Nation’s Oldest Italian Heritage Parade Takes to the Streets of San Francisco

It was a warm and sunny autumn afternoon for the Columbus Day Celebration in San Francisco, where last Sunday, October 7, 2012, one of the City’s oldest civic event and longest-running Italian-American parades in the nation took place.

This year it was the 144th Annual Italian Heritage Parade, and the whole Italian community showed all its devotion from Fisherman’s Wharf to North Beach. A San Francisco institution since it was established in 1868, the 2012 Parade promised to be bigger, better and more colorful than ever, and it really was.

The festivities for the Columbus Day celebration began Saturday night with the 2012 Italian Heritage Grand Ball at the Fairmont Hotel. It was attended by Christopher Columbus, Queen Isabella and her court, as well as the Consul General of Italy in San Francisco, the Honorable Mauro Battocchi.

Historically the City’s First Columbus Day Celebration was held in 1869, marking the first time in San Francisco and America that Italian-Americans gathered and held a parade to honor the accomplishments of Italians, as well as the first Italian-American, Christopher Columbus.

The Parade took place in San Francisco’s North Beach featuring the bands and marching units of Italian fraternal organizations, including the Garibaldi Guard, Swiss Guards and Lafayette Guards. Four floats were showcased: the first hosted the statue of Christopher Columbus, the second featured two girls representing Isabella of Spain and America, the third depicted the “Santa Maria” with a sailor dressed as Christopher Columbus; and the fourth honored Italian gardeners featuring their agricultural achievements.

On this year’s 144th Italian Heritage Parade edition, several hundreds of spectators cheered from the sidewalks and people draped in red, white and green energized the annual celebration of Italian-American culture.

Police officers wore Italian-American sashes over their uniforms, had Italian flags while riding their bikes and horses, as they walked beside Mayor Ed Lee, one of the distinguished guests of the day, and folklorist music from performers and marching bands filled the air.

 Consul General of Italy in San Francisco, the Honorable Mauro Battocchi 

All numerous Italian restaurants and bars in North Beach welcomed attendees with festive open-air dining along the Parade route, offering Italian wine and food specials, while street venders provided mouth watering delicacies.

Highlights of the celebrations included dozens of handcrafted parade floats featuring Bay Area businesses, community groups, and Italian organizations; local high school Italian clubs and marching bands; special appearances by “Christopher Columbus” (performed by Joseph Cervetto Jr.) on his Santa Maria Float and Queen Isabella (Gianna Tesler) and Her full Court; performances by a variety of traditional Italian musicians and performance artists; and special appearances by Bay Area and Italian-American celebrities.

The attention of many spectators was focused also on the wonderful Ferrari Sportscar display in the charming Washington Square Park, with the background of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, while a variety of hands-on activities for children and families was offered.

The Parade action, with viewing seats available throughout the route, began at 12:30 pm at Fisherman’s Wharf, heading North up Jefferson, turn left on Leavenworth and then climbing Columbus Avenue past Washington Square for a small loop before finishing there, in front of the iconic “Italian Cathedral of the West”.

The festivities of Columbus Day by the Italian-American community in North Beach saw the last glorious stage on Sunday evening, for the Queen’s Court Dinner at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club.

Worthy of mention is the important role played by the protagonists of the Queen’s Court night Gianna (Giambalvo) Tesler personifying Queen Isabella, her five Duchesses and two Bearers, Esther Bermani Schaukowitch as Queen Mother, Rae Mignola as Queen Mother Emerita and in particular Joseph Cervetto Jr, continuing his father old tradition in the main role of Cristoforo Colombo.

Receive more stories like this in your inbox