Back in the days when corner grocery stores abounded, Beltrami Neighborhood residents had many choices, including Delmonico’s, Maple Leaf, Spano’s, Rusciano’s, and Schullo’s.
Through the years, most of the small stores disappeared. Last month one of the oldest family-owned groceries, Delmonico’s Italian Foods, 1112 Summer St. NE, changed hands, when co-owners and cousins Terry Delmonico and Bob Delmonico decided to sell the store and let Terry retire.
Founded in 1919 by Vincenzo and Anna Delmonico, the store was well-known for its homemade Italian sausage, fried peppers, calzones, and pizzelles. Even though the store is not closing, some residents nonetheless say they see it as the end of an era, in a beloved Northeast neighborhood once known as Little Italy.
Maple Hill history
Early Maple Hill residents included many Italian immigrants who settled there in the 1920s and 1930s. Later renamed the Beltrami Neighborhood after Italian explorer Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, its borders are Broadway to the north, Central Avenue to the west, Spring Street to the south and Johnson Street to the east.
The Maple Hill name came from an 1857 private cemetery owned by the Dudley P. Chase Grand Army of the Republic Post. It was the burial site for many Civil War veterans. The struggle to convert the cemetery land to parkland began when the Minneapolis City Council condemned some of the cemetery’s land, in order to open Fillmore and Polk streets between Summer and Broadway. In 1894, workers moved more than 1,000 bodies from Maple Hill to Sunset and Hillside cemeteries. Authorities later suspected Maple Hill Improvement League members—who wanted all of the land for a park—of vandalizing the cemetery and destroying many tombstones. Eventually, the city converted the land to a park.
Minneapolitans of Italian Descent presented the Beltrami monument to the City in 1947; it still stands at the north end of Beltrami Park, as does another monument commemorating the cemetery.
Left: The plaque showing Beltrami’s namesake
House, church, park, and school
Some who grew up in Beltrami cite four things unique to the neighborhood of their youth: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, Beltrami Park, Franklin Pierce Elementary School, and the Margaret Barry Settlement House.
The church and park are still there, but Pierce School at 1121 Broadway St. NE was razed. The Margaret Barry House, a huge vine-covered building that is still standing at 739 Pierce St. NE, is now privately owned.
Former Northeast resident and Edison graduate Bob Peters lived in the 600 block of Pierce Street in the 1940s and 1950s. “It was a neighborhood where we felt safe,” he said. “There were no predators. My mother would say, ‘Be home before dark,’ and I’d be gone, out with my friends, all day. Everybody had front porches and everybody knew everybody else. I knew that if I misbehaved, Mrs. Carlucci down the street would call my mother.”
He said that there were many kids in the area. Most of them attended elementary school at Pierce, junior high at Sheridan or Marshall, and high school at Edison, Marshall, or Vocational.
Everybody hung out at the Margaret Barry House, also known as the Bughouse. “You could play football, basketball, and baseball there. It was a place for us to go to stay out of trouble. There were always counselors there; most of them were young men from the neighborhood.”
Sometimes the “staying out of trouble” plan didn’t work so well, Peters admitted. “We used to terrorize the neighborhood. Everybody had big gardens and grew a lot of tomatoes, and we’d throw them at houses and cars on Broadway. Then we’d run like hell.”
Another Northeaster, Ed Matthes (right), said he spent a lot of his youth in the 1960s with his grandmother, Mary Marino, at her house across the street from Beltrami Park. (Matthes owned the Marino’s Restaurant on Central Avenue NE until 2004, and now operates Marino’s, which does catering, in Fridley. His brother Ralph owns Marino’s Deli on Johnson Street NE.)
Ed Matthes said that the Barry House, the Catholic church, and the park were neighborhood anchors. “Margaret Barry had activities going on all the time. They had many events for kids. We’d play board games and bumper pool. When it was time to get our vaccinations, that’s where we’d go. They had a basketball court. Sometimes they had parties. I remember winning an Instamatic camera in 1965.”
Beltrami Park’s warming house on the west side of the field was their “winter social meeting place,” he said. “They had a big open rink for ice skating but not hockey. We’d go skating there and play hockey at Logan Park.”
Matthes said he was an altar boy at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. “Father Malley, who was Irish, was a hard-nosed priest. He was a surrogate father for a lot of kids in that neighborhood. He was pretty active, and walked around the neighborhood all the time.
You could be at confession and he’d respond to you by name, which was kind of funny, since confession is supposed to be anonymous. We knew we’d better not do whatever we’d done ever again, or he would tell our parents.”
Matthes added, “There were elements in that neighborhood that could draw you into criminal activity. We had 10- and 12-year old kids playing craps on the tennis courts.” He said he had fun chasing bats out of the boxcars on the nearby railroad tracks, before the railroad closed off the access to them. “We weren’t worried about getting hit by trains, but we were worried about being chased by the train dicks.”
He too felt safe in the neighborhood. “We had adults who watched over their own and dealt with any problems. The only thing we kids had to fear was from our own mischief. We were blowing off fireworks. We’d take blasting caps from the tracks and drop bricks on them.”
When asked about Beltrami’s nickname of “Dogtown,” Matthes said that there were many dogs in the neighborhood. (Some people have speculated that the term was less benign and a sign of the times, with “dog” referring to Dago, a derogatory slang word for Italians.)
Matthes recalled an actual neighborhood-owned dog, a big boxer named Penny. “She’d go from house to house and everybody took care of her. We all knew her, but nobody knew who owned her. She hung around the park. We’d play Capture the Flag, and she’d be there. She took up with anybody who wanted to take up with her. Some days she’d be sleeping in the street in the sun.”
Columbia Heights resident Eric Harmel said he moved to the Beltrami area with his mother in 1944 and started fifth grade at Pierce School. He has fond memories of the settlement house, the church, and the neighbors’ wonderful Italian food. “It was a good neighborhood. People were very close. I spent a lot of time at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, even though I wasn’t a member. All those people looked after me when I came in. There were times during World War II when my mother and I didn’t have a thing to eat. One of the ladies invited us over for Sunday dinner, which in that area always meant a big spaghetti dinner.
Harmel said he did what he could to earn spending money. “I sold papers from the time I was a young kid until I got out of high school. On Friday nights when I’d go to collect, people offered me food. There was always a wine bottle on the table.”
Harmel said he liked the Margaret Barry House’s mission. “All those settlement houses that they had around the Twin Cities were very important things for kids. It was a place for us to all go and meet and do things. It provided recreation…sports, even cooking classes. It was a drop-in center for us. I have no idea what kids today are doing, or where they go.”
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
According to its history records, the parish started in Northeast in the early 1900s. It bought its present building at 701 Fillmore St. NE in 1938. At the time, the building was 30 years old; it had been a protestant church, built by the United Brethren. In 2005, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel celebrated its 67th anniversary with a parish festival that included releasing a flock of white doves, two masses by Bishop Richard Pates, a procession around the block, dedication of the building’s new elevator, and a spaghetti dinner attended by 600. The day included some excitement. The Sept. 29, 2005, Northeaster quoted long-time parishioner Mary Cotroneo as saying, “The elevator stopped working after it was dedicated, and a lady fainted after the procession. We had two ambulances and a fire truck here. But then she was okay and went down and ate her spaghetti.”
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was founded by Italians. Through the years many parishioners were well-known in Northeast, including restaurateur and Italian food entrepreneur Rose Totino; Italian food entrepreneur Mama D (Giovanna D’Agostino) George and Louis Delmonico, former Delmonico’s owners; and Dr. Joseph Spano, a popular family physician.
Church rules were strict in its early days. A Polish lady who had been married in the church, attended every Sunday and served as its cantor was not allowed to join for many years, because she was not Italian.
The parish and the Beltrami neighborhood suffered a blow in the 1960s, when the state planned to build freeway 35W through its center. Crews destroyed or moved many houses, before planners decided to route the freeway two blocks farther east. The change came late for the parish, however, which lost about half its families, from 400 down to about 200.
“When 35W went through that neighborhood,” Harmel said, “it destroyed one of the most charming neighborhoods in Minneapolis.”
Thomas Plantz, Vincenzo Delmonico’s grandson, recently wrote a store and family history, noting that Delmonico’s was the first grocery store in Minneapolis to take customer orders by phone and deliver groceries to homes.
The store opened during the Great Depression, and many customers could barely pay for their groceries. Delmonico’s extended them credit. “Some of those credits are still on the books 85 years later,” Plantz wrote.
Vincenzo and Anna passed the business to their seven children: Mike, Minnie, Don, Louis, Bill, George, and Mary. Terry and Bob, third generation owners, are Louie and George’s sons. All learned the business “at their fathers’ knees,” according to Plantz. “The little store really never grew in size, but it overflowed with Italian love and a deep passion to serve the community.”
He noted that Delmonico’s was for many years the wholesaler of choice for Mnneapolis Italian restaurants. Friends and customers included Café Di Napoli, Venice Café, Luigi’s, Mama D’s, Caffe Biaggio, and Donatelle’s.
New owner Jessica Rivera is renaming the store “Jessi’s Market at Delmonicos” and according to Plantz plans to carry on some of the traditions and the legacy, as well as adding her personal touch.
Follow her story on the Facebook page (Jessi’s Market at Delmonico’s). One of the posts is a note from Bob and Terry saying “our wives have always said it would take a good woman… Turns out they were probably right all this time.”
Plantz concludes his story by writing, “It’s the end of an era and the beginning of another! Ciao!”