2005-08-25 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

Mariano Piazza
From The Rockaway Museum by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke


Mariano Piazza’s Italian Bakery, Hammels, Rockaway Beach-1922

From The Rockaway Museum
by Emil Lucev, Curator
Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

Many thanks to Mrs. Anthony Piazza of Long Beach for today’s historical view. The photo is of her husband’s father, Mariano Piazza, and the picture was taken on Beach 81 Street near the beach in the Hammels section of the Rockaway Beach Peninsula in 1932. The camera records the purchase of a new bakery truck in the same year.

Mariano and Alberta Piazza came to America as legal immigrants in 1911. With them came their children Mariano, (in the picture) another son, Joseph, and their only daughter Frances. The family was native to the island of Sicily, off the southern coast of Italy. Young Mariano was only fourteen years of age and was an apprentice baker.

The family settled in the Rockaways, which had a large Italian neighborhood in the Hammels section, and another in the Inwood section of the Five Towns.

After working hard and saving for a decade, Mariano opened his own bakery on the boulevard near Beach 81 Street in 1922. As a successful baker, he then married his wife Mary and had two children, a son Anthony and a daughter Alberta.

When Mariano purchased his first bakery truck, a Model T Ford, he proudly posed for a portrait taken by Feiner Studio, the local photographer. On the truck side is the telephone number of the baker, Belle Harbor 3037, and his home address is given as 175 Beach 81 Street, Rockaway Beach. This telephone exchange existed between 1920 and 1930, when Belle Harbor 5 came to be used.

The old Model T Ford was a unique and versatile conveyance. Notice the solid rubber tires on the rear wheels, and the newfangled inflatable tires on the front wheels. This new innovation by tire makers was cursed by many old-timers when they got their first flat. The suspension in front was a single leaf spring between the front wheel hubs above the axle. In the rear were two leaf springs and two struts which made up the rear suspension, to keep the rear axle and worm gear operated rear end in place, but earlier Model T’s had only one cross spring in the rear.

The hand-cranked, four cylinder flathead engine was started after setting the throttle and spark advance levers, which were mounted on the steering column, under the steering wheel. The four ignition coils were mounted under the dashboard and had vibrating points on top, with ignition wires leading to the plugs in the engine head. When the key was turned on, one sound should come from the vibrating coils. If not, a slight kick or two made this happen.

Then the engine could be crank-started by hand, and it had to be remembered to place your thumb under the crank handle (not to grab as you normally would a handle) and also to keep your chin up! By not observing this safety measure, a kickback by the engine could be disastrous to one’s arm and face! Self-starters came later on. There was no gearshift on the “T,” and three-foot pedals on the floor gave you forward, reverse, and a foot brake connected to the rear wheels by metal rods.

When starting the “T,” the forward pedal (on the left) was held down by a driver’s foot, or blocked and held down by a piece of wood-if you were the driver. After the start and warm-up, the pedal was unblocked and let up by the driver’s foot, slowly, to engage the planetary gears for forward motion, as the throttle on the steering column was moved down to accelerate.

To stop, you decelerated and applied pressure to the right brake pedal, while depressing the forward pedal down to disengage the transmission gears.

To back up, the forward pedal was held down, and the center pedal was depressed to engage the reverse gears. A hand-operated parking brake was interconnected with the brake pedal, both operating the brake rods.

The “T’ was fun to drive, and yours truly learned at the age of 10 years, working with my grandfather on the ice route in Edgemere. Now back to Piazza, the baker!

Mr. Piazza maintained his bakery on Beach 81 Street until 1940, when he opened a new bread and Italian pastry bakery on the Boulevard near Beach 84 Street. Piazza’s bakery remained there until 1954, when the property was condemned for the Hammel’s Housing Project. After this, Piazza went into semi-retirement, and helped a friend run John’s Bakery in Ozone Park, Queens. He remained with the Ozone Park bakery until 1962. Mariano Piazza died in 1979 at his home in Long Beach, New York.

When people in Rockaway Beach sat down to supper in the evening, and the crust of a loaf of Mariano Piazza’s bread was broken at the table, people in Brooklyn asked, “What was that sound?”

You laugh, eh! When was the last time that you broke a loaf of fresh-baked bread and heard that kind of craaaaaack!

As the big-time commercial bakeries slowly offered their goods to many stores in the Rockaways, the family-owned mom and pop bakeries began to dwindle in numbers. A few still exist, but I look for the one that has a sign that states, “All baking done on the premises.” Once again, many thanks to Mr. And Mrs. Anthony Piazza for today’s historical view.

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