Original Little Italy in NYC – Local’s Perspective

Jul 10, 2021 529.7K Views 1.5K Comments

Join local Italian American (Rich Mancuso) and me as we walk back in time to the 60s to hear Rich’s stories about the Italian Mafia, family life, and the delicious food found in New York City’s original Italian neighborhood.

What that?
Yeah
Sports journalist almost 40 years
Who’s this guy on your card?
It’s Gio Gonzales, my…
He just retired
We became buddies
I became his lucky charm
Whenever I covered a game of his, he won
We’ll go 187th
and look at the pastry shop
go up my old block
And some of the good restaurants
we would go to are closed today
I forgot it’s Monday
Yeah, it’s Monday
Oh, this is nice. Look at these
parklets are really nice
This place is still open
This is Italian, right?
Yeah
Dominick’s?
Dominick’s was like uhh…
family style
You walk in, no menu
What do you want today?
No bill at the end
“Uhh, give me 25 dollars and 60 cents”
You’re from Italy?
Yeah, I’m from Naples. I’m Neapolitan
I’m not Italian
That’s where my family is from
Two generations back
How does it feel being an Italian
coming to the States?
What are your thoughts about the US?
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What I say to everybody, you know
USA probably is the only country in the world
that they still give it to everybody an opportunity
You know, I work like a dog
for the last 11 years
but, you know
I gotta do one restaurant
I’ve got a second one
I bought my car
I’m close to buying my house
you know
Good for you
It’s just something that
people in another country
in 10, 11 years, they never do it
You know, if you come in this country
and you want to
act to it like you act to it in Naples
you know, 2 o’clock I say
“Ah, I have to go take my lunch
and have my break, you know
nap a little bit”
No
Doesn’t work. Doesn’t work
Better you stay home
You don’t survive?
No, better you stay home or
you don’t survive over here
The sauce is always like homemade sauce
we make, you know
Oh, there we go. Nice
We try to squeeze a little bit
like this all the flavor coming up
And when I was asking my grandma for recipe
my grandma, she say
“You don’t need it, you’re Italian”
Gnocchi’s always been my favorite
cus my mother used to make this homemade
And that’s good
That’s good?
It’s all about the sauce.
Yeah, my mother made it fresh
Sunday morning you woke up to that aroma
Right
How is this rate?
Compared to mom’s sauce?
Nothing’s better than mom’s sauce
It’s pretty good sauce though. Yeah?
I’d give this uh…
a ten
A ten?
I love it
That’s huge
If the sauce agrees with me it’s good
And those were Italians working on that bridge
Sacrificing their lives too
A lot of them sacrificed their lives to build
That was their livelihood
and they went into dangerous territory to do it
Underwater, above, wherever
This…
We don’t get enough credit for what we’ve done
You’re proud?
I get emotional
With the Italians or what?
I get emotional because
that’s why we kiss, why we hug
why we kiss
If I love you a lot, if I like you a lot
I’ll give you a kiss on a cheek
Right
It shows
love and gratitude to you
cus it’s “la familia,” we’re family
You can be my friend, but such a good friend
that I call you family
And if you come into my home
I will treat you like family
If you come into town, I will treat you like family
I mean, I’ve got friends that
don’t live here no more
All over the country
Italian
Black
Latino
And I can say they’re like family
Do you need a wheelchair?
No
Rich, after those two meals?
No, I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep last night
“Enzo’s” is a good spot
“Enzo’s” is good?
What’s this place?
Parisian
See when they do outdoor the dining now,
on the weekends
the whole street’s closed off
They’re having outdoor dining
that’s a new thing
They’re keeping this out here?
Yeah
It’s a nice thing, it’s nice
Big wave of Italians came over
19th… The teens, right?
Like twelve through the twenties?
They came one year
and a lot of these tenements
But it was a big wave before
World War I, I believe?
Yeah
This was all farmland
All farmland
Jonas Bronck, he was a Swedish guy
Exactly
And you know the story with him
And the name how the
borough became the Bronx
I do, but I forgot
Cus you don’t call it
the Queens, the Manhattan, the Staten Island
Because the family was the Bronx family
They bought the land from the Native Americans
Yeah. And the borough became
split from Manhattan
I gotta say
in the beginning of our talk
you were saying
neighborhood’s sliding, going downhill
Mm hmm
This is pretty nice
Well…
No?
You know why?
You’re seeing it for the first time
I’m going back to the past
I’m seeing it the way I grew up with it
Right
And you’re seeing it as a visitor
so there’s a difference
Yeah
And generally when people come
to the neighborhood to visit
they don’t come here
What they do is go to Arthur Avenue to eat
and they go home
Let’s get a cannoli or something
We can have it out here if you want
What’s with the Italians
They all put political signs on their doors
What’s with that?
Ahh, they’ve always been that way
They’ve always been that way
Oh, wow
So, this place was around
when you were a kid, right?
Yeah
Different owner…
I think the same family, but…
Cannoli will always be a cannoli
You’re not gonna find a cannoli different anywhere
Unless you leave New York
They’re all the same?
They’re all the same
It’s basically a grilled shell
I worked in the old pastry shop
down here with my brothers
I didn’t last long cus I had problems
I’d always
have more of the cream on me
than putting it in the shell
But we all got hired
by Artuso pastry shop and
that’s what we did
we filled the cannoli shell
They gave us jobs, you know
We’re doing a church
and we’re going to your block, right?
Is this the church?
That’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Old beautiful church
My mother and father got married in there
I got baptized, confirmed in there, the whole bit
Before you do that, homemade
They’re closed, huh?
Borgatti’s
Gotta come back
Here’s the old Roma Cafe
I used to sit here
People lived…
Well, they still do, live above, huh?
“Play street”? Stickball?
It closed in the summer
They had summer programs here
It’s not an Italian mass no more, it’s…
Latin
When I lived here and grew up here
it was always just Saturday or Sunday
People are getting more religious?
Saturday, well, this is you know what?
Because this is uh…
Latinos are very catholic religious
Yep
Ain’t that a beautiful church?
Beautiful
Now, when I go in there, Pete
I get
sentimental
Because that’s
where everything happened
Mother and father were married there
I got baptized, confirmed…
funerals
My father’s funeral was here in 1993
and they had to block off the street
Your old place, right?
Yeah, let’s go to the old block
Those are the moves, those are the moves
Yes, sir! God bless
What about you Richie?
You got some of those moves in you?
No, we used to do the uh…
disco duck
We were disco… disco dancers
You weren’t dropping those moves?
No
There was a payphone here
This is where I used to make my phone calls
Just get out of the house and
a dime a quarter right here
Right here was the payphone?
Right here on this corner
So, you’d come right here, put the dime in
Put the dime in, until I couldn’t talk
Who were you calling?
I used to call girlfriends, I used to call…
whatever
Right here. So, it was
It was mounted in
Yeah, it was over here
So, Rich would come out
Sneaking away from mom and dad
Hey, sweetheart
Yeah, but they used to watch from the window
And I’m gonna show you where that is
See that?
Building’s in great shape
Now, if you look to the extreme right
Uh hah
The right
Yeah
The next to last floor
Yeah
I see myself looking out the window
where that air conditioner is
Second to the end?
Second to the end to the right
Yep, okay
See that air conditioner?
Yep
That was my old bedroom
and I was on that window all the time
My mother and father’s bedroom was next door
And my mother always used to look out that window
And dinner time is 6 o’clock like we heard earlier
She be out there window screaming
Nicholas!
Bobby!
Those are my brothers
Richard!
We knew it was dinner time
And you could hear her voice as far as that way
And so when you’d go to that phone
she could see it from there?
Oh, they knew
I come back in the house
“Who you… Where’d you go?”
“Where’d you get the money from?”
“What were you doing?”
But you know what?
We had a guy around here
He used to get us unlimited
phone calls on the pay phones
Okay
All you had to do is like give him a tip
a dollar, two dollars, if you had of your earnings
Years ago, when I was a kid
we used to have the old ice truck come around
The guy would come around with ice
and sell you ice in a truck
in a little pool truck
I come up here and now I get emotional
This is cus I look at the window
That’s where you were the second to the end?
Yeah, that side
Okay
And non-elevated building
So, figure my mother logging all the groceries
from Arthur Avenue up five flights of stairs
Five or four flights of stairs
She did that almost four, five days a week
And she’d get lost with the traffic
with the people she knew in this neighborhood
Building looks good!
See your mom?
And above me was a neighbor who’s a big Met fan
older fella in the family
I’d be out the window
He’d be above
He would scream at me
“Did you see what the Mets just did?”
I said, “Yeah, Andy, I just saw it”
Cus he was a big Met fan so was I as a kid
I was one of the
lone Met fans on this block in the neighborhood
In fact, there was a guy that lived up the block
a mister know it all bully
Knew I was a Met fan, he’s a Yankee fan
I’m coming home from school one day
talking Mets
He’s insulting me
I got my books with me
including the College Thesaurus
and I would try to respond to him
“You wouldn’t know cus you don’t know
what this book is”
A Thesaurus
“You know what thesaurus is, you moron?”
I just told him this like that
cus I wouldn’t back down
He said, “No, but I wanna see it now”
So, he took the book and he threw it over this roof
An expensive book
Yeah
My mother saw it from the window
cus she was always on that winow
She went berserk, she went nuts
She screamed, “You get that book back for him!”
So what happened was I said you know what?
“You gavone, stay there”
I went around the corner
I went to see the mob guys
I said, “I got a problem”
“Not a big big big, but I got a problem”
You saw the mob guys back there?
I told them. What happened
They ran
They got him, they took care of him
and they told him, “You go on that roof”
“You get that book”
And if it’s damaged, you’re paying for it
for this guy
What did he do?
He went up that roof, got it
paid me for a new one cus it was damaged
How do you like that?
And these walls here…
So, you put a different view…
like you’d have a different look on the mob
than most people?
Of course! Cus they cared! Yeah
So, most people think criminals, killers, you know
If you knew them
and they were good to you
and they knew what I wanted to do
and they saw me with that potential
they were there for me
they helped me
They had a clothesline from the kitchen window
to the adjacent apartment across the way
You’d have to tell the neighbor
I’m hanging up a clothesline, you know?
And everybody then was tight
So, no problem
She’d wash the clothes in the washing machine
the little washing machine
and dry ’em on the line
Sometimes, the clothes would fall down the alley
and she would ask me or one of my brothers
“Can you go down and get it?”
Who lived here?
Fantusi family
The Fantusi family
Italians right from Italy
We played stick ball here
and we played on the next block
What is stickball exactly?
You have a stick and…
You have a broom stick and a spaldeen
you bought in the store for 5 cents
Okay
And you had it. That was it
This this is a block here that
got progressively worse over the years
183rd Street
The school across the street
where I went to public school, PS 32
We all went here
And…
this block just got progressively worse
So, the mob guys were trying to control it
They couldn’t
Wait, the mob couldn’t control this one block?
No
This whole area
Why?
I think they just didn’t wanna get into a war
Just too much of a headache?
Yeah
Gotcha
How you doing?
The Guineas
Wops
Who controls the block now?
You guys do, alright
Ah
Take care you guys
You know, I mean that’s see…
calling us Guineas back then was a war
You don’t call us Guineas
But they knew! They knew!
Uhh…
What was worse, Guinea or Wop?
Both were the same
Neither one was good but…
these buildings have all been renovated
I don’t think the young kids know what
the words mean, do they?
No, but he knew what Guinea was
No, but the meaning of the word…
See, if I would have said
“Yeah, we used to call you Spics”
Yeah, that wouldn’t go over well
No
But I’m saying this younger generation
Doesn’t know the meaning of the word
I wouldn’t call him…
I wouldn’t never call a Latino a Spic
Never
Right, right, right
Never
This is a nice street here, huh?
Yeah, they they did nice here
Ah, it’s beautiful
because these buildings were…
….those buildings
Where’s that? Up here?
It was beautiful?
I remember
Yeah
I remember these were all burnt out buildings
Yeah
I remember
You live here though?
Alright, cool
Cool
Yes
For the better?
I grew up here years ago
But that block near the school
was always a rough block, right?
All the time
All the time
In my day – no
Cus we had mafia in control
Oh that, I heard all of the Little Italy…
I hung out right down here in the club
with the mob
My grandfather’s Italian
he used to tell me a lot of things
No, no, no! I know that
I know
Do the Albanians have a mafia?
Uhh…
In the cigar shops
I wouldn’t be surprised in the cigar shops
You gotta see them in the cigar shops
The way they sit around the table
You would think they they would
You feel me?
It’s like straight out of the movies
Take care, man. Thank you
Be safe
Yeah, he’s a young guy. He knows the story
Ah, great
So, it’s interesting the Albanians
have taken up some of the
control that the Italians had
They own property, they own buildings
Huh…
They’re landlords
They come from over there and
they come here and
I don’t know how they do it but
they own a lot of property
This is where we used to throw rocks at each other
The Beaumonts would be on that side
I’d be… we’d be on the other
This was a vacant lot
We’d have rock fights
You don’t come near us, we don’t come near you
We end it with rocks
Better than guns, huh?
Back then you didn’t settle things with
guns and knives
The only ones that had the guns were the mob
We had rocks and fists
And the cops broke it up fast
You heard a siren – you ran
You saw a cop – you ran
Not today
What happens when people see cops now?
They don’t care
This is where the mob hung out?
Mob guys were here, in here
Stationed right here?
Yeah
What is it now?
That’s cool, so this whole building…
Oh, right, right
The old guys
You know him?
How you doing?
I got all the information
You do?
Are the guys still in the club?
Do they still hang out?
No, they don’t have this club no more
No more, right?
No
I grew up in there with them
Willie Mayes
He passed, right?
Ahhh
Frankie
Frankie Smug
He passed
He passed…
How long ago?
Frankie must have died about 10 years ago
I’m gonna say
He was good to me
I’ve been living in this building 32 years
And
I worked in the building maybe
10 years before I lived here
So I’m here quite a while
So, was the neighbood better
when these mob guys were in control?
Would you say?
Was it safer?
Hard to say?
It’s hard
I’m biracial
I’m Black and Italian
Ohhh, okay
So I got along…
Sometime I would go in the clubs
they would be like, “Ohhh…”
Am I being filmed?
Yeah, is that alright?
Yeah, I don’t care
They were…?
Thery were like, “Ohhh, these n*****s
I would go, “Oh-oh, wait a minute”
Right, right
They would do that but
you know, they didn’t mean it
Then they forgot because I was here all the time
So they kinda forgot that I was biracial
I don’t think they meant it
They didn’t mean it
They didn’t really mean it
Cus they were good to them too
But I was here for years
Joe… Is Joe still around?
Joe just died in December
He was good to me
He sent me to Russia
Joe
Joe sent me to Russia
He had me run the boxing gym
he opened in the neighborhood
So then you know Ray Aso?
Well Ray passed, I know Ray passed
Yes
Ray and I used to go at war all the time
Right
Ray fought with everybody
Everyone, but I loved him
I didn’t know Frankie died
I didn’t know that
Frankie died a long time ago
I think Frankie died, he was like 80 years old
Oh, he was good to me
There’s one guy that still lives here
Vinnie
Vinnie Zika
I remember him
He still lives here
Is your mom Italian or your father?
Yes, my mother’s Italian
So, how was that growing up in both worlds?
Uh, most of the time I was
raised in Italian neighborhoods actually
And, you know, I’m an easy-going person
so I blended in
What’s your name?
Rich Mancuso
Cus that’s what we were…
Yeah
See
Wow!
You were with the gym or something, was it?
I ran the gym for Low
You have a brother or something?
I have two brothers, Bob and Nick
I remember you
You don’t remember me?
I gotta… put your mask off
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Richie Mancuso, I think you lived
on the 3rd or 4th floor over there or something
And you had a radio station or something?
I had a radio show
There you go
Who’s Ray?
Ray was a trainer
old boxing trainer, old school, loud mouth
Big mouth
Mister “Know It All”
He hated everybody
He loved me and he hated me
And this is Joe I think right here
Yeah, he was in the horse…
Alfie died a long time ago
He was in the harness game
That’s Joe
This is Frankie Locascio’s brother
Right, Frankie
He’s still in jail Frankie
Right, right, who I knew
Ok, so the big mobster was this guy?
Yeah, and I knew him too
He was in charge of the neighborhood, huh?
This guy
Well…
No, no
His brother was
but he was one of the family bosses
Right
And
again…
Right
2nd guy from Gotti?
They helped
They didn’t destroy, they weren’t bad
They weren’t bad people
They kept the neighborhood safe
This neighborhood and so many others
That’s what aggravates me
What do you think? I mean, uh
well, you speak so highly of them
cus your life was better with them?
They helped me
They helped a young guy
an Italian in the neighborhood
Italian young guy
They helped me
They didn’t get me
me to where I am, what I’ve done
in my career, I did that all myself
but they encouraged me. They kept me…
Cus anybody in this neighborhood
could’ve went on the wrong side
And they kept me straight to go
stay the right way
They would mentor me
They would friend me
Whatever it is
If I needed something
I didn’t bother them for anything because
if they loved you like I told you
they were everything to you
Richie, I know you remember Mike Nealy
Yeah
That’s the guy I started working with over here
Mike Nealy
Yeah…
So, they gave you structure?
Exactly, that’s the word
I didn’t need much
because I had a good mother and father
but out here on the street
and I needed a place to hang out, talk
away from my friends, it was them
So, it’s actually the mob guys that
can keep you out of trouble?
It’s actually… what should I call them?
The neighborhood guy
Actually the neighborhood watch…
Yes
Nothing bad to say about them
I don’t care what people think…
Are you saying that cus you’re on camera?
No
Okay
I’ll say it in person
If I had to kiss their ring
whatever it is, I would
I wouldn’t be…
They… like I said
wanted to push me to get to Daily News
Full-time spot
But nah, I gotta do it myself
Yeah, I was
I remember, I got a good memory
You do
So it’s just basically whoever
helps you in life, right? You wanna…
If you look at the “Bronx Tale”
and this is something that I encourage you to do
that you haven’t done yet
I know, I haven’t seen the movie
I’m shocked you haven’t seen it yet
Maybe tonight
Yeah, okay, okay
Yeah, none of it was filmed here
Even the portrayal of that church, Mount Carmel
was horrible
They did it at the Silvercup Studios
That’s where they filmed it, the studios
But if you look at the “Bronx Tale”
which is a true story
that explains a lot, that’s this neighborhood
And Sonny, the main guy
who was looking after a young guy
and the father didn’t want it
just like my father didn’t want it
My father knew all of them but he didn’t want…
My father did not want me around any of them
Because I was a sports guy
and what do you think all these guys were?
They’re all sports guys
And they love me because they knew…
Because they were doing betting, right?
Yeah
Sports betting back in the day?
Yeah, and, you know, everyone knew that
but
They loved me because
they knew I knew my sport
They knew the talent I had
And if they needed a favor from me, they got it
but I don’t want nothing back
in return from them
I never did
Except their love?
That’s it
Because if I needed them
and I did a few times like I’ve told you
over the course of the last few hours
if I needed them
and not cus I wanted to do it
they were there for me
So the respect was there
Part of “la familia” which I keep saying
You cannot erase great memories
and this neighborhood
and my Italian roots
you can’t erase great memories
Look at this
And my Italian roots too, you can’t erase it
One of the best
Nope
I’m going back that way
to the bus to get home
Alright
We got 2 more minutes
2 minutes, alright
Alright, guys
Little walk down Richie’s memory lane
Well, this is Beaumont Avenue
this was part of it but
Wait Rich, we’re closing the video
we’re stopping, I got two minutes left
You said you’re gonna charge me now
Yeah, that was fun
So, guys
I got a lot out of that
I hope you did too
It’s really…
It’s cool to see your world
the old world, let’s call it
but also…
That restaurant we went into
was new Italians coming in
that was interesting
I didn’t think that was happening
and uh…
So…
Very interesting cultural experience
And I love this neighborhood
I know it’s not what it was
but come out to this part of the city
Arthur Ave
like I said
you can’t erase the great memories
That’ll never be erased
I’m gonna be cheesy and say
people should come out here
and make new memories
Arthur Ave, right?
Yeah, they should
Does it mean I have to come back
and live here my later years?
No
No
Does it mean I can come back and visit
and always remember
and run into who maybe still here?
Yeah
Rich, that was awesome
My pleasure, Peter
And I want to leave all of Richie’s
links down below
You got a website, right?
Yeah… I’m on social media
Coming?
YouTube channel is going up soon
He’s got a book coming
A book…
Depending on what you see in this video
and then numerous websites I write for
I don’t have a website
there’s stuff on there
Alright
I’m writing every day almost
every other day
Google my name, you’ll find me
and always keep it in the ring
and keep those memories alive
Alright
Thanks for coming along, guys
and we’re gonna get out of here before we’re hit
And uh…
Appreciate it
Check out this neighborhood, Arthur Ave
Yup
Go to the restaurants…
“Little Italy of the Bronx,” as it’s still known
Breath in some of the stories
some of the history
Exactly
Until the next one
What was this place you called?
What is it, by the minute?
By the hour?
And that’s… it was or it is?
It always was
closed and opened up again
There’s one in every neighborhood

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