The legacy of an old Italian photographer

By 1910 St. Francis Church had built its new spires

Once again, Cathy Burton correctly identified the location of last week’s photograph.  If she keeps this up, she’s going to be awarded a knighthood.  Oh, that’s right…she’s already been awarded a knighthood for her work promoting the Italian language.  Complimenti, Cavalier Caterina!  So where was the photograph taken?  It was shot from the fire escape of the studio of the “Dean of North Beach Photographers,” J. B. Monaco.

  Looking north on Columbus from Pacific, 1909 

  Looking north on Columbus from Pacific, 1909 


J.B. Monaco was a Swiss photographer from the Italian Canton of Ticino.  His contribution to the history of the Italian Community is incalculable.  He began documenting the Italian Community of San Francisco prior to the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, and continued long after San Francisco was rebuilt into the great city that we know and love today.  His original studio burned in the Catastrophe, but after occupying a temporary location for a short time, Monaco relocated at the new building at 205 Columbus Avenue at Pacific. 

 By 1920 Monaco's competitor Gino Sbrana had established Pisa Fotographia Italiana across the street 

 By 1920 Monaco's competitor Gino Sbrana had established Pisa Fotographia Italiana across the street 


He enjoyed taking pictures from the fire escape, as well as from the roof of the three-story building.  His archives, preserved at the San Francisco Public Library’s History Room, continue to provide historians with visual documentation of San Francisco’s past, thanks to the generosity of Monaco’s grandson Richard Monaco, who generously donated his grandfather’s works to the library.


  Exterior of Monaco's studio at 205 Columbus at Pacific 

  Exterior of Monaco's studio at 205 Columbus at Pacific 


Today, the building once occupied by Monaco is the home to one of North Beach’s favorite watering holes, Bing’s Bar.  The top two floors provide office and studio space to a number of small businesses.  We’ll visit Monaco’s works often in the future, as we look at some of the historical buildings nel vecchio vicinato.


Below is another photograph by J.B. Monaco.  It’s just a block north of Monaco’s studio, at the corner of Broadway and Columbus.  Can you identify the name of the building in the photo, who the Italian owner of the business was, and who occupies the building today?
  Today's mistery photo

  Today's mistery photo

If you can answer those three questions, send an e-mail to 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:


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