Restaurant Serves Family Picture

My husband was in Houston for a couple of days this week and had dinner one night at Carraba’s Italian Grill. Go figure.

He met Johnny Carrabba.

He had a celebrity sighting – actor G. W. Bailey, who played Detective Lt. Provenza on The Closer. I miss Provenza and Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson and the rest of the Major Crimes Division.

He made a trip to the restroom.

This is significant only because he spotted this photograph on the way back to his table.

His grandfather is in the picture.

Back row. Third from the right. Joe Loverde. Joe’s brother is there too, husband tells me. He thinks there’s a great uncle from his Dad’s side of the family in there as well.

He went back and asked Johnny about the photograph. Apparently it’s some kind of Italian-American club. Something else for us to look into.

Too bad the image quality isn’t better. iPhone, through glass, dimly lit restaurant.

You never know where a bit of family history might be hiding in plain sight.

Sepia Saturday – The Banana House

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images.

Today’s prompt is a photograph of the Dughi family store in Raleigh, North Carolina, taken about 100 years ago. Although I was not familiar with the surname Dughi, a quick visit to informed me that the vast majority of immigrants with the surname came to the U.S. from Italy.

As I have come to learn from marrying into a family that immigrated from Italy, produce merchants and grocers were common occupations among Italian immigrants.










Most people in Texas associate the surname Morales with Mexico – or other Spanish speaking countries. My husband’s family, however, came to the U. S. from Sicily and the name is not uncommon there.

The M. Morales noted on the sign is Martin (Matteo) Morales, my husband’s great-grandfather. He was born in Mezzojuso, Sicily in 1856. I have not pinned down his arrival – census records are difficult to read, but my best guess is 1887. Martin settled in Houston, Texas. “& Sons” were Simone (my husband’s grandfather) and Joseph. Although the business dealt in other fruits and produce, bananas took precedence. When the family talks about the business, they refer to it as “the banana house.”

The 1920 U.S. Census lists Martin as having no occupation, so perhaps he had retired by then and turned the business over to his sons. He died in 1924.

The picture above is cropped from the photograph below. We don’t know the identity of anyone in the picture, why the deer is hanging there, or when the picture was taken. The truck on the right appears to be a delivery truck for the business, although most of the lettering is cut out of the picture, so I guess I can’t be sure.

The 1929 City Directory for Houston has the following listing:

(Simon M and Jos M Morales) Wholesale
Bananas, “We Are Never Out,”
812 Commerce av.
Phone Pr 6494

You can see a portion of the slogan on the far left of the picture. My husband is in possession of a promotional item from the business. It is metal and rather heavy. The slogan is a little different.

The banana house was located at 812 Commerce Ave. which is near the convergence of Buffalo Bayou and White Oaks Bayou. Boats and barges traveled up the ship channel and delivered produce and other goods to businesses in this area. Railroad lines were also located nearby. Commerce Avenue became known as “Produce Row.”

This area of Houston experienced two major floods in the early 1900s – in 1929 and 1935. We have several undated pictures of flooding in the area in our collection of family photos. It seems likely that the banana house was flooded, but we don’t know for sure.

A law firm purchased the building (formerly two structures) located on the 800 block of Commerce in 1971 and renovated it for use as office space “with the goal of maintaining the original integrity of the structure.” Their website provides some history of the building and a really small picture that looks a bit like our picture above. We have heard that there are photos of the old building inside. (Once again, I am unable to embed the street view from google maps.) It looks like the end of the block where 812 would have been is a parking lot.

The only other picture we have of the banana house is a rather grainy copy of Simone (Mooney) in the office.

I sure wish we had a better copy so we could see more detail. When I emailed this picture to another member of the family, she wrote back, “Uncle Mooney was the happy go lucky Morales and he seems so somber in this picture.” Also undated – I’m guessing 1940s. Mooney retired when he was fairly young and died in 1968.

Fresh Air on NPR has an interesting interview with Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. Listening to it while driving during traffic one day, I learned that the variety of bananas our grandparents ate were destroyed by a fungus and that the bananas we eat today (apparently much inferior in taste and durability) are also at risk of being wiped out in the near future. There’s a good bit of banana history and culture in the interview, if you are interested.

I feel I must end with a banana song. Since the business slogan was “We Are Never Out”, I thought Yes, We Have No Bananas to be the logical choice. (What a silly song to sing in that beautiful dress!) My husband, however, thinks Please No Squeeza da Banana is a better choice.


Now stop squeezing the bananas and go shop at some other Sepia Saturday merchants.


P.S. The Mandola family were also grocers in Houston. Damian Mandola (perhaps you caught him on his cooking show on PBS several years ago) operates three locations of Mandola’s Italian Market in Austin, TX. Each has a wall (photo 5 in the gallery) dedicated to historical photographs of Italian grocers – mostly in Texas. The photo of the banana house is there as are photos of the Ferraras – my husband’s great-aunt and uncle, who had a grocery store in New Orleans.



Sepia Saturday – A Day at the Beach


Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind (they don’t have to be sepia) become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images.

The prompt image is from the collection of Alan Burnett, and that is his Auntie Miriam enjoying the seaside sands. The style of Auntie Miriam’s swimsuit reminded me of a swimsuit in a collection of pictures from my husband’s family.

The youngster featured in these photos is my husband’s father, Martin. I think the man in the car is Martin’s father, Simone Morales.

Martin is looking a little camera shy below. I’m guessing he was about three years old. What do you think? That would date the photo around 1928.




















I thought this was a picture of Martin enjoying the water. But once I saw it blown up, I wasn’t sure.

Fun at last!




















And I have to add one more… just so you can see that he had hair under that swim cap.

Everyone tells me that Martin’s mother “dyed his hair” when he was young. Pictures of him as a little boy show him with blonde curls. As an older boy and man, Martin had very dark hair – true to his Sicilian roots.

I asked my mother-in-law about the picture above and she couldn’t identify the little girl. She said that Lena Morales Maida (Martin’s aunt – sister of Simone) had a bay house on Bolivar (Bolivar Peninsula, Texas) and this was the likely location for these photographs. The last picture was probably taken on a separate trip to the beach.

Bolivar Peninsula - Photo Credit: Dan M.S. | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library

The Bolivar Peninsula was hit hard by Hurricane Ike in 2008. I was going to include a photo of the destruction, but decided to leave us with thoughts of a beautiful sunny day at the beach.

For more sunny beaches, swim over to Sepia Saturday to see what others have created for today’s prompt.