Every picture tells a story

Posted: October 5th, 2018 | Featured, Little Italy Heritage | No Comments

By Tom Cesarini | Little Italy Culture & Heritage

San Diego’s Little Italy has fast become a neighborhood bathed in an urban chic sensibility and one with its own mythos. But before the contemporary convergence of myriad restaurants and retailers, the neighborhood had modest beginnings with its history going back hundreds of years. It is a collective tale of immigration and assimilation — and an overarching theme focused on the individuals and families that helped to shape a neighborhood, a waterfront, and a city. The preservation of San Diego’s Italian historical narrative is a core component of the Convivio mission and vision.

To that end, with the Italian American Archives, Convivio strives to collect, catalog, and convey the stories of Italian-Americans through photographs, oral histories, exhibits, and other projects. Visit to view our digital archives, and you can also contribute your historical photographs to our project by contacting us.

The Felix Liquor Shop, portrayed in the mid-1930s, was located on the main thoroughfare in Little Italy, but just outside the heart of the neighborhood on India Street. It was owned by Anna Motisi. In addition to Felix Liquor Shop, a handful of other groceries were established in the neighborhood; among them were Italo’s, DeFalco’s, and the Bernardini Grocer, located where La Pensione Hotel now stands on India Street (Courtesy of the Motisi family and the Convivio Italian American Archives.)

You can also host your own “Shoebox Night,” and we will come speak to your group and host a free digitization evening for your constituents! Help us to preserve the stories that contributed to San Diego’s Italian community and to the tapestry of our multicultural city.

Processions were of vital important to the parishioners of Little Italy’s parish, Our Lady of the Rosary, and remain so to this day. In this image, circa 1945, the San Diego County Administration building is prominent in the background. The procession is heading toward the wharf, as was customary, culminating in the return to the church (Courtesy of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish and the Convivio Italian American Archives.)

Cultural excursions

Our morning or early evening walking tours are a great way to learn about Little Italy’s past while enjoying a traditional Sicilian breakfast or Italian aperitivo at dusk.

Confetti flies as family and friends prepare for a festive outing aboard the Conte Verde, owned by the Massa and Castagnola families in the late 1920s. The Star of India, the world’s oldest active ship and an emblem of the fishing industry and harbor life in San Diego to this day, is anchored behind (Courtesy of the Massa, Castagnola, Vattuone, and Zolezzi families and the Convivio Italian American Archives.)

Check our calendar online for our tour schedule.

Cousins Tom Cresci and Florence DeLuca sit atop a classic automobile in 1947. In the background is Bay City Drugstore, established by Emilio and Giulia Giolzetti in 1931. A modern mural included this photograph as its centerpiece during the Little Italy revitalization (Courtesy of the Cresci family and the Convivio Italian American Archives.)

—Tom Cesarini is the executive director of Convivio. Reach him at

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