The Morrone Family of Tower Photo Studio

by Mary Miller


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 Teachers Filippini.

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 has changed!

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 country".


Email this memory to a friend.
Enter recipient's e-mail: