Arrivederci, South Philly

The old neighborhood is changing, and some say it's for the better. After all, isn't this what those turn-of-the-century immigrants would've wanted for their grandchildren?

These are fighting words to Lou’s sister, dark-haired, attractive Betty Ann, 21, who remembers: "I said I didn’t give it a year and they’d be back. And now they’re coming back. Because we all think the same. I’d be doing the same thing, coming back and forth all the time. You want to get away ’cause you can’t stand the city but you can’t change the way you grew up."
That seems to be the consensus of the Rota family. Lou’s mother Betty, a genial and relaxed 43-year-old grandmother, grew up in a house on Emily Street across from where she now lives. When she was first married, she recalls. She and her husband (now her ex-husband) dreamed of moving to New Jersey. She never made it, but her son did. "And he’s scratching his head now, Louis, believe me. He never outgrew South Philly. Louis, all my kids, they’re married now and they still hang on the corner."
One of those married corner boys is Lou’s younger brother Sal, who bought and is in the process of remodeling a house one block from his childhood home.
"When Lou bought his house he was on a father kick," says Sal, tall, dark-haired and built like a runner. "It was like, ‘Well, I’m goin’ to Jersey and my kid’s goin’ to a good school and she’s not gonna grow up like I did. " When Sal was about to marry, Lou convinced him to consider Jersey, but he resisted the move. "It’s too quiet there," he says. "I need fire engines and motorcycles and arguments outside my house."
And then Sal, his wife Dorette, and Sal’s cousin Joe, who just popped in from next door, take off on Jersey.
"When I tell people from the suburbs where I live," Sal begins, "the first thing they ask me is, ‘Did you know Angelo Bruno?’ "
"Yeah," says Joe, "they all think you must be from the mob."
"Or a contractor," Dorette offers (her husband is a contractor.)
"Or a tailor."
"Or a grease ball. "
"So we retaliate by saying they’re weird," Joe explains. "We say that in Jersey, people grow in the ground."
Like Betty Rota, Alison’s mother Rose Guida also grew up in a house across the street from where she now lives. Unlike Betty, she got a taste of life out of South Philadelphia when her husband, then a first lieutenant in the Marines, was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina – -and loved it. For that reason, Rose and her husband Charles, who holds a master’s degree and teaches at a vocational high school in South Philadelphia, also differ from the Rotas in their feelings about Alison’s move. "We want them to stay there," she says. "Maybe it’s just not to stay in South Philly and stagnate the way we did."
As the neighborhood’s Realtor for 20 years, Frank Torres is accustomed to seeing young marrieds take flight into other parts of the area and even beyond. "They go to college and learn there are broader horizons in America; there are places that are cleaner, newer, with better employment opportunities. And they are going far and wide." His own son, a psychologist, moved to Florida to take a job as a stockbroker.