Antonia (Toni) Allegra

Antonia Allegra

Antonia (Toni) Allegra

Interviewer: Bonnie Thoreen
Interview Dates: 6/14/2015 and 7/15/2015

BONNIE THOREEN: This is Bonnie Thoreen.  I’m at the home of Antonia Allegra.  It is the 14th of June about 10:15 in the morning and Antonia is going to be talking about her family history, starting with one of her grandparents.  So, take it away.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Thank you.  My family history is deep into old San Francisco, and it links with Genoa as well as with Ticino, which is the Italian section of Switzerland. But the grandparent that I’d like to talk about particularly is Emilio Lestredo who was born in San Francisco and his father was also, his father Luigi, came from Santa Margarita and arrived as we know it, and we have a sister who has done serious genealogy that I can share with you.

BONNIE THOREEN:  I saw that in your email.  She must be doing a lot of work.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: She’s great.  So, they arrived around 1843.  That is our great-grandfather, Luigi Lestredo.  And he joined with the man who at that time was considered one of the two or three millionaires in San Francisco. His name was Nicholas or Nicholai Larko   And so the Larko Lestredo importing/exporting company that brought chocolate from the Ghirardelli family, that brought coffee, that brought many things to the San Francisco area as it evolved is an old family.  My grandfather died the day after I was born.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: That was in February 22, 1946. He had Parkinson’s for many years and had really withered away from the robust man that he was.  A leader of the city.  I have various programs here; I’ll just share this with you.  I’m giving you a piece of paper from one of the books of the time that listed his links with multiple associations including the Red Man Associations for Caucasian men to pretend that they were Red Men.

BONNIE THOREEN: That still exists.



ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Oh my gosh.  Well we have a big leather countenance of Emilio wearing an Indian headdress with his name as he was inducted into this group.  Very active, but who was Emilio?  Let me just start with that. And I will start with him as a young man attending Hastings College in San Francisco to become the attorney that he was.  And that’s really the link with the Napa Valley for Emilio Lestredo because Emilio could speak multiple languages and he was known as an attorney who could help the Portuguese, the French, the Italian, the Spanish, all of that kind of.   

BONNIE THOREEN: Where did he get that knowledge, where did he get all of his languages?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: He just, it was a natural gift and his, remember his father was an importer/exporter dealing particularly with Peru.  And Peru, at the time of the late 1800s and certainly well before, was one of the highest cultural areas of South America.  And so, there was this affinity for things Southern, South American and Latin American, and so Emilio was raised in this whole world.  Emilio’s brother was also raised in this world and he was CB or Carlo Bartolomeo Lestredo.  And Carlo, I’ll show his picture.  He’s the one with the dashing eyes and the mustache and all that stuff.  Carlo went into the importing and exporting and Emilio was seen as the attorney fellow.  He had that kind of a mind.  He loved to learn.  He also was a Thespian to the point that in his home at the height of his powers, which was the home was on Jones Street just down from the Pacific Union building on Knob Hill.   The third floor of that house where my father was raised with his four siblings, three boys and one sister, it was a theatre. It was a Shakespearean Theatre.  

BONNIE THOREEN: The third floor, the whole?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: The third floor and it still exists.  You can go see it.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And so, the children were raised, I mean dad could spout Puck right, right like that you know, and they each had roles.  They all learned how to present to visiting society who came and so Emilio as an attorney also had a very social side.  He was extremely social. And so, among his clients were people in the wine industry,  which was really at its peak at that time, as you know. There were over 100 wineries in Napa Valley at that time and so who turned to Emilio Lestredo who spoke various languages as their attorney?  And whose office, I have a picture of his office.  Well I won’t show you here but the, when the Chronical Building was built on Market Street in San Francisco, whose was the first office occupied was Emilio Lestredo, Attorney?  And so, Market Street being quite the hub of San Francisco even at that time brought a lot of people to him including Georges de Latour and the Beringer Boys as he called them, the Beringer Boys. And they were, you know they were in business.  They needed an attorney to represent them to take care of them and all of that.  We have looked for the papers.  We know and I will show you a letter that was written by George’s wife on the occasion of the engagement of Emilio with our grandmother, Golda Cuffield.  This is written on May 13, 1906. This is right after the earthquake and fire.  That’s a copy of it.  And in that letter, which is signed at the very end by Georges.  They are talking about how wonderful it is that this kid, Emilio the attorney, was getting married in the future and all of that kind of stuff.

BONNIE THOREEN: So, 1906, did you mention to me the year that he was born?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I can get it in a flash. I would have to go to my sister’s genealogy but.

BONNIE THOREEN: Oh, I was curious but you calling him this young man, I was wondering how old he might have been.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: How old, do you want to stop this and I can go to?

BONNIE THOREEN: No, no. Let’s just keep going.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I didn’t do that research.  It might be on that page that you have here.  Does that have his birth?

BONNIE THOREEN: Let me look, but keep going.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Okay.  So in any case, he became deeply embedded with the Napa Valley and at that time there was quite a society here as well as in San Francisco. Our grandmother, Golda Cuffield, who has a completely other story much of which was just divulged when I was 68 years old two years ago. So, it’s one of those amazing stories, loved to cook.

BONNIE THOREEN: You come by it naturally.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I think she channels me. But she was famous for her baked goods, her cakes, and all of that.  So, people would come to the house on Jones Street and there would be cakes and beautiful pastries and things, wines of course. De Latour wines, Beringer wines, wines of grandpa’s clients, and those are the only two that we know were his clients. We assumed that he had others as well. But in Saint Helena in Napa Valley all of our Victorians that we know here, many of them were built at that very time with the monies that the winemakers were finally seeing.  It was their gold rush here in the valley at that time, and so the very Victorians that we have here were often summer homes for the people of San Francisco, the society and the families of San Francisco.

BONNIE THOREEN: It sounds like today.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Absolutely, isn’t it?  And we have also come to this peak again you know after the, so many changes right the turn of the century.  Everything just kind of collapsed, went down to almost what 17 wineries in 19, I did the research for my book but it’s like in the, say the 50s. I believe that there were about 17 wineries with licenses here in this valley.

BONNIE THOREEN: Because of prohibition.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Prohibition and we had the walnut trees and all the rest that we know about.  Well speaking of prohibition, Emilio Lestredo was also Catholic.  Emilio was connected with society.  He was connected with the Bishop of San Francisco.  And when this whole thing of prohibition came up, we have been told in our family of course that it was he who talked with Georges de Latour and the Beringer Boys and said, look we can go to the Bishop. You know, you can get some kind of a dispensation and you could have wine and you could continue to make wine.  And we have always been told that.  I don’t know that is a fact about Emilio. Maybe there was a consortium of attorneys, Catholic attorneys, who got together and made that decision.  And being the journalist that I am, I really deal with facts and sources and I have nothing on that.  But this is an old San Francisco family that repeats and repeats and repeats the history to keep that family alive.  Just on a side, we just on Saturday celebrated our mother’s 100th birthday even though she died in 1982 at 66 years old.

BONNIE THOREEN: Wow.  So, you keep celebrating anyway?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Every year and this was a bash.  It was all of us girls.  It was just women, and that’s another story. And she has another story. USO singer du ring the World War II you know singing at the Stage Door Canteen, Sophie Tucker songs, jazzy. I’ve got that too. So anyway, back to Emilio.  So, this was an important person.  He was one of the first members of the Olympic Club, a Sportsman Club.  He was a fencer. And you saw that picture of the man with the lance, the sword in the Nana Room as we call it. That’s Emilio. And he just plunged into all forms and I think you should keep this.  We can get Dawn to make a copy of it for you to just explain the kaleidoscopic activities because his family was from Santa Margherita, which is in the Genovese area of Italy and because San Francisco was founded by the Genovese in San Francisco, and because he was so theatrical. I showed you the picture of him acting Columbus, which he did every year.

BONNIE THOREEN: Every year, wow.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: For 30 years and he would go down and people would dress like Native Americans and he would come off a boat down in Fisherman’s Wharf.  He knew all of the Fisherman’s Wharf people and I’m sure many of them were his clients. But you know sort of swashbuckling kind of guy and he chose to live in San Francisco all the time except at one point he moved to Ross.  And this was at the point where his money was starting to fail, and the economy of America was actually starting to fail. This is near World War I; we’re starting to see changes.  And so, our dad and his three brothers and sister moved with Emilio and Goldie to Ross.  We know the house exactly. We’ve been in the house.  We can show it to you.

BONNIE THOREEN: Did they do as an economical move too?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I believe so.

BONNIE THOREEN: And they sold the Jones Street?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: The Jones Street house was then not theirs.  Yeah, and it’s a story of going to the total peak of his powers of his money, of his influences, being the attorney that he was. He was influential.  He was in the Chronical Building for God’s sake.  So, he is with the press.  He knows the people.  But then the money started to drop, similar to Nicholas Larko, the guy that was one of the few millionaires before the Gold Rush.  Nicholas went to the peak and ended up impoverished and buried just in a common grave.  So, these stories continue and Emilio’s family then moved to Ross.  Went back to San Francisco but in a much lesser place.  We have all the addresses.  And ended up in a small apartment during the Depression in San Francisco near Van Ness Street and eventually as Emilio’s health just completely deteriorated him, he and his wife lived in a smaller apartment out near Funston Street.  And so, it’s a very interesting economic history of San Francisco and the Valley as well as sociology.

BONNIE THOREEN: Did it ruin him?  Did he feel, did it make him a different person do you think?  Or did he still continue to be Columbus and act and ?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I think it was the Parkinson’s that disintegrated him really.  He was indomitable.  Both of these grandfathers were indomitable and wait till you hear about Antonio Liollo, I mean incredible story.  They just happen to be powerfully confident that things were going to be better always.  And we five sisters all have that same feeling.  It’s just, it’s just a part of the way we are.  And so, Emilio had not only the leadership, the society, the links, he was like a human social network before that all ever came about.  And then he had this beautiful woman who was 18 years old when they married. He was 33.  And by the by, he bought a lot of real estate in San Francisco at the time of his powers, including a brothel which we have the history on that.  And the brothel was downtown in San Francisco, down near the whole area of the prostitute area, and at that time it was a business.  Gentlemen invested in brothels and I’ve read in our St. Helena Star history stories about so and so was down at the brothel.  That being Grandview, and so all these things start weaving together and you start seeing, okay so he was a married man at 33.  And he ended up having this vibrant young very beautiful wife who was attracted to the society side and the pictures we have of her in Victorian garb are wonderful. And we still have some of the clothing that was kept in our house, in our main childhood house, out right near Sea Cliff in San Francisco, in what we call the ‘costume closet’. But I have grandma’s buttonhole, button-up shoes.

BONNIE THOREEN: Do you have a hook for them



ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I have the hook. It has a green kind of lacey design on the handle with a little amber color behind it.  So those things are still alive in our family because of the five of us and because our parents, Carlo and Antoinette Lestredo.  My mother was Antoinette Delfino Lidia Mario Loyola Lestredo.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Okay. But because they have kept things, I have Mom’s dress from the 1930s, a cut velvet dress that you wore when she danced.  I have, you know and my sisters and I divided things at the death of our parents same year, four months apart.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And that has brought us so closely together that it’s almost a story to hear the five of us talk as we did this last Saturday.  Stories just flowing out of, in that case about Mom.  We concentrated on her.  But we all have different pieces, jewelry, jet, the jet black necklaces, the rings.  All of those things still from the Victorian era in San Francisco.  And when we were girls, we relived that on Halloween.  And we have photos of the five of us in dresses that our grandmother and our great-grandmother, Charlotte Paran, a French woman married to Luigi Lestredo the Genovese.  Bodices with embroidery, etc. and we would go out on Halloween in those button shoes when we were girls and walk the neighborhood and knock on doors and people would say, oh it’s the Lestredo girls.  Here they are again in those old-fashion clothes, how cute, ha, ha.  Well we were reliving our family’s history through clothing.  So, it’s alive, its history that is alive.  And go ahead.

BONNIE THOREEN: How are you preserving the fabrics?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: In plastic bags, you know nothing really fancy. The shoes are downstairs in the very trunk that is Emilio’s trunk.   It has the initials on it.  It’s a big leather trunk with interior parts that come out that would have been used for…

BONNIE THOREEN: For traveling.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Travel, I have it downstairs and in there I keep the shoes and other certain items.  Somehow, they all seem to fit together in that old leather trunk.  I also have a wicker basket that our grandfather, Antonio, used to carry from Genoa.  And I have my grandmother’s knife and rolling pin that she carried when she came across Ticino in 1900.  And that’s another story, I will save that for later.  The point is that I think coming back, I think I was destined to come back Napa Valley.

BONNIE THOREEN: Well I have a question.  Did he, did he continue to work for the wineries even as his health was failing?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: It was the wineries that failed.

BONNIE THOREEN: Well that’s true.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So many things.

BONNIE THOREEN: Came together.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: The wineries came to a pinnacle at the turn of the century.  You had the fire in the City.  Everything is down in the City.  He’s a n attorney.  He’s helping people with lost monies, lost houses, lost mortgages, lost everything. Meanwhile the wineries are diminishing.

BONNIE THOREEN: Struggling too.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And then we get into the 20s, close into the 30s and the 30s it’s over. Totally over with the exception of sacramental wine.  And so, I think, in the case of the Beringer house and in the case of the De Latour house that was essential. That kept their line in making wine alive. On my grandmother, my Loyola grandmother side, we have the Nichelini link. They are our cousins from Versoix in Ticino Switzerland, which I did not know until I moved here in 1987.

BONNIE THOREEN: How did you find that out?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Well I just went to Nichelini and you know I’m thinking, oh they are from Versoix, so crazy.  That’s great.  We knew Ieata Cavalli, who has a winery, a very famous Ieata’s Vineyard that is a source for a certain Cabernets was a family member. Cavalli is a family name on my grandmother’s side. But we did not know that the Nichelini link was there until I went to the winery and I had been to Switzerland to Versoix, which is a town of stone. It’s a town of, are we exceeding the time? No.

BONNIE THOREEN: Keep going. I’m checking just on a side; I keep looking at to make sure the red button is on so that I’m absolutely certain we’re recording.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Okay. Great. Well the, and I think I should save Nichelini for Antonio Loyola because that’s, that’s the Swiss, the Italian side.

BONNIE THOREEN: The other side, okay.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Yeah. But yes, we are related. So here I sit. I mean who knew?  We came with Grandma Goldie, Golda Cuffield, the wife of Emilio Lestredo.  All of the 50s, and I’ve written about this.  It’s in a forward of a book that was published by Collin San Francisco in the early 1990s.  How coming to the valley was a trip that we girls, five daughters did with Grandma and we found out later it was so Mom and Dad could have a day off and not be parents, you know.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, here’s grandma.  She would drive up. Archie, her chauffeur and house-boy would be driving her Brougham.  It’s a kind of Cadillac.  And it had these little jump-seats in it so there was a seat for all of us in that car.  And she had always a picnic in the back trunk.

BONNIE THOREEN: And it was a day trip?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: It was a day trip, absolutely.  We’d leave in the morning.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: They would come by the house, pick us all up. I t was a big deal and although it was going to be outdoors and, in the country, I mean we were city girls believe me. Going to the country we would dress up to go to these picnics.

BONNIE THOREEN: You mean literally put on like hats and gloves?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Fancy little skirts and all of the whole thing.  We were raised Victorian period.  We didn’t know it.  We were isolated.  We lived in a house that was very large.  Some people call it a mansion.  We didn’t think of it that way.  It was just home.  But it was a life unconnected to neighbors, unconnected to even our classmates.  Our school, we live d in Sea Cliff, and the school was over in Pacific Heights.  So how did we get there every day? These five girls by taxi.  So, the taxi would come, pick us up.  It was the same driver every day, Dick, and then when he retired it was Morris.  We have stories with them and then we’d go to the convent and either the taxi would bring us home, especially when Mom had the baby, Nikki, four years younger than the first four of us were born five years apart.  I mean just four of us.

BONNIE THOREEN: Oh, just one year for?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: We were born four of us in five years.  So, dad always said we were Italian quadruplets.  And then Nikki was four years later.  So, the four of us and then Nikki are like puppies in a litter.  We just are that close, that close so every day our life was wake up, have breakfast, get in the cab, go to school, get in the cab come home.  No playing outside.  No skates, no bicycles.

BONNIE THOREEN: So, your friends were your sisters?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And our classmates, but we didn’t know the classmates except for school day hours.  And remember, we were at the convent of the Sacred Heart, where you are silent all day.  You walk in strict ranks.  You raise your hand to go to the bathroom.  You receive a little pass and you go solo to the bathroom and then you come back.  You give the pass.  You curtsy, you go back to your desk, and you continue work.  So, it was not, yeah.

BONNIE THOREEN: I’m curious about something. The generational thing, your grandfather not only lost a lot of money.


BONNIE THOREEN: Lost his health.


BONNIE THOREEN: How did, how did the family pick up again to become this very prestigious Sea Cliff family?     

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I wouldn’t say were prestigious.  When Mom and Dad married, May 6, 1945, I was born nine months and fifteen days later.  They had nothing.  They really had nothing.  And Carlo, my father, was just coming out of the Navy.  All of the four boys served during World War II.  All of the four of them came back alive.

BONNIE THOREEN: Wow. So, there was no, there was no family money that was?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: There was nothing, nothing.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: If anything, our mom’s family had the money at the time.  Her father had been killed in 1932, but the point is that he was one of the founders of the Bank of America. And so, with investments, real estate, and all the rest his widow, our grandmother, a great peasant woman from Switzerland.  I just adore this woman and almost identify with her a lot, more than the Lestredo side.  Look at the way I live, I mean it’s just kind of loose.  But Nana was smart and so she, it turns out that she helped to make sure that there was money.  The house at Larkin and Union still exists. We just saw it passing to go to this party for our mother.  We live San Francisco history.  And so, Dad, being that son of Emilio, this indomitable guy, was also indomitable.  I mean let me just show you.

BONNIE THOREEN: So, he inherited the spirit?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Oh absolutely.

BONNIE THOREEN: If not, if not the fortune.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: He and his brother, Don.  Don Lestredo was also an amazing guy who ended up being, here is my dad.  This is in YPO in Hawaii after, during World War II.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And just look at that face of determination.  So, he joined as a boy, his uncle Carlo Bartolomeo, the guy who went into the importing/exporting was the one with the money. He kept bringing things in from all over the world.  And so, he put all of the children of Emilio’s now going toward destitute family, through school.  And in the meantime, he chose Dad as his next boy.  He had no children.  But he chose Dad.  Paid for dad to go to Bellarmine, which was at that time a part of the University of Santa Clara in Santa Clara.  So, he would take the train every day down to Santa Clara, go to school, come back to San Francisco, walk home to their home on Jones Street, not Jones Street by then.  They were in the apartment, but Emilio picked Dad because of that vibrancy.  I mean he just was a wonderful man.  Kind, absolutely beyond kind.  He could have been a priest.  And our mom was a Blues singer, singing, you know I mean. It’s just unbelievable combinations here.  But anyway, so Dad went to work for CB as soon as he got out of the Navy.  CB, Carlo Bartolomeo.  And it’s called Lestredo, the Lestredo something, the name of the company has changed all the way through but it existed all the way through my second sister, Shelly’s taking on the company and creating Golden Gate Imports.  And after that, there is another story to be told.  But Dad loved the work.  He never went to college.  He worked so he could send his brother, Don, to medical school.  And Don became a surgeon.  He also became the doctor for the boxers in San Francisco.  He knew George Foreman.  He knew Joe Frazier.  He knew all these people.  He was also during the war with the PT109 Group in the South Seas.  We have books that include him in the stories and why?  Because JFK was one of those kids on the PT109 boat and he knew JFK.  I mean his stories alone are an amazing history. But Dad remained with the importing/exporting and really took it to the next level, just by learning from his uncle.  It truly amazing connections, his younger brother, Phil Lestredo, did join the company for a while.  It was Carlo and Allegra, my God-Mother and my middle name was the first child.  Then Don, then Carlo, then Phil, and then Renee. That’s the family of my father. So, Allegra, just to tell you my name is Antonio Allegra Regina Lestredo and then married to Griffin for 17 years and then I just said the hell with it.  I’m taking my first two names. I use that as my byline for travel riding.  So, it was just like okay, I’m Antonio Allegra.  But Dad had this way about bringing people in who were having trouble, and our Uncle Phil Lestredo, who ended up living in Marin most of his adult life, joined.  And Phil had problems with drinking and you ask why did he have problems with drinking? I mean he must have been an addictive personality,  but the point is, when he left to become a bombardier during World War II, he talked to Dad.  They were close brothers and he said, Carlo I want you to take care of my girlfriend.  She is really special to me and I want to marry her when I get back home.  And so, Dad said absolutely Phil, I’ll do that.  And that girlfriend was Antoinette Delfino Lydia Mario Loyola, okay.  Dad took her out to see, he said why don’t I just take you out to dinner?  They went to Tadich’s and during that dinner proposed to mom.  Okay.  You get the picture?  I mean he like instantly knew that’s the woman for me.  He knew it.  So, we always have had this little side sadness with Phil who lost his love to his brother.

BONNIE THOREEN: How did he take it?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I told you he was an alcoholic.



BONNIE THOREEN: Think that’s part of it?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I think that was part of it.  He did marry.  He has two kids, he had three kids.  And I won’t go into that history right now, but we hardly ever saw Phil ever.  And this is a close Italian family.  It’s Christmas, it’s Easter, it’s not the church side that Dad was the church. He could have been a priest.  I mean he had that deep spiritual thing about him, but it was just typical Italian get-togethers, sit at the table, have a glass of wine, no matter what your age, you know that was just normal.  So, it just, we didn’t know Phil very much.  And just now really, we’re just starting to do whole family, whole Lestredo family reunions with all the kids and the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren.

BONNIE THOREEN: And how many people would that involve?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: It’s large.  The last party that we had was I’d say there were about thirty to forty of us there and many members not there.  That was down in the peninsula at my sister Maria’s house.  But one of the sons of the youngest of Dad’s brothers, Renee, also called Renee was just named a judge in Fresno, where he lives.  So, the attorney line and by the way, he is an actor.  See and I’m an actor.  My degree my studies at Santa Clara were speech and drama.

BONNIE THOREEN: You have strong family genes.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Very strong.  And we have the business side too.  You know because I came from nothing and when I left our very comfortable home to marry at age 19, the Catholic boy that I met at Santa Clara, and just knew that he was my dream husband.  The family actually accepted him.  I had maybe three boyfriends in my life.  Victorian life, girls are separated from everything.  It was, it was a total separation.  It was like, okay you’re on your own now, which meant that we lived on, John Griffin and I, for 4 years in married/student housing at Davis, UC Davis when he got his PHD in biophysics.  And that was $40 a month and we were scraping.  I worked at the library for 2 years and then by pure chance, I got the job that I loved, which was being bibliographer to Maynard Amerine.

BONNIE THOREEN: How lucky for you.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Is that amazing?

BONNIE THOREEN: I didn’t realize that.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, for two years I was in his office in a little table desk. He was right there. I was right here. I’m now 21 and so I’m sitting there. I have now one little baby born when he was, when I was 21, and separated from the church, because we two husband and wife, John and Toni, just couldn’t the responsibility of not using contraceptives, which really was a chisel through the family.

BONNIE THOREEN: That was a big deal at the time wasn’t it?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Oh God. I think I lost part of my dad at that time because he was so Catholic. He was kind always but that was difficult for him. But in any case, here we are new baby and I was ready to find a job that I could do also a little bit at home doing the research. And this job opened up.  So, Maynard Amerine, I sat in his office for two years writing a bibliography on Vermouth, granted by the Mario Petribuno Company translating the Italian and the French.  I had been in a convent school for 12 years.  French was the second language. Latin was the third language and Italian was of course the language of our grandmother.  And so, if you wanted candy or pasta or something, we didn’t have pasta.  We had rice actually because it’s Northern Italian.  And the tradition is rice in the North and pasta in the South.  We had pizza only at one pizzeria on Gary Street, Vince’s Pizzeria.  So, we didn’t even know what Southern Italian food was.  You know, so it’s just a, it’s like being in a cocoon, until finally at 19, I married and it’s like ricochet.  It’s also 1967, the hippie era is starting.  We’re on a campus.  We’re right next to San Francisco.  We don’t have money.  And it’s just been an uphill, wonderful experience ever since.

BONNIE THOREEN: Well, what brought you to Napa Valley?  Was the Maynard Amerine connection?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I think so. It was Susy Davidson and I always give her and Tor Kenwood the credit for that.  At the time, from 1982 when I was divorced, and I had to have for the first time in my life a full-time job.  I had been teaching cooking for years, eight years at our house based on cooking that I learned in Paris when we lived in Paris. But this was okay. I’m alone.  We have these kids.  We’re sharing the responsibility.  I did not ask for alimony because I thought that would be rude.  And so, I had a $100 a month to feed, clothe, and all the rest, of the kids and I knew that wasn’t going to do it.  And so, what happened was that I took a job that was offered to me by the food editor of the San Diego Tribune, who had been one of my cooking students. And she said, Toni all you have to do is write the way you teach and you’ll be fine.  Okay, so I’m finished with the newspaper world, which was at that time the peak of advertising in newspapers ever, ever 1980, the ‘80s.  And I was doing the work of 40 to 80-page food sections throughout the year, solo, with one person writing headlines.  And so, anyway, I was looking for another job because I felt that I was becoming an indentured servant.  And loving it, loving the writing, loving the food, the people, so out of the blue how did I get here?  I had two phone calls.  One was from Dick Maher.  Dick was still with Christian Brothers.  Christian Brothers was still Christian Brothers.  And he called and he explained who he was.  I had no connection with the wine country at that time and I had left, I was deeply into food.  I was the head of the Association of Food Journalists and all stuff.  But he said, we have a position that we think you could fill and that is, that you would come up here and work with our sales force and six months of the year you would be here in St. Helena working with the salesmen teaching them the relationship of food and wine.

BONNIE THOREEN: Way ahead of your time.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Well, but I did it. I mean, I’ve been wine since I was a kid. I take it as a beverage not as a God, and yet I had been with Maynard and Davis learning, going to Paris, somehow Dick, independent of Beringer, figured out that maybe this food editor down in San Diego might be the person, because I would write about food and wine but not in a, you know she-she way.  So, six months in St. Helena with the salesman and then there would be an incentive program.  I would go to, they hadn’t decided either Florence or Paris, for the other half of the year, and I would create a food and wine program there and I would teach them there, but the incentive was you sell the most wine and you can go to these classes in either Florence or Paris, wherever they decided.  So that was going to be a pretty interesting life.  The other thing was the phone call from Tor, and he knew Susy Davidson, who was a kid who worked with Julia Child, a friend of mine.  And I knew Julia.  I had really, through the food world.  She was my friend, as was Ann Willan and a bunch of all the others.  So, Susy had been offered the job of starting the school for American Chefs.  They didn’t have a name.  I created that name.  But a school for chefs that would bring chefs to the wine country, unheard of at that time.  This is 1987.  And just slowly, ’76 was when Udo Nechutny had gone to Domaine Chandon and started the restaurant there.  And that to me is the turning point of the history of food as we know it.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: In Napa Valley.  So that had just simmered, simmered, simmered and Beringer got it and he said, would you come up and talk to us about maybe working? We already have a major teacher. You wouldn’t teach. It would be Madeline Cammon.  And I knew Madeline of course, and so it sounded interesting.  And I came up on two different occasions. Once to work and interview with Dick and all the people, and at that time the Christian Brothers offices were where Sutter Home is right now.  The office, bye-bye Dawn. The offices on the eastern side of 29 opposite Sutter Home. That was then Christian Brother’s headquarters. That is where I met with Dick Maher and his people. I walked around, met them all. They were great, friendly and then another time I came up and stayed at the little bed and breakfast very close to Beringer and I, you know the writer, the San Francisco writer anyway.  And I spent a day with them and that was after the Christian Brother’s interview.  And I really had to sit down and think because I loved both opportunities, but I’m a teacher.  I’m not good with sales people really in the long run.

BONNIE THOREEN: Well and if the incentive was on selling.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: That was the incentive. And I would have to sell wine and food to the sales people, so they could sell and there is, I have many friends who are in sales.  Not many, but I have some that I love, but in order to be a good salesman you have to be able to twist the reality a little bit.  And I am a totally transparent creature, and the more I thought about it, I’d be dealing with these sales guys all the time and that just made my decision so easy.  I just said yes to Tor, sure.  I’ll do it.  So, I moved, and the day that I came up to interview with Tor, my real estate side kicks in and I say, I need one hour at least to feel what the housing would be, because you know to me my home is important.  And he said okay you can have this one hour, and he set me up with Chuck McDonald, who was with the little Warren Real Estate place.

BONNIE THOREEN: Oh, the little house on Main Street?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: The little house, yeah.  So, Chuck came to Beringer and we drove around.  He showed me one house and he said this is a house of a writer, I don’t know who she is but some writer lived here.  It was on Oak Street.  It was MFK Fisher’s house, but I didn’t know it and I’m not into Victorian.  You can imagine having lived Victorian; I just said no this is not going to be my house.  Thank you very much.  I should have bought it, oh God.  But anyway, it was perfect for the Fowlers who did buy it.  And I said, okay I have 45 minutes, do you have any pictures and this was not internet time.  So, we went to the office.  He put out books and I just sat there for a few minutes and looked and looked and I saw the picture of this house, just the porch of that house and that view and I said, well let’s try this one.  It looks like it has a nice view.  And he said, I’ve never seen that house.  I’ve never shown that house.  I mean, yeah, it’s for sale, but I said let’s just try it. This is gut.  We came to this house and he had the key.  He opened it up.  It was owned then by Phil Kaufman, a film director of quite a bit of renown.  He did “The Right Stuff” and “Unbearable Likeness of Being”.  He is in with the Coppola Gang.  And he wanted a bigger house in the city, so this was being sold.  And I walked in that family door.  I stood right there.  I felt the house and I said, okay you can write up the papers.  I did not even see the house yet.  And I said Chuck, this is the house.  And he is instantly telling me, Toni, you’re a single woman.  You’re telling me this is the house and you’ve only seen one other house? We’ve got lots of houses.  I mean, and it was very expensive for me at that time.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: They were listing it at $350,000 or $325,000.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And I am coming from the newspaper world.

BONNIE THOREEN: This is in the ‘80s right?




BONNIE THOREEN: After the housing market started to take off?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Just slowly, but it was not really in St. Helena it was not a big thing.  But for me that was a lot of money and I’ve been raised in the Italian way.  You pay cash for the house. So, it would mean that I’d have to take a mortgage, which is totally different for me.  It means that I have to, you know really rethink the way I think about money.  And I really thought about it.  I talked to the banker down at the Bank of America, because the Beringer folks said the Bank of America is the real estate bank of St. Helena.

BONNIE THOREEN: Runs in your family.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And did happen to run in the family.  And finally, I wrote a letter to Phil Kaufman.  I had never met him. Against Chuck’s wishes, he said you never write to the people who own the house.  I’m supposed to be I said, well I’m a writer.  I’m just going to ask him if it could be a little less because if I could afford it then I will buy this house.  And I wrote him a letter, I wish I had kept it, but it basically I just said, listen I love your house.  This is the house that I want to live in until I croak and it’s, I will take care of it.  It will be a hub for food people.  I know it.  It has everything that I could want.  I grew up with a view face-on of the Golden Gate Bridge and the ocean and this is the Golden Gate Bridge and the ocean of the Napa Valley’s looking at out the Vodka range and trees.

BONNIE THOREEN: It’s beautiful. It is absolutely stunning.



ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And he wrote back and he accepted my offer of $285,000. And with that yes, I said yes and I’ve been in this house.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Really, the kids know the ashes go down there. Really, I am so connected to this place in inspiration. Things have happened here that I never would have dreamed in my life that have brought me to this place of comfort.  I’m not a rich woman, but I’m a person who is in the community and I am rich with that.  And, I’ve been able to do what I wanted to do.  I’m really a determined person.

BONNIE THOREEN: You got that from your family.


BONNIE THOREEN: Absolutely.  One other thing before we wrap up this session.  Where did the food connection come from?  Did I miss something?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Well growing up with Mama and although we always had a maid or an au pair in the home to take care of all of us kids, Mom cooked every meal.  And she was a natural cook, Northern Italian food. Risotto zucchini, tortellini in Brodo, veal and scaloppini, all. That was our food. It was Northern Italian food.

BONNIE THOREEN: And she did it well.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: She was a great cook.  So, I was the one of the sisters it turns out that actually sat around and watched Mom cook.  I just watched her. What was she doing? How is she cutting? We were not allowed to cook.  That was her deal.  We were allowed to make the arranged salads when guests would come, make the calligraphic name tags, convent training calligraphic.  All of that stuff.  So, I had the love of food in me and since I married young and since I worked in the library,  I ended up spending my lunch hours in the TX Section of the library which was the cookbook section.  And devouring these cookbooks and coming home and baking bread and trying things that I had never ever cooked.  I just, I have it in me.  I think it’s probably both grandmothers because they both loved to cook.  So, we moved from Davis after four years to Harvard for two years. John was doing his post-docking.  I studied at Harvard in the graduate School of Education because my, still my dream was to merge the theater with early-childhood development and so I studied early childhood development in the graduate School of Education.  Just as an audit person and I was allowed because of John’s being there studying getting his dock, doing his post-docking.  So that’s two years in there, then two years at the NIH, National Institutes of Health where, and at Davis by the way I had been a director and actress for children’s theater four years.  So, the theater the children that was my goal until John got the opportunity to work at the French Atomic Energy Commission and that was in 1973.  So, from our Washington D.C. Bethesda home, with three children now, we chose to move to France.  And I figured okay, I know everything that I need to know right now about northern California, Northern Italian food, but I know zip about French food and Julia was really at her peak at that point and all the French cooking was sort of coming out in the literature that I love to read.  So, when we went to France, we took a niece, one of John’s nieces, with us in the au pair style of living.  And all, there were six of us lived in a pretty small, but nice apartment in Palaiseau just outside of Paris so the kids could go to school, the two who were first grade and kindergarten. And then I would go into Paris and take classes just so I could know French food so I could cook it for John and the family, period end of discussion. I was just driven. That was my goal, but I knew when we finally went back to the States, and we didn’t know where that would be, that I would then get involved in children’s theater merging these two elements that I had really studied. And I was hooked. I just couldn’t get enough of that French food. It was so different, but there were elements that were like northern Italian, Maria, Catherine de ’Medici took her Italian chefs over to France when she married into the French royalty.  So, I had grown up with that flavor but not the French finesse and I was hooked.  So, I took classes.  I would cook the food during the week that I had learned and the classes in Paris with Suzanne Barachois. I have her books. I have her pictures. I have studied her books forever. She was a great teacher. And just solo in her little apartment in Paris, and five others of us, Japanese, Mexican, nobody speaking French.  Just listening and trying to catch up.  And then I spoke French. After we moved, we moved to San Diego.  I decided to teach this food that I had learned in France, not northern Italian. That was just too every day.  And so, in our suburban home in a cul-de-sac in San Diego near the new University of California at San Diego, I would teach classes to people which started basically with the scientists in John’s group at the Scripts Clinic and Research Foundation, where he still works today since 1974.  They would come over for dinner and that Grandma Goldie thing came out.  Oh, I got to fix them food. I’ll give them the French food.  I’ll do the, you know and they would say, why don’t you teach us how to do this?  And so, the theatrical plus food plus just having a home where the family allowed me to do that, by the time I left here in ’80, no when I started at the paper in ’82, I had to get a job that made money. I had three classes a week, two day-time classes and one evening classes, 13 people in each class jammed around a table sort of jerry-rigged together in our home.  The night classes I would just say, excuse me it’s time to sing to the kids.  I would leave them eating their food because I was catering a four-course French meal to them.  Sing to the kids and put them to bed and all of that, and then come down and finish the class.  So, and then by pure chance, it’s all chance.  It’s all luck. It’s serendipity.  Marge Rice, this food editor of the paper, who knew zip about food, because before that time food editors were just like the person who made the best coffee cake in the newsroom.

BONNIE THOREEN: Well you were, well that was the perfect time.


BONNIE THOREEN: Perfect time.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, you want some more?

BONNIE THOREEN: No, I’m good thank you.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Okay. Are we done? Okay.

BONNIE THOREEN: But let’s continue with the other side of your family next.


BONNIE THOREEN: Next session.


BONNIE THOREEN:  You’re making me hungry talking about this food.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: How about have a cookie?

BONNIE THOREEN: No, I’m fine. Thank you.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Please, please.

BONNIE THOREEN: Okay, thank you.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I made them this morning with you.


ANTONIA ALLEGRE: Maybe take some home with you.

[END RECORDING]         


BONNIE THOREEN: All right. Here we are. July 5th at about 11:30 in the morning. I’m at Antonia Allegra’s house in the trees in Saint Helena.  She is with me this morning to talk about the other side of her family and so I’ll just let you take over.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Today I’m going to tell you about the, the two sides of my mother’s, mother’s family.  That my mother’s mother’s family which is from Ticino, which is the Italian, the only Italian canton in Switzerland connected to Italy.  And very, very much like Napa Valley. Palm trees, no snow, grapevines.  This is my mother’s mother’s family.  She, my grandmother, Delfina Cavalli, was the 14th of 14 children.

BONNIE THOREEN: Oh, my lord.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Born to the Cavalli family.  And I’ll start with that family and then I’ll move to my mother’s, father, Antonio Liolo, who was born in Vereda and that was in Genoa, okay?

BONNIE THOREEN: Okay. Let’s go.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, starting with the Cavalli family, this is a family that has been historied in this book, this is called La Familia Cavalli.  It was put together by my cousin, Ellen, Rutt, Ellen Starkey and it features my grandmother. She takes my grandmother, Delfina Liolo –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — and runs through her life as well as the lives of her children, her move at, in, at the age 29 in 1900 to America to join her sister who had already founded a bookstore.  I’m showing you a postcard right now of a bookstore you know.  City Lights.  And right across the –

BONNIE THOREEN: (Overlapping conversation)

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — the street is Vesuvio, you’ve seen the Vesuvio Café.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: That was her bookstore. She was a single woman in San Francisco –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — before and during the Gold Rush. She came from Verscio, V-E-R-S-C-I-O, in Ticino, and established this bookstore.  And later that bookstore has been moved and it’s still in existence.  It’s called A. Cavalli & Company.  And it exists on Stockton Street in San Francisco and for many, many years it was the source of Italian literature, records coming from Italy, etc. and my uncle, my mother’s brother, started the first America-Italian radio show based there. He did radio shows and, and connections with radio during World War II, and then he moved it over to create in the, probably the early ‘40’s, his first Italian-American radio program and show in San Francisco.  So, I, I will let you look at this book.  It covers the entire history of her family as well as her marriage to our grandfather and I will talk about Antonio Liolo later.  This couple married in 1906, which an historic year for San Francisco.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: In fact, both of my grandparental families, couples, were married in 1906. We talked about Emilio Lestredo and Golda Cuffield, 1906. And we are now talking about Delfina Cavalli and Antonio Liolo who were married in 1906, and here is their marriage certificate.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, you can see. I will come back to this picture about the board of directors for the Banca Pocolari Fogotse and you’ll see various family members there.  And this goes on to the house where actually when I was born,  I lived with my parents on the up, top floor before we moved to our own family house.

BONNIE THOREEN: And where was that?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: This was in San Francisco at the corner of Larkin and Union in –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — just on Russian Hill.


ANTONIA ALLEGAE: And it was an Italian enclave at that time.  So, you, you’re going to see through this book actual histories written by – this is the first building and this building is still in existence.

BONNIE THOREEN: Still there. Uh-huh.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Our grandfather’s office was in this building.  He was the manager of the Montgomery Street Bank of America.   And what his responsibilities were were real estate particularly –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — and I’ll tell you more about that. At this time just to link contemporarily with Saint Helena, Bill Swanson’s son Ed –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA:    — you know, Bill Swanson.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Office is the same office as our grandfather. Is that amazing? And we still, my four sisters and I, cannot wait to go to that office. But this continues, continues with the society, the children, the whole life and –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — really, I give great tribute – this picture is this picture, very typical of the Cavalli side of the family.  Family was always with food and you’ll see a big ham held by somebody in there and a knife, you see the knife.  This is a part of picnics.  The Swiss-Italian picnics in San Francisco at the turn of the century were historic and they brought together all the people from Genoa, as well as Ticino which really, we worked together in Italy.  And you’ve seen in our ‘Nona’  room the big picture of the picnic –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — with all the people. That one is in Ticino. But we have that and I think it links with the picture I just showed you of the Nichelini family, where I have joined them just a couple of years ago for a little newspaper story and – there it is.  Thank you.  And a typical picnic. I mean, the meats, the salads, the cheese, the wine.  The very typical and you probably know all of these people.

BONNIE THOREEN: I know some of them.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Yeah. So, this, this family is directly related to my family but we don’t use the name Nichelini.  Now, going back to the Cavalli, Ticino group, and here is a picture that I just brought down of typical street in Varsha. You notice the stone roads, the stone buildings. Everything is stone. The well is stone. It is straight out of the rocks of those hills.  Hand-built and this is from the 1800’s if not way, way, earlier.  But in this town, there were three families.  The Cavalli, that’s the horses, the Leoni, the lions, and the Nichelini.  And those families intermarried completely and so not only do we have the family tree that will show some of that linking and, oddly enough, here I am in Saint Helena where the Nicolinis settled in America, that’s total –

BONNIE THOREEN: Coincidence.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — total chance.  Total chance.  But you can find not only that kind of typical marital links, we also have a genetic default in the family and it is called ocular albinism. My son has this.  My cousin who was, would be my age, had that.  My uncle had this.  And we have a whole history going way back until the 1700’s of other members of the family who had no color in their fundus of their eye.  They’re not albinos but their fundus of their eye is albinotic because of intermarriage.

BONNIE THOREEN: Interesting.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Very interesting.  And you can –

BONNIE THOREEN: Who figured that out?

ANTONIA ALLEGRE: My husband, actually.  My husband, my first husband, John Griffin, is a scientist.  He’s a biophysicist.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: In my family growing up I had always heard that Sonny, my cousin, had eyes that oscillated because he was the second child and he had blue eyes.  That was the family legend.  And if you go back to the histories, just by chance, the second child, if it is a son and if he has blue eyes, just by chance, had ocular albinism.  They didn’t call it ocular albinism in those days.  They called it the thing.  Or the problem.  He has the problem.  That was, and Sonny, unfortunately, had a father who is extremely macho, also from Switzerland, like a soldier macho and his son was not a strong boy. He was a weak boy.  So, Sonny, unfortunately, was not raised with a positive attitude.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And in the end of his life probably due to his father and his ocular albinism, Sonny killed himself in a hotel where you can go to commit suicide in Switzerland. So –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — that’s one side.  On the other hand, my uncle, my brother of my, my and my mother, his name is Barney.  Barney Liolo, the father, Antonio Liolo, was three times the mayor of Carmel.  He moved there right after the war.  He established one of the first electrical shops in the State of California.  He was a leader beyond leaders and so he had a positive attitude as does our son, John, and John is now an electrical engineer working with Qualcomm in the Silicon Valley.  So, it, it’s, I think, parental input that really –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — changes the child who has ocular albinism. At least we’ve seen that in the family history.  So, there are real ways to tag this particular side of the family. And you can imagine, with 14 boys and girls, you know, they were out visiting with the Leoni and the Nichelini and families and marriages popped up.  But my grandmother was the baby of that whole family.  And she adored her older sister, Angelina.  Angelina being the woman who started the bookstore in San Francisco.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And so as soon as she could leave, she left Varsha, never having left Varsha, took the train to Marseille, took the boat – we have an example of the boat that she was on – and took that boat to New York, came through Ellis Island.  We have that recorded in Ellis Island and then somehow, probably the train, came across the country to San Francisco.  It was a direct shot, no stop, to be with her sister.  And at that time, you know, through all kinds of things, she ended up meeting Antonio Liolo and their life ended up being a very good and happy life despite the Depression.  So, there are many things that show another side of San Francisco and it was also chronicled in these books. This one is called North Beach, The Italian Heart of San Francisco. And the photography is done by Delfina’s brother-in-law and that is – does it say Monaco, Louie Monaco (overlapping conversation) –

BONNIE THOREEN: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. J.B.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: J.B. So, J.B. Monaco was one of the photographers of the time and his photos of the growth of San Francisco, the history of it all. Now, we’re talking Italian here. This is all in Italian, I believe. Maybe it’s in English. Is this translated?

BONNIE THOREEN: [Indiscernible] No.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Oh, good. Good, good.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Okay.  So these images are all by family members and they go through the earthquake and fire, tell stories of the people, et cetera.  So that is definite history. And then this is another book that my sister Nicki found that really goes back to San Francisco’s history as well through images particularly drawn, illustrated images.

BONNIE THOREEN: Oh, (overlapping conversation) –

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: They’re very interesting.  Again, telling the story.  Stories like this earth-, oh, shipwreck were very important to going back to the Lest redo side. The brother of my grandfather, Emilio, if I can mix these? Can I mix them or not?


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Okay. Was Carlos B. Lestredo. And I gave you his biography.


ANTONIA ALLEGRE: He was an importer/exporter and he worked with his father, Luigi Lestredo, the father of my grandfather, in importing and exporting particularly chocolate from the South America brought in from the family Ghirardelli, which was from Genoa and known to the Lestredo family in Santa Margarita where they were all born.  Where Luigi was born.  So, shipwrecks were very important and we have entire stories written by Carlos B., C. B. Lestredo, about shipwrecks where they lost an entire –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — shipment –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — of chocolate or whatever and he’s a very lavish writer.  What, very much the style of Oscar Wilde.  Lots of images and stuff.  So, if you ever want stories like that, I can produce them to you.  This little piece going back to Cavalli really is the heart of the whole family.  And, you know, I can’t duplicate in any way – here’s my mother and her father, Antonio.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: He was killed when my mother was 16 in a car accident right at the corner of Union and Larkin by a kid who was driving a car.  We still don’t know if it was intentional.  My mother, at 16, was, it was 1932.  She was born in 1916.  This is the Depression.  We don’t know why this banker, who was a leader in the real estate side, beloved.  Everything you read this man was adored by people.  We don’t know.  We think it was a kid who just couldn’t control the car, but he hit Antonio Liolo, so at 16, she lost her father.  But this continues here with the Cavalli side.  This is Barney –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — the brother who had the radio station.   Her sister, Maria, was sent after high school, they all went to Galileo High School. Here’s Aunt Antonia, Antoinette.  Here’s the picnic picture that I showed you in the house. This is just a –

BONNIE THOREEN: That’s one big picnic.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: You betcha. And that’s the way it felt yesterday for 4th of July, actually. Bring out the food.  Abbondonza.  Everybody have fun.  Here’s the ship that she came over on, etcetera.  But Maria, my mother’s sister, Maria Canonica], the woman who died at age 108 last year –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — and this is 105 from the Chronicle.   And who was chronicled in this book which I can’t remember if I showed you.

BONNIE THOREEN: You did show me that, yes.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: This is the, the famous, this book could be Napa Valley book.  I tell ‘ya.  So, this is Maria Lestredo.  She, she hardly moved in her entire life.  Except for living in Berkeley when she was born because she was born right after, you know, a few months after the earthquake and fire.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: She was born in June.  The fire was in April the year before.  And they had moved to Berkeley to reconstruct, etc.  So, then they moved to this Larkin and Union address and if you follow, this is Maria Canonica right here.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: These are the various places she lived.  Mostly moving in the older part of her life after her husband, who started Rainbow Painting that painted Victorian homes, did interiors of old houses, of mansions, etc.  So, after he died, she moved to different apartments, but was independent and finally died at The Sequoias on Geary and Post.

BONNIE THOREEN: I didn’t know that.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And she lived there for 30 years of her life.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: When she signed up there, they thought she would be leaving ‘cause that’s the sort of standard deal –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — but she fooled them and lived to 108.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, anyway, this is her small life right there.  But she was sent after high school, she had a beautiful singing voice and she was sent to Italy to learn to be an opera singer.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And she came back occasionally.   She would stay in Italy and be trained by this guy and it’s all listed in here.  And here’s Zia and here’s my mother dressed as little teaching [indiscernible] and girls in costume wearing the jievola.  This is the thing that the girls would use to harvest.  They would wear it on their back.  It’s kind of like a big backpack but it’s actually woven –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — basket, yeah. And, you know, just very typical, they would sing the songs of Switzerland, many of which are right here in these.  This is background music from Ticino. And my sisters, my four sisters and I still sing the songs when we are together —


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — to keep them alive for, with our children and to pass them down.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, we’re known for singing.  We’ve sung as little girls.  Here’s an example of the five of us singing some of the Swiss songs at a recent celebration.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, it’s, it’s that kind of continuance, holding onto the –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — history, etc.  Through song and stories and as many pictures.

BONNIE THOREEN: And pictures.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Yes, pictures.

BONNIE THOREEN: It’s amazing you have so many photographs from that period.


BONNIE THOREEN: Many families don’t.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I think the influence of Monaco –

BONNIE THOREEN: Photographer.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — who was a photographer –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — and he said hold everything and then the pictures were passed down from Nona to our mom and Zia, Zia being Maria Canonica, and, and then this one cousin, Ellen, just going deeply into genealogy as well as my sister number two –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — Michelle O’Neill.  Shelly has done a lot of research on Antonio Liolo and I’ll finish up quickly with Delfina Cavalli Liolo and then go into Antonio.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Delfina Cavalli became, going from a peasant girl.  She was a peasant girl living in this town of Varsha, this rock town, being the baby of 14 kids coming to San Francisco, she still had the mind of a peasant.  And we have all kinds of stories about how she would see signs.  She only spoke Swiss Italian and slowly she became fluent in Italian as well.  But Swiss Italian is very different.



BONNIE THOREEN: I’m not, I’m not familiar with it.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Oh, yeah.  When you sing songs, you can hear the differences –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — between the Italian songs and the Swiss.  But she would go to, say, the White House, was a, a brand-new big department store and she would go down and see this huge department store and she’d come home and tell her children, who spoke English, going to public schools in San Francisco.  We have a history of all of their schools, etc.   And there’s Galileo for my mom.  She would say, I saw this thing, sile, sile.  They’re selling salt all over the place. And it’s S-A-L-E, of course, is sale.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, she was adapting slowly, slowly while her kids were the, the – she was the immigrant. Her kids at home spoke Swiss Italian and Italian with their father. But he spoke English very well. And so, they learned English and they helped their mom to come along. But [speaking in a foreign language] and we talka to Nona.  You always have a little accent and we have to speak in Italian if we want to get candy or anything.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, she – but she became a, not a socialite. My other grandmother became a socialite with Emilio having a theatre in his house –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — and bringing the society for the attorney’s family. But Nona really, this woman did it.  I mean, she, she became a member of various associations.  The, there were associations just for ladies and in here there are some pictures with the, you know, the ladies with the big hats and all of that stuff.  She influenced our, her children.  This is a trip in the ‘30s. I think ’37.  I have Mom’s journal, daily journal, written for this trip to Italy with her sister, nine years older than she.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And they were met by members of Mussolini’s group and given really the royal treatment to travel through parts of Italy.  Zia was going back to study.  Mom was 21 years old and she just, she had a chance to visit Italy.  And some of her writings include going to the big arena and seeing Mussolini speaking to the crowds.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, all, all of that just kind of kept them alive.  Mom wrote music. Zia sang music.  Mom sang blues and ended up singing – and ended up, but during World War II, she was a singer of blues and Sophie Tucker type songs —


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — at the Stage Door Canteen in San Francisco. And that was at the USO during the war.  So, she really ended up being quite an entertainer herself and here’s some pictures of her as singing that kind of song.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Very.  Here’s Sophie Tucker.  She’s very influenced by that [sounds] come on to my – you know, that kind of voice.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And then married my father, a simple sailor just back from the war.  Came back early because his father, Emilio Lestredo, was now destitute, had Parkinson’s disease, and he was able to leave the war, being in the Navy, to come home and take care of his father. And here is Mom.

BONNIE THOREEN: So that was, that was the reason he left the Navy?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: He, yeah, he, —

BONNIE THOREEN: (Overlapping conversation) –

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — he was married May 6th, 1945. The war was over in August.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And so, he had a let-, we have the letter written from, by him,– it is by Dad – to the War Department explaining why he felt that he needed to leave.  That he had three brothers, also in the war.  One a bombardier, one a surgeon over in the East, Southern Pacific area.  And another one in, another sailor that is – he’s not in this picture, but he’s his younger brother.  So, he got the okay to come home early to take care of his mother and his father.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Just before – and then they married.  So, it all keeps going and going and going.  And this is Nona just at the end of her life.  She died in her ‘80s with lots of grandchildren and all of that kind of stuff.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, she really had – and that’s her death certificate right there.  And any of these things if you feel you need to borrow them, you’re welcome to.

BONNIE THOREEN: We may have to put them [indiscernible] transcribing for sure.





ANTONIA ALLEGRA: All right? Okay.  Antonio Liolo is, is a different story.  He left Vereda to come to America ‘cause he heard about silver and he heard about the gold.  He came during the Gold Rush.  And where did he go?  He went to Nevada.  He, we still don’t know how he got to Nevada.  We don’t have any ship that he took across but he had to do that –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — somehow to get here. And the cousin and my sister are still frantically looking for that little bit of information.  But he did end up in the gold country now, the, the area north of Sacramento but not Sutter, Sutter County.


ANTONIA ALLEGRE: Going first to Nevada.  He had a third-grade education.  Period, end of discussion.  None.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: After that it was be at home, take care of the house, the farm, and all that kind of stuff.  Very peasant background.  And, and there are stories about him that if you could, you gave him a list of numbers, you know, in the thousands or more, and asked him to add it without writing it down, he could do it in his head.  He just had that kind of a mind.  It was a very, he loved numbers.  And he loved land.  And he was the one that has influenced so many of us in the family toward real estate. And –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — by chance when we have histories of him in Hawthorne, California.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: In Nevada, buying land as a young man.  And we have pictures of him, in here, in this book and on that wall, as a young man.  The, that was just sort of what he went for was the land.  He hoped to get silver.  He hoped to get gold.  We have one small nugget of gold that our Uncle Barney inherited that he used as a tie-tack –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — every day of his life to tell the story of his father.  But Antonio just had this very open, you know, kind of super friendly personality.  As Emilio was acted more aristocratic and all even though he came from fisherman’s roots, Antonio was not acting fancy at all.  He was just this good man and truly I believe that he was that man.  So, he went into the real estate thing in Nevada.  Then he moved over to the gold country in California.  Tried for gold, didn’t make it.  So, he instead started a mule team to take borax from Nevada –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — to San Francisco.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: It was needed and we remembered the borax big, like a reservoir of borax right at the train station in, in Rutherford?  Do you remember?  There is, there was and I’ve seen in history books, but I saw it when I was a kid coming in, when I, in the ‘50s with our grandmother, Goldie, —


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — other side of the family – there was, that was a big thing where you would put the borax and then it was added to, I don’t know what it was used for, do you?

BONNIE THOREEN: I can’t remember what it’s used for.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: It was something important and at that time here, we’re talking the late 1800’s, this was vineyard country.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: But it was still there in the ‘50s.  And it was right where that dilapidated train station is now.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And it was at the very end and it was huge and it said, Borax on it.  So, I always thought of Antonio because, oh, he must have brought the borax for that.  But he brought a lot of borax with his mule team.  But every time you brought it into San Francisco, he liked San Francisco more than Hawthorne and more than Nevada City and all of the places –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — that we do have historically categorized.  We even have my sister Shelly, number two of us, went recently to Hawthorne and said, you know, my grandfather was Antonio Liolo.  Do you have anything in the history books?  And she was treated as if she were major.  She said, well, yes, we have all these books.  We have this – and, you know, you’re the family of –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — so that is alive and well.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: In gold country, California.  But in San Francisco he just felt right.  He really settled here and started working and because of his numbers and real estate thing, he really generally moved into these little circles of people who were helping Italians to buy land, helping Italians with their money.  And that be-, was the start of a bank called the Banca Pocolari Fugotse.  And it was Mr. Fugotse who, who was the leader of that bank.  It actually started in Berkeley but then it reached over into San Francisco and Antonio – I’m showing you the picture-


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — where he’s one of those boys. And then when A. P. Giannini, also a Genovese, and the Genovese were strong, really, they were the roots of San Francisco, especially North Beach, Russian Hill, all of that area that was just inundated with Italians, they were mostly Genovese. The people from Sicily, Sardinia, went to the east coast of America, but this little place, Yerba Buena, San Francisco, became the Genovese go-to place.  So, Ghirardelli had, had moved to San Francisco.  He was working with my other side of my family.  But he was known to Antonio as well.  And when you read that history, the history I gave you of Antonio is in Italian. And –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — I can translate that for you. But the point is that he, he was a mover and shaker in that banking beginnings. And then was chosen by Giannini as was Carpy, right here.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: To be one of the six boys that helped to start the Bank of America by Giannini, by Giannini, and that was just at the beginning of the Depression as I remember.  And their whole thing was the Italians.  To serve the Italians so that they wouldn’t go broke and to give them money.  My mother tells stories of her father buying boxes of apples and she would take them to school and give apples to everybody.  You know, there were ways that her family wanted to stretch out to the community without showing that they were, well, they weren’t rich but they were well off –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — enough.  And they were solid.  They had that house.  They had other real estate, of course.  And his joke always was, is they were driving in their old cars around the city and friends would come.  Nono.  Nono means grandfather.  And my grandmother, Delfina, was Nona to us.  Would go – that’s mine, that’s mine, that’s mine, pointing to different houses all over the place.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: But in fact, he was talking about his thumb.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Not, not the houses.  He had these jokes.  ‘Cause everybody knew that he was a real estate guy.  So, he did all kinds of things like that.  And then, as I said, he, he died early because he, he was hit by a car.  But his legends have continued.  And I’m so anxious to go to that office where he was, sure, at the Montgomery Street office that you saw in pictures –

BONNIE THOREEN: Right.  That’s (overlapping conversation) –

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And you know, —

BONNIE THOREEN: — building.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — because I want to see if there’s any reference at all to that being his. That was built, that building which is gorgeous, downstairs is now retail stores for men.  Very high, high, high, high scale.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: There’s a men’s club or a club for membership and then there are the offices up above where Bill Swanson’s son, Ed, has my father, grandfather’s office.  So, we’ve looked forward to that.  And, and together they did a lot of stuff.  My, they traveled quite a bit. I have a picture of my mother at ten years old when she and her family – this is an early version of the family history – here’s she’s 10 in Italy –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — and they had all gone as a family to travel and visit. So that’s 1926. Things are doing –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — well for banks.

BONNIE THOREEN: — clothes.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Yeah. Yeah.  But the point is that I think that they were doing very well at that time to go as a family to Italy to travel around, see the family –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — go to Varsha.  Go to Genoa. Maybe not Vereda. Vereda what Nono was born was just this tiny little dumpy town up in the hills of Genoa.  And I’m not sure whether they went but Zia says that she – Zia, the 108-year-old lady, Maria Canonica, — says that she remembers going to Nona’s house.  And then when my mother and father took some of my sisters to Italy, they, they did a lot of touring after I was married in 1965.

BONNIE THOREEN: I was going to ask why you didn’t go.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I – that’s why. I was home with babies.  But they did go to Vereda and they took pictures of the house and of the little town and stuff.  So, we have more information about Vereda if, if that’s helpful for you.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: So, I think that’s generally it. There were some stories, this one I pulled out. This was from the Saint Helena Star about my history and it was written by – who is this? I can’t see. Jane – I’m reading upside down. By –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Furman.Okay. So, this is –

BONNIE THOREEN: What’s the year on that?

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: 1999. And this has quite a bit of the history that Janice pulled out of, for me, at that time, that may or may not be helpful for you in pulling it all together.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Just going to the archives of the paper.

BONNIE THOREEN: We have the archives of the paper.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: (Overlapping conversation) –

BONNIE THOREEN: Make a note (overlapping conversation) –

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Need a piece of paper.



BONNIE THOREEN: — put it on the back of this.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Perfect.  So that’s, that’s a story that –

BONNIE THOREEN: 1999 and –


BONNIE THOREEN: — what was the date.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Um, September 16th.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And it’s the cover of the Living section.  Living in a tree house.

BONNIE THOREEN: Where you still live.


BONNIE THOREEN: Well, that’s great. Yeah, we can, we – you know, the, the Star is on microfilm now, too.


BONNIE THOREEN: Or [indiscernible].  It’s online.



ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Oh. So, you can go back to any of the archives?

BONNIE THOREEN: Yeah. It’s hard to do this but I can do it.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Yeah, well, you could probably pull up Antonia Allegra or Toni Allegra, —


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — if you’re doing it by person. Because over the years I’ve done various things in the town.

[Bell rings.]

BONNIE THOREEN: Yeah. And your name would come up frequently, I’m pretty sure.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Well, whatever.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And this is another, this is the Cavalli genealogy. I mean, this is, this cousin just kind of goes crazy with genealogies.

[Bell rings.]

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And this is more on the Monaco side.  This is the Monaco.  This is George who finally married –

[Bell rings.]

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — Ange. Is that your bell ringing?

BONNIE THOREEN: You know, I don’t know what it is.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I don’t know either.

BONNIE THOREEN: What that is.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: It seems like it’s coming from over there.

BONNIE THOREEN: I hope it’s not coming from this machine.

ANTONIA ALLEGRE: Oh, me, too. [Indiscernible].

[Bell rings.]

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: A little note – no, it’s over here someplace.

BONNIE THOREEN: It’s not a known sound.  Sorry.  I don’t know what it is.  Would it be the


on the thing? On the – it’s – I don’t know what it’s coming from.  It’s not a known sound.  Well, we’ll just wait and see.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Okay, then. A little, another link, couple of links between Nona, Delfina Cavalli Liolo and Antonio Liolo and this valley.  One is that Nona’s best friend in childhood was Ramilda Perry.  Ramilda Perry married Gould. Paco –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And she has written many books –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — all of which I have – about her childhood including her life in Cavinano  which is a teeny, tiny town right next to the teeny, tiny town of Varsha.  So, when I moved here in ’87, one of the first people that I went to meet with Barney and Belle Rhodes. M. F. K. Fisher.  She came to Beringer].  We did a birthday party for her.  Being a food writer, I wanted to know this woman.  And I had read her work, etc.  At that birthday party at Beringer, to step on the grass, I met Romy –

[Bell rings.]

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: It’s this. That’s it. Okay.

[Bell rings.]



BONNIE THOREEN: We’ll ignore it.

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: I met Romy and in talking I mentioned Nona, Delfina Cavalli Lioli, and she said, Delfina, oh, my – you know. And so, it was, like, instant –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — friendship. And Romy and I during the rest of the years until Romy died and until Mary Frances died in 1992, would go over to Glen Ellen to visit with Mary Frances. And we would talk and as we would drive, Romy would tell me stories of Nona and Romy as girls –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — in Ticino. And then, you know, it turned out finally, one very poignant time I remember Mary Frances had Parkinson’s which had affected her voice and so here is a communicator who cannot communicate.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Romy had bad ears.  And she could not hear.  And there was one time that we were there. I always would massage Mary Frances’ feet ‘cause she was at that point at the end of her life, really drugged and she would just sit with the sheet over her or just show her face –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — and one time, her bed was in her living room in Glen Ellen, and we were talking with Romy and Romy was talking to Mary Frances. Mary Frances couldn’t respond and Romy couldn’t hear what Mary Frances was saying. It was just such a bittersweet memory –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — oh, my god.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And that linked with Nona, of course.  So that, that was one thing.  The other thing is the Sanitarium which is now the Saint Helena Hospital.  Nona came up every summer to the Sanitarium, as did many Victorian ladies.  They took the train from Vallejo.  They took the ferry to the train to Calistoga.  There was a car that came and picked them up and took them to the Sanitarium, as it was called at that time.

BONNIE THOREEN: I still call it that.



ANTONIA ALLEGRA: We went as kids to visit with Nona at the Sanitarium.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: And I know the building exactly where, and I know the steps and I remember her sitting on a rocking chair at the top of the steps –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — and I remember going into that kind of wide corridered entry. It was dark. I, I remember it.  There is no question.  And my sister, Shelly, remembers it.  My other sisters don’t.  But the point is not only did Nona go.  And this was the time when they did not eat meat.  They did not drink wine. I t was like a cleansing sort of thing –


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — and they would take the waters in Calistoga as did so many European people and still do.  So, she was connected to the Sanitarium and at the different times, Goldie Lestredo, would go up on the train to the Sanitarium.  So, it was a place where ladies would kind of get away from it all.  And it was just ladies – there were no men that I ever saw when we visited.



BONNIE THOREEN: (Overlapping conversation) –

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — maybe they had a different building or something.  But Nona was only in that building.  We never saw grandma there because her two sons, Carlo, our father, and her son, Don, the surgeon, who was, was on the PT109 with JFK and all that –

BONNIE THOREEN: (Overlapping conversation) –

ANTONIA ALLEGRA: — paid for her house.  Her husband was really seriously ill.  They bought land on Mira Loma and they built her house.  They paid for her, her manservant, Archie, from the Philippians, who was chosen by Don at a bar from somebody who told him in this, in this sono-, the south trying to see these are the South Seas, who to meet and that’s where Archie came from.  But Archie was her driver.  They bought her a car.  It was a Brougham.  I’ve written about it in books.  And he, Archie would drive Grandma wherever she needed to go.  So, so those boys worked to support their own family.  Don just had mistresses.  He didn’t have, he had three wives, but not really.  It was, he was a man about town.  And our father was a dedicated father and so he was raising the five of us and taking care of his mother.


ANTONIA ALLEGRA: Yeah. So that’s the connections between the Sanitarium, the Nichelinis, the Labolia, Delatour family, the Beringer Boys, for sure.  All of those are absolute direct links to the, this Napa Valley with this girl.  It’s, it’s just amazing.



BONNIE THOREEN: Well, thank you. It’s been most entertaining for me.


BONNIE THOREEN: Too. We are now at about 50 minutes, interview, and it’s perfect.


BONNIE THOREEN: Signing off.