Monday, February 14, 2011

Little Italy Valentine

The Italian Food Center opened on Grand and Mulberry in 1954. It more recently lost its lease and shuttered without much of a peep. A restaurant will soon be moving in. In the meantime, some of the metal siding has been removed along Mulberry, revealing brick underneath. On those bricks is a bounty of graffiti from an older Little Italy.



How old, I don't know--from the days before those turquoise metal sheets went up on the Food Center, whenever that was. Other signs of its age? The paint here was mostly put on with a brush, not with a spray can. And the language is old, from a more innocent time. There isn't a single "fuck" in the bunch.



There are "The Best Girls," aka, "The Great & Best," E.D. and C.D., their initials put on with some kind of faded mustard color. Were they sisters?

In blocky, black, brushed-on paint, there's The Mulberry...perhaps a missing word like Crew or Gang? Again, there's C.D. at the top, followed by a list of other initials. Who was C.D.? This would've been her corner, back in the day. I'm imagining a tough girl, a leader, with a name like Connie DiNucci or Carol-Anne D'Angelis. Maybe she favored toreador pants and bolero vests. Maybe she snapped her gum. Maybe they called her Connie from the Corner.



The names on the wall are from an older New York, too.

Nowhere is there a Josh or a Caitlyn or an Ethan or a Madison.
There's a Sal and a Marie. There are "Pals" John, Joe, and Anthony. Was Joe ever called Joey, as in Pal Joey? Whatever happened to the word pal, anyway?



And there is at least one couple, their love spelled out in what looks like Magic Marker, scripted in a tidy, girlish variation on the Palmer Method: Louise & Johnny.

It's Valentine's Day, however many years later, and I wonder whatever happened to these two. Are they still together? Did their love live as long as the valentine that Louise (I'm pretty sure it was she) inscribed here while sitting on Johnny's shoulders to reach the highest spot she could, high enough so no one could cover it with other names, high enough to be seen from down the block? Did their love outlive the Italian Food Center, too?

Louise and Johnny, C.D. and E.D., Joey and pals--if you're out there, let us know. Soon, your names, and all the others, will be covered once again and lost.

19 comments:

Lindsay said...

Sad to hear it lost its lease. I was hoping it would reopen. I really enjoy this post!

Marty Wombacher said...

Nice post and that last photo with the "Louise and Johnny" sig is a nice Valentine. Happy Valentine's day, pal and to everybody out there.

BaHa said...

Oh, no...I loved that place. The blandification continues.

Anonymous said...

FYI: Building bought by Iranian. Plans chic restaurant/bar, hip basement nightclub, and perhaps hotel.

esquared said...

"...the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls
..." and on these graffiti brick walls

Melanie said...

Nice piece Jeremiah. I wonder what happened to Anthony and the rest too!!I hope they see this and write in!!

Anonymous said...

Ah, crap...back in the day, they
used to make an Italian hero worth
traveling for, and a bench outside
on the street to eat it on.

James Taylor said...

"Man, the poets round here don't write nothing at all/They just stand back and let it all be."

I love how you gave life to these ancient scrawls. Lovely photos and well-written post.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks. i hope someone from the wall writes in, too.

Iranian nightclub and hotel? are you sure???

Tricia said...

I'm sad about the Italian Food Center closing but lovelovelove this post. Especially the part about Louise and Johnny. Most imaginative valentine I've seen all day.

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah - Building bought by Iranian man (paid cash). Booted Italian Food Center and most residents. Currently excavating basement for nightclub, and renovating for bar/restaurant. Hotel is in planning stages.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, that news makes me sad. What a shame... right in the heart of little italy

John A. said...

Louise and Johnny is me and my first girl firend. Grace Ann and Tommy are friends of mine. Grace Ann is John from Cafe Palermo's sister

Jeremiah Moss said...

John A., thanks for writing. so glad you found us. about what year was that?

i'd love to hear more--can you email me at jeremoss@yahoo dot com?

Anonymous said...

FYI: talked to new owners. they are keeping the theme behind The Italian food center. Prob keeping the name too. Pizza/Delicatessen but adding a nice Bar. Also mentioned a basement dining. That would be really cool. I loved it before but it def could have used a facelift! The Blue outside was gross. Think its going to be great.

ralph said...

talked to the owner today. Their layout looks amazing for The Italian Food Center. They are keeping the name. I am happy they are keeping some history in this area.

Bob96 said...

The shop was owned for some time by the DiMattia family; Joe DiMattia was a family freid from Brooklyn, where his family had another salumeria on Union St. and Fifth Avenue. He was a good guy. In recent years, the Grand St store got sloppy and unappealing--I believe he'd sold it by then. RIP.

Dianna // aestheticLOVEstory said...

Great post! Without realizing the backstory, I had posted the "PALS" graffiti on my own blog, and a friend swooped over and posted a link to this post in my comments. I kinda find it tacky to post links on other blogs, but I thought I'd share: http://aestheticlovestory.blogspot.com/2011/05/etc-i-ny-1000-words-not-less.html

Do with it what you will. I enjoy the theme of your blog very much...keep it coming!

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Diana--no worries about the link, always good to see folks caring about the same things.