Gift of the Magi: Born Christmas Day, Former Neighborhood Assn. Treasurer Frank J. Maggi Led Long Happy Life on Northside
by Don Gagliardi
Frank J. Maggi was born on Christmas Day 1917 at the family home on N. 10th St. across from the old Grant School. He was blessed with four children, several grandchildren and more than eight decades of life spent entirely on the Northside.
The Maggi family's roots in our neighborhood date back nearly a century to about 1908, when Frank's uncle John Salameda, who married Rose Maggi, arrived in San Jose from near Bari, on the Southern Adriatic coast of Italy. "He made a couple of trips and scoped the place out," says Frank's son Franklin Maggi, who still lives on N. 10th St. in the house Frank built in 1949 adjacent to the one he was born in. Frank's daughter Angela Dominguez lives next-door on the original family homestead.
Salameda and the Maggi's had been drawn to San Jose because its climate is nearly identical to that of Bari, Franklin explains, and the extended family of orchard workers could grow food in their yards from their homeland. Almost the entire clan of siblings came to America, leaving their parents in Bari, some siblings making the trek to San Jose, others remaining in Utica, New York, where there is still a branch of the family (but a less hospitable climate). Once in San Jose, the family stayed close together. "All of the Maggi's and Salameda's, they all lived on the Northside," Franklin notes.
Frank's father Vito Maggi (Franklin's grandfather) was born in Italy, as was his fiancée Angela, his cousin, with whom his marriage had been arranged according to tradition of the Old Country. After arriving in America, the couple had to wait a few years until Angela was finally of age to marry Vito, her life-long mate.
About 1912 Vito purchased property on N. 10th St. with a handshake loan from the Bank of Italy (now the Bank of America). Italian-American and San Jose native A. P. Gianini, opened the pioneering bank in 1909 in San Jose, and "one of the things he was doing was loaning money to Italian immigrants" to help them purchase property and establish roots, says Franklin.
Vito's house was a relocated a circa 1870s building, that he expanded over the years to accommodate his growing family. Vito's grandson (and Frank's son) Franklin, a former city planner who is now an architectural historian, is still trying to determine from where the house came. The original two rooms had a German language newspaper used as backing for the wallpaper. It's no longer there in any event because "the whole family disassembled the house in 1981," replacing it with a more modern one. "That was in my pre-preservation days," Franklin remarks. The porch posts and brackets (visible in Frank's baptism photo were salvaged and can be seen on the old one-room schoolhouse in the History Museum at Kelley Park.
The diet at Vito and Angela's house when Frank was growing up was high in fish because so much fish was available. The family regularly went smelt fishing in Half Moon Bay, "caught crabs off the wharf," and clammed at Sunset Beach, says Franklin. "At the time there weren't limits."
Vito, an orchard worker all his life, had almost every variety of fruit and nut trees in his backyard. He also had up to 30 barrels of wine in his basement at any given time. "Italian men in the neighborhood used to make their own wine," Franklin explains. "The city would allow them to make up to 200 gallons. Vito bought a press on wheels. The men in the neighborhood would get together and buy a truckload of Zinfandel grapes and drag the crusher around the neighborhood to each house so the men could crush their allotment of grapes. Under his house, Vito had a big fermenting barrel where they would stomp the grapes."
Franklin recalls. "Every night Vito would entertain his friends in his room behind the house. They would smoke tobacco, drink their wine, roast almonds, and play cards." That was the traditional male retirement activity.
Vito and Angela raised nine children, five boys and four girls. Frank was the third oldest. The entire brood went to Grant School, and Frank also attended the old San Jose Tech on San Fernando Street.
Holy Cross Church was the center of the predominately Italian-American Northside community when Frank was growing up. "It seemed like every big event took place at the church," says Franklin, from weddings to funerals to festivals. Frank's mother Angela, like many women in the neighborhood, "used to go almost every day."
An interesting thing about the neighborhood through much of the last century, says Franklin, was that many "lots were connected internally with gates in the backyards," so that neighbors could visit without ever taking to the street. Also, most long-term residents had chickens. The city allowed up to 30 chickens per residence with a permit. Frank's father Vito built a big coop in 1948, and Franklin still has a copy of the permit.
All five Maggi boys were in the United States military during the Second World War, every one surviving service in the Pacific theater. Frank quit Hendy Iron Works to enlist in the Navy with his brother Ray, who later lived on N. 13th St. Vernon, who joined the Army with brother Ted, later took up residence on Taylor St. Tony was in the CB's.
After returning from the war, Frank tried construction contracting, but ended up as a career building inspector with San Jose Unified, then Jr. College District. He married Margaret Espinosa who lived in the neighborhood. Franklin's parents met as teenagers, probably at Burnett Jr. High. Margaret worked in the Muirson labeling factory on Stockton St. (an historic warehouse still standing but currently endangered by a proposed high-density housing development project.) The couple had two boys and two girls. Franklin and Angela, as mentioned, still live in the Northside. Angela is a girl scout leader with Troup 87, following in the steps of Frank, who was leader of Boy Scout Troup #1. (She was in Yosemite on a field trip with Northside girls when I interviewed Franklin for this piece.) The other brother, Larry, also lives in San Jose. Veronica, a former San Jose High cheerleader, now lives in Yuba City.
"At some point," Franklin recalls, "Frank became treasurer of the Northside Neighborhood Assn." Franklin found some old neighborhood association financial records recently buried in his late father's papers. "I took all that stuff over to current treasurer Ed Berger."
Frank's "last political action," as Franklin describes it, was an impassioned public address to the city council back in the early 1980s to return the one-way couplets on 10th and 11th Sts. back to two-way traffic. "I was embarrassed because I was working as a city council aide at the time and here was my father coming down to city hall and yelling at councilmembers about their "broken promise to return the streets to 2-way." Frank "was always calling McEnery, Hammer, and Pandori, about some northside problem that needed attention." Franklin recalls Mayor McEnery often walking over to his cubicle with a phone message in hand saying "so what is your father calling about NOW?" Frank, who passed away along with his wife Margaret in 1999, would be pleased to know that another council is finally honoring its pledge.Although Frank's children Franklin and Angela are the lasting remaining Maggi's in the Northside, large extended family gatherings still occur on Tenth St., says Franklin. There are monthly barbecues held in a courtyard between the two houses, with sometimes thirty people or so on a Sunday afternoon. In the middle of the driveway is a huge pepper tree, about seventy years old, planted by the family. Frank at one point hoisted an old wood extension ladder in the tree and left it there. Even after his passing, the family hasn't removed it, and it can be seen from the grounds of Grant School, rising high above the neighborhood. According to Franklin, "the family says that Frank steps down to the top rung occasionally to keep an eye on the family. I think he is also reminiscing on his 80 years in the northside neighborhood, and the many social friendships that developed due to his interest in his community."
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