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Macaroni & more…

A Portland Macaroni factory, 1924

a store front at night

Combing through old tax photographs of Portland’s Old Port from 1924, I happened upon this gem, which emphasizes Portland’s strong tradition of Italian-American food, one of my top recommendations, depending upon where visitors are from. Check out the kid smiling at the bottom too, he’d be 107 or so today.

The location is the corner of Fore and Hampshire streets, which was nearby the Italian-American ethnic enclave on India Street, centered around St. Peter’s Church on Federal Street. Though Portland still has many historic buildings, a lot of them have been lost, including this one. Portland used to be a lot denser, there were very few parking lots in the 1920s. Pretty much every surface parking lot in town was formerly the site of multiple buildings businesses and family homes.  The Macaroni factory site is now the Simba Parking lot, across Fore Street from the Hampton Inn, adjoining a big parking lot that used to be the site of the Village Café, Portland’s largest-ever restaurant, a 500-seat family Italian-American sit-down that closed in the late 1990s. Although most of the Italian-American community moved to the suburbs in the postwar years like most everyone else, there are still signs round that signal its community identity even now. Micucci Grocery is still there, Amato’s original flagship location is there, and even the crosswalks are painted in the colors of the Italian tricolore flag. Ribollita is a venerable mainstay of the Portland restaurant scene, and Tomaso’s Canteen, though newer, pays homage to the Italian-American community as well.  Pay attention to the bricks on the sidewalk, some are imprinted with historical information that enrich one’s sense of place. In the first week of August, there is an Italian-American street fiesta that is a don’t-miss if you like sausage and zeppolis and want to see the old neighborhood come back to life.

The site is also close to the waterfront, which employed many Italian-American workers in maritime trades. Many Italian workers migrated to the U.S. for industrial jobs, and Maine in particular became a destination for Italian stone cutters working the granite quarries and in construction industries. Look at virtually any historic building in town and you will see their handiwork. Italian stone cutting and marblework go back a long way, like to the Roman Empire. The neo-classical architecture you see in Portland was built in part by the descendents of the original workers of antiquity. 

an old photo of a building

 

One of the main features of the waterfront in 1924, right there at India Street, were the great grain elevators of the Canadian National Railroad, which terminated right there at the foot of India Street at Commercial Street, and the administration building is still there with a commemorative plaque that announces the site as “Mile 0.0” of the Canadian National Railroad, the Grand Trunk Railroad. Those grain elevators were filled with wheat coming from central Canada shipping out to markets all over the world. It’s also what made Portland such a great town for baking, and evidently also for macaroni.

 

an old photo of a building

While the tracks remained on Commercial Street for many years (they’re still under there), in 1924 after WWI, the Canadian Railroad moved its operation to have maintain their primary terminal domestically in St. John, New Brunswick, which they evidently found a way to keep ice-free. These pictures were taken right as Portland’s fortunes momentarily faltered, even previous to the Great Depression of 1929. Things would pick up again in preparation for the Second World War, in which Portland would play a crucial part, as both a shipbuilding, oil, and national defense hub.

“Trinacria” was the Greek name for Sicily in classical antiquity, and the triskelion (a wheel of three running legs with a Medusa head and wheat stalks at center) was Siciliy’s coat of arms and flag.  There is no mistaking where the owners of this business proudly hailed from. As I was researching the building, I came across La Trinacria in Baltimore to see if it was related, and I sent them the picture with a nice note asking for more information.  By all means, visit them, it looks great. I will keep readers updated on the response. Stay tuned. 

 

a drawing of a face

La Trinacria

And keep your eyes peeled for a Portland Pizza Tour, which we are developing this year! Mangia!

Ray Sapirstein, Portland walking guide and local culinary and history expert.

Tom Conigliaro standing in front of a store

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