A self-sufficient mile-square Italian village existed for a century in the middle of the city of San Francisco. The village began downtown near Montgomery Street, then climbed the steep slopes of Telegraph Hill and spread down Columbus Ave toward the sands of North Beach. Small houses and crowded flats lined streets where only husky-voiced Italian could be heard, punctuated by bursts of operatic arias. The aroma of sausages, cheese, and garlic escaped from Italian groceries and 'trattorias' -- 'Buon gusto!' was the rallying cry. Washington Square was the heart of the community: men met there to smoke cigars and play bocce ball, while children played and women strolled. Fisherman's Wharf was 'Italy Harbor,' the most colorful corner of the city. Graceful 'feluccas' were moored side by side; 'pescatori' in boots, blue trousers, bright sashes, and flannel shirts mended nets and moved boxes of fish and Dungeness crabs.
San Francisco's North Beach was not a tightly knit community, but a mosaic of groups. People from the same province, even village, clustered together and their loyalty, 'campanilismo,' was strong. They lived with, worked with, and married their own. The Italians did not intend to stay, but to save money and return to the Old Country. But in breezy San Francisco, with its stress on freedom and individuality, customs were blown away faster than in the East, and the Americanization process began, led by 'prominenti' Andrea Sbarboro, Domenico Ghiradelli, A.P. Giannini and others.