Lillian LaPira almost correctly identified last week’s mystery photograph as Valente & Marini’s original 1926 mortuary on Mission Street in the Excelsior District of San Francisco. It’s the word “original” that accounts for the “almost.”
Valente, Marini, Perata & Company 1930s
Valente and Marini Mortuary was established in 1888 by Virgil Valente, Frank Marini and John B. Perata on Stockton Street in San Francisco’s burgeoning North Beach district. It primarily served the growing population of Italian immigrants who arrived at the end of the 19th century. Valente was an undertaker, who with his partner Julius Godeau, operated a small funeral parlor that was facing bankruptcy. A young Frank Marini—who had little money but a lot of great connections in the community—was able to gather a handful of new investors to revitalize the failing business.
Marini continued to grow his every-increasing reputation in the days following the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, when he directed his company’s horse-drawn livery and transport wagons to serve double duty as emergency rescue vehicles. As the fire approached North Beach, Frank Marini resourcefully buried the firm’s historical records in Washington Square Park. When the smoked cleared, he dug up the records that contained family information, addresses and other vital statistics. These records helped survivors of the calamity to reclaim property, businesses and citizenship rights.
While rebuilding a new permanent location, Marini operated his funeral home out of the basement of the home of his friend A.P. Giannini, on Lombard Street near Van Ness.
Valente, Marini, Perata & Company today
Eventually Godeau retired, and later, so did Valente. But one of the original investors was Frank Marini’s cousin Giovanni Perata, a salesman for Hercules Gun and Powder Company. When Perata died unexpectedly at the age of twenty-six, his wife Louisa inherited his interest in the new funeral home. For fifteen years, she didn’t receive a dime from her late husband’s investment. Finally, she met with the now financially-successful Frank Marini and demanded that at very least, he hired her son.
Her son grew up in the business, became a named partner, married, and had children of his own. One of their daughters married a man by the name of Taylor, who was an Irishman (don’t judge—these things happen in the best of Italian families). Their son Steven Taylor and grandson Matthew Taylor still own and operate this family business, now in its fifth generation. As the Italians began to spread out to the Excelsior District, so did Valente, Marini & Company.
They maintained their flagship location at 649 Green Street in North Beach, but in 1917, Marini opened a branch location at 3448 Mission Street at 29th. It was a storefront location with a flat on the second floor. Eventually they outgrew that location and moved to the location in the photograph above in 1925. As the firm continued to grow and prosper, the building was expanded, and in 1960, got a new façade. All operations have since been consolidated at the Excelsior District facility, and after a century and a quarter, Valente, Marini, Perata & Company is the most respected and highly recommended funeral home in the region.
This week’s mystery photograph
Speaking of Washington Square Park, some readers picked up on the fact that in one of the photographs from a previous column that was taken just after the earthquake, there is no statue in the center of the park. That begs the question, “Whose statue is in the center of Washington Square Park?” Alright, that’s not such a difficult question to answer, but how about this one: Where did that same statue stand before the earthquake?
If you think you know, 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