Panther Hollow Flag
Panther Hollow

A Pittsburgh Little Italy

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Panther Hollow Plaque

This 1919 painting of Panther Hollow by Edward Redfield
was auctioned by Christie's in New York on May 20, 2010 for $362,500.

Panther Hollow Memorial Arch
Panther Hollow sign
Panther Hollow Memorial Arch
Panther Hollow sign
Panther Hollow Memorial Arch
Panther Hollow sign
Panther Hollow Memorial Arch
Panther Hollow sign
Panther Hollow Memorial

Panther Hollow

Panther Hollow was one of Pittsburgh's first Italian neighborhoods, a place where everyone knew your name, or at least your nickname. The early settlers, immigrants from the towns of Gamberale and Pizzoferrato in the Abruzzi region in Central Italy, arrived in the 1880s. The neighborhood was essentially one street (Boundary) with two small side streets. In 1900, over 200 Italian immigrants lived there, and in 1920, at the height of the Italian immigration experience, the number grew to 470.

Their homes provided shelter not only for their families, but also for Italian immigrant boarders who wanted an opportunity to live in America. Nestled in a small valley below the University of Pittsburgh, the early settlers did not have easy access to other businesses, so the neighborhood became self-sufficient. There were two banks, six grocery stores, a travel company, a cow pasture with chickens, vegetable gardens, an outdoor bread oven, grape vineyards, and an Italian social club.

Families pitched tents and celebrated weddings at an open field in the neighborhood, complete with their own resident musicians. Dozens of young men enlisted or were drafted in the military during World War II, while the elderly men at home built a Victory Garden to support the war effort. The women of Panther Hollow played as large a role as the men in establishing the character and personality of the neighborhood. From the early days when women stayed home, caring for both their own large families and sometimes numerous boarders, to the later years of seeking employment outside of the home, their hard work provided for the welfare of their families and advancement of the neighborhood.

The open field was also a place for residents to play bocce, football, softball, and it-taggers, and to roast potatoes and marshmallows. The nearby Panther Hollow Lake was a venue for additional recreational activities such as fishing, ice skating, and boating. The renowned Forbes Field, a five-minute walk away, provided not only additional entertainment but also a second job for many hard-working residents.

In 1963, the Panther Hollow community was faced with a defining moment. University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Edward Litchfield sought to destroy 60 homes and displace over 250 Italians in order to build a futuristic 21st Century Research Park. He aligned himself with the largest foundations, wealthiest banks and organizations, and city government. He made one major miscalculation – he underestimated the fighting spirit and courage of the Abruzzese.

My parents' generation moved into battle. They were led by men like Eugene "Jeep" DePasquale, Nicholas "Nicky Bull" Diulus, Gervasio "Jerry" Cafardi, Carl "Gimp" Giampolo, Anthony "Delly" DelVecchio, Raymond "Clark Kent" Veri, and Robert "Mort" Casciato. These men had fought in the jungles of the Pacific, the deserts of Africa, and the hills and valleys of Europe. In the battle for their community, they had support from the power of the women of Panther Hollow and from my grandparents' generation, the toughest of the tough that gave birth to America's Greatest Generation. Litchfield was defeated and within two years, he was ousted as chancellor.

In my own generation, efforts should be directed toward making Panther Hollow the birthplace for an Italian Cultural Center of Pennsylvania. Instead, we are faced with a choice for a defining moment. The same forces that supported Litchfield now want to build a roadway through the neighborhood, which will bring massive development and destroy this cultural treasure.

Albert "Al Bell" Bellisario passed away on December 30, 2018 at the age of 94. His last wish to his family one week before he died was that they drive him through Panther Hollow. A cousin's last wish to his family before he passed away was that they scatter half of his ashes in Panther Hollow.

To those who support a roadway through Panther Hollow from Hazelwood Green to Pitt and CMU, Panther Hollow is only a stretch of land for economic gain. To all of us who love this neighborhood, Panther Hollow is sacred.

We deeply honor the legacy of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents that enriched our lives and made us all proud to be Italian. Our generation will also triumph because these forces cannot defeat the spirit of the Abruzzese and their supporters.

Carlino Giamplo

Carlino Giampolo

The above article, with slight modifications, was published in the April 2019 edition of La Nostra Voce, the official and national publication of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America.


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