My thanks to the following for their assistance in this post: Anthony Gambatese, Nicole Laurienzo, Ray Kristosik, Nancy Phillips, Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, Dominic Gogol and my great Laurienzo family.
Nearly 60 years ago I was born in the neighborhood known as “Little Italy” in Cleveland. I was not there for long as my mother took me and left when I was nearly 9 months old in 1957. My first trip back there happened around 1993 or 94, and I haven’t visited but only four or five times since, and typically for one or two hours at a time as I passed through to another destination.
In mid-May 2016 I had the opportunity to visit for an extended time and get to know the neighborhood that I could’ve grown up in. I spent time with some of my half-sisters and half-brother and visited a number of businesses in the area. I was also able research some of the history of the place of my birth.
This post is not really about me, but is about the neighborhood known as Murray Hill or also as “Little Italy.” What is the neighborhood like today? What was it like 60 years ago when I was born there? These were all questions that I had.
The “neighborhood”, as the long-time residents call it, has been around since the late 1800s. It is located from E. 119th to E. 125th streets on Murray Hill and Mayfield roads. Some stories say that there were 20 original Italian families that settled there and it’s one of the few “Little Italy’s” in the country where the people actually live in the neighborhood as well as have businesses there. Some historical notes say “By the late 1890s, many Italian immigrants had settled in the Mayfield-Murray Hill area and worked in the nearby marbleworks, one of which, the Lake View Marble Works, was founded by skilled stonemason Joseph Carabelli.” Carabelli was an Italian artisan who came to Cleveland via New York to open his sculpting and stone masonry business. His early employees developed reputations as expert stonemasons due to their contributions to monumental works at nearby Lake View Cemetery. The residential space to the south of the cemetery became occupied with numerous Italian families near the turn of the century.
In 1911 it was estimated that 96% of the inhabitants were Italian-born, and another 2% were of Italian parents. Many of these Italians were Neapolitan and were engaged in skilled lacework, garment making, and the embroidery trades. The largest group came from the towns of Ripalimosani, Matrice, and San Giovanni in Galdo, located in the Campobasso Province. My grandparents, Carmine Laurienzo and Maria Nicola Spuzzillo migrated from Matrice. Carmine arrived on the SS Cretic from Naples in Febuary 1921 along with Angelantonio Spuzzillo. An earlier member of the Spuzzillo family had arrived in 1907. In 1932 the Carmine (also known as “Nick”) formed a partnership with Nicolo Spuzzillo and opened up a storefront at 2072 Murray Hill Road (where I was born) as a grocery store. It was named Lorenzo and Spuzzillo’s.
Today, Little Italy is one of the few city neighborhoods attracting thousands of suburban shoppers that visit to enjoy the historical charm and the trendy, upscale art, dining, and
gracious living. In the community where the macaroni machine was invented in 1906, visitors will find the Little Italy Historical Museum, the Alta House and Library, Murray Hill School, the Holy Rosary Church, numerous restaurants, and artists’ studios and shops. In 1993 the community dedicated Tony Brush Park, named for champion boxer and Little Italy resident Anthony Brescia, at Mayfield and Random roads.
As it did in the early years, much of life in Little Italy centers around tradition. The Feast, which is a huge celebration at the historic Holy Rosary Church, is an annual event that is in planning stages all year round. Other events center around art walks today.
The Alta House began as a nursery and Kindergarten agency for the neighborhood. Carabelli approached the agency about expanding social services to the community. By 1898, contributions from John D. Rockefeller provided programs and facilities in the name of his daughter, Alta, to serve the immigrant community assimilating to American society. Both Holy Rosary and the Alta House remain as central religious social forces in the neighborhood today.
Currently, my sister Nicole, carries on the family tradition in the center of Little Italy with her own store front, Mayfield Smoke Shop, which she has run for 20 years (as of 2016).
With Nicole’s kind assistance, I was able to visit a number of folks in Little Italy and “get a taste — literally” of what this historic neighborhood is all about.
I started off with her two neighbors — Guarino’s, which is the oldest restaurant in Cleveland, and Mama Santa’s, an amazing pizzeria offering a massive variety of home made pasta and pizza.
My first stop was a visit with Nancy Phillips, the current owner of Guarino’s. She and two of her children (Scott & Rachel) have continued this family business and evolved the menu and atmosphere. They have taken strident efforts to preserve the history of this Cleveland establishment for nearly a century. Many of Nancy’s seven children and fifteen grandchildren have served at the tables, poured the drinks, cleaned the dishes, and even cooked the dinners for over twenty years since she took over.
Guarino’s Restaurant is generally recognized as Cleveland’s oldest restaurant. They have been open since 1918 and have never closed, never drastically remodeled, and never changed their commitment to high-quality Italian-American dining at affordable prices. It has stayed in the family, which has kept Cleveland’s oldest restaurant cooking for nearly a century.
Founded as a speakeasy during the prohibition era, Vincenzo Guarino used to serve liquor in coffee cups along Mayfield Road, and his wife affectionately referred to as “Mama Guarino” did all the cooking in the basement kitchen- which still exists today. The family lived upstairs and in the rear of the building, which although is now fully occupied for the uses of the restaurant, still strongly resembles home.
On my visit to Guarino’s I was fortunate enough to go down to the basement kitchen, which is still in use. I could barely stand up straight. It amazes me that this kitchen has been used longer than I have been alive.
In the early 1900s, when Mayfield was a much less traveled road, the story goes that Vincenzo Guarino left his native Sicily to seek his fortune in America in this newly settled Italian neighborhood of Cleveland. Within just a few years, he realized his dream of a business of his own, a tavern and pool room, serving food. It was patronized by the brigands of the times as well as professors and musicians from the nearby cultural and educational institutions. During prohibition, he served liquor in coffee cups to the elite of Cleveland, while his mother-in-law had a thriving wine business on the next street.
Vincenzo had actually brought grape vines with him from Italy and planted them in the patio area behind the old bar. These are still growing and have spread across much of the outside garden dining area in the back of the restaurant.
After Vincenzo’s marriage to Mama Guarino, they began to serve more and more food, and in turn became a full restaurant and bar. He turned the apartment above the restaurant into the family home which became an elegant fifties townhouse housing three generations of Guarino’s. The comfortable garden dining area opened in 1959 and still holds the trumpet vines and grape vines he brought from Italy.
In 1954, after Vincenzo’s death, his only son Sam decided to carry on the family business. In 1963, Sam decorated Guarino’s as it is now, in the Victorian era with antiques, special wallpaper, etc. After Mama Guarino and Sam passed away, Marilyn (Sam’s wife) and Nancy Phillips (a close family friend) took over the business in 1988. They remodeled the upstairs townhouse into an elegant dining room with early Victorian decor. The Victorian Parlours, as they have been named, can seat up to fifty people and have been the location of many rehearsal dinners, company banquets, and various parties.
Just two doors down from Guarino’s (next to the Mayfield Smoke Shop), is Mama Santa’s Pizzeria and casual Italian Restaurant. It is one of the only places in Cleveland that still makes their pasta, pizza dough and sauces from scratch, not to mention their sausages and other items. Almost everything on the menu is home made (and in some cases even home grown!)
Mama Santa’s was established by Guido and Nancy Scaffidi July 25, 1961. Before launching the restaurant, Guido worked as an auto body repair man and Nancy as a hair dresser. Guido served in World War II and was a prisoner of war. Shortly after World War II, Guido and Nancy emigrated from Gioiosa Marea, Sicily and settled in Akron before moving to Cleveland’s Little Italy. The restaurant is named in honor of Nancy’s mother, Santa Ignazzito, who was born on All Saints Day, November 1, 1908. Santa used her recipes straight from Sicily to create the authentic Sicilian menu.
Mama Santa’s has been in the same location since its inception. The building is more than 100 years old and was used as a bank, clothing store and a cafe before ultimately becoming Mama Santa’s.
Guido and Nancy’s sons, Anthony and Danny, began working at the restaurant as teenagers. They have overseen the daily operation of the restaurant since Guido retired in 1996. Today, the restaurant remains a family operation; Anthony’s wife Pina and her Sicilian friend Angela make all of the homemade pastas, sauces, and dough for the restaurant daily. Anthony’s four children all work at the restaurant — daughter Nancy manages the business today.
I was sent over to Mama Santa’s by my sister Nicole, who runs the Mayfield Smokeshop next door. We had just inhaled a large homemade pizza from them about an hour earlier and I had to wait for the lunch rush to get over to speak with Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, the daughter of Tio and Pina. Nancy basically runs the business now while Tio directs the customers and Pina makes her amazing homemade pastas, sauces, meatballs and sausages. I was told that I absolutely had to try out their home made pasta, so I was excited for the opportunity. Little did I know what I was in for!!
Nancy ushered me to a table and told me they would bring me a “sampler” of some of their items. I was envisioning a large plate with three or four items to taste test. Boy was I wrong.
Soon Mama Pina was at the table to tell me about her trip from Sicily to Cleveland. She had learned all of her skills growing up in Sicily and brought her talents with her (along with some local seeds for her home garden). As she spoke the “Sampler” began arriving…plate after plate…with practically full portions of their “Spaghetti di Casa” (their famous homemade thick spaghetti pasta noodles), cheese ravioli, meat ravioli, white clam sauce on pasta, fettucine alfredo, homemade sausage on spaghetti and more. It was all I could do to not be rude and stuff myself with the ABSOLUTE BEST Italian food I had ever had in my nearly 60 year life (no kidding..really). Then, Mama Pina said she had to go turn over her meatballs and would be right back.
Let your eyes force your mouth to water folks…..
As if the seven sampler plates were not enough, Mama Pina was next walking out with a sampler of her homemade meatballs with her secret ingredient… As I tried to find a place to put it and a way to deal with all of the tantalizing tastes rolling over my tongue, Pina explained to me that she adds her own home grown herbs into her food and, in her meatballs she adds some wild anise from her garden. The wild anise came from seeds that she had brought from her village in Sicily when she came to the United States. So, in essence, I was getting the authentic tastes from her faraway Sicilian village right there in Cleveland. And I had never had anise in meatballs. WOW!
I was full to my toes and fingertips (remember, I had also had some of their pizza just a couple of hours earlier). But then I hear Mama Tia speak in Italian to her daughter Nancy, and I understood her telling her to bring me some of their Tiramisu. I tried to be nice and say no…that I was sooooo full form their “sampler.” But Mama Tia, in her sweet Italian way, would not say no. Soon I was handed a plate of a small portion (thank goodness) of their dangerously delectable Tiramisu. I found a way to get it in me….smooth, creamy and chocolatey.
The owners and staff are proud of their wonderful little restaurant. The neighborhood is as well. The place is typically packed with lines out the doors.
I don’t think I have ever been as full as I was after leaving the wonderful atmosphere of Mama Santa’s. But before I left I got to visit the backroom a bit. Unfortunately, it was not homemade pasta day. They do that on Mondays.
If you get anywhere near Cleveland, you must make your way to Little Italy just to try Mama Pina’s homemade pasta!
Nestled between Guarino’s and Mama Santa’s is my sister’s Mayfield Smoke Shop. Admittedly, I don’t smoke anything but turkeys on my Big Green Egg grill at Thanksgiving. Though some of the best food is just a couple of doors down, I discovered on this trip that the neighborhood gathering spot is at the smoke shop. One of only a few places in all of Cleveland that sells cigars and other tobacco products, it is perhaps one of the most well known and visited. There is a back room for neighborhood folks to gather and chat and play cards. There are comfy seats in the shop to sit and relax (which I did for a couple of hours just to see the constant flow of people form both inside and outside the neighborhood.
My half sister Nicole Laurienzo has been the proprietor of this shop for 20 years. She is a mainstay of the neighborhood and provides her loyal customers (hundreds, if not thousands, of them) the tobacco products they need along with the only spot in Little Italy to carry lottery tickets, candy, energy drinks, sodas and a few other things. But, more than all of these items, Nicole provides a smile to all of her visitors and many come, sit a while indoors or out and chat, share information, tell stories of the neighborhood, tell jokes, talk politics and more.
Even if you don’t smoke, if you are in Little Italy, please drop in and say hi to Nicole. Tell her Sumoflam sent you!
My sister Nicole also sent me down to one of the newer spots in Little Italy – the Tavern of Little Italy, also known as TOLI. I am not a drinker, but I heard they have good eats and that the owner Dominic Gogol is one of the nicest guys in the neighborhood. So, I meandered my way down to visit Dominic and check out TOLI.
The story of TOLI began when a group of friends decided to bring something new to the historic neighborhood. Some deep-rooted, others newly-planted, together they created a hard to define tavern where red wine meets 14 taps of craft beer – where meatballs meet fish tacos. The time, sweat and talent “from the hands of many” gutted, built and renovated a 100-year old home that is now the Tavern of Little Italy. A 30-foot bar, surrounded by rustic design, creates an air of familiar comfort.
Before I got to talk to Dominic, I was told to make sure to catch the restroom…a totally unique experience. You can read the walls…and the history of Little Italy on the walls.
On the food front, TOLI is more than a neighborhood bar. Its kitchen is dedicated to local fresh and imaginative cuisine. Its beer selection, both on tap and bottled, has been carefully selected with the hope of offering both diversity and established flavors.
TOLI features multiple, high-definition big screen TV’s for faithful Cleveland sports fans. A private dining room is available for groups of 50 and under. There are also three different outdoor eating spaces, from sidewalk to alley to back patio. TOLI is located in the heart of Cleveland Little Italy, where Murray Hill Road meets Mayfield Road – “the top of the T”.
Other sights from around the neighborhood
I only had half a day to really visit with folks from the neighborhood. But, I spent the morning walking around capturing photos to bring a feel of Little Italy. Following are a few more shots from my visit to this wonderful place I call my birthplace.
Honestly, there are not many sinfully delightful treats than an homemade cannoli. Little Italy has a couple of places that compete for the best including Corbo’s Bakery and Presti’s Bakery. I have tried both and they are too close to call!
WARNING-This is a long post. It took me nearly 59 years to get to all 50 states!
On September 8, 2015, I set foot on the side of the road just north of Brattleboro, VT after we crossed over the Connecticut River from New Hampshire on Hwy 9. I got out and took a selfie of myself under a Welcome to Vermont sign. I had finally set foot in my 50th US state…a nearly 59 year journey.
Following is a state by state chronicle of my nearly 59 year journey in order of states visited.
My 50 State Adventure
1- Ohio (1956): I was born in Cleveland in the Little Italy section of town to Joe Laurienzo and Orene Goldberg. My next visit to Ohio wouldn’t be until 1993 when I made a trip to Cleveland to visit a Ford plant. It was a fly in and fly out affair. I had hoped to get to my birthplace, but it wouldn’t be until a couple of years later…too late to meet my natural father. Since then I have made dozens of trips to or through Ohio.
2- New Mexico (1957): In August of 1957 my mother left her husband and took me to her home in Albuquerque, where I spent the next few years of my life. I still have memories of our little duplex and then our house up in Snow Heights on the west side of Albuquerque. My step mother actually spent the last yeas of her life in the place where she spent much of her youth and is buried behind a Catholic Church in Jemez Springs, where she lived out the last ten years of her life.
3- New York (1959): I don’t recall any of this trip, only from photos. My step father Joe Kravetz was from New York and I believe we went back for a family visit and to visit Grandma Kravetz. Of course, in the past 56 years since, I have been to many places in New York, much of it in 2008/2009. I did get to visit my grandmother Kravetz in Tarry town a couple of times, fortunately.
4- Texas (1967): My first real road trip! We moved to Richardson, TX, then practically a rural suburb of Dallas. Back then the Dallas Cowboys still played in the Cotton Bowl. We took Route 66 through Amarillo. I still have fond memories of that trip from nearly 50 years ago. and in some ways have retraced those steps, including a trip back to Amarillo in 2014…on Route 66. My step father, who worked for Skaggs Drug back then, was transferred from Albuquerque. During this early time, my natural mother left me and my brother with our step-father Joe Kravetz. I did not see her again until 1975. I have actually driven across Texas north and south as well as east and west numerous times. There is a part of me that remains Texan in spirit I think.
5- Oklahoma (1968): As we moved to Denver, we passed through the panhandle of Oklahoma. My first trip through any part of that state. I have passed through a few times, but have also made some earnest visits to the lands first settled by my great grandfather Paschal Hanks, who participated in the Cherokee Run. Much to my surprise, there are many places in Oklahoma, especially in the southeast corner, that are extremely scenic. Oklahoma is Okay…and so is Okay, Oklahoma, which I visited in 2012.
6- Colorado (1968): My step father was transferred from Dallas to Denver in 1968. We moved to the suburb Lakewood where I had my first view of the real Rocky Mountains. As an 8th grader I climbed up Long’s Peak (halfway anyway…a storm stopped the remainder). We visited Mt. Evans, which, at that time had an immense log/rock visitor’s center/shop. I saw mountain goats, spectacular lakes, etc. Over the years I have had the opportunity to travel all over Colorado from the mountains to the deserts to the high plains. Indeed, Colorado is one of my favorite places in the United States…I love the mountains.
7- Wyoming (1969): In 1969 I began delivering the Denver Post in my neighborhood. It was a bike route. I had big bags on both sides of the front wheel. We were in a growing neighborhood and I eventually won the Denver area subscription contest which landed me (and my brother Danny) a trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming for the Frontier Days rodeo. It was my first bus ride as I joined two dozen other junior high and high school kids on this Denver Post sponsored trip of a lifetime. I have since had numerous trips across Wyoming, including a hitchhiking adventure as a junior in high school after literally running away from home. I made it to Yellowstone and then across the Wind River Canyon and eventually into Denver. Like Colorado, there are some amazing places in Wyoming, my favorite being the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. In 2014 a dream of mine was fulfilled as I got to drive the Beartooth Scenic Highway at 11,000 feet on the border of Wyoming and Montana. One of my most favorite and memorable one day road trips ever.
8- Montana (1970): In the summer of 1971 my step father was once again transferred. This time we moved to Great Falls, Montana. It was long drive, all the way through northern Colorado, completely through Wyoming and then all the way to Great Falls. It was there that I got into my first year of high school at Charles M. Russell, where I was in band and also on the cross country and track teams. While in the marching band, we made a trip to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, through Alberta…my first venture out of the United States. I ate spudnuts in Lethbridge and had a great time on the bus! I was given the name “Monty Montana” by my high school friends in Murray in 1973 because I talked so much about it. In many respects I am still a “Big Sky Guy.” After my daughter Amaree married, they lived in Great Falls, so I have been back to my favorite US State well over a dozen times since 2005. The mountains of Glacier National Park are always calling me.
9- Idaho (1971): As I noted above, I was on the track team and we took a road trip to Pocatello for a tri-state track meet. Soon thereafter we moved to Bozeman, MT. While in Bozeman the band also took a trip to Alberta, my second venture to a foreign country. I have since made numerous trips to Idaho and have been all over the state. Perhaps my favorite time was in 2013 when I spent a number of weeks in Idaho for work and traveled all over the state, including to my favorite place there, the Sawtooth Mountain Range.
10- Utah (1973): My dad was once again transferred in the summer of 1973 and we made our way to Murray, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. While in Utah I worked for a company that had me traveling all over the state and across southern Wyoming. Lots of driving…I loved it. In 1975 I joined the LDS (Mormon) Church and in 1976 went to Japan as a missionary. Indeed, our move to Utah was in many respects a life changing move as I also met my dear wife Julianne there and consider most of best friends to be there.
11- Nevada (1974): Traveled to Winnemucca, NV with a church group while living in Murray. We then traveled to Reno. My next trip to Nevada was as Tour Bus driver in Flagstaff, AZ 1982. I got to drive a bus through downtown Las Vegas on a Saturday night. Other than a couple of visits to Hoover Dam, I have not been back to Nevada in many years.
12- California (1975): By 1975 I had joined the LDS Church and was preparing for a mission. At age 18 I could finally make my own decisions and chose to fly to San Francisco to visit my natural mother, the first time I had seen her since 1963. She lived in Marin County. It was really cool to see the Pacific Ocean, Sausalito, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge. It was there that I first learned the name of my natural father and actually had a chance to call him and speak with him for the first time in 18 years. He still resided in the house I was born in. In 1976 I left for Japan on a Mormon mission for two years and returned to Utah (via a visit to my stepmother and family in Jemez Springs, NM) in February 1978. Over he years I have made a few trips to California again including trips to San Diego, Los Angeles, Catalina Island and, most recently, in 2015 I visited San Francisco and some of northern California, all the up to Red Bluff, in association with Antsy McClain.
13- Arizona (1979): I met my sweet wife Julianne in Provo, UT while at BYU in 1978. She was from Mesa, AZ and by the time we were engaged I had the opportunity to head to Arizona to visit her family. It was my first time to see the “Grand Staircase” from Zion National Park down through the Painted Desert, Grand Canyon, etc., and then eventually into the saguaro covered deserts of the Phoenix area. By 1980 we were living in Flagstaff and I was attending Northern Arizona University. I took a job as a Tour Guide/Bus Driver for a company called Nava-Hopi Tours…it was the perfect job for me and it afforded me the awesome opportunity to travel throughout Arizona, to Hoover Dam, to Las Vegas and even into New Mexico. By this time traveling and driving the roads of this great country was fully settled into my blood. During this time I visited the wonderful Red Rocks of Sedona over 100 times, the awe inspiring Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation nearly 30 times and the Grand Canyon over 50 times.
14- New Jersey (1984): By 1984 we had moved to Mesa, AZ and I was in a Master’s Program at Arizona State University. During this time I had an opportunity to do a presentation for an event at West Point in New York as a representative of ASU’s Political Science Department. It was a thrill to fly to New York, visit family in Tarrytown, see Ossining where my step father grew up and then to visit the amazing West Point campus. While out there I took the opportunity to drive into New Jersey and up to Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I have since been there numerous times, most recently a few weeks ago on our way to Connecticut. Even visited the famed Carlos Bake Shop in Hoboken and saw the sparkle of New York City at night.
15- Connecticut (1984): My cousin lived in up in Connecticut and so, I made my first trip into the state while visiting New York. We again visited as a family in the early 2000s. In 2014 my son Seth got a job there and so we made a visit there in the summer of 2015 and spent some time on both sides of the state, including an interesting visit to Mystic. And we did not eat the pizza at Mystic Pizza. Had Thai food instead.
16- Rhode Island (1984): Visited on my way to Massachusetts while on my trip to New York. This is a small state and I really didn’t do much but pass through on my way to Massachusetts. But, I can say I have been there!
17- Massachusetts (1984): I visited Salem and the House of the Seven Gables while on my trip to New York in 1984. I visited again in 1991 and was able to stay in the luxurious Boston Harbor Hotel as I was assisting a famous Japanese movie star’s family as they sought to get their daughter into Cambridge. Most recently we drove through Massachusetts in September 2015 on our way to Maine.
18- Maryland (1986): As I finished up my MA degree and began Doctoral studies, I was asked to interview with the National Security Agency. I was flown out to Columbia, MD for the interview. This would not be my last visit to Maryland, but it was my only visit to the NSA. In 1996 we drove up along the Delmarva Peninsula, into Silver Spring to visit my aunt and see the LDS Washington DC temple while our exchange student Barbara was with us. We most recently drove across the narrow panhandle of Maryland on our 2015 trip to Connecticut and New England.
19- Illinois (1989): In 1987 I took a position in Japan with the Oita Prefectural Government as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. Our entire family moved there and we were in Oita for over 4 years. As my two years came near an end, I did some work with Norbest (the turkey processing company), Japan, out of Osaka. They took me with them to the giant Food and Beverage show in Chicago. We then visited one of their facilities in Minnesota and Fargo. Over the years I have been to all parts of Illinois, along the Mississippi, to the heartland of the state and even back to Chicago.
20- Iowa (1989): I first traveled through the corn fields of Iowa on my way west. I didn’t stop for much. But, I have since stopped in many places in this state, including the home of the TV Show “American Pickers” – Antique Archaeology, Pella – home of a giant Dutch Windmill, the house that the famed painting American Gothic depicted, and more.
21- North Dakota (1989): Flew into Fargo on our way to the Norbest facility in Minnesota. I have since made eight trips across North Dakota and have traveled the majority of this lovely state. My favorite trip, of course, was down the Enchanted Highway, a quirky traveler’s dream highway!
22- Minnesota (1989): We drove to the Norbest turkey processing facility in Minnesota. That was an interesting trip watching them process turkeys. In the 2000s I have made six trips through Minnesota, including a trip across northern Minnesota on US Hwy 2, which fulfilled a life long dream as I got to visit Bemidji and the huge Paul Bunyan and Blue Ox monuments that had been there since the 1950s.
22a- Washington, DC (1990): After my two year stint with Oita, I went to work for an Oita based company called Asahi Solar and this job provided a number of opportunities to travel back to the U.S. During this time we visited solar facilities in Colorado, Arizona, Texas and beyond. We also made a trip to Washington, DC and New York City for business during the Christmas season. I also visited Delaware, Virginia, Maryland (my aunt lived in Silver Spring).
23- Virginia (1990): During my time in Washington, DC I rented a car for the weekend and drove south to Norfolk, visiting historical sites along the way. I then headed north to Delaware. This was my first venture on the famed Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. I have made six other trips to Virginia since. Much of the western part of the state is still wild and wonderful.
24- Delaware (1990): Once I crossed Chesapeake Bay I arrived in the Delmarva Peninsula and made my way to Rehoboth Beach…and had my first sighting of dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a wonderful experience. I also ventured back into Maryland and made my way to Annapolis. My next and only other visit was in 1996 with my children.
25- Florida (1990): This was a banner travel year for me. On my earlier trip that year we coordinated the sponsorship of two Solar Cars…one for Colorado State and the other for my Alma Mater Arizona State. These cars would participate in the first ever cross country solar car race in the United States, called the GM Sunrayce. As the coordinator of the project I had the opportunity to join the team in Orlando, FL for the start of the race. This was a great trip to Disneyworld, where we stayed. While in Florida I visited the Everglades and made my way to Jacksonville, and then flew back up to Washington DC for more business. I have only been to Florida one other time with some Japanese to visit a Rolls Royce dealership in Daytona Beach, of all places. I think a good solid Florida road trip is in order in the future.
26- Indiana (1990): I continued to follow the GM Sunrayce into Indianapolis over backroads lined with tall cornfields. I was hooked with backroads driving again. Honestly, I was awestruck by the green and the miles of corn fields as I drove north into Indiana and then on to Detroit. Like Illinois, I have been all over Indiana. The Children’s Museum in Indianapolis is by far one of the best in the country. And, who can forget the iconic and quirky Santa Claus, IN? Indiana turns out to be my “halfway state” but I didn’t realize that until writing this.
27- Michigan (1990): The GM Sunrayce completed the event in Detroit. Both of the cars finished, but not too far up the pack. The Sunrayce was amazing to participate in. I finally headed back to Japan. In 2008 I worked in Woodstock, Ontario for a few months and made my way through Detroit numerous times. But, I have also spent time in southern Michigan to see the historic covered bridges, visited Hell and even spent the night on the western edge of the Upper Peninsula in 2014 as I began my US Hwy 2 trek westward to Montana.
28- Hawaii (1991): Each year Asahi Solar did an all-employee trip somewhere during the New Year’s holiday. In late 1991 it was in Hawaii, and I got to go. We spent three days on Waikiki Beach and I rented a car and drive across the island through pineapple fields and then to the Hawaii Temple and the Polynesian Cultural Center. By the end of 1991, my family was returning back to the united States as I departed Asahi Solar. It was a fun four and a half years in Oita. I made one other trip to Hawaii on business for Asahi Solar, but have not been back since 1991.
29- Tennessee (1992): After arriving back in Arizona, I found it difficult to find work. I applied all over and eventually landed a job interview in the small town of Winchester, TN with a Japanese production plant that made rubber molding. That was an adventure as I landed in Nashville, dressed in my suit, rented a Lincoln Town Car and then made my way south into this small rural community. I walked into the local café to grab some breakfast and was stared at by all of the farmers…I felt like the proverbial city slicker. Welcome to the south David! The job didn’t pan out and I went back to Mesa, AZ with my family. Of course, since Tennessee is so close to Kentucky and my great friend Antsy McClain lives there, I have been back there a number of times.
30- Missouri (1992): I was soon on my way back to the “south” after landing a temporary contract position with a Japanese production facility in Shelbyville, KY. I drove out there from Mesa, AZ and made my way through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and then northeast into Missouri. I got my first view of the great Arch in St. Louis on this trip. Missouri is one of those frequently passed through states on my way west, but I have not missed out on the wonders of this state as well as the quirkiness. I have a close friend in Kansas City and love the BBQ there. But, Tightwad, Peculiar, Success and Romance are places I seem to remember the most.
31- Kentucky (1992): Eventually, I made my way into Louisville, where I would live and then drive the daily 30 miles east to Shelbyville. That gig lasted about 8 months. It was there, at Katayama American that I eventually met my now very close friend, Ron Bell, who goes by the stage name Antsy McClain. That is another story, but, through him I have also had opportunities to travel this great country and be part of an amazing musical adventure that had some of my dreams fulfilled. Ultimately, in 1993, the entire family moved to Kentucky as I was hired full-time by a company in Frankfort, KY – Ohi America, another Japanese parts manufacturer. We have lived in Kentucky since 1993 and love it here. I have literally traveled most of the back roads of the state, been to the highest point in southeastern Kentucky, been into the depths of Mammoth Cave, been to the Kentucky Derby and traveled the Bourbon Trail (without drinking any).
32- Kansas (1993): As the family left Arizona in July 1993, we made our way north from Mesa, AZ into Flagstaff, to the Grand Canyon, on to Monument Valley in southern Utah, then to Four Corners. From there we continued east through Pueblo and into Kansas, eventually staying one night in Dodge City. I have been across many parts of Kansas and learned some of the interesting history of this cattle filled state.
33- West Virginia (1996): In 1996 we hosted a French exchange student named Barbara. During her visit we took a family trip to the East Coast, just me and the kids. On this trip we passed through West Virginia and went to the New River Gorge. We then went through Shenandoah NP in Virginia, visited Williamsburg and Jamestown and then made our way to Norfolk and revisited the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel with the kids. We then made it into Delaware and Maryland…including crab cakes at an old crab shack on the Delmarva Peninsula.
34- Georgia (1997): As members of the LDS Church, we made occasional trips to the temple. In 1997 our closest temple was near Atlanta, so we made a couple of trips there to do baptisms for the dead with our older children. I later made many trips to Georgia for iHigh.com while visiting high schools in the Atlanta area. In early 2013 we made a trip down to Georgia to pick up a trailer and got to visit Savannah and also made our way to the humongous Stone Mountain.
35- Pennsylvania (1998): My oldest daughter Amaree had graduated from high school and was invited to participate in a national choir that was tour Europe. That same summer our second daughter Marissa went to France to visit our former exchange student Barbara. Amaree needed to be dropped off in Pennsylvania so we made the trip there, let her go with the choir and visited the Gettysburg National Park and it happened during the 135th anniversary of Pickett’s Charge (July 4th/5th) and then were tents everywhere for a huge reenactment. Was pretty cool. I have since made over a dozen trips to Pennsylvania visiting Amish Country, the Great Lakes, Bethlehem/Allentown and Philadelphia, amongst other places.
36- North Carolina (1998): After the girls returned from Europe, we took a small trip to North Carolina to do some genealogy research. I had recently discovered some of my step-mother Marge Tudor’s ancestry had come from Granville County in North Carolina, so we took a trip to Oxford to seek old graveyards, and see where our ancestors had come from. It was a unique opportunity. I have made a few trips to North Carolina since (mainly for iHigh.com) and even visited Lizard Lick and the town Mayberry RFD was centered on (Mount Airy, NC).
37- Alabama (1999): Our first trip to the deep south happened as we made our way to Houston for my cousin’s wedding and then proceeded westward to Arizona for a family visit. A long drive. We had some of the best barbecue ever while in Alabama (near Huntsville). I have made a couple of trips to Alabama since, but have not really had the opportunity to see the sights as I would like. Hopefully one day. I hear there are some amazing beaches on the Gulf Coast!
38- Mississippi (1999): We continued through Jackson, Mississippi on the drive to Houston. This was a pass through trip. During my days at iHigh I made a couple of trips there as well, but my best trip to Mississippi took place in 2014 when I traversed the Blues Highway (US Highway 61) along the western side of the state near the Mississippi River. THAT was an amazing and unforgettable trip!
39- Louisiana (1999): On our family trip to Houston we made our way into Louisiana and took a few back roads, saw the bayous and even stopped at a Cajun place east of Alexandria where we enjoyed some blackened gator, listened to live Cajun music and then got to enjoy watching our boys get dragged out on the dance floor to learn some Cajun steps. I am sure this was a memorable time for them. From Houston we made our way to San Antonio, El Paso and on across southern New Mexico to Albuquerque where we ushered in the year 2000 with my aunt. In 2010 I visited again with Julianne as we stayed in New Orleans prior to a cruise to Cozumel with Antsy McClain. I again visited in 2014 and one of my long trip highlights on my way to Galveston, was to visit the small town of Pierre Part and meet Troy Landry, the famed alligator hunter from the History Channel’s “Swamp People.”
40- Arkansas (2000): On our way home from Arizona we went through Oklahoma City and then into Arkansas, for our first trip there. Since that time many of us have traversed Arkansas, especially on our way to Texas. Some favorites…how about Booger Holler? I have also visited the home of Popeye Spinach and a big Popeye statue in Lowell, AR.
41- Washington (2004): I first was in Washington on an airplane flight to Japan, but never set foot out of the plane, so I didn’t count that. My first setting foot took place in 20014 when Julianne went to Seattle on our to a cruise to Alaska. I later made a trip in 2007 with Solomon for a Trailer Park Troubadours tour after a visit in Montana. I revisited Idaho on this same trip. We most recently had an amazing 10 day trip to Washington in August 2015 and visited much of western Washington, including a visit to the most northwestern point in the contiguous United States.
42- Alaska (2004): Julianne’s parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by taking all of their children and spouses on a cruise to Alaska. We visited Glacier Bay National Park, Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka. It was fabulous! I would love to make another trip to Alaska. In fact, one of my dreams would be to take the Al-Can Highway from Montana, through Alberta and up to Alaska.
43- Wisconsin (2005): My first trip to Wisconsin took place in 2005 as my two sons Seth and Solomon, joined by Marissa, traveled to Montana for Amaree’s wedding. We stopped and saw pink elephants, ate cheese and saw lots of mosquitoes. I later visited in 2007 with Solomon and we hit northern Wisconsin and visited JFK, the Twine Ball Man. I again made a three day trip with my daughter Chelsea and granddaughter Autumn, and went up the eastern Peninsula from Green Bay. Finally, in 2014 I made my way across northern Wisconsin on US Hwy 2. I like Wisconsin…at least in the summer.
44- South Dakota (2005): After my daughter’s marriage, Marissa, Seth, Solomon and I made our way back home and went south so we could visit South Dakota, see Mount Rushmore, the Corn Palace and more. I have since made it back a few times and visited other national parks and even made my to Winner!
45- Nebraska (2007): With all the trips across the country, it is amazing to me that I never got to Nebraska until 2007 on my trip home with Solomon after visiting Washington. Since then I have been all over the state, but have nothing better than my visit to Carhenge in Alliance in 2014. In 2012 I also visited for iHigh and got to meet Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers and actually hold his Heisman. That was pretty cool. On that same trip I worked in Omaha for the US Swimming Olympic Trials and met a number of famed swimmers. It was a unique experience.
46- Oregon (2007): My first steps in Oregon were in Pendleton after a visit to Walla-Walla, Washington while in the southwest corner of the state with Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours. On our way back home, Solomon and I made our to Hells Canyon and Joseph. I visited Oregon a few times in 2011 and 2012 for iHigh and fell in love with Portland and Central Oregon. I have actually been along the entire Pacific Coast, visited Mt. Hood and enjoyed the breathtaking Multnomah Falls along the Columbia River. Oregon is certainly one of my favorite states.
47- South Carolina (2012): One would think that with all of the travel to North Carolina, Georgia, etc., that I would have made it to South Carolina sooner than 2012. But, my first trip was actually with iHigh on my way from northeastern Tennessee to Atlanta. I again visited in 2014 as we stayed in Hilton Head with Marissa and her children on our way to Atlanta and central Georgia.
48- Maine (2015): As noted above on Connecticut, we made a visit in September 2015 to visit Seth on the occasion of the birth of our 10th grandchild. Marissa and her children joined us on this 12 state trip. I had looked forward to this trip for a few months as I knew I would finally have a chance to get to the northeastern US and perhaps get my last three states. On September 7 we made it into Maine and stayed on the Atlantic Coast in Old Orchard Beach, a beautiful place, but certainly not long enough. The next day we made our up to Portland and then across to New Hampshire.
49- New Hampshire (2015): We entered New Hampshire on Hwy 25 and were in Freedom. I looked all over for a post office so I could “send a postcard from Freedom” as the lyrics to Antsy McClain’s lyrics to “Living in Aluminum” proclaim, but, alas, we couldn’t find one. Then, I failed again as we sought to get a sandwich in Sandwich. Ended up getting one in Holderness at Squam Lake Market. UGH.
50- Vermont (2015): And finally…NUMBER 50 on September 8. We made our way across New Hampshire via US 202 through Keene and into the Vermont town of Brattleboro. I got out and got a photo of the Welcome to Vermont sign (with me in it) to memorialize it. Though it was only the small southeastern corner of the state, I had actually made it.
With all of these visits to the 50 states, I have seen much of this wonderful United States and I count myself blessed. Along the road I have also accomplished some of the following:
Visited 29 of the 59 US National Parks
Visited 40 of the 117 US National Monuments
Visited 25 of the 49 US National Historic Parks
Visited 4 of the 9 National Military Parks
Visited 91 of the 100 biggest cities in the US (missed a few in southern California)
Been by 29 of the tallest buildings in the US, including the newest and tallest One World Trade Center in NYC at 1776 feet
Been to 7 of the tallest statues in the US
I have been over most of Route 66, as well as other long highways including US 2 across the northern US from Michigan to Montana, US 1 on the Atlantic Coast, US 101 in California, Oregon and Washington.
Been to the Geographical Center of North America in Rugby, ND
Been to the Geographical Center of the contiguous United States (near Lebanon, KS)
Been on some of the highest highways in the US including the highest paved road (Mt. Evans Scenic Byway 14, 240′) as well as Trailridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park (12,183′), Beartooth Pass in Wyoming (10,947′), Galena Summit in Idaho (8,701′)
Been to many of America’s greatest waterfalls including Niagara Falls (NY), American Falls (NY), Lower Falls of the Yellowstone (WY), Multnomah Falls (OR), Havasu Falls (AZ), Cumberland Falls (KY), Grand Falls of the Little Colorado (AZ) and Taughannock Falls (NY)
All I can say is that I have been very blessed in my travels and to see this beautiful country. Of course, the 175 blog posts on this blog and the nearly 25 other posts I wrote before this blog was started detail many of the places I have been fortunate enough to get to so far.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my good friends at Roadside America who have provided me with many great places to stop at on the back roads of this great country. I have worked with them on many occasions and provide many a photo for their site.
Go to their site and get the app. You’ll be glad you did!
A few years ago I made a couple of visits to Cleveland, Ohio. I was born in the Little Italy section of Cleveland in 1956 and have sisters and brothers there. The old house I was born in is still there as well. For my Throwback Thursday, I thought I would add a few Cleveland photos for fun.
Little Italy is a wonderful part of town…great eateries, old churches, brick roads (including Murray Hill Rd.) and even a Random road.
As one enters Little Italy they pass by the Lake View Cemetery, an iconic cemetery loaded with wonderful monuments. My real father, Joseph Laurienzo is buried here. Former President Garfield is also buried here. The cemetery was founded in 1869.
Cleveland is home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is a giant glass pyramid near downtown. My son Solomon was with me on this visit.
Some other sites in Cleveland:
The Hope Memorial Bridge is a 5,865 foot long art deco truss bridge crossing the Cuyahoga River. The bridge connects Lorain Avenue on Cleveland’s west side and Carnegie Avenue on the east side, terminating just short of Progressive Field. Pairs of statues designed by sculptor Henry Hering and architect Frank Walker (titled the “Guardians of Traffic”) stand on pylons at each end of the viaduct, symbolizing progress in transportation. Each holds a type of transportation.
The Fountain of Eternal Life, also known as the War Memorial Fountain and Peace Arising from the Flames of War, is a statue and fountain in downtown. It was designed by Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Marshall Fredericks and dedicated on May 30, 1964. The sculpture, which honors people from Cleveland who served, died, or were declared missing in military service, is situated on Veterans’ Memorial Plaza.
Of course, the Cleveland Indians have been around for decades. Bob Feller is immortalized in this statue:
The buildings are also nice too
And finally, one of my favorites, the giant quirky FREE rubber stamp located in Willard Park at the northwest corner of East 9th Street and Lakeside Avenue. Claimed to be the “World’s Largest Rubber Stamp,” it was created by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen (I have also seen their giant badminton birdies in Kansas City), it has been called the “world’s largest rubber stamp”.The dimensions of the sculpture are 28 ft 10 in by 26 ft by 49 ft.