Izzy's World: Life on Bloomfield's Lorigan Street

Quieter, tamer and mixed, the street remains close and friendly

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Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
Sam DeProspo, left, shares a laugh with Izzy Sanchioli during ameeting on Lorigan Street in Bloomfield. DeProspo used to work for Sanchioli at his bakery.
Click photo for larger image
By Diana Nelson Jones
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Audio Slideshow: Spend some time with Isadore "Izzy" Sanchioli as he takes a stroll along Lorigan Street in this multimedia presentation by Diana Nelson Jones and Lake Fong.

Lorigan Street looks like hundreds of streets in Pittsburgh -- kind of narrow, with a lot of skinny row houses, front stoops and little porches. Two blocks off Liberty Avenue, it has a view of Oakland, it's quiet and people hail one another on the sidewalks.

You can find out a little by wandering around, but if you want to know more, everyone you meet says, "Ya gotta talk t' Izzy."

Isadore "Izzy" Sanchioli turned 84 in mid-May. He and his wife, Ann, live in the same house his immigrant parents lived in, and their son John lives with his family upstairs.

Mr. Sanchioli was 2 when his father built the Sanchioli Brothers bakery on Juniper Street, the next street down the hill. The back of the bakery is adjacent to the back of the family's home, and neither property has left family hands since Alessandro and Dora Sanchioli established Bloomfield roots.

Many families have generational ties to the street. David Aiello lives in the grocery his grandfather established in the 1920s. Anna Scuilli, from her front steps, points across the street to show "where my mother lived when she came over from Italy, above the bar."

Lorigan Street used to be so Italian that everyone of a certain age remembers "the German woman," and Mr. Aiello said he remembers from boyhood "a woman who still carried groceries on her head." In an ethnically changing Bloomfield, it remains dominantly Italian, with the early morning aroma of Sanchioli bread wafting over it.

"It took a long time to realize that not everyone in the world was Italian," said Anna Scuilli's son, Steve, who is 48. "I wandered up to Garfield one day [as a kid] and felt like Columbus discovering America."

But transition always gets the best of tradition, even when it nibbles slowly. The little Italian spoken on the street these days spices the conversations of elders like sweet condiments. Increasingly, once-Italian-speaking households are selling their property to outsiders for $40,000 and $50,000.

Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
Isadore "Izzy" Sanchioli -- the 84-year-old sage of Bloomfield's Lorigan Street.
Click photo for larger image.

Walking the street, from Edmond, where it ends, to the crest of the hill where it diverges into a hollow full of auto repair and salvage, Mr. Sanchioli points at house after house that a new, younger person moved into not long ago.

Even with the Independent social club boarded up, and the grocery, pastry and butcher shops gone, the old-timers say the street is better than ever, far more peaceful than in the days of moonshine, with sidewalk trees it didn't used to have, and more young professionals.

Mrs. Sciulli says that frankly, she kind of misses some of the old noise: "I come out on the porch a lot and it's so quiet, I think, 'Where is everybody?' "

When Mr. Sanchioli reminisces, he makes Lorigan come alive. He remembers that "the old Italian church used to have festivities, Saint Rocco day, pin the dollar on the saint, an Italian band and fireworks in the center of the street." The church is now a heating and air conditioning place, and all the homes that lined the road into the hollow are gone.

The street made shocking news about 70 years ago, when a delivery man for a pair of moonshiners came back reporting he had been robbed, to such skepticism that his bosses chained him to a garage door and ice-picked him to death. "The Lorigan barrel murder. This is history," said Mr. Sanchioli. "They cut him up in pieces and threw him off the 40th Street Bridge."

He talks about ethnic gangs defending their turf and craps games on the street corners at night. He alludes to his own wild days as a young man who liked to ride his motorcycle and deliver bread for his father. When his father collapsed and died several months later, he said, "I didn't even know how to make a dough because he didn't want me to work in the shop. He wanted me to be the boss.

Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
Izzy and Ann Sanchioli snuggle under a picture of the Italian village church where his mother attended Mass until immigrating to the United States.
Click photo for larger image.

"My mother had to come down and show me how to make dough. My little old mother. Me and my brother had a rough time, but there was a bakery strike and people needed bread, so everything I made, even if it didn't look too good, people bought it. Then I started wising up. You gotta work. You can't be playing around expecting to make a nice bread.

"That's what I did, pizza shells, bread," -- 1,000 loaves a day -- "and I made a good living, raised my family. My sons [John and Al] are doing better maybe, but they have more costs."

He puts in a few of his retirement hours a day at the shop -- "I've got to keep my nose in it a little bit, but I keep my mouth shut." Rather, he tries to keep his mouth shut. He smiled about his compunction to hover, to dot i's and cross t's, "like turning the lights out if the sun's shining, that kind of thing. You have to know when to turn lights out when you don't need them."

He makes the daily walk to Juniper along Cedarville Street, too, to see all the old customers from the neighborhood. "Old-timers walk down to buy bread wholesale in the morning," he said. "If an old-timer wants to come down and see me, great."

He trades bread for hair cuts from his friend and barber Tony Lupone and bread for wine from people who still make wine at home. He considers his two sons who don't like his nagging but love what he learned to love, carrying on what his own father left Italy to do. "He knew nothing but poverty in Italy. He'd be so proud of them."

Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.


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