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Holy Mola! Heirs to Italian heritage honor the immigrant past

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A tiny town in Italy is making it to the big time — with a street co-naming in Carroll Gardens!

Court Street between Third and Fourth places is on the road to being co-named “Citizens of Mola Way,” a tribute to the industrious denizens of Mola di Bari, who emigrated to the neighborhood decades ago.

Backers say the co-naming honors their forebears who paved the way for their success in Brooklyn and beyond.

“This is about our ancestors who slept on rooftops so we would have a bed,” said Joe Tanzi, who came to Brooklyn in 1959, was a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and later worked as a manager for IBM.

The Van Westerhout Cittadini Molesi Social Club on Court Street and Fourth Place, one of the last two remaining area social clubs, proposed the co-naming to celebrate nothing less than the American dream — not just for Mola, but for all immigrants.

“We all made good in the United States,” said Pino Deserio, the facility manager at the Red Hook Ikea, who came to Brooklyn in 1970 when he was 17-years-old. “We all realized our American dream.”

Club members estimate that 5,000 former residents of Mola — a town in the sparsely populated region of Apulia, the heel in Italy’s “boot” — eventually found their way to Carroll Gardens.

“They picked this neighborhood because it was close to the waterfront,” noted Michael Pesce, an appellate court judge and former Assemblyman.

Pesce left Mola in 1960 with his father Francesco, who worked as a longshoreman.

“The co-naming is about making a statement about the history of Carroll Gardens — when it was changing from an Irish neighborhood to an Italian neighborho­od,” he said.

Of course, the transition wasn’t necessarily an easy one. “There was friction,” particularly on the waterfront, Pesce recalled. “But we learned to live together.”

Community Board 6 last week voted overwhelmingly to support the co-naming, which will ultimately require City Council approval.

This isn’t the first time the board has given props to an Italian city — in 2009, it gave the nod to co-naming Henry Street between Sackett and Union Streets “Citizens of Pozzallo Way,” a nod to the contributions of the people from that Sicilian seaside town.

Still, not all board members think the co-naming is magnifico.

“In general, I’m against co-naming unless there is an enormously compelling reason,” said Elizabeth Shipley. “Plus, when a street changes its name, it just throws people off.”

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Reader Feedback

Sid from Boerum Hill says:
They don't change the streets name. They add a sign above or below the original street sign that remains the official name of the street. In the GPs and Post office addresses there is no change. If you tried to use the ceremonial name as your mailing address everything would be returned. You have to be a complete idiot to be thrown off by the added sign.
Dec. 24, 2010, 8:36 am
Vincent from Carroll Gardens says:
Actually the neighborhood is rapidly becoming less Italian.
My grandparents on my mother's side came in the late 1800s my dad came in 1902. It was an Italian community
from the early 1900s. The first Italian immigrants in the area were mostly from Naples and Sicily and almost exclusively longshoremen. My grandfather worked as a steam engineer that powered certain rigs and barges on the waterfront. In 1927, he fell overboard and drowned. My grandmother was widowed at 36 years old and left with 7 children. There was a small settlement which allowed her to move from Woodhull St and buy a house on 4th Place. The later wave of Italians came after the second war in the 50's and 60's and were mostly from Bari. Now, however the neighborhood is becoming a mixture representative the greater America.
More native than immigrant. With the passing of time,
an enormous wealth of history is fading into oblivion with the passing of the older residents. Sad, but normal (I guess).
Sept. 27, 2011, 10:20 am

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