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What's Happening in:  Bella Vista :  Passyunk Square :  South Broad Street 

Mario Lanza Institute & Museum Fundraiser to Benefit New Home in Passyunk Square

The Institute lost their lease in Bella Vista but hope to “Keep The Dream Alive” and remain in South Philly

You may have heard that the Mario Lanza Institute and Museum lost their lease at their current home, 712 Montrose Street. We’ve just learned the Institute plans to relocate to a new space in Passyunk Square. On Tuesday, June 26th, you can help the Institute with their relocation expenses by making a purchase at Pizzeria Pesto, 1925 S. Broad St. On that day, 10% of all proceeds (dine-in, take-out & delivery) will benefit the Institute’s Capital Campaign.

1206 Reed Street, future home of the Mario Lanza Institute & Museum. Google Maps

The Institute’s current leased space, in a former convent adjacent to St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church, is being sold to a developer. They hope to relocate to space at 1206 Reed Street, opposite Columbus Square. The building, owned by Pete Bilotti of Alexstone, a granite and marble company, requires some renovations to accommodate the Institute’s offices and museum. The museum’s collection consists of movie posters, lobby cards, photos, costumes, and a terra cotta bust of Lanza.

Mario Lanza. Photo courtesy Mario Lanza Institute.

Mario Lanza was a South Philly success story. Born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza on January 31, 1921, he lived at 636 Christian Street and 2040 Mercy Street. Lanza, who took his grandmother’s name as he rose to fame, began his professional singing career at age 16. After a 1947 concert at the Hollywood Bowl, he was signed to act for MGM. This catapulted him to fame as a film star. At the time of his death in 1959 he was called “the most famous tenor in the world”.
Lanza dreamed of establishing a scholarship program to help young vocal students. The non-profit Mario Lanza Institute, incorporated in 1962, helped fulfill this dream. The Institute has awarded more than 200 scholarships to talented, young singers aspiring to achieve professional vocal careers. The scholarships have benefited students attending music programs across the country, including Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts and Curtis Institute, and Juilliard in New York City.

The Pizzeria Pesto/Alexstone fundraiser will help the Institute continue their philanthropic work and provide a fourth South Philly-based site for their office and museum.

The museum was officially established in 1975 at Nick Petrella’s Record Shop, 1414 Snyder Ave., when a modest Lanza display located at the back of the shop was expanded. The museum hoped, in part, to capture the large crowds expected for the Bicentennial. In 1986 Petrella closed his record shop and the museum moved to the third floor of Settlement Music School, 416 Queen Street. Lanza had attended Settlement as a child. For many years the Institute’s scholarships exclusively benefitted students at the school. In 2002 the Museum dedicated their soon-to-be-former space at 712 Montrose.

For more information, visit the Institute’s website, or contact them at mariolanzainstitute@verizon.net or 215-238-9691. You can also donate via Facebook here. The Mario Lanza Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. All contributions are deductible to the extent permitted by law.

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What's Happening in:  South Broad Street 

How Sweet It Is: Four Generations of Chocolatiers in South Philly

We enjoy bringing you news about the latest restaurants and retail “opening soon” across South Philly.  In “Old School Spotlight” we take a look at a business that’s been around a while but is still vibrant and ready to serve you.  


John Lerro Candy has been satisfying South Philadelphia’s sweet tooth for more than 100 years from their shop at 2434 South Broad Street. The family-owned and operated business sells chocolate in many and varied forms. There are milk and dark chocolate-covered butter creams, caramels, jellies, nut clusters, pretzels, sponges and bark. From fruit to nuts it’s here, freshly hand-dipped in chocolate – and preservative free to boot! You’ll also find chocolate novelties such as the letters of the alphabet (spell your sweetheart’s name in chocolate!) and mini-baby carriages (baby shower gift!).

Founder Giovanni (John) Lerro arrived in America in 1900. He learned candy making while working at Willow Grove Park north of Philadelphia. With his savings, he traveled back to Italy and later returned to America with a new bride, Anna. By 1912 the newlyweds were selling homemade candy and ice cream at 15th and Shunk streets. Anna coated every chocolate by hand.

They opened the Broad Street shop in 1916. A movie theater located nearby created a brisk ice cream business. With the rise of supermarket ice cream, the shop switched to selling candy exclusively in 1960. By that time production had been moved out of the shop to a facility in Darby, PA.

Pasquale Lerro (far right) stands with friends outside the store, circa 1930. Pasquale took over the business from his father, Giovanni (aka John). Courtesy of the Lerro family.

For four generations the family has proudly passed down chocolate recipes as well as first names. John the founder named his son Pasquale. Pasquale named his son John, and John named his son John Pasquale. Anna is named after her grandmother, Giovanni’s wife.

The business is truly a family affair. Carmela and daughter Anna operate the Broad Street shop. Father-and-son John and John Pasquale run the chocolate production in Darby. Carmella’s daughter Patricia and son Michael help with the business during busy seasons.

Carmela, née Pietrolungo, began working as a sales clerk at the shop in 1943. Five years later she married Giovanni’s son Pasquale. She has worked in the shop, and lived above it, ever since. “She’s 89 years old and she’s been working the same job for 70 years,” marveled grandson John Pasquale. Asked if she plans to retire Carmella emphatically exclaims, “Never!”

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Three generations of Lerro family members: matriarch Carmella (Pietrolungo) Lerro, seated, flanked by daughter Anna and grandson John Pasquale.

 

John Pasquale, 28,  a graduate of Penn’s Wharton School, is proud to be carrying the company into its fourth generation, “My utmost desire in this business is to uphold the values that were instilled in me by my father and my grandfather before him.” Everything in the shop, proudly referred to as “Our Own Make,” is made fresh to order without preservatives. “We don’t skimp on ingredients, and we always use high quality ingredients,” John Pasquale stressed. His future plans include wholesale distribution of the company’s chocolate novelties.

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What's Happening in:  South Broad Street :  Whitman 

Mayor Kenney to Visit Two South Philly Sites Today

The Mayor’s Office of Communications announced that Mayor Kenney would visit two sites in South Philadelphia today.

First off, at 11 a.m., the Mayor will speak at a celebration of CHOP’s South Philadelphia Community Health & Literacy Center, 1700 S. Broad St.

The Mayor will deliver remarks at this event to celebrate Citizens Bank’s support of the Health and Literacy Center.

At Noon the Mayor is due across town at the Whitman Library Play Space Ribbon Cutting. Located at 200 Snyder Ave., the library’s indoor play space is one of three the Free Library is installing in an effort to allow children to relieve some of their pent-up energy after school.

We’ll have more details on the play space in a future article, but if it’s anything like the one dedicated at the Cecil B. Moore Library in North Philadelphia in April, there will be an element of risk involved, as designer Meghan Talarowski of Studio Ludo told Plan Philly’s Shai Ben-Yaacov:

Risky play is the idea of encouraging kids to use their bodies in different ways that are developmentally appropriate for them…As we grow, we automatically want to do slightly riskier things with our bodies. We want to move more, we want to jump off of things, be higher…

Read the whole story here.

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