My grandfather, Mike Morrone, opened Tower
Studio in September 1939 at 391 Bloomfield Ave. This was near the
corner of Bloomfield Ave and North 6th. He and my grandma Louise
had three small children at the time; Paul was 5, Virginia (my mom)
was 16 months old, and Mary Lu was a newborn. World War 2 helped
get their business established. When the Italian nationals in this
country had to register, they needed photographs for the ID card.
Though Grandpa was born here, he spoke the Italian dialects of his
parents. Once the immigrants found that he was a "paisan",
the line for passport style photos went around the block. Those
same people remembered him when it came time for first communion
and wedding pictures, and so the business became known in the area.
Grandpa was known also at St. Francis Xavier parish, and was called
upon to take pictures of the priests and nuns, groundbreaking for
the present St Francis church, as well as construction photos later
published in the dedication journal in 1952. So if you lived in
St Francis Parish between 1939 and 1974, my grandpa very likely
shot your communion or confirmation portrait. Mike and Louise were
members of the parish and all their children went to school at St.
Francis, educated first by the Dominican sisters, then by the Religious
At first the Morrones lived in a cold water flat on the south
side of Bloomfield Ave across from Tower Studio. Their landlord
was a man named Bancone whose family lived on 7th Street in a big
house with a cupola. When Bloomfield Ave was widened in the late
1940s, the building the studio was in had to be town down, along
with several other business and residence buildings. So Mike bought
576 North 6th St., a big old Victorian style house with cornices
and porches and a crow's nest with a pitched roof on top. Mike had
the house renovated, then moved his business into the half of the
first floor that faced the adjacent yard. The other half of the
first floor was a flat that was rented out, and the Morrone family
used the upstairs as their private residence.
Later, Mike bought the corner lot on Bloomfield and 6th, and built
a one story stucco building for the studio. This is the building
that I remember as "Grandpa's Studio" when I was a little
girl. (Today it is a restaurant, Bloomfield Ave. Churrasqueira,
which I believe features Portuguese Style Barbecue) When the building
was completed, my parents and I moved into the former business quarters
on the first floor. Each flat at 576 had a private entrance, and
ours led straight to the backyard. The last time I went into that
house was in 1973, shortly before Grandpa sold it and moved to Morris
County. How I wish I could tour it just once more to see how it
Grandpa was a shrewd businessman and made the most of his investments.
He paved over most of the yard and rented parking spaces to neighbors
who wanted off street parking. The perimeter of the yard was landscaped
in such a way as to provide pleasant backdrops for posed photographs.
When it became fashionable for wedding parties to pose at Branch
Brook Park, Grandpa made his own "park" in walking distance
of the studio. In those days it was usual for a bride and groom
and their parents and wedding party to go to the photographer's
for posed studio pictures. Having a park-like setting next door
saved time for everyone. My own mother's 1959 wedding photos were
taken that way.
Around the perimeter of the yard was a tall chain link fence with
barbed wire on top, to keep intruders out. I can remember standing
by the fence as a child looking out onto 6th street (which was still
cobblestoned until the middle 1960s) and being amazed at the red
and white of Strumolo's salumeria with the pyramid of olive oil
cans in the window. Next to Strumolo's was a tailor shop and on
the corner, across from the Studio was Tom's Pork Store. I loved
that place! The smell was awesome and I liked to watch the man make
sausage. Sometimes Mom would send me there for a loaf of bread or
a mozzarella in the water. Usually though for mozzarella we went
across Bloomfield Ave. to Felice Colaneri's latticine store. Felice
was a nice man who used to give us taralli to munch on.
A couple doors east of Tom's was Sid's (a/k/a Paul's Sweet Shop)
where we went for ice cream or candy or a newspaper or stationery.
They had a grill and some people ate lunch there. Sid and Doris
knew us by name, and they were the first Jewish people I ever knew.
Down at the corner of Bloomfield and 5th was a store I knew as "Esposito's".
Half of it was a fruit store and half was a salumeria that we sometimes
frequented. We always got our fruit there, even though Gigi's was
on 6th St catty corner from our house. I never understood why we
traded at some places and not at other.
Giannotto's pharmacy at 5th and Bloomfield provided our prescriptions,
in clear containers with the typed paper label unfastened inside.
Across from there was the water tower, a store that sold pickles
from a big barrel, and CALANDRA'S, the most awesome bakery in the
world! What an aroma! When I got be school age and old enough to
go to church by myself and cross streets myself, Grandma would give
me money to go to Calandra's after church to buy hard rolls. Ohh
the smell, mmmmmm. Fresh hot bread. The rolls were still hot through
the brown paper bag, and on a cold winter morning a faint wisp of
steam rose up from the bag.
Other fun places were Dickie Dee's for pizza and fried hotdogs,
Mignon's bakery for pastry, the beauty parlor next to Esposito's
where I knocked over a tray of rollers when I was 4 and Mom never
took me there again, the Milk Machine in the empty lot on 7th St,
Molinaro's Barbershop next door where little girls were never allowed,
and last but not least Billy The Butcher on 6th St where the floor
was full of sawdust and Billy would pop a fragment of raw meat into
his mouth to show off for the housewives.
I might add that each store had its own particular delightful
aroma, and now, in my forties, when I need a "happy place"
to go to in my mind, I go back to a small section of North Newark
between 1960 and 1968. In my heart it is still home, "the old