Building serves as hub of Brier Hill Italian Festival
Building serves as hub of Italian festival
By Bruce Walton
For 25 years, the Brier Hill Italian Festival has been a tribute to the Italian immigrants who settled in an iconic neighborhood on the northwest side of town.
The festival, which began Thursday and continues through Sunday, will provide plenty of Italian food and table vendors, nearly nonstop live Italian music, games and hot pepper and wine contests.
It is at the corner of Calvin and Victoria streets.
A small building serves as the hub of the annual event that recaptures the heyday of the city’s Italian population in the first half of the 20th century.
What some may forget is the building itself will celebrate its 95th year, and there is one Italian-American family that sees it as more of a home than anyone else.
At the top of the building is an engraving – “F. Ford 1921” – for Francesco Fiordaliso, who constructed the building from the ground up in 1921.
His descendants carry on his legacy and the life he provided for his wife and children after arriving in this land of opportunity.
Mary Ann Hudzik of Warren, Fiordaliso’s great-granddaughter, said witnessing a building that symbolizes her family’s heritage gives her pride beyond measure.
“To me, it’s an honor to know that it was the beginning for our family and so much good has extended out to our community and beyond because of it,” Hudzik said.
Fiordaliso came to the U.S. from Montegiordano Calabria, Italy, with only $96 in his pocket in 1905 to start his life.
He set up a store and butcher shop in the building below and lived upstairs with his wife, Caterina Bellitti from Tursi, Italy, and eight children. He also had been a positive figure in the Italian community, teaching English to immigrants.
Unfortunately, he ended up losing the building and several surrounding properties he owned in the area before dying after a hunting accident in 1930.
Before he died, however, Fiordaliso left a legacy that continues to this day. The building fell into the hands of the late Dominic “Dee Dee” Modarelli in 1981 who converted it into a bar.
Modarelli, along with Joey Naples, Neil Buzzacco and Claire Maluso, organized the Brier Hill Fest in 1991, and the building was its focal point.
Modarelli’s daughter, Dina Modarelli, said the building has been a great center for the community to return to every year.
“Over the years, you see the houses pass away, the families have moved out, but every year, they still come back here to this stomping ground – to Brier Hill,” she said.
Dina Modarelli said she hopes more people can make it the festival this year, and she’s thankful for the community’s longtime support.
Hudzik added she hopes to see the festival continue for future generations.