Good neighbours, industrious immigrants recalled amid remnants of Little Italy

Little Italy is a faded rose at the corner of Lorne Street and local history.

An old fountain stands dry, the well-tended garden is gone and the Fuoco family doesn't live at 640 Lorne anymore, but the modest house survives as a reminder of the city's industrious and close-knit past.

The theme of this year's Heritage Week is Good Neighbours, which could easily apply to Benny and Clelia Fuoco, who came to Kamloops to escape the crushing poverty of southern Italy, 99 years ago.

Their former home, built in 1908 by Joseph Ratchford, is one of 10 city homes so far recognized with centennial plaques. A '50s-style stucco job belies some finer qualities within - ceramic tile floors, oak paneling and a stain-resistant concrete floor in the basement for winemaking.

"There's a lot of history here," said grandson Reg Fuoco. "We've had four generations of family living here."

Next door stands the original Recchi family home, the only other remaining house in what was once the hub of a thriving neighbourhood. In between, there once stood a little laundry business. Benny allowed a Chinese man to live in his yard for free in a laundry shack. The immigrant community tended to stick together, Reg said.

"They treated each other with respect."

Locked in the garage nearby sits his grandfather's 1929 Dodge in perfect condition. Talk of the car reminded Reg of a chance encounter almost 50 years ago. It was the year after the B.C. Lions won their first Grey Cup, by which time quarterback Joe Kapp was a household name.

A Mustang convertible - it was the first year of production for pony cars - pulled up. Kapp was at the wheel, wanting to buy the vintage Dodge. Twelve years old at the time, the young Fuoco didn't appreciate the significance when his grandfather identified the man.

"No, I didn't know who Joe Kapp was."

The family rents the house now, and Reg doesn't think it will withstand development pressure. What happens when the good neighbours have moved away and the neighbourhood is in transition, surrounded by higher-density housing, commercial or industrial properties?

"It's just a matter of time," he said. "It's change and it's change for the better."

Yet, as he visited, he said he felt better about the old place. The plaque it bears brings it all home.

"It makes us feel good because we're proud of our grandparents. If it hadn't been for them, we wouldn't have what we have. As kids, we spent a lot of time here."

Arlana Nickel feels the same way about her Ideal House, 673 Battle St., which also bears a centennial plaque.

"I just want to bring it back to the way it was when my grandparents bought it in 1923," she said.

Built in 1912 by Edwin and Alice Walkley, the distinctive house is constructed from innovative concrete building blocks he hand-made in the backyard. After Nickel's family sold the home, it was converted to a rooming house. Arlana and her husband bought it when it was sold again 10 years ago.

"It was a thrill," she said. "My daughter came down Battle and saw the house was for sale. I think we purchased it in a matter of hours. We never wanted it to go out of the family, but what can you do?"

The Nickels plan to gradually restore the home. Andrew Yarmie, chairman of the City's heritage commission, sees this type of approach as setting an affordable example.

"A 100-year-old home can be preserved by people interested in doing it," Yarmie said. "In some cases, it doesn't have to be a high-class house."

With 90 city homes now bearing historic plaques, the commission encourages others to follow suit.

"I think people are recognizing that they want to celebrate their homes, and more and more people are doing it."

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