Edit ModuleShow Tags

Spicing Up Little Italy


Published:

(page 1 of 2)

Soon after moving here, my friend the East Coast snob made his first foray into San Diego’s Little Italy for lunch. “Well,” he said with a sniff, surveying the block-long stretch of India Street restaurants, “it’s a very Little Italy, isn’t it?”

Well, yes, it is. And no, it’s not.

In fact, in square blocks, San Diego’s Little Italy is bigger than San Francisco’s, St. Louis’ and New York’s combined. And that’s after having its heart bisected by Interstate 5. That happened more than 40 years ago—when San Diegans called it the Crosstown Freeway. But for the natives of Little Italy, the pain is still acute. Ask anyone who lived or worked here before the freeway came, and they’ll tell you it was a disaster for the neighborhood.

“I have roots here, and roots here,” says Rose Cresci, pointing first to the floor beneath her feet, then at her assisted-auburn hair. “The worst thing for all of us is when the freeway went in. It devastated this neighborhood. The freeway took our homes. Many of the old families moved to Hillcrest and Mission Hills, Point Loma, La Jolla.

“But,” she quickly adds, “I’m ecstatic about the comeback of Little Italy.”

Rose is standing in the center of The Gargoyle, the newest incarnation of the family grocery where she worked as a child some seven decades ago. Today, it’s a combination art gallery/café, operated by her youngest son, Dino. He’s the fourth generation of the family to run a business here. His niece, Jennifer Morrison, who works alongside him, is fifth generation. Rose, too, still works here—part-time.

“My great-grandparents, Angelo and Emanuela DeLuca, came to Little Italy in the early 1900s,” Dino says. “Their daughter, Julia, married Emilio Giolzetti, and their daughter, Rose, married my father, Sal Cresci.

“My family once owned all four corners here, at Fir and India. Every generation has worked this property,” he says. “So something inside of me told me I should do this.”

What Dino has done is transform the old family grocery—for a time it was leased out as a tool-and-die shop—into The Gargoyle, a mod arts-and-crafts gallery and cafe. A snapshot in the the café shows a group of rakish-looking chaps, posed team style, with the inscription “Warff Rats—1940 champs.” A baseball team photo?

“Well, no,” says Rose, “they didn’t play baseball. The Warff Rats were the 1940 champs, though. Dice champions. They played dice behind the drugstore,” she says, pointing kitty-corner across India and Fir to where Bay City Drugs—her father’s drugstore—once stood.

Behind The Gargoyle, climbing the south side of Fir Street, is a row of small homes where the Cresci forebears once lived. As part of his commitment to the revival of Little Italy, Dino Cresci launched his own redevelopment project on Fir, transforming the tiny houses into upscale design and fashion boutiques—including Villino Galleria (gifts, interior design), Carol Gardyne’s (hand-painted silks) and Tracy and Kerry McReynolds’ Sorella (clothing).

Shops like these, and restaurants like Trattoria Fantastica and Café Zucchero—opened in recent years by Joe Busalacchi and his family—are essential to Little Italy’s comeback. In the years between the mid-’50s and the early ’90s, the neighborhood shops were mostly devoured by a string of brake-and-muffler shops, salvage companies and car-rental agencies. But the tide is shifting again.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

San Diego Summer Guide 2015: From A to Z

Here’s our guide to buying the right tickets, getting the good seats, eating the best tacos, drinking the best cocktails, and more

Farm to Fable

Deception, fraud, and honest mistakes in the farm-to-table movement

Stopping Traffic

We ditched our cars for one day and gave our city’s public transportation a whirl
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Farm to Fable
    Deception, fraud, and honest mistakes in the farm-to-table movement
  2. 2015 Best Restaurants Kick-Off
    Celebrate San Diego Magazine’s Best Restaurants issue with an evening of indulgent bites and chef encounters
  3. FIRST LOOK: Duck Foot Brewing Co.
    Inside San Diego's first "gluten-free" craft beer operation
  4. Anthony's Out at Embarcadero?
    After 60 years, it looks like Anthony's Fish Grotto might be out in The Embarcadero. That means 31,608 square feet of prime, landmark restaurant space in San Diego is up for grabs. Our bet is...
  5. San Diego's 15 Best New Breweries
    In just the past two years, 40 new brewery locations have opened in San Diego County. Here are some of the best
  6. FIRST LOOK: Park & Rec
    After 30 years, Bourbon Street is gone. In its place in University Heights comes cocktail village Park & Rec, designed as the ultimate patio party. Negroni lovers meet sunscreen.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Go Ahead... Ask McMillin!

At McMillin Realty, we are encouraging you to bring us your real estate questions. We will answer these questions….. for free.

La Jolla Music Society Events

The La Jolla Music Society's 2015 Calendar
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

Everything is Just Two Wheels Away

Get ready to GO by BIKE!

Go Ahead... Ask McMillin!

At McMillin Realty, we are encouraging you to bring us your real estate questions. We will answer these questions….. for free.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags