The IAMLA Announces Major Gift From
Carmen and Robin Italia

The Board of Directors of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles is pleased to announce its newest Founding Family, the Italia family of Toluca Lake, California. Carmen and Robin Italia joined the Museum's elite cadre of donors last month.

In preparation for the Museum's opening, 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 on the IAMLA's Donor Wall and other Naming Recognition Opportunities in the Museum.

Carmen and Robin Italia
A Founding Family of the IAMLA  

In Memory of Joseph Louis Italia and Anna LaRosa Italia

"We don't want you boys to struggle like we did our whole lives. We want to give you what we did not have―an education―so you can be successful."

Joseph and Anna Italia frequently spoke these words to their two sons, communicating values that, decades later, continue to shape the course of their children's lives.

Joseph Louis Italia was born in Castelvetrano, Sicily in 1913. The youngest of six children, Joseph's father, Antonio, came to the United States in 1917, and later sent for his wife and youngest children. Accompanied by his mother, Catherine, Joseph immigrated to the United States two months after his eighth birthday. The family lived briefly in Indiana, before settling in Chicago.

{Joseph Italia as young boy, upon his arrival to the United States.}

After attending trade school, Joseph worked as a welder for Chicago Surface Lines, the company that operated the city's early streetcar system. At age 30, before he had become a United States citizen, Joseph enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as a shipfitter on the USS Rigel during the Philippine Campaign of World War II.

{Joseph in his naval uniform, shortly before departing for the Philippines.}

While repairing a damaged ship, Joseph was injured, and as he was recuperating in the hospital, his attending nurse spoke of a lovely young woman named Anna Catherine La Rosa. She encouraged Joseph and Anna to become pen pals. Joseph and Anna began corresponding and sharing photos. A year prior to the completion of his military service, Joseph proposed to Anna, and the couple was married by a Navy chaplain.

{Joseph, left, with two fellow servicemen in the Philippines.}

{Anna La Rosa}

When the war ended, Joseph and Anna returned to Chicago, where their first son, Joseph Anthony, was born. They then moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Anna's family owned a produce store. During that time, Cincinnati was home to a large Italian community; in some areas of the city, 75% of the population was foreign born and over 40 different languages could be heard. The couple was soon blessed with a second son, Carmen Alfred.

{Anna with her father Sebastian in front of the family's Cincinnati produce store.}

 {Joseph Italia holding baby Carmen}

In 1952, Joseph and Anna packed their belongings in the family's Chevrolet and with Joseph Anthony and Carmen in the back seat, drove to California in search of better opportunities. They settled east of Los Angeles, in the then predominantly Italian neighborhood of San Gabriel, and Joseph promptly excavated the basement of their new home to create a cellar for the production and storage of wine. As devout Catholics, the Italia family belonged to the San Gabriel Mission Parish, whose priests often visited the Italia household to enjoy Joseph's prized, homemade wine. Intent upon the family remaining connected to its heritage, Joseph joined St. Peter's Italian Church located in Los Angeles' historic little Italy, where the Italias attended Mass and other celebrations.

From a young age, Joseph and Anna's youngest son, Carmen, demonstrated an innate talent for art. The nuns at his elementary school often recruited Carmen to create posters and design bulletin boards for special occasions, such as the feast day of St. Francis, who Carmen vibrantly depicted surrounded by a flock of animal friends. Anna would beam as Carmen filled their home with his creations. While the family's disposable income was never great, determined to provide their children with opportunities for advancement, Joseph and Anna sacrificed to send their sons to Catholic school and enrolled Carmen in art lessons and art camp.

{Joseph Anthony and Carmen in 1955}

While attending high school at Don Bosco Technical Institute in Rosemead, California, Carmen learned offset printing. In the evenings, he worked for a commercial printer and contributed to the family's income. He continued to purse his calling as an artist, earning a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts at California State University, Los Angeles, while working as a printer in the mail room at Safeway Markets. During his college years, Carmen, along with two of his Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers, formed a concert promotion company. The year was 1967, and the Los Angeles-based rock group The Doors had earned a number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with their hit Light My Fire. Borrowing $5,000 from a family friend, Carmen and his fraternity brothers organized a concert at California State University at which The Doors headlined and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and The Sunshine Company also performed. The trio also produced the band Chicago's first concert, at the Santa Barbara Bowl, as well as shows for Steppenwolf and the Chambers Brothers.

Sadly, two of the greatest inspirations for his work never had the opportunity to witness his success. At the young age of 19, Carmen lost both of his parents.

{Anna and Joseph celebrating their anniversary.}

Shortly before graduation, Carmen secured a position in Safeway's advertising department, where he largely taught himself the principles of retail advertising. By age 25, his remarkable acumen had attracted the attention of a competitor chain, Lucky Stores (now owned by Albertson's) and Carmen was hired as the chain's assistant advertising manager. Three years later, Lucky promoted Carmen to vice president of advertising. Guided by his parents' example of always striving for greatness, in 1983, Carmen established Italia Advertising, a full service television, radio, and print creative firm that produced overwhelmingly successful campaigns through brand enhancement, proprietary partnerships, and market research. His early clients included clothing retailers Buffums and Clothestime, Safeway and Del Taco restaurants. Within a few years, Italia Advertising expanded its Los Angeles location by opening offices in Dallas, Chicago and Denver, and boasted a diverse portfolio of trusted clients, from Sears and True Value to CompUSA. After 30 years, Italia Advertising continues to thrive.

{Carmen Italia, center, with actor Robert Wagner (left) and
musician Alice Cooper, (right) on the set of a commercial shoot.}

In 1984, Carmen married Robin Tortolani, who was born in Rhode Island to Italian American parents. Robin's grandfather, Frank Tortolani, who hailed from the city of Filignano in Isernia, Molise, had attended jewelry school in Italy before immigrating to the United States in 1923. The Tortolani family was active in Rhode Island's Italian community, and in the 1920s, established a mutual aid organization for the Italians of Providence.

{Carmen and Robin on their wedding day.}

Frank moved to Los Angeles in the 1940s and founded the highly coveted jewelry line, Tortolani.

{Tortolani Jewelry founder Frank Tortolani with son Donald Francis.}

In the 1960s, cosmetics firm Max Factor commissioned Frank to create a line of compacts and figurines. Avon would soon pursue Frank to create jeweled perfume bottles and other items. His popularity continued to increase, as celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, and John Wayne contracted Frank to create custom gifts, including key chains, money clips, cigarette lighters, and cufflinks.

{Tortolani's famous zodiac bracelet.}

Robin co-owned Tortolani Hair Design in Woodland Hills with her sister-in-law, and years later, became the principal of Tortolani Jewelry, following in the footsteps of her father, Donald Francis, making her the fourth generation to run the company.

In 2007, Carmen Italia co-founded Wild Canary a state-of-the-art animation company offering animation to the entertainment, advertising, and gaming industries. Wild Canary has produced television commercials for Mucinex and Campbell's Soup, and is currently in production of two television shows for the Disney Channel.

Carmen and Robin, who reside in Toluca Lake, California, are blessed with two sons, James Anthony and Mark Anthony, as well as two grandchildren, Grace and Thomas. Carmen and Robin became a Founding Family of the IAMLA to memorialize the struggles of their families and support a venue where the lives and contributions of the community can be showcased and preserved for future generations.

{The Italia Family- Left to right: James Italia, wife Monica, and children Thomas and Grace, Carmen and Robin Italia, Amy Cheney and Mark Italia.}

Become a Founding Family

Parties interested in becoming a Founding Family should contact Marianna Gatto, Executive Director of the IAMLA. 

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