, Italians began making their way west from Chicago. By 1920, the area bordered by Hennepin Avenue on the south, Fillmore Street on the west, Broadway on the north and Johnson Street on the east housed 44% of Minneapolis’ Italian population, which then numbered 766.
Most of them originated from southern Italy. Many, like the Iaquinto family, came from the Calabria region, the “toe” of the Italian boot. Others, such as the Ferrara family, hailed from Puglia, the “heel.” As with today’s immigrants, many faced a language barrier and prejudice.
In the 1970s, the Beltrami Ethnic History project interviewed some of the older residents in the neighborhood. One, May, told them, “We were looked down on. We were called (should I say it?) dagos, wops, guineas and foreigners. Yet we were all good, hard-working people, but our inability to speak cast us into these categories. It was hard for us to get work, except hard labor.”
The newcomers were aided greatly by the Minneapolis League of Catholic Women and by Margaret Barry, who opened a settlement house at 759 Pierce Street NE in 1912. Barry was an Irish immigrant, so she understood the problems they faced. At the settlement house, immigrants could learn English or take prenatal classes. Cooking and sewing classes were offered, as well as a Boy Scout troop, music, drama, dental care and employment help. The Italians didn’t have a church of their own, so they worshipped in a room at the Margaret Barry House.
As the Italians continued to move into Maple Hill, the Swedes began to move out. In 1938, they sold their church on the corner of Fillmore and Spring, First United Brethren, to the immigrants, who renamed it Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. If the Margaret Barry House was the heart of the neighborhood, the church was its soul. Archbishop John Ireland appointed Father Malley as pastor to the congregation. Art Maxwell, a retired Minneapolis police officer who grew up in Beltrami, recalled that Malley was educated at North American College in Rome, where he became fluent in Italian. “He heard confessions and read the Gospel in Italian,” he said.
Families, gardens, kids and “Dog Town”
During the summer, kids and dogs roamed the neighborhood freely. The kids played in the former Maple Hill Cemetery, which became Beltrami Park when leaders in the community in 1916 persuaded Park Board officials to name it after Giacomo Constantine Beltrami, an Italian explorer who thought he had found the source of the Mississippi River in 1823. Gambling was a favorite pastime of Italian men. Maxwell remembers being paid a quarter to keep an eye out for the police while men played craps at a concrete picnic table in the park.
According to one immigrant quoted by the Beltrami Ethnic History project, there was a dog pound behind the Pierce School on Fillmore between Spring and Summer, and the neighborhood became known as Dog Town because of the large number of dogs in the area.
Beltrami was also known for large families (the Yates family on Buchanan Street had 18 children!) and large gardens. Some Italians, such as Gaitano Ferraro, made a living delivering fresh fruits and vegetables via horse-drawn wagon. Years later, Frank Ferraro employed neighborhood kids to deliver his corn, tomatoes, peppers and melons. The Ferraro family held one of the few remaining licenses to sell vegetables door to door in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Others, such as the Spanos, Ruscianos, Schullos and Delmonicos, opened little grocery stores.
Delmonico’s, started by Vincenzo Delmonico in 1929, specialized in Italian foods. It reportedly was the first Minneapolis grocery store to take phone orders and make home deliveries. Delmonico’s went quietly out of business in 2014 when cousins Bob and Terry, the third generation to run the store, decided to retire.
Bob Lepora, a Beltrami native who now lives in Bloomington, recalled working at Rusciano’s, where the family made pizzas and froze them for people to take home and bake, sort of the Papa Murphy’s of the day.
Still others entered the restaurant business. One was Joseph Piazza, who established the Café Di Napoli in downtown Minneapolis in 1938. A place where many Minneapolitans learned to twirl spaghetti on a fork, it operated on Hennepin Avenue until 2005.
Another was Rosenella Cruciani, born in the neighborhood in 1915. A high school dropout (she left Edison at age 16), she was earning $2.50 a week doing housework when she married Jim Totino, a baker who’d dropped out of school in ninth grade.
To persuade local bankers to lend them money to start a restaurant, they baked a pizza, which Rose had learned about from relatives in Pennsylvania. They opened Totino’s Italian Kitchen at the intersection of Central and East Hennepin in 1951. It was a neighborhood fixture until 2007, when it was replaced by an apartment building.
The Totinos struggled in the beginning. Their daughter, Bonnie, recalled, “One day a gentleman from the bank called and asked my mother if he could review a cash flow statement. Without hesitation, my mother replied, ‘I can assure you, sir, I don’t see any cash flowing around here.’”
The Totinos began a frozen pizza business in Fridley in 1971 and by 1975, they were the No. 2 seller of frozen pizza in the nation. In 1979, Rose patented a formula for frozen pizza crust dough. Pillsbury bought them out for $22 million in 2001. Rose was inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame and the Frozen Food Hall of Fame.
Another famous Beltrami-born restaurateur was Giovanna Philomena Iaquinto. In 1940, she married Eugenio D’Agostino, a candy maker at the Mars Candy Company, which was headquartered in Minneapolis until 1929. The D’Agostinos moved to Chicago, but Giovanna came back to Minneapolis in the 1970s to help her son, Sam, run Sammy D’s in Dinkytown, where she fed and advised U students. On St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) each year, she threw the doors of Sammy D’s open and offered a free meal to anyone who entered. “Mama D” gave cooking classes (and moral counsel) to prison inmates. She also authored three cookbooks, and plugged them on national television shows with Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore and Regis Philbin. She ran for mayor against Donald Fraser in 1981 and pulled in 10% of the vote.
Food wasn’t the only business Italians engaged in, however. Tony Ferrara was a bright young man who had been promoted beyond his grade level twice and graduated from high school at a young age. “One day, a solicitor came to my grandmother’s door,” said Ted Ferrara. “Door-to-door marketing was very common back then, and this person was marketing servicing furnaces.” According to family legend, Grandma Ferrara replied, “I’ll consider your services if you give my son a job.”
Sixteen-year-old Tony soon caught on to the heating business. A co-worker asked him to join him in starting a business called The Standard Heating Company in St. Louis. “He was not a very ethical business person,” Ted said. “My dad didn’t like the way they were doing business so he came back to Minneapolis and started Standard Heating in my grandmother’s back yard in 1930. They would take old used furnaces and put them in the back yard and then if somebody needed a furnace but couldn’t afford a new one, they’d fix it up and sell it to them.”
Standard Heating & Air Conditioning is still owned and operated by the Ferrara family. Tony’s great-great granddaughter, Claire, is president. Like her father, Todd, and grandfather Ted before her, she worked her way into the business.
The notorious element
Every neighborhood has its ne’er-do-wells, and Beltrami was no exception. Art Maxwell remembered a bar owner who was a “Mafioso wannabe.” “He had friends who worked at the Munsingwear factory,” he said. “He persuaded them to steal clothing from the factory and then he’d sell it around the neighborhood. I remember he brought nightgowns and spread them out all over our living room so my mom could choose some for Christmas gifts.” The would-be clothing merchant met his downfall when he tried to sell Munsingwear clothing at a booth at the Minnesota State Fair. “Munsingwear got wind of it, and he was soon out of business,” Maxwell said.
Perhaps the most notorious person from Beltrami was Rocco Salvatore Lupino, otherwise known as Rocky.
His juvenile rap sheet listed 15 offenses, beginning with a robbery in 1934. A safecracker, he was arrested eight times in Kansas City for burglary and suspected in New Orleans for at least four. In 1953, he was sentenced to 80 years in prison for the kidnapping and murder of Tony DeVito, a member of his burglary ring. DeVito and Lupino had been arrested, along with three others, after a South Carolina supermarket robbery. DeVito evidently signed a statement, and disappeared shortly afterward. DeVito’s body was never found.
Lupino was released from Stillwater Prison in 1971, but was soon back in custody for possessing a hand gun. He continued to move in and out of the prison system. In 1980, he and Raymon Clark Ferry were arrested in the murder and disappearance of a Skokie, Ill., jeweler. Federal authorities charged him with racketeering in the case. He was held in the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., then transferred to the Greene County Jail, where he waited for extradition to Indiana.
On Feb. 2, 1982, Rocky Lupino was found hanging by a bedsheet in the Greene County Jail. His funeral took place at the Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel on 29th and Johnson Street NE.
Brenny, Bonnie Totino, “My Mother’s Legacy,” Minnesota Historical Society, mnhs.org
Brown, Curt, “Rose Totino brought pizza to masses: ‘Money never changed her,’” Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 14, 2019
Crowley, Caitlin, “Nancy Piazza’s Calico Bodice: Italian Immigration in Minnesota,” Hennepin History Museum blog, Hennepinhistory.org
Harlow, Tim, “Twin Cities’ Mama D fed the famous and the needy,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 19, 2009
Holmquist, June Drenning, They Chose Minnesota, A Survey of the State’s Ethnic Groups, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, 1981
Mancina-Batinich, Mary Ellen, Italian Voices: Making Minnesota Our Home, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, 2007
Morrow, Barry, “The Beltrami Neighborhood Remembered,” Common Ground, Spring 1974
Criminal history file of Rocky S. Lupino, Minnesota Historical Society, mnhs.org
Wangstad, Wayne, “Era ends with Rocky Lupino’s death,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, Feb. 3, 1982
Below: Graduation at Margaret Barry House. Northeasters celebrate at the Italian American Club’s 2017 4th of July picnic. The club is holding their Taste of Italy fundraiser for scholarships at the Moose Sunday, April 25. (Photo by Mark Peterson)