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Childhood homes carry meaning for all of us. As we continue to add information and stories to the Heritage Site Finder Interactive Map we occasionally learn fascinating stories from our dedicated and diverse team of volunteers. Below, Donato Calogero shares his story of finding his home’s history and remembering his own parents’ stories.
To tell the story of The Roth-Calogero House, a “C” listed home on the Vancouver Heritage Register located at 1358 Graveley Street, we must go back in time and meet Albert Roth, a longshoreman. Albert (who lived at 2825 Price Street in 1926) ordered a new house built for the then vacant lot on Graveley Street. Home Builders and Decorators (AR Miller and FE Wood building contractors) of 821 Drake Street built a three bedroom “Vancouver Special” of its time. Albert, from Leeds, England, married Florence Annie Akrill of Beverly, England almost 10 years later in 1937.
Family visits with the grandparents were always special occasions. Piano music flowed from the living room as Florence was an accomplished pianist who played piano for the silent movies at the Orpheum. In fact, Florence was granted a lifetime pass to the Orpheum after she retired. Albert passed in 1959 and Florence remained in the house with her garden and grew many plants for tea making.
Rocco Calogero, my father, emigrated from Italy to Canada landing in Halifax in 1959. He was based in Vancouver and worked in the British Columbia interior as a rail gang member for the Canadian National Railway. While he and the crews were laying down track, they were mostly isolated so he would cut hair and repair boots for pocket money.
In 1964, my mother Angela Muotri and my father were married by proxy. Following strict Catholic tradition, a bride did not leave her home in Italy until she was wed. With my father unable to leave Canada, his brother Canio stood in and took the wedding vows on his behalf. With great distances and costly travel, proxy marriages were a common event in that time.
With money he had saved for many years, he bought the house at 1358 Graveley Street for $9,000 from Florence- $8,000 up front and a note for the remaining $1,000 to be paid one year later. It was the large back yard that drew my father to the house and its potential to grow lots of fruits and vegetables. Rocco was an expert gardener and lived for gardening. He even has a tomato named after him- “Rocco’s Favourite Tomato“.
My parents would use the canning gas stove in the basement to preserve the annual harvest in Mason jars, bringing their Old World farming traditions to the New World. They grew food for eating and also maintained ten to twenty rabbits in the garage. Although a visit to Commercial Drive for shopping was common, a lot of the food we ate was grown on the lot. My father also loved making wine. A cool dark place was needed to store the wine, vegetables and fruit so he put a “cantina” or cellar in the front facing the cool north with the “plantation” facing the heated south.
The house was always home. It was cozy with hardwood in the living room, a real fireplace, full-length divided-light interior doors, wooden staircases that would creak, a vaulted bedroom in the top floor and a single bathroom that with exception of the water closet, still has the original fixtures including a claw-foot tub. With the majority of our neighbours settling here from Italy, living in ‘Little Italy’ meant you always had friends who spoke the same language at home. Our neighbour and friend Donna worked after hours cleaning one of the Granville movie theatres. The best time, next to Christmas, was when Donna would reach over the fence to pass down to me a sack of buttered popcorn, bags of cherry licorice and the occasional chocolate bar!
We moved next door to 1350 Graveley in 1975 and the house at 1358 Graveley became a rental. Over time the exterior became weathered. This rustic appearance was desirable for Hollywood North and the house was used in the television series M.A.N.T.I.S in the mid-1990s. In 2008 the house was restored to its former glory. VHF’s True Colours palette was used to add historical accuracy to the house. In 2011, the oil furnace was replaced with a gas one and in the same year, the roof was re-shingled.
Always looking for more pictures of the house, I was able to locate descendants of the Roth family. I spoke with Florence Roth’s grandchildren, Michael and Stephen, about getting some photographs of the house and in the summer of 2016, a visit was paid. The little charmer owned by only two families on Graveley Street is now in its 91st year of granting new and endearing memories. – Donato Calogero, 2017.
We spoke with Donato over the phone, after he contacted us regarding the history of these two homes. His enthusiasm for sharing his family history was wonderful, and his dedication to Grandview heritage recognized in a plaque presentation at 1350 this summer. Keep an eye out for more information about 1350 Graveley, the oldest house in Grandview.
If you have a story to share about a building or site on the Vancouver Heritage Register, easily searchable via our Heritage Site Finder interactive map, contact Special Projects Coordinator, Jessica Quan.