Last year, I recognized Bill’s death by indexing the “Remembering Bill Soberanes” blogs I have posted over the years I have known him. They’ve totaled 29 and are still available for viewing online. Just click on the link in the Categories column to the right of this blog.
With today’s blog, I will be starting a different way to memorialize Bill Soberanes by sharing one of his Argus-Courier columns that tells the story of an early Petaluman who has contributed to the growth and development of our favorite river town. It will also serve as a way to honor two people with a “Lest We Forget” blog: Bill Soberances and Abramo Boccaleoni, who was “king of the bocce ball court.”
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“I had the good fortune to live during part of an era that involved and old country sport called bocce ball. Today I’ll tell you about the game and the roll Abramo Boccaleoni played in it.
Only a handful of the thousands of people who drive down East Washington Street today remember there was once a bocce ball court at the corner of Washington and Hopper streets. (That section of Hopper Street is now Lakeville Street.)
The bocce ball court was located directly in back of the Lombardo Hotel, which has vanished and was replaced by the Tivoli Hotel, which has also vanished and is now the Tivoli Restaurant and Bar.
The restaurant and bar is about 50 yards from the hotel site.
In days gone by bocce ball was the favorite sport of many of Italian and Swiss residents of what is now called old East Petaluma, and the king of the bocce ball players for well over a half century was Boccaleoni. The court back of the Tivoli was where the old-timers played, carrying on the tradition many of them pursued when they lived in Europe.
From Boccaleoni I learned that the word bocce means ball in Italian. He told me that the courts at the Tivoli were about 70 feet long and 10 feet wide, and were mad of hard-rolled crushed oyster shells along with some other ingredients.
This columnist was on hand when the last bocce ball game was played in the back of the Tivoli Hotel, and it was then that Boccaleoni thoroughly explained the game as follows: First, a ball called the bocce is rolled down the court, or may be carried if the players so desire. The object is to have this ball near the center of the court a few feet from the end. The players then start rolling bocce from the far end. Usually the idea is to “lag” the large ball close to the small one.
The men who played that day were Ed Pronzini, Mario Pedrazzi, Frank DeMartini and Boccaleoni. Ed Pronzini was the youngest of this group who were around 80 years old.
At the time Boccaleoni and Pedrazzi had been playing well over a half-century, and many of these years were spent on this east Petaluma court.
In the early days it wasn’t unusual to have 100 or more bocce ball players on hand on a Saturday or Sunday, and one of the most unforgettable players was Shorty Lucchesi. Lucchesi worked as a section hand for the railroad, and old-timers will remember him ridding one of those hand-pumped wagons down the tracks that still run through Petaluma.
Playing bocce in back of the Tivoli was something everybody could afford, because the use of the court was free.
In those days the loser of a game would buy a drink or pass around those hard-twist Toscani cigars that were smoked by most of the old-time Italians and Swiss.
The bocce court was established in back of the Lombardo (then the Petaluma Hotel) by Silvio and Mary Volpi. A short time later the Volpis leased the hotel and restaurant to Nate Carasali.
It was Carasali who put up the following signs and Boccaleoni who gave me the English definition: “Aviso – non resto resonabile per infortuni nei giuoco dell bocce.” (“I am not responsible for accidents during a bocce game.”) “Gicucatori la parity de giorno 16 punti.” (“Players in the afternoon play for 16 points. Later in the evening the game is 12 points.”) “Aviso – al giuocatori e probito il gioco della misura senza oridine.” Boccaleoni said this was the most important, and that the definition in English went like this: “Take it easy. Don’t make up too many rules, keep the game moving and don’t argue much.”
One of the things the fellows loved to do was argue, but their arguments were always in a fun vein, and the players were always friends. Among the things the players loved to do was sing, and some of them sang in operatic voices that would make Enrico Caruso sit up and listen.
When Nate Carasali left the Lombardo Hotel, Ann Casazza, a sister of Silvio Volpi, took over and a new colorful era in the history of the Tivoli and the court started. Under the management of Ann Casazza and her sons, John and Guido, the Tivoli remained the meeting place of old-time Italians and Swiss citizens of East Petaluma, and the bocce ball games continued to thrive.
Old-timers called Boccaleoni the World Champion Bocce Ball Player, and I’m sure that Petaluma has not had any other athlete who could equal his record of remaining a champion for over 50 years.
Boccaleoni was one of the last of the colorful citizens who helped make old East Petaluma a wonderful place in which to live. He belonged to a group of men and women who pioneered a Petaluma tradition know as the United Friends of Good Old East Petaluma, and there was a time when he knew everyone in his section of town on a first-name basis.
Boccaleoni’s artistry as a gardener was recognized by our most prominent citizens, but it was bocce ball that make him a Petaluma legend.” (9-28-1998)
“Lest We Forget” Stay tuned for more Bill Soberanes columns from the “good ole days.”