Complimenti to Ron Derenzi of South San Francisco for almost correctly identifying the business that originally build and occupied the building on the south-east corner of Broadway and Columbus. Dozens of you walked up to me during this past weekend’s Columbus Day Celebration to venture a guess, but Mr. Derenzi came the closest with his answer, “the Bank of America.” That answer is only partially correct.
The Italian American Bank, 1920s
The building in question was opened as the new North Beach branch of, not the Bank of America or the Bank of Italy, but the Italian American Bank. Most Italian-Americans believe that it was A.P. Giannini who founded the first Italian owned and operated bank in San Francisco. In fact, he was the not only the third to do so, he wasn’t even the first president of the bank with which he was most famously associated. The first man to open a bank for the Italian community of San Francisco was Comm. John F. Fugazi. The second was Cav. Andrea Sbarboro who started the Italian American Bank.
The Banca d’Italia was the third Italian-owned bank in San Francisco, and its first president was not—as many people believe—A.P. Giannini. It was Antonio Chichizola, a well-respected and wealthy businessman. He was succeeded by Lorenzo Scatena, Giannini’s step-father. Giannini was the third president of the third Italian-owned bank. Fugazi then opened another bank, the Banca Operaia Italiana, making it four Italian-owned banks in San Francisco. Eventually, A.P. Giannini—who had started out as a junior board member of Fugazi’s first bank—purchased or merged with the other three banks and changed the name of the Banca d’Italia to the Bank of America.
But it was Andrea Sbarboro—who also founded the Italian Swiss Colony in Asti, California—who had created the Italian American Bank in 1899. His innovative concept for banking was modeled after cooperative banks in Philadelphia. It was less like a bank and more like what we would today call a “credit union,” that allowed people to deposit their money in the bank, which was in turn loaned to their neighbors to build homes.
His bank was destroyed in the Calamity of 1906, but he operated out of a temporary location until the bank could be rebuilt on the same spot at 460 Montgomery Street. Like Fugazi and Giannini, Sbarboro announced that his bank could meet “any possible call for money.” He was asked to be a member of the so-called “Committee of Fifty.” This group was comprised of the most influential community leaders, and was charged with the daunting task of rebuilding San Francisco. He opened the North Beach branch of the Italian-American Bank on January 2, 1923, just a few weeks before he died at the age of 83.
The building today
The building and the Italian American Bank were eventually purchased by Fugazi’s first bank, which was in turn purchased by the Banca d’Italia, which became the Bank of America. By the 1980’s the building housed a Burger King, but today, it is more fittingly home to an Italian restaurant called È Tutto Qua. The original bank vaults are still located in the basement of the historic building.
Changing gears a bit, below is a photograph of a bronze statue that pretty much anyone who has visited North Beach in the last century has passed hundreds or even thousands of times.
This week's mystery photograph
It was once plainly visible, but now is almost fully shrouded by foliage. Can you identify the place where this statue is located? It’s named after the man who donated it to the community, and the other bronze located in the same place is of the philanthropist himself. Since this is an easy one, we’ll give bonus points to anyone who can name the sculptor of the statue in the photograph.
If you can answer those three questions, send an e-mail to Nickolas@ItaloAmericano.com
and you may be selected to win a prize to be revealed in next week’s issue of L’Italo-Americano.
Nickolas Marinelli serves as the Director of Community Relations at the Italian Cemetery in Colma. Nickolas can be contacted by e-mail at: Nickolas@ItaloAmericano.com