By KRISTIN HENDERSON
Special to the Tribune
We are not talking cheap meat here In the development of Martinez, the Northern Italian immigrants that came before the Fisher people were farmers and wine makers and were also major contributors to the town we know of today. Martinez’s climate is much like Italy’s and after Italy became at last its own country in the 1860s, it encouraged emigration so it could overcome political and resource deprivations.
Reportedly, the first Italian-born area pioneer is Louis Rampoldi in 1842, naturalized in 1892. His son became Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff. A Rampoldi building was erected on Main Street prior to the Great Depression.
Antonio Bertola was the first Italian to be naturalized in 1869. He had opened the first grocery/produce store in Martinez. He planted his crops and developed a vineyard and winery in the outer downtown neighborhood – hence, the street named “Bertola.”
Bertola’s son became a Town Trustee. His daughter, Mariana, was Martinez’s grammar school principal and then became a well known doctor and social worker in San Francisco, among many other accomplishments. She is now recognized as one of California’s notable Italians of all time. She was born in her father’s house at 2102 Castro Street which is now a four plex.
There are many early farm buildings converted to residences along the Estudillo corridor and some of these are likely associated with the Bertola estate.
Antonia Rafetto also was a farmer. His produce shipped to San Francisco via Benicia and he sold his produce in proximal towns. He also had a water supply that benefited the whole town.
Martin Bonzagni was naturalized in 1875 and moved to Martinez after owning a hotel in an east county mining town and operating the first soda works. Bonzagni is the ancestor of Michael Menesini, long time mayor of Martinez and council person. Louis Bonzagni fought in WWI and wrote letters from Italy in July and October 1918, which are available for view here: http://1drv.ms/1Ms6PF0.
The still beautiful and rusticated granite Bergamini building at 624 Ferry was built in 1905 as a rebound to the 1904 downtown fire that took Bergamini’s first store.
Antonio Riggardo arrived in the 1880s and set up a business near the train station. Girolomo Pavolini came as well and opened a restaurant at the corner of Main and Court Streets that became a political favorite. John Marchi took over this restaurant while also becoming a Town Trustee.
In the 1890s there was an influx of Bolognas to Contra Costa County. Primo Ferrarini would become a founder of the Bank of Italy in Martinez where Italian language services were offered. This building still stands today – gorgeously – at the north west corner of Main and Estudillo as a U.S. Bank building.
Cesare Borghesani arrived. And Max Gibelli had the Old ‘49 house where Luigi’s Deli is today.
Just prior, in 1888, the Dante Society was formed in Martinez, which existed at least five decades after. It was formed to strengthen the Martinez Italian community, and its members were loyal to one another and active in civic affairs. Antonio Rafetto was its first president and Max Bergamini was also a charter member. Italian versions of many clubs arose, including a Masonic version.
In the first decade of 1900, Italians arrived in Martinez from Tuscany, Pisa, and Lucca. A.F. Bray recounted the early history of Italians in Martinez in his Aug. 21, 1936 Martinez Herald: “It is often said when an Italian buys piece of land he seldom parts with it, and one can usually pick out homes belonging to Italians by the fact they generally have a vegetable garden and vines around their homes.”