Armando Pedrini, Founder and First President

Armando-Pedrini c1930
Armando-Pedrini c1930

Armando Pedrini, one of the thirteen founding members of Il Cenacolo and its first president from 1928 to 1931, was born in Bologna on November 30, 1870. We don’t have any firsthand information about his family. However, since in 1890 he graduated with a degree in ragioneria, or accounting, from the Royal Technical Institute of his native city, we can surmise that he came from a comfortable middle-class background. For reasons unknown to us, he left Italy headed for the New World and, after several years spent in Buenos Aires, he emigrated to San Francisco, landing here in 1901 as a merchant seaman. Thirty years old and in a new country, Armando took whatever jobs he could get, including, it is said, stevedore and waiter. He ultimately found steady employment in a modest clerical position with a local Italian-language newspaper published by another Cenacolo founder, Ettore Patrizi. After a year with the daily i, he left to become a teller at the Columbus Savings & Loan Society in North Beach.

Armando Pedrini and the Bank of Italy

This was the beginning of 1904. As we know, later that year, a group of dissident Columbus directors, led by A.P. Giannini, bolted the institution to form a new bank, the Bank of Italy. Armando must have made quite an impression behind the teller’s counter. He was tall, at least as tall as A.P. himself (six foot two), which was really tall for the time, especially among Italians. He was athletic and jovial, handsome and suave: he would kiss ladies’ hands, Continental-fashion. Giannini was so impressed that he insisted Pedrini be hired as assistant cashier in the new bank, at double the salary ($150 a month) that he was receiving at Columbus, and Giannini personally guaranteed the salary out of his own pocket, just in case earnings couldn’t cover it. When pressed by the other directors as to why this Pedrini chap was worth so much, Giannini answered, “Because he knows his business, and because he is polite and has a following. The women are crazy about him, and he gives a man in overalls as much attention as a big depositor.” This description underscores how well Pedrini fit right in with Giannini’s vision of what a people’s bank should be. In fact, two of the Bank of Italy’s innovations were the respect shown to the small depositor, the average Joe or average Giuseppe, and the attention paid to women clients in an effort to make them feel at home in the bank, something entirely novel at the time.

Sketch of Armando Pedrini, 1st Presidentof Il Cenacolo
Sketch of Armando Pedrini, 1st Presidentof Il Cenacolo

Thus, Armando Pedrini was hired, one of only three paid employees when the “baby bank” opened for business on October 17, 1904. Pedrini’s stature grew along with that of the Bank of Italy, which is to say that it grew fast. He quickly became a close confidant of A.P., who used to call him “Ped,” and he formed part of his inner circle. On the fateful night of April 18, 1906, it was Pedrini, along with Giannini himself, his brother Attilio and his brother-in-law Clarence Cuneo, who hid $80,000 in gold and silver bank assets under oranges on two horse-drawn produce carts, and then drove them down to Giannini’s San Mateo home for safe- keeping in the ash bin under the fireplace. In 1909, Pedrini was promoted to cashier. By the time the Cenacolo was founded in 1928, he was executive vice president and member of the board of directors of both the Bank of Italy and its holding company, the Bancitaly Corporation. He was also a senior officer and director of the various subsidiaries and affiliates in Giannini’s financial empire, an alphabet soup of companies reminiscent of the New Deal. After the corporate name changes of November 1930, Pedrini continued as vice president of both Bank of America and the Transamerica Corporation.

In the meantime, Pedrini’s boundless energy, his super- salesmanship and his organizational skills were utilized to good effect by A.P. Giannini. In 1919, he was sent back to Italy to finalize the purchase of the ailing Banca dell ‘Italia Meridionale in Naples, where he fired most of the top executives and their staffs and reorganized its banking operations, introducing efficient management practices. (The bank was renamed Banca d’America e d’Italia in 1922 and was finally sold off in the downsizing of the 1980s.) In 1920, Pedrini was appointed head of the Italian Department, whose goal was to make of every Italian American in California a depositor and shareholder of the Bank of Italy. This was effected through an army of solicitors, or “missionaries” as they were called, sent up and down the coast and into the valleys in search of paesani with disposable income, a regular stock-promoting machine not always attuned to the finer points of professional etiquette. (The Italian Department, by then much reduced and mostly limited to handling financial transactions with Italy, was discontinued in 1975. Its last manager was the late Louis Alessandria, former president of Il Cenacolo, SF.) In 1921-22, Pedrini was sent on on eight-month mission to Europe in order to oversee the bank’s interests there and to study local economic and financial conditions. Upon his return to San Francisco on June 26, 1922, he declared to the Chronicle that, due to the withholding of loans by Western banks, “the quick collapse of the Bolshevik regime is certain.” (He was off the mark by about seventy years.)

After A.P.’s stepfather Lorenzo Scatena died in August, Pedrini and Giannini were the only ones left of the original nucleus of the Bank of Italy. However, with the deepening Depression, a break between the two was looming on the horizon. In 1931, Pedrini sided with Transamerica chairman and CEO Elisha Walker in his plan to abandon Giannini’s nationwide banking project and dismantle the corporation’s holdings. In the famous proxy fight that ensued — the mother of all proxy fights, during which the oratorical skills of another Cenacolista, Angelo J. Scampini, first came to the fore — the Giannini forces regained control of Transamerica on February 15, 1932. The entire sitting directorate of Transamerica and its affiliates was sent packing, and Armando Pedrini, at the age of sixty-one, retired into private life.

Armando Pedrini and the Italian Community

Pedrini’s connection to the Bank of Itay/Bank of America is his major claim to fame, and it’s obviously what has landed him a place in the history books. However, his life was not absorbed or consumed by banking alone, nor can it be summed up in an overview of his professional career. Armando Pedrini was also an avid outdoorsman, a scholar and patron of culture, and he was so thoroughly involved in the concerns and affairs of the local Italian colony as to be ubiquitous in its organizations. In fact, the only other person to be spread so thin across the institutions of the community was another Cenacolista, Sylvester Andriano.

Pedrini was founder and so-called capo console of the local branch of the Italian Touring Club, an outfit which organized hikes and treks to various points in Northern California. It is in this guise that we find him depicted in a 1910 caricature by Luigi Mastropasqua (“Lama”) which appeared in La Vita Italiana, the weekly magazine of L’/fofia. Pedrini was a spilungone, a daddy-longlegs with a prominent nose, big hands and big feet, a cartoonist’s dream. He was a dapper dresser, and Mastropasqua made sure to label and price each item of clothing. The caption under the caricature reads as follows:

Questi è sportman, banchiere ed uom di mondo,
Sempre giovane e forte, ognor giocondo,
Egli ama il ben vestire e il lavorare,
Ma piu ch’ altro gli piace camminare.

He’s a sportsman, banker and man of the world,
Always youthful and strong, forever jovial,
He loves dressing well and working,
But most of all he likes to walk.

There are photos of him from around this time that show Pedrini during club excursions, a strapping hulk of a man in rolled-up shirtsleeves, towering above his shorter paesani. With this in mind, we can appreciate why Max Vanzi, in his eyewitness account of the earthquake and fire in North Beach, would describe Armando Pedrini as a veritable “living pillar” (una colonna vivente) straddled across the entrance of the Bank of Italy, holding at bay and calming down the gathering crowd of anxious depositors on the morning of April 18, 1906.

To list all of Armando Pedrini’s positions and activities within the Italian colony would be tedious. Some, however, are particularly revealing of his interests and commitments and of his devotion of time and energy and ought to be mentioned. For example, in 1916, he was a founding director and first secretary of the Italian Board of Relief, precursor to the present Italian American Community Services Agency. He was president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce for fourteen years, from 1918 to 1932, where another founding member of Il Cenacolo, Renzo Turco, served under him as secretary of the organization. For two brief periods, in 1921 and 1923, Pedrini even served as acting consul general of Italy. He spearheaded the committee which, from 1923 to 1928, raised in excess of $250,000 to endow the Chair of Italian Culture at the University of California at Berkeley. The next year, we find him as president of the committee for the Mostra del Libro Italiano, a traveling book exhibit that stopped at several California cities.

Pedrini’s own literary and cultural interests were long-standing and deep-rooted. Back in 1910, La Vita Italiana ran a humorous account of a fictitious conversation between Pedrini and Ettore Patrizi, in which Pedrini tells the publisher: in our colony “outside of you and me, you can’t find a really proper person (una persona veramente a modo), who can understand Carducci and D’Annunzio like we do.” His obituaries tell us that he devoted his retirement years to the study of art and to his passion for reading. From his student days in Bologna, he had maintained a lasting friendship with Carlo Formichi, later to become professor of literature in Rome and the first occupant of the Chair of Italian Culture in Berkeley, and with Luigi Federzoni, a prominent Fascist minister, president of the Italian senate and head of the Italian Academy. Incidentally, Pedrini’s own political leanings, at least as far as Italy was concerned, can be deduced from the fact that, on April 21, 1928, he gave a speech in Fugazi Hall at the commemoration of the founding of Rome, the so-called “Natale di Roma” organized by the Fascio Umberto Nobile, the local section of the Italian Fascist Party.

In the Heritage Room of this same Fugazi Hall at 678 Green St. we can view today a fine group photo of a banquet held in honor of Armando Pedrini in the Gold Room of the Fairmont Hotel on June 26, 1929. During this gala occasion, Pedrini was formally awarded the decoration of Grand Officer of the Crown of Italy for his efforts on behalf of promoting Italian culture in the Bay Area. Doing the presenting was another founding member of Il Cenacolo, the Italian vice-consul, Cav. Alberto Mellini Ponce de Leon. A few months later, at another Fairmont Hotel affair, Pedrini received a gold medal awarded by the King of Italy. This dinner, held on September 5, 1929, was co-sponsored by Il Cenacolo. Given the present state of research, it appears to have been the club’s first documented public function.

Pedrini was very fond of Il Cenacolo and no doubt continued to attend its meetings and affairs after his term as president and his retirement into private life. In the club archives, we have a framed portrait photo of a very distinguished Armando Pedrini by Alessandro Baccari Sr. It bears an autograph dedication, dated November 30, 1934: “Al Cenacolo, serbando il più gradito ricordo della associazione con gli amici che ne formano il simpatico centro di affettuosità familiare e di patrie memorie.” It’s rather florid and very Italian, and it translates badly. An approximate English rendition would be: To the Cenacolo, with fondest remembrance of my association with the friends who constitute its congenial nucleus of camaraderie and faraway memories.

Armando Pedrini died of a heart attack in his home on Larkin St. on the morning of January 20, 1940. He left behind a widow, the former Ines Siccardi, and countless friends.

Marquis and Bessie James, authors of Biography of a Bank, the standard history of Bank of America, have called Armando Pedrini “a magnetic figure.” In the obituary that appeared in L’ltalia, he was described as the perfect gentleman (perfetto tipo di galantuomo), courteous and affable to everyone, irrespective of their station in life. The Italian Catholic paper, L’Unione, added that he was generous beyond description, proverbially modest, quick to forgive offenses, always ready with a kind word, always smiling.

Armando Pedrini was clearly an excellent choice as first president of Il Cenacolo, and his professional career and myriad community involvements certainly bear out the club’s motto, “Itala gente dalle molte vite.”

 



© 2024 Il Cenacolo, Talk by Andrew Canepa,  April 29, 1999

 

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