California became the state of migration for Italians during the Gold Rush. By the late 1890s, the number of Italians in California exceeded those in New England. By the time these Italian-Americans were able to save money from mining, they started to spread throughout California and establish homes for their families.
One area of interest was North Beach which is located adjacent to Chinatown, the Financial District and the Russian Hill in San Francisco. Italian immigrants populated North Beach after the 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of the land. Their immigration heightened between the World Wars with a firm establishment of Italian immigrants in North Beach by the 1920s. This is when the nickname of “Little Italy” was established.
North Beach was the birthplace of many Italian establishments in the United States. By the 1920s, there were five Italian newsletters, the first Italian hospital, and the Banca d’Italia, which became known as the Bank of America. Liguria Giannini, the founder of Banca d’Italia, loaned money out to the immigrants and low-income families in order to help them establish themselves in the area.
Following the second World War, many Italians fled North Beach due to the growth of suburbanization in this northern city and have continued to spread throughout California since. The Italians present today in Little Italy date back to families from the first wave of migration into the area.
The Italians poured their culture into North Beach through the restaurants, shops, and other activities available in the area, including various Opera buildings and cafes. Learn more about how the present residents of North Beach are keeping their culture alive here.
Italian Community Services is working in partnership with Museo Italo Americano to create exhibits of the Italian Immigration to San Francisco and the early development of North Beach in two of the rooms in their historical building Club Fugazi. These exhibits will include historical documents and photos, some of which are historical to the history of the Italian Community Services.