A View From Morgan Street
By Sara Amato Loconte
Contributors: Dinah and Anthony “Hooker” Troianello
Our Morgan Street (1000 west) was one of the many neighborhoods within the boundaries of the legendary Taylor Street’s “Little ltaly.” Two blocks East of us was the well known Taylor and Halsted area with its bustling shopping district. Halsted street (800 west) was the equivalent of a giant outdoor shopping mall where the residents throughout Taylor Street’s Little Italy did their major shopping. One block west of us was Sheridan Park. The boundaries of Taylor Street’s Little Italy extended as far west as Western Avenue(2400 west).
Our section of Little Italy, two blocks west of Halsted, harbored four grocery stores that serviced the day-to-day needs of its residents.
- My folks, Frank and Jennie (nee Frasco) Amato ran the grocery store located at 716 S. Morgan…nearLexington Street. The other three were:
- “Paul’s” located on Morgan Street, north of Vernon Park and South of Harrison Street, where, in the late 1940’s, a fireworks display would be held in the empty lot next to Paul’s store,
- DiPiano’s on Morgan & VernonPark, and
- Panico’s on the southeast corner of Miller Street and Vernon Park.
As an aside: Directly across from 716 South Morgan Street is now the site of an administrative building for the UIC. A fire hydrant still stands in front of the site which marks the building where our family store once stood.
In the beginning
The history of “Jennie Frasco’s…” begins with my uncle Sam Frasco renting the store front at716 South Morgan Street. His parents, Francesco and Rosaria Frasco, who both emigrated from Ragusa,Sicilyin 1911, operated the store. Francesco’s family surname was actually Frasca. However when he passed through Ellis Island, the “a” at the end of his name was changed to an “o.” Not an uncommon occurrence for Italians emigrants passing through Ellis Island. And so it stood as Frasco rather than Frasca! No point in riling up the immigration authorities!!
Francesco & Rosario Frasco later purchased two buildings onLexington Street, namely,938-942 West Lexington Street. A courtyard separated the two buildings and with six apartments between the two buildings resided three of the Frasco’s children & spouses. They included Raffaella (nee Frasco) & John Corallo, Jennie (nee Frasco) & Frank Amato and Dr. John & Emily Frasco. Upon their retirement in 1945, my parents, Frank and Jennie Amato purchased the two-story building at 716 South Morgan Street, which housed the storefront. Upon purchasing the building from the Mele family, they moved from 938 So, Lexington Streett to 716 So. Morgan Street.
Frank passed away in 1951 and Jennie continued to operate the business until 1959 when the property was acquired to make way for the UIC. Groceries were given to customers on a credit basis; the book ledger included customers that paid monthly; white paper bags held together by a large safety pin included customers that paid weekly. Although Jennie’s surname was now Amato, the store was known as “Jennie Frasco’s.” She was there 365 days a year, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. She never turned away a customer. Even on holidays, all a customer need do is knock on the store front window with a coin and the door would be open to accommodate their needs for an item that completed their holiday dinner.
After the death of my father Frank, my mother, brother Biagio and I lived in the apartment behind the grocery store. My sister Sylvia, her husband, Angelo Manno, and their nine month old son, Tommy, took the apartment upstairs from the store. Often, my aunt, Carmella (Frasco) Musillami, who married Joseph Musillami of Nea Agora, my sister Sylvia and my mother Jennie’s godchild, Angie Piscotti, would relieve my mother in the store. My brother and I were young when our father passed away and we were still attending school.
Groceries were given to families whose bread-winner was called to the service during WWII. Most payments were withheld until the breadwinner returned. Our “Little Italy” held neighbors who, to this day, consider ourselves to be family. Those families included the Alghinis, Amaros, Briattas, Corallos, Cantores, Costanzos, Caliendos, Carsos, Calcagnos, Crisciones, Certas, Dannos, Delvecchios, Demondos, Di Georgios, Dulleys, Faracos, Farbos, Klappass, Karamanis, Lopezs, Lanzitos, Lucianos, LaBiancos, Marzullos, Mirabellas, Musillamis, Montes, Mannos, Palmes, Paynes, Pocius, Piscottis, Punzos, Redas, Rizzas, Scilingos, Serianos, Tullios, Troianellos, and Zitos.
And Jennie Frasco was at the center of it all. Her day began with her opening the doors to delivery men at 6 am. Because she felt their needs, she overlooked the fact that a customer took two sticks of butter but paid for one…or someone bagged thirteen “morning sweet rolls” instead of a dozen. Her generosity and trust were paid back by all those who had a credit line. Jennie passed away in 1974. People came from all over to pay their respects. One even traveling on three buses from Blue Island, Illinois, to attend Jennie’s funeral service. Just one example of how appreciative people were of my mother’s empathy and generosity during their family’s time of need.
In retrospect, apologies are extended for any establishments or neighbors not mentioned , as 48 years have past since leaving 7l6 South Morgan Street. But the memories of all the customers and non-customers alike, and the time spent together, growing up in our part of Little Italy, will always be foremost in our minds. And to my mother, Jennie Fraco Amato, I thank her for the lessons she taught by example: generosity, kindness, love of family and neighbors, and most of all, not to be afraid of hard work.
A promise kept.
Your loving daughter,
Sara Amato Loconte
A View from Morgan Street:
The Taylor Street Archives has a variety of stories about how it was growing up Taylor Street. Each story: Tirtilli’s, Tri Taylor,Peoria Street,Taylor Halsted, etc., has its own perception of that reality and contributes to the larger story of “Growing up Taylor Street.” We were Morgan Street. This is our contribution to that mosaic.
On many hot and humid summer days, a board was propped directly under the opening of that hydrant. When they turned on the hydrant, the Morgan Street residents had their own water fountain. City crews would regularly come by to turn off the hydrant because Morgan Street was well-traveled by trucks delivering goods, or making their way to and from the Produce Market on Randolph Street. The on again-and-off again game typically went on until sunset. We also had horse & wagon proprietors traveling up and down our street selling a variety of goods and services:–fresh fruits & vegetables, blocks of ice, diapers & laundry service and fresh milk trucks. Hand driven carts frequented us as well:– from some we purchased snow-cones and others sharpened our knives and scissors.
A variety of services to the residents were neatly contained on Morgan Street. They included: Reda’s Funeral Home, Nick Manno’s Pool Hall, Uncle Harry’s Home-made Lemonade, The Friendly Tavern, and Marie Dice’s Cleaning Service. Near Agora’s Slaughter House stood directly east of Morgan Street on Lexington Street adjacent to an empty lot which housed the Music and Beer Garden for the annual San Nicole feast held on Morgan Street. On Polk Street, east of Morgan Street stood Spino’s Restaurant, Alghini’s Macaroni Factory and James Montana’s Law Offices.
The empty lot next to Spino’s Restaurant had a baseball diamond where the Morgan Street Baseball Team held many games on Sunday afternoons. Tony Amaro’s Lamb Shop stood on the corner of Lexington & Blue Island Avenue. North of Vernon Park Pl were Al’s Butcher Shop and Naple’s Laundry Service. Further north, on the corner of Harrison and Morgan, was a drug store where they served 6 cents sundaes and twenty-five cent soda water.
Our area of “Little ltaly,” from east to west included Blue Island Avenue to Racine Avenue and Polk to Harrison Streets from south to north. Included in the myriad of businesses and establishments that flourished within this area was Nea Agora’s Packing House & Butcher Shop owned by our uncle, Joseph “Bins” Musillami. Today, Nea Agora is still in business on Taylor & Carpenter Streets. It is operated by his step-son Joey Pietrczyk & second wife Rose. There was The Greek Bakery on Blue Island and Polk Street. Further north on Harrison Street was the Greek Candle Store, Athens Restaurant, Nick’s Fish Market and a drug store.
Blue Island Avenue ran the open Street cars which for a small fare carried residents to the Loop. Its route took it to the Monroe Theatre in the loop where its return journey began:– past the Post Office and Union Station and back to Blue Island Avenue-our home turf. Blue Island & Harrison Streets was also the highlight of the Greek Parade, which was held each year. A must-see for all residents of our area and then some. Let’s not forget the Greek hand driven carts where fresh sweet corn was roasted and sold for five cents. I can still smell the aroma of that corn!
Then there was and still is Tufano’s Pizza Parlor on Vernon Park and Carpenter Streets; Vittorio’s Meats and Provisions and Sawyer’s Cookie Factory were both on Harrison & Carpenter Streets; Fontana’s Grocery Store & Rosie’s Sandwich Shop on Polk and Carpenter; and Tricarrico’s grocery store on Polk & Miller Streets. All contributed to the services of the residents and the residents in turn supported their establishments.
Mother Cabrini Hospital, onRacine Avenue, is where we all received polio shots during the’50’s. Jackson Elementary School, on Carpenter Street, is where most children from our area attended first through eighth grades. Sheridan Park is where we watched baseball games, fell down trying to ice skate and went swimming in summer. Our churches included Holy Guardian Angel on Arthington, east of Halsted Street, and Our Lady of Pompeii, west of Racine Avenue on Lexington Street, which still stands. Peanut Park is across the street from Pompeii Church, which is now Our Lady of Pompeii Shrine.
Sara, Dinah and Anthony