This summer, Festival Italiano is just a cherished memory.
A lack of volunteers and sponsors doomed the 27-year-old institution — itself a revival of the long-running St. Anthony’s Feast.
But Westporters are intrepid. And though the carnival rides, fried dough and Johnny Maestro are gone, we can have our own Italian Fest this summer.
Or at least, we can celebrate the reason we had a festival in the first place: Saugatuck.
Rather than riding roller coasters, eating unhealthy food and listening to bands without most of their original members, let’s honor the place that meant so much to so many, for so long.
The Arrow Restaurant was always packed.
You can drive to Saugatuck, and ride along its still-familiar streets. You can walk around, and — though the smells and sounds of the 1930s, ’50s, even the ’70s are gone — still see the remnants of what was once Westport’s most vibrant neighborhood.
Or just sit back, close your eyes, and think back to the days of the Arrow restaurant, Lou Santella’s barber shop, and small grocery stores and other shops everywhere.
Remember families like Capasse, Anastasia, Luciano, Cribari, Giunta, Caruso, D’Aiuto, Dorta, Romano, DeMattio, Arciola, DeMace, D’Amico, Manere, Capuano, Arcudi, Melillo, Rubino, Caputo, Tiberio, Bottone, Nazzaro, Saviano, Reitano, Valiante, Tedesco, Gilbertie and Nistico.
Construction of I-95 sliced the Saugatuck community in half.
Think of the grape arbors, plum trees and beautiful gardens of years gone by. Some survived construction of I-95, when it sliced through the heart of this tight-knit community. Many did not.
Recall Dr. Gillette Circle. It’s a strange name — but it memorializes the family doctor who served Saugatuck so well.
Think about the old Sons of Italy hall on Riverside Avenue. Next to it — once upon a time — was a cable grip factory. Nearby were farms, a shirt factory, homes that housed multiple generations and houses with multiple families.
Not far away is the train station. The 2nd set of tracks was built by Italian immigrants. It’s an important part of the community that’s still there.
Carole and Robert DeMaria in Saugatuck (now Luciano) Park. In the background is Esposito's Gulf station (soon to be Mario Batali's Tarry Lodge). On the corner is Arcudi's grocery story (now the 21 Charles Street office building.) (Photo courtesy of Terry Santella Anzalone)
So is Luciano Park. Both the park, and the station parking lot, were apt sites for the Italian Festival when it thrived.
The thousands of fair-goers may not have realized they were standing on a patch of history — that’s tough to do when you’re playing whack-a-mole, scarfing down pizza frites and dancing to do-wop — but it’s the way the world turns.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to think back — particularly this 2nd weekend in July, the traditional date for Festival Italiano — to what it was, and why it was there.
So spend a few minutes remembering the Italian Fest, and its the entire Saugatuck community.
You can travel back there in real life, or go there in your mind’s eye.
Either way, it’s a wonderful journey.