Immigrants & Dreamers - What Makes 7 Mile House Great
Hi everyone! I know, I know, this is long overdue. What can I say—I’ve been busy making sure your favorite bar and restaurant’s running in tiptop shape.
Many of you are aware how vocal I am about my being an immigrant. I came here 22 years ago from the Philippines, fresh out of college and about to start on my master’s degree (who would’ve thought, right?). I had never lived anywhere else and apart from my family before then. I rented a room in a distant relative’s house, had to teach myself to get around the city, learned how to stretch every penny until my allowance or paycheck from a part-time library job came in. I struggled. I worked my ass off. I dreamed. And, thankfully, God or whoever it is up there calling the shots, decided my efforts were worth it.
Which is why, on September 5, 2017, my heart felt like it sank along with millions others, as Trump announced that his administration would be winding down the DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It was a heartless and insensitive call, devoid of conscience and wisdom. By slowly abolishing the DACA, he was taking away the hopes and dreams of innocent immigrant children—and valuable manpower and brainpower of immigrants who grew up here and call this country home. Young or old, they truly make the United States of America great: a diverse melting pot of minds and cultures harmoniously working and living alongside each other, contributing in their own unique ways to the most successful federation of states and the most powerful country the world has ever known.
Before you all think this is going to get political…no, it’s not. Because I feel strongly about the issue, and because I’m putting together a book about this restaurant, I feel I need to say what immigration and dreamers have to do with 7 Mile.
The 7 Mile House we enjoy now was built by immigrants and dreamers.
The first owner of 7 Mile that can be verified as fact was Egidio Micheli, born around 1874 in Borgo a Mozzano, Tuscany, Italy, the fifth child of Caterina (Pieri) and Massimiliano Micheli. On April 28, 1898, 24-year old Egidio, left Genoa to immigrate to the U.S.A. In an email to me, his descendant, Bea Giusti, writes:
“He arrived aboard the S.S. Ems in New York City on May 11, 1898. He was listed as a merchant and stated he had previously been in the U.S. for five years. He was headed to San Francisco to see his brother, Guglielmo Micheli. Guglielmo was in the wood and coal business and Egidio joined him as a driver. Egidio stayed with his brother and sister-in-law in their apartment at 1523 Dupont Street (later called Grant Avenue). Eventually Egidio moved into an apartment at 431 Broadway Street.”
In 1903, “Egidio Micheli purchased the Seven Mile House. It became the gathering place for immigrants from Anchiano and Borgo a Mozzano, Tuscany, Italy. Egidio took his brother-in-law Palmiro Testa (a baker, who later worked as the place’s cook) in as a partner in the Seven Mile House. Nephew Leonello Pollini helped staff the bar and restaurant. The marquee read ‘E. Micheli & Company.’ Later Egidio sold his share of the Seven Mile House to Palmiro Testa.
“At the age of 34, Egidio went back to Italy. He returned to the USA, leaving from Le Havre, France, on the S.S. La Lorraine arriving at Ellis Island on January 26, 1907. Traveling with him was his cousin, Francesco Giusti. By this time Egidio had become an American citizen.” The ship’s manifest describes him as “a man 5’9” tall, white complexion, with black hair and grey eyes.”
Bea adds that Palmiro purchased Egidio's share prior to 1910 and sold it in 1917.
(Around the time Egidio bought Seven Mile, another Italian by the name of Giuseppe Lercari had bought the land on which the saloon was built. He bought it from Isabella Walbridge—yep, the same family after which Walbridge street is named. For those not aware, Geneva Ave. used to be called Walbridge Street.) In fact, the old Walbridge street sign is still out there somewhere on Geneva. Let me know if you find it!
Other Italians took over Seven Mile and the property after Palmiro Testa. Testa partnered with a certain Sebastian Nieri, who ran it till the ‘40s. Then came John Marchi, lot owner Lawrence Frugoli, and legendary couple Leonard Stuehler (of German strain) and wife Camille (who also had Italian blood; her maiden name was Faccini). Two Filipino couples would buy the land from Frugoli, and yours truly took over from Camille and son Al Flynn.
The lovely people I’ve interviewed in the past three months for this book all had that “immigrants and dreamer” spirit. They—or their families—had come to California, or to Brisbane, with honest dreams to build better lives than the ones they had left behind. They were ready to do the work, to put in the hours, to sacrifice some luxuries for this goal.
After an interview with niece and aunt tandem Dolores Rodriguez and Olga Calarza, my cousin Gina, who is helping me with the book, posted some quotes from the women on her FB page:
"If you think racism was bad here, it was worse there, in Texas. They hated Mexicans. They hated us because of the Alamo. So when my father heard that Southern Pacific (Railroad) was hiring, he said, 'let's go. This is our chance. This is our chance at a new life.' So he brought all of us over. There was 24 of us. We lived in a small house in Bruno Heights—all of us, my father, my mother, my sister and I had one room, the other families shared their own rooms, or the living room. We spent three days in the train on our way here. We didn't have any money, so we sat all the way in the back. I was three years old, and I remember asking my mother, 'how much longer do I have to sit, Mama?' And she answered, 'almost there, Loli, almost there.'" - Dolores, 75
"We didn't know anything. We were scared, didn't go out. Ahhh. But once we did, ahh, there was so much to see and do! When I started working, there were Mexican dances at the Civic Center. They'd have orchestras, and we'd pay a dollar fifty to get in; the most expensive was three dollars! We'd go dancing at the Copacobana, then go the 7 Mile House. I drank scotch and soda. Oh, did we love to dance. And the men, you know, they weren't like they are now. They were gentlemen. We felt safe. And then i saw my husband. He was so handsome. I said, 'he's going to be mine.'" - Olga, 78, Dolores' aunt
We also talked to Paul Pete, another 1950s regular and transplanted Californian. His family moved West from the South, where the Ku Klux Klan was still active and only too eager to exact violence on African-Americans. Memories from his childhood may cast a shadow over Paul Pete’s face, but remembering his days as a young man at 7 Mile makes him smile.
After a hard shift at S&W Foods, the young Paul Pete would head over the 7. “It’s always, always been relaxed and fun here, more than any other place,” he says. “I had a lot of fun, good time fun. Guys laughed and talked. We was all in the same union, demanding the same thing. We’d see each other two, three times a week, hugging and carrying on and buying drinks. The ladies, too. We’d be laughing and talking. It was a family thing. It was family here.”
The 7 Mile—then, as it is now—was a place where everybody was welcome. Where there was dancing and drinks and laughs, and everybody, no matter what color your skin was, what accent you had, felt safe. It was—and will remain—a place for dreamers, for doers, and everyone in between.