When you think New York, you think lower Manhattan. Little Italy, Nolita, Soho, the LES-these neighborhoods form the heart of the city, both geographic and spiritual. Their iconic side streets and alleyways play host to the constantly evolving story of New York City.
Frankie, a Little Italy old timer, is a piece of the neighhborhood’s living history.
The gentleman is a building supervisor on Mulberry Street, and isn’t afraid to call it like he sees it. He made time in his busy schedule to explain to us what stickball is, how the mafia made the neighborhood safer, and what he thinks of people who pay ridiculous rents.
Hey Frankie. How long have you been in this neighborhood?
67 years. I was born where we’re talking right now.
What was so special about Little Italy?
You could do anything you wanted. There was never crime around here. You could leave the doors open. You could’ve slept with the doors open. Nobody would never rob you. Now, since there’s no more mafia, everyone does anything they want to do. The cops can’t even control them.
What was it like growing up here?
Forget about it. There were kids all around here. We had teams—we used to play stick ball with the Mott Street Boys, the Mulberry Street Boys, the 4th Street Boys, the Prince Street Boys, all over the city.
What’s stick ball?
We play with a broom—that skinny bat, and we whack that mother friggin thing. You see the church on Mulberry Street? And the corner where the graveyard is? We had two guys that could hit the ball from there to the water tank on the next building. That was a home run. Only two kids. Vinny and Gyga, they were the only two people who could hit that tank.
How’s the neighborhood changed over the years?
Now it’s for rich people. It’s the truth. Rent’s five thousand dollars—you gotta be out of your mind to spend five thousand dollars. It used to be twenty three or fifty and you lived good. It’s the truth. You know all over is getting up high. People are so stupid.
Your mum grew up in this area too, right?
My mother was born here, my father was born in Italy. They made him a citizen when he went to WWII.
Can you tell us about the mafia around here?
The stories in this neighborhood, forget about it. We had clubs, after hours joints, we would play cards. We had a lot of fun. I had a candy store, and in the back I had an after hour joint—The Naughty Pine. Al Capone, the Purple Gang, all hung out in there. That’s why it was the Naughty Pine.
But you were saying the mafia actually made it safe…
You could do anything you want. It was safe, you could leave all the doors open. If you had no money, they’d trust you, as long as you’re from the neighborhood. And the Italian culture made this neighborhood what it is.This was a real Italian neighborhood. We had vegetable stands on Mott Street. All push carts. Italian bakeries all around, little grocery stores. We had two news stands on the corner here. The buses used to go down Spring Street and up Grand Street—private buses till the city bought them out.
How do you like being the super here?
Me? I just do this for the fun of it. Because everybody pays for something.
You should run for mayor of this neighborhood, Frankie. What about this basement here?
These walls weren’t here. This was an open basement. They used to bootleg wine here. I never paid a dime for twenty-five years with the old landlord.
Anything else, Frankie?
I’m Frank, but they call me Terror. And that’s the whole story of this neighborhood.