Frederic F. Campagnoli, our sixth president, was practically born into Il Cenacolo. Why? Because, back in 1928, when he was ten or eleven years old, the original nucleus of our founding members sat around a table at his parents’ restaurant and came up with una idea geniale…that stroke of genius which accounts for our being here today.
His parents, Armando and Dealbora, had emigrated from the town of Mirandola in the province of Modena in the Northern Italian region of Emilia around 1910.
Armando was a violinist and Dealbora was an opera singer. They first lived in North Beach and finally settled in the Marina District.
The story goes that Dealbora’s home-cooked meals were so popular among visiting opera troupes that it was suggested she serve them up on a regular, commercial basis. This happened in 1924 with a restaurant called Campi’s (for who could pronounce Campagnoli’s?). It was located at 869 Geary Street between Hyde and Larkin. (By the way, this was in fact the fourth restaurant in San Francisco bearing that selfsame name, the first going back to 1854, thirty-two years before the Fior d’Ita1ia, and winding up in 1914.)
In a San Francisco news article of 1935, food writer Martha Lane reported that Campi’s Restaurant was a magnet for visiting and local opera talent. Among the recurring guests were the tenors Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa and Giacomo Lauri- Volpi, the sopranos Claudia Muzio and Elizabeth Rethberg, the Russian basso Feodor Chaliapin, and the Bakersfield-born baritone Lawrence Tibbett. When the married Ezio Pinza used to show up with the occasional female companion, the couple was always given a discreet table towards the back of the establishment.
There was even a dish named for another frequent diner, Maestro Gaetano Merola, “veal alla Merola.” Our founding member, Renzo Turco, di santa memoria, remembered that the house specialty was tortellini alla Bolognese. In any case, Miss Lane noted with surprise that for the first time ever pasta had been served to her in a local Italian eatery without tomato sauce! This made a great impression upon her.
Two years later, in 1937, a book by Ruth Thompson, Eating around San Francisco, listed Campi’s Restaurant as one of the City’s most “picturesque, typical, historical, romantic, and interesting houses of good food.” By that time, the restaurant had moved to greatly expanded facilities at 1013 Van Ness Avenue, with seating for 170 guests, a bar, a large open dining area, booths, and a banquet room. Tragically, Armando Campagnoli died that same year. The restaurant closed. In the city directory for 1938 Dealbora is simply listed as a widow.
Frederic F. Campagnoli was born Ferruccio on July, 20, 1917. Ferruccio is a perfectly good Italian name, and its bearers include Femiccio Lamborghini, Femiccio Ferragamo, and the tenor Ferruccio Tagliavini. In the San Francisco of the 1920s, however, the name sounded odd and was quickly transformed into Fred. His middle initial “F” represented the vestigial “Ferruccio.” We know from the San Francisco News article that both he and his older sister, Giselda, Americanized to Zelda, worked part-time in the family business.
Much later in his life, because the organization in question wasn’t founded until 1983—by two Cenacolisti, myself and Joe Simini—Fred Campagnoli became a member of the Piemontesi nel Mondo. Why? Because, Believe it or not, Fred spoke fluent piemonteis. It turns out that his parents used to send him each summer to work on a farm owned by a Piedmontese family in Cupertino, the Rosinganas, who grew cherries and walnuts. This was way before the Santa Clara Valley was cemented and siliconed over. Perhaps the owners were purveyors of fruit to Campi’s Restaurant. In any case, though his parents spoke standard Italian to him and Giselda, Fred had little problem learning piemonteis in an isolated, total- immersion environment.
There are two other anecdotes regarding Fred Campagnoli’s teenage years. His older sister, Giselda, married Alfonso J. Zirpoli, eventually a respected federal judge and future president of Il Cenacolo. Back in 1933, when Zirpoli was Assistant US Attorney for Northern California and Fred was still in high school, Zirpoli recruited Fred to listen into and transcribe phone conversations in Italian between himself, alias “Tony Damico,” and the mother of Joseph Raymond “Fatso” Negri. “Fatso” was a known associate of “Baby Face” Nelson and John Dillinger. (Needless to say, the case of “Fatso” Negri is one of the very few documented instances of criminality among Italian Americans.)
The other anecdote regards Fred at Galileo High School. He was pilot, or coxswain, of the varsity crew which, on May 19, 1934, defeated Lowell for Galileo’s third straight All-City championship. Nowadays, that would land you a scholarship to an Ivy League college.
Instead, Fred Campagnoli attended UC Berkeley, followed by its prestigious law school, Boalt Hall. There, Fred met Lawrence Mana, who recruited him into the Salesian Academy. This was a North Beach-based, college-age group headed by Angelo Fusco to give, in today’s parlance, positive role models to younger Italian Americans…as though “Fatso” Negri wasn’t a good enough role model!
At one of their dances at the California Club, Ernestine Cervelli was introduced to Fred. Telephone conversations ensued. Their first date was a night at the movies: Juke Girl, starring Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan, playing at the El Capitan out on Mission Street. (Of course, we have all heard of Ann Sheridan, but who in the devil was that co-star of hers?)
Exactly one year later, Sunday, September 11, 1943, Fred and Emestine were married at Saints Peter & Paul Church. This was on extremely short notice and required a special dispensation from the archdiocese because Fred, then an ensign in the US Navy, was in transit to San Diego awaiting orders to ship out.
Frederic Campagnoli served in the South Pacific theater of action. By the time of his discharge towards the end of the war, he had been promoted to lieutenant senior grade and was commanding officer of the YMS 271, the lead minesweeper which cleared the path for the invasion forces at Okinawa.
Professional and Community Activities
Shortly after his return, Fred started a general law practice, initially operating out of the law offices of Julian Pardini, Sr., who lent him a vacant room. The deal was that Fred would do some work for Pardini in exchange for rent-free quarters. Fred Campagnoli practiced law for over fifty years on Montgomery Street, eventually in partnership with his son, Frederic Anthony Campagnoli.
The few cases of his that made the San Francisco papers involved criminal defense. For example, in 1957, he defended the owners of the Cozy Tavern at 539 Valencia Street, accused of operating a “wagering center” or bookie joint. A case which Fred took particularly to heart was that of San Quentin death-row inmate Edmund Earl Reeves, convicted of killing a man who surprised him stealing fuel from an oilfield near Bakersfield. In two appeals in 1967 and ‘68, Fred argued that the initial court-appointed attorney had not given Reeves adequate representation by not mentioning his personal family history or his claim of self-defense. Ernestine remembers that Fred really felt for the guy, that Reeves “never had a chance in life.” The appeals were lost, but Reeves was never executed, though I don’t know why.
In spite of his ongoing legal practice, Frederic F. Campagnoli found the time to be active, and often in positions of leadership, in a myriad of veteran, civic, religious, and Italian-American organizations. Like his brother-in-law, Fred was a lifelong Democrat, though more moderate than Alfonso Zirpoli, and he had occasion to endorse candidates for office, without however having any political ambitions of his own. At various times, he was commander of the San Francisco County Council of the American Legion, vice-chairman of the local Catholic Social Services, and member of the Citizens Charter Revision Committee. That last position brought out Fred’s outspoken character. On January 22, 1970, the Examiner reported an outburst by him regarding a private meeting between Mayor Joseph L. Alioto and business and labor leaders to hammer out a compromise on proposed charter amendments. He said, rightly, I might add: “If the Chamber of Commerce and the Labor Council are going to write the charter, I don’t know why we’re sitting here.”
Frederic Campagnoli’s greatest and proudest civic position was as trustee of the San Francisco War Memorial. It was a perfect fit. The War Memorial administers the Performing Arts Center housing the Herbst Theater and the Performing Arts Library and Museum, the War Memorial Opera House next door, the Davies Symphony Hall, and the Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall. Fred was a war veteran and, as we have seen, he grew up in a musical family, listening to bel canto and serving tortellini, so to speak, to international opera luminaries. As a child, he even had a role as a street urchin in a local production of la Boheme. Frederic was first appointed trustee in 1959 by Mayor George Christopher. He served on the board for thirty years until 1989, including a ten-year stint as president. Fred was instrumental in planning and funding the renovation of the old Veterans’ Auditorium into Herbst Theater and the construction of Davies Symphony Hall.
PHOTO 7. (It should be noted that our second president, Guido Musto, was also a War Memorial trustee.)
Besides his civic commitments, Frederic Campagnoli was also ubiquitous in Italian community affairs. He was president of the Italian American Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Coast from 1969 through at least 1973, during its waning years. The demise of this venerable institution, founded in 1885, was due to two factors: the appearance on the scene of the Italian Trade Commission in the early 1970s, a government-sponsored entity with serious funding and a professional staff, and the fact that in 1976 Sergio Masocco, secretary-general of the chamber, absconded with its treasury, never to be seen again.
At this point, let me indulge in a little linguistic fun. On the evening of December 14, 1973, during the chamber’s Christmas dinner at the Hyatt Regency, Fred Campagnoli presented attestati di benemerenza to three local Italian-American businessmen. In a florid and circular style typical of the Italian language, Fred was conferring upon the three gentlemen in question a certification that they actually deserved what they were receiving, to wit, a citation of “meritoriousness” (benemerenza). It almost sounds like the Wizard of OZ conferring a brain upon the Straw Man.
Fred was, at one time or another, legal counsel to the Italian consulate general, president of the Columbus Day Celebration, and member of the Columbus Civic Club and of the Sons of Italy. He was president of the Italian Welfare Agency, today called Italian Community Services, and in 1992 was honored by that institution with its Humanitarian Award.
He was also secretary and attorney for an emanation of that agency, called Carina, Inc. Carina administered Casa Costanzo, basically a subsidized residential hotel for low-income, ambulatory Italian-American seniors, housed in a building on Washington Square above the Fior d’Italia. Inaugurated with much fanfare by Vice President Walter Mondale in 1979, this unlucky experiment wound down and dissolved in the mid-1990s, amid budget constraints and claims of racial discrimination.
Frederic Campagnoli joined Il Cenacolo in 1946, the year that our club emerged from wartime clandestinity into the open air. Obviously, Fred’s indirect ties to the club dated back to its founding, besides which, his law associate, Julian Pardini, and his brother-in-law, Alfonso Zirpoli, were longtime members. PHOTO 8. In 1962, Fred was elected to the Cenacolo board of directors. At the annual dinner and business meeting, held at the Fior d’Itaia on June 7, 1967, Fred Campagnoli was elected president, with Victor Repetto as vice president. Our assets at the time were about $7,500.
During Fred’s tenure, which lasted through 1970, the regular weekly meetings continued at the Fior d’Ita1ia, the Christmas dinners were again held at the Bohemian Club, and the Fall Opera Outings were celebrated under the pergolato of the Martini family vineyard up on the slopes of Mount Saint Helena, halfway between Sonoma and Glen Ellen, surrounded by old Zinfandel vines. I am so sorry for those of you who did not know, to paraphrase Talleyrand, the sweetness of life before the Gallo takeover.
One of Fred Campagnoli’s innovations was conferring our annual award upon a woman. What a crazy, radical, off-the-wall idea! This happened in 1970 with the “Woman of the Year” honor going to Claire Giannini Hoffman, daughter of Cenacolista A.P. Giannini and member of the Bank of America board of directors.
Fred Campagnoli himself was honored as “Man of the Year” in 1985. His brother- in-law presented him. In his concluding remarks, Alfonso Zirpoli said: “While my brief recitation is a reflection of his service to his country and his contributions to the cultural and civic life of his community, our respect and affection for him arises primarily from his personality, which in every way reflects that of a perfect gentleman.” Fred would surely understand the Piedmontese term, galantòm.
Fred passed away on January 5, 2001, leaving behind his wife, Ernestine, and three grown children, Joy Thompson, Fred Junior, and Julie.
© 2024 Il Cenacolo, Introduction to a talk by Andrew M. Canepa May 3, 2012
Share with friends