The IAMLA Announces a Gift from
D’Egidio Brothers Enterprise
L-R: Arthur, Assunta, Giovanni and Maria D'Egidio

The D’Egidio Brothers Enterprise of Sherwood Forest, California
made a generous contribution to the IAMLA
in honor of Giovanni, Maria, Arthur, and Assunta D'Egidio,

and has joined the Museum's
elite cadre of donors known as the Founding Families.

The IAMLA’s Founding Family designation was created in 2013 as a way to recognize individuals and families whose dedication, generosity and
achievements make them ripe for distinction.

The D'Egidio Family Story
The SS Chandernagor

On April 23, 1891, Michele D’Egidio boarded the SS Chandernagor at the Port of Naples, bound for New York. Known as “birds of passage,” Michele was one of the many millions of Italian migrants who arrived in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the intent of returning home.

1891 Ship manifest for Michele D'Egidio

At the tender age of eleven, Michele helped support his family in Italy with the wages he earned in America. To create a better life for his loved ones, Michele, or “Papa Mike” as he was affectionately called, spent most of his life a sojourner, making numerous trips back and forth across the ocean. Neither war, nor economic depression, nor extended periods of separation from his family led him to falter.

John (left) and Art D'Egidio in front of their first shopping center in the
San Fernando Valley

Cognizant of his selfless sacrifices, Michele’s sons, Giovanni and Arturo, spoke frequently of their father’s struggles and devotion. It was Michele who had catapulted them to success as small-business owners and helped pave the path to their future as real estate investors and developers. With their father’s support and their tireless work ethic, Giovanni and Arturo achieved success that was unimaginable to them as young men from a small town in Italy. Generations later, “Papa Mike’s” legacy serves as a guiding force for his descendants, who recall the man who made their lives possible with great reverence.

To raise awareness of the children’s plight, in the early 1900s, social activist photographer Lewis Hine chronicled the lives of child laborers such as the “breaker boys” of Pennsylvania, whose job was to separate coal from slate.

During the years between the Civil War and World War I, the United States experienced the Second Industrial Revolution. The nation’s gross domestic product increased almost tenfold, and it became the world’s leading industrial power. Simultaneously, the southern Italian economy collapsed, which produced a flood of immigrants who eagerly accepted the opportunities America offered. Children Michele’s age, both native-born and immigrant, comprised a significant part of the United States’ labor force, working twelve-hour days six days a week in conditions so dangerous that 50 percent of children in many industries died before the age of twenty. From the gritty steel mills of Pittsburgh to the construction sites of New York City, Michele refused no honest opportunity to work and faithfully sent money home. During the leanest of times, when his wages were insufficient to support both his family and pay for his room and board, Michele resorted to sleeping under bridges and in doorways.

Top: contemporary view of San Polo Matese;
Bottom: map of Molise, Italy

By 1899, twenty-year-old Michele had saved enough money to return to his mountainous town of San Polo Matese in the region of Molise and start a family. Michele and his two brothers, Giuseppe and Gabriele, married three sisters from San Polo Matese: Carolina, Antonia, and Cristina Velotta. The couples lived side-by-side in a row of bungalows, perched on the hillside, steps away from the town’s piazza. Soon, Michele and Carolina were expecting their first child. Sadly, the baby would not survive infancy.

To realize the couple’s dream of owning land, Michele departed for New York once more, this time with his brother, Giuseppe. The brothers settled in East Harlem, which was also known as Italian Harlem, and was the first area of Manhattan to be referred to as “Little Italy.” There, immigrants lived on a particular street based on the region or town in Italy they came from. The neighborhood’s crowded tenements gave birth to the legendary Italian American congressmen Vito Marcantonio and Fiorello La Guardia, who later became New York’s mayor, as well as esteemed educator Dr. Leonard Covello, who, in the 1920s, proposed bilingualism and biculturalism to assist immigrant children in becoming integrated citizens without separating them from their native culture and while instilling within them a sense of pride in their origins.

Celebration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Italian Harlem, circa 1920

Back in San Polo Matese, the extensive transnational migration of the town’s men had dramatically altered the lives of those left behind, especially the women. The term “white widow,” or vedova bianca, was used to describe Carolina and her contemporaries whose husbands were alive but absent. In addition to creating a population imbalance, the departure of young men permitted and necessitated women to assume new roles, both privately, in the domestic sphere, and publicly, in the economic realm. The women who remained at home shouldered greater responsibility in ensuring the family’s upward mobility, demonstrating how migration, although often perceived to be a solitary act, requires considerable interdependence.

Two years passed, and Michele had finally returned home to Carolina. His remittances and Carolina’s austerity had allowed the couple to purchase acreage on the outskirts of town, where they raised livestock and cultivated a variety of crops, including wine grapes, wheat, and corn. Carolina and Michele later built a modest winery, which became a popular gathering place for the villagers of San Polo Matese. In an era when southern Italy’s infant mortality rate was nearly 50 percent, the couple celebrated the birth of a daughter and a son, only to mourn the loss of the infants’ shortly thereafter. With an eye toward advancement, Michele accepted another employment opportunity in America. In spite of her disappointment, Carolina remained focused, managing the cantina and overseeing the employees who worked on the farm. Weeks after his arrival in America, Michele received word that Carolina was again expecting. Overwhelmed with happiness, he returned home.
Michele holding baby Giovanni, nonna, and Carolina in San Polo Matese
The couple’s son, Giovanni, born in 1915 just two months after Italy entered World War I, was a healthy and peaceful baby. The family’s blessings continued—four years later, Michele and Carolina welcomed a daughter they named Lucia, which means “light.” To provide for his growing family, Michele bid farewell to Carolina and the children shortly after Lucia’s first birthday. This time, Papa Mike’s destination was Philadelphia, which was the nation's third-largest city at the time, home to 1.5 million people and an important manufacturing hub. Philadelphia was also a city of immigrants, where 60 percent of residents were either foreign-born or first-generation Americans. The Italian community, which had grown to over 80,000 by 1915, included thousands of Michele’s fellow Molisani and was centered in South Philadelphia, where the country’s first Italian Catholic parish was established and three Italian-language newspapers helped immigrants remain connected to events in the old country. The Italian immigrant labor force played an integral role in the modernization of Philadelphia, from the electrification of the city to the construction of its subway, skyscrapers, and the massive Philadelphia City Hall.
1920 Ship manifest for Michele D'Egidio

Throughout Giovanni’s childhood, he demonstrated a wisdom beyond his years, and a love of learning, which made him a natural student. Papa Mike was an ardent believer in education and was determined to see his eldest son continue past the elementary school education provided in the town and continue high school and attend college, an opportunity never afforded to Michele. He earmarked a portion of his earnings to send Giovanni to a private boarding school, which was almost unheard of for a family of their means. Giovanni earned high marks in school, which gained him admission to the University of Bari, and, later to the University of Naples for his doctoral program in Agricultural Science. For Giovanni, a young man from a rural village, attending school far away from home required considerable adjustment. His dream was to become educated and be an asset to his family’s business; the affable Giovanni had both the tenacity and ambition to accomplish this goal.
Right: Giovanni as a young man

Amazingly, in 1926, Carolina, then forty-eight years old, discovered she was pregnant again, and later that year, Arturo, the couple’s last child, was born. From the time he took his first steps, Arturo followed his mother everywhere. As he observed his mother treat her employees with kindness and generosity, he learned about the humility of power and the traits of a good leader. Known across the region as a master negotiator, Arturo watched Carolina intently as she secured fair prices for the harvests that the D’Egidio farm produced. Because she possessed a superlative ability to accurately appraise livestock and agricultural products, Carolina was revered by the townspeople, who referred to her as Sia Carolina, which means “Aunt Carolina” in the Campobassano dialect. When Arturo and his mother entered town, local farmers gathered to receive her counsel and request assistance in completing business transactions. While Giovanni was drawn to academic pursuits, Arturo could not be contained to a classroom.

Carolina, Arturo, and Michele
On May 1, 1940, as the clouds of war loomed on the horizon, twenty-one-year-old Lucia D’Egidio bid farewell to her mother and brothers and boarded the SS Rex in Naples, bound for New York. Years earlier, economic opportunity had led Lucia’s husband, Guerino “Wally” Capra to New York, where his father-in-law, Michele, was also working. Lucia’s ship was among the last to leave; one month later, Italy entered World War II. Although Papa Mike was eager to return to Carolina and his sons, the war made it impossible for him to do so.

Left: A Canadian soldier keeps watch in the hills of Campobasso during WWII

Because of its strategic location in the Adriatic Sea, San Polo Matese, in the province of Campobasso, Molise, became a major theater of World War II. Following the Allied invasion of Italy, Campobasso witnessed heavy fighting as German and Canadian troops vied for control. During October and November 1943, a battle between Allied and Axis forces killed 38 civilians, including Secondo Bologna, Campobasso’s bishop, and destroyed numerous homes, the city hall, the town archives, and other buildings.
Right: Bishop Secondo Bologna

Occupying German troops unleashed a reign of terror; they commandeered many homes and looted. As the bombing grew closer, Carolina and Arturo fled to the hills. She watched in horror as German troops kicked down the door of the cantina and began throwing the family’s belongings out the windows. The soldiers laughed and jeered as they forced the family’s loyal donkey to drink wine. Carolina, Arturo, and dozens of other townspeople spent months hiding in the mountains, living in caves and hunting shacks, subsisting on chestnuts and wild mushrooms.

In search of educated men to serve as officers in the Royal Italian Army, King Vittorio Emanuele scoured the country’s universities. Giovanni was on his way to completing his doctoral degree and thereby realizing both his dream and his father’s vision, when he was drafted alongside his best friend and classmate, Guerino Iezza. An immortalized war hero, Iezza’s statue stands in San Polo Matese’s piazza today.

Left: Giovanni D'Egidio in uniform

Trained to be a lieutenant, Giovanni was deployed to North Africa, where Allied and Axis powers were fighting over colonial interests. After spending two years in the desert, Giovanni was one of 27,000 Italian troops captured by British forces during the Siege of Tobruk and sent to Bombay, where he was held as a prisoner of war for six years. Life in captivity was unpleasant, to say the least; he spent his days working under the stern and watchful guard of British troops. Giovanni seized the few opportunities that the camp offered, including English language instruction. His faith, strength of character, and hope of returning to his family kept him alive.

Prisoners of war being led from Tobruk to Bombay

Following the war’s conclusion, the people of San Polo Matese discovered that a return to normalcy would prove elusive. Basic necessities such as bread, soap, and shoes were scarce. Michele, who resided in New Jersey with Lucia and his son-in-law, was fraught with anxiety over his family being divided between three continents.

His concern proved valid; Papa Mike and Lucia received the tragic news that their beloved Carolina had developed pneumonia and, without access to medicine, succumbed to the infection. After being released from the prison camp, Giovanni returned to San Polo Matese, where he learned that his mother had died three months earlier. The war made Giovanni, age thirty-two, and Arturo, age twenty-one, fully appreciate the sanctity of life and preciousness of time; now reunited, the brothers began to plan their future. Knowing instinctively that the country’s post-war recovery would be tenuous, Arturo and Giovanni decided to leave Italy. Arturo would depart immediately to join his father and sister in the United States, while Giovanni would complete his education and settle the family’s business affairs before joining him. The day before Arturo left, the brothers donned their finest, and took a picture together.
L-R Giovanni and Arturo the day before Arturo's departure

After working as a laborer for many years, Papa Mike became an organ grinder and relocated to Los Angeles, where his brother, Giuseppe, and other members of the family had settled. Giuseppe, in failing health, requested his brother’s help operating the store that he had established in Echo Park. Michele obliged. He rented an apartment on on Macy Street, (present-day Cesar Chavez Avenue) in the heart of the Plaza’s Italian quarter, steps away from the Italian Hall.

Papa Mike with his brother, Giuseppe, in front of the Echo Park store
Michele D'Egidio's naturalization record; he resided on Macy Street (present day Cesar Chavez Avenue) across the street from the Italian Hall, now the IAMLA

The last time that Michele saw his son, Arturo, was nearly a decade earlier when Arturo was a little boy. The father and son’s reunion in Los Angeles was particularly joyous.

Arturo found employment at the Piuma Winery, which was located across the street from the apartment he shared with his father, and was a popular gathering place for the Italian community.

Arturo, shortly after his arrival to Los Angeles

Letter verifying Arturo's employment at the Piuma's winery, which was established by Los Angeles Italian pioneer Giovanni Piuma, and had three locations in Little Italy.

Meanwhile, Arturo sent his childhood sweetheart in San Polo Matese, the beautiful Assunta Campanaro, a letter in which he proposed marriage; she excitedly accepted and the couple wed in January 1950 in Culver City.

Assunta and Arturo on their wedding day

Assunta’s father was Antonio “Tony” Campanaro, who had immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s and worked as a silent film actor and animal trainer for filmmaker Hal Roach. Campanaro’s menagerie of show animals, including Josephine the monkey and canine icons Pal and Pete, appeared in Buster Keaton films and dozens of Our Gang and Laurel and Hardy episodes.

L-R Antonio “Tony” Campanaro, with Stan Laurel, and Oliver Hardy

A few months later, Papa Mike’s brother, now very ill, requested that Michele assume control of the business. Life continued to improve for the family, but they would not be complete until Giovanni joined them.

Art and Papa Mike with a patron of the Echo Park store

Giovanni, meanwhile, waited in Canada until he received permission to enter the United States. In hope of expediting Giovanni’s admission, the family hired legal counsel and, despite their limited English, wrote their congressmen requesting assistance. Famed winemaker Caesar Mondavi, who was a friend of the D’Egidio family, provided a sworn affidavit in which he promised to employ Giovanni as a wine chemist. Nonetheless, Giovanni spent three chilly Christmases in Canada before the family was reunited at last. It was a happy moment for everyone, especially for Papa Mike, who could not recall the last time that the family ate dinner while seated around the same table. To enable his sons to open a business, Michele sold the Echo Park store and gave Giovanni and Arturo the proceeds, which amounted to his entire life’s savings. This was one of Papa Mike’s many selfless acts for which Arturo and Giovanni were forever grateful. Giovanni and Arturo, who Americanized their names to John and Art, opened a liquor store in North Hollywood, marking the beginning of a seamless partnership that endured for nearly forty years.

Affidavit from famed winemaker Cesare Mondavi, pledging that he would employ Giovanni as a wine chemist at his winery if Giovanni was granted admission to the United States

In a matter of months, House of Liquor was grossing double what it had made prior to the brothers assuming ownership. Many factors contributed to their success. John and Art worked hard and, in spite of their eleven-year age difference and divergent personalities, complemented each other perfectly. John and Art formed an incredible team, at the heart of which was mutual respect and admiration. John was a charming and distinguished gentleman. His life experiences had prepared him for the pressures and demands of developing a business. He interacted well with bankers and business owners, and was known for his wisdom, integrity and keen finance and business acumen. The systems of organization John created for the company remain in place today.

John and Art's first store, House of Liquor, in North Hollywood

Art had inherited Carolina’s talent for sales and negotiation; he was an outgoing businessman who nurtured relations with suppliers, contractors, and customers. Personable, dapper, and debonair, Art’s warm smile and charisma were positively luminous. Before long, the brothers sold House of Liquor, and set their sights on their next project, as their business continued to prosper. On April 9, 1955, having witnessed his sons’ early successes, Papa Mike died peacefully, surrounded by his family.
Art and John at Bouquet Canyon Liquor in Santa Clarita

Shortly before his father’s passing, John met the lovely Maria Cericola, the Boston-born daughter of Italian immigrant parents. For John and Maria it was love at first sight, and the couple married six months later.

Members of the D'Egidio, Cericola, Santillo, and Campanaro families gather for the wedding of Maria Cericola and John D'Egidio

They welcomed two daughters, Carol and Joanne. Art and Assunta, or “Sue,” were blessed with three children, Michael, Bruno, and Rosemarie. Whereas geography and war had previously divided the family, John, Maria, Art, and Sue made up for lost time as adults. From the time the couples were married, they lived less than a block way from each other, and continued to do so for the rest of their lives.

Sue (left), with son Michael (in stroller), John (in rear), Maria (holding baby Carol), and Art (right)

While John and Art worked long hours that often included nights, weekends, and holidays, Maria and Sue raised their children together and developed an inseparable bond. For Michael, Bruno, Rosemarie, Carol, and Joanne, their cousins were like siblings, and growing up, they often felt that they had two sets of parents.

Sue and Maria, or “Mary,” were as close as sisters. They spent every day together, and followed a schedule of activities for each day of the week. Their lives revolved around the preparation of meals for the family, which included pasta a minimum of three times a week. For Sunday dinners, Sue and Mary made their exquisite pasta sauce with meatballs and sausage, which they referred to as “gravy.” Mary and Sue also spent many hours making tarralli, crisp, savory, ring-shaped biscuits, pizza, pastries, and a variety of other Italian specialties. They spoke to their children in Italian, and the children responded in English. Mary helped the children with homework. It was an Italian American environment, an idyllic childhood for the five cousins surrounded by the warmth and love of an Italian family.

Michael (in rear), Bruno, Joanne, Rose, and Carol take a picture with Santa

A pivotal moment for the D’Egidio family came in 1956, when Quentin Tobias, John and Art’s landlord, offered to sell the industrious brothers the land on which their store was located. For years, Quentin had observed the brothers’ diligence and frugality, and to John and Art’s disbelief, Quentin asked for nothing in collateral—the deal was sealed with a handshake. Now capitalized, John and Art founded D'Egidio Brothers Enterprise, a real estate investment and development company. They purchased a parcel of land in the San Fernando Valley, which was then largely filled with orange groves, with the intent of building a shopping center to serve the needs of the rapidly expanding post-war population. Although the brothers had no formal training in engineering or construction, John and Art worked closely at the job site and learned how to build from the ground up.
Art (left) and John in the late 1950s

The D'Egidio brothers' Continental Liquor

The brothers then established additional stores, including Town and Country Liquor in Granada Hills and Continental Liquor in Northridge. In an era when a handful of domestic beers dominated the market and few people appreciated wine, John curated the Granada Hills store with a selection of gourmet imported foods and dozens of beers from across the globe. Though he had forfeited his dream of becoming a wine chemist, John used his vast knowledge of wine to select varietals from Italy, Spain, California, and then-obscure producers such as Portugal. The brothers also pioneered the practice of “self-serve liquor,” where customers could wander through the store and peruse the enormous inventory prior to purchasing.

Above: Mary and Sue (standing); John, nephew Johnny Capra, and Art

In the D’Egidio home, love was the family’s model. John and Art often spoke to their children about the value of education and the boundless love of and sacrifices made by the grandparents they had never met. Each of their children became successful in their respective fields. While they had adopted the United States as their home, the family also preserved its Italian traditions, including the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an elaborate Christmas Eve dinner consisting of seven different fish dishes. Capitone fritto (fried eel), vongole al vapore (steamed clams), and fried bacala (salt cod) took center stage, while sautéed rapini (a vegetable similar to broccoli) and spaghetti with garlic and anchovies.

John and Art spoke and exchanged letters frequently with their sister, Lucia, or “Lucy” Capra, who later moved to Los Angeles with her husband, Wally, and children, Lena, Johnny, and Carol Ann. In the 1960s, John and Art brought their nephew, Johnny Capra, into the family business.

Johnny spent many hours driving with his uncles to look at property in Art’s Cadillac, which had the personalized license plate “EZMR D.” Most days they returned to Uncle John’s house for lunch, where Mary offered an afternoon espresso, and the men made salami sandwiches and drank wine while standing at the kitchen counter, discussing real estate. Johnny became his uncles’ favorite protégé; he had an innate talent for sales and project management, and promptly followed in Art and John’s footsteps as an investor and developer. Johnny continues to play an important role in the family business.

John with his daughters and nephew; Art and John in the 1970s

One sunny afternoon in the early 1960s, the D’Egidio brothers stood on the corner of Bouquet Canyon Road and Soledad Canyon Road in the dusty, sparsely populated ranch community of Santa Clarita, approximately 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, to conduct a market analysis.

As carloads of families and nature-seekers drove by on their way to the popular recreation center up the road, John and Art counted the cars. In the span of an hour, hundreds of vehicles had passed, yet no services existed in the area to serve the hungry and thirsty motorists, or the campers looking to purchase supplies. It was instantly clear to the brothers where their next investment area would be. From that point forward, the D’Egidio brothers focused primarily on purchasing land and developing and managing commercial properties in the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys, as well as Ventura and Orange counties. While business demanded a considerable amount of the brothers’ time and attention, they always made time for family.

D'Egidio family gatherings at the Ventura beach house

Multiple generations of the D’Egidio and Capra families gathered on holidays, birthdays, and graduations at the family beach house in Ventura. On three-day weekends, with Art at the helm, the men of the family stood behind the grill, basting meat with Art’s legendary barbeque sauce. Meanwhile, Mary, Sue, and Lucy prepared dozens of dishes from scratch, seemingly effortlessly.

Sue, Art, Mary, and Lucy surrounded by their children

John D’Egidio passed away in 1990, and not a day passed when Art did not speak of his brother and how much he was missed. John’s eldest daughter, Carol, assumed her father’s place, and D’Egidio Brothers continued to grow and develop retail centers across Southern California. With a twinkle in his eye and disarming smile, Art became the family’s adored patriarch. Even non-family members felt compelled to call him “Uncle Art.”

Art remained an integral part of the company he cofounded until days before his passing at the age of 89 in February 2016. Months earlier, Art and Sue had celebrated sixty-six years of marriage; their mutual adoration was nothing short of inspirational.

Art and Sue celebrating their anniversary

Surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, Mary and Sue lived around the corner from one another until Sue’s passing in 2016.

Top: Mary with her daughters and granddaughters and Sue with her daughter.
Bottom left: Sue stands with Mary on her wedding day
Bottom right: Sue and Mary on New Year's Eve 2000
The children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Giovanni and Arthur D'Egidio and Lucia D'Egidio Capra
Today the Sherwood Forest-based D’Egidio Brothers Enterprise continues to forge ahead into the future with the leadership of Giovanni and Arturo’s children, who are ever mindful of their fathers’ legacy.
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