Celia Tribute Party
Launch of “Bring
Celia Back from Wisconsin” Campaign
|On Manhassett Place which was|
wiped out by the BQE
Sunday January 1/13/13, 3:30pm to 6:30pm, details
Celia Maniero Cacace
Fearless, feisty, loving and frank. A champion of our community’s weaker members
biography by Carolina Salguero/Director/PortSide NewYork
Celia Maniero Cacace is
the mother and walking memory of the neighborhood she still calls South
Brooklyn Red Hook; that’s Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront District and Red
Hook for those of you got here after the 1960’s.
To walk Court Street with
the diminutive, doting Celia is to feel in the presence of a community Mayor.
She’s stopped every few feet or hailed from across the street by seniors or
children to share news or advice.
Having served as a
one-woman social service agency for decades, 76-year old Celia is now in need
of some help herself. She is obliged to
move from her apartment since the building is being sold, and she needs to find
that rare, inexpensive place in a neighborhood where prices have soared beyond
the fixed incomes of seniors. Know
someone who wants a granny au pair, or granny doorman? A committee is forming to help her find a
place; and if need be, help launch some fundraising to cover the gap between
her fixed income and the rent. She moves out of her current place on January
14 to her son’s in Wisconsin.
We are organizing a send-off
party for Celia and a campaign to bring her back since it looks like she will be moving to Wisconsin on Monday 1/14/13 as no Brooklyn apartment has been found. The "Bring Celia Back" campaign kicks off Sunday January
1/13/13. Everyone is invited. Please bring a memory of
Celia if you can.
Celia’s life and
prodigious memory describe a time when people stayed in a neighborhood—Celia
has lived her whole life in 8 apartments within a 10 block radius— and when
this area was largely Italian, as far back as when Italians still faced
discrimination as the new immigrants.
Even today, Celia’s back
straightens as she says, “my older sister Jennie was one of the first
Italian-Americans to knock down the walls on Wall Street. She was an amazing mathematician.”
Celia is the 8th child of nine,
of parents from the Island of Ischia in Italy.
Her mother worked as a governess in France before emmigrating to the
United States. With pride, Celia says
her mother gave birth to her last child at 51.
The family was displaced from 107 Rapelye Street for the construction of
the BQE, an early experience with public works which might be what sharpened Celia’s
ability to analyze land use issues.
|Graduation from PS 142|
Tomboy Celia broke her
nose and ran with the boys until she was married in 1960 to the boy next door
She had two sons, Gregory
and Robert, and was widowed early in 1979.
Over the years, Celia’s
community service had formal and informal components.
She served for more than
twenty years as an active member of Community Board 6, on the Housing, Human
Services, Economic development, Land Use, Landmark, Transportation, and City
Properties Committees. Celia has been recognized for her perfect
attendance at CB6 meetings, which demonstrated her serious purpose and
commitment to her appointment to the Community Board. Aside from keeping
meticulous meeting notes in her famous black and white copy books in multiple
color inks, Celia is also remembered for her "compound questions", as
City Council member Brad Lander has noted.
Celia’s role in CB6 and
other public meetings was often the voice speaking truth to power. Her private good works took the form of
tending to the community’s weaker members without fanfare or public
That work followed the
rhythms of the pre-blog, air conditioning and play date era when life was lived
and information exchanged on the stoop and playgrounds, in street festivals and
over laundry lines strung behind the brownstones. Someone needing help would be told “go see
|"Keeping company" with future husband|
Her helping likely began,
she’s not keeping track, with coordinating summer jobs for youth of Italian
American Club of South Brooklyn which had her run clean up crews for the annual
Feast of Our Lady of Sorrow. That Feast began around 1945 and ran from Kane to
Summit Street. Celia joined the tradition in the 1960s, and worked the feast until
its waning years on Court Street in the 1980s. She found work for youth, and
for adults, in the booths, worked with Sanitation to keep the feast site clean
and well run and prevented fights between the teens.
Over the decades, she
would get summer jobs for teens. She was firm about the rules. “You gotta get
your parents to talk to me, kid”, to make sure they approved, “faccia a faccia” (“face to face” in
Italian). All her serious business is
done faccia a faccia; forget the
During the 70s and early 80s, she organized
festivals in Carroll Park with clowns, concerts and DJs. Ever inclusive, she
arranged for teens to have DJ time, and insisted they play some of everyone’s
music, Italian, Puerto Rican, rock n roll and oldies. She also allowed teens to
DJ before the feast and procession, cannily roping in and managing the younger
“If they blasted the music, they had to account to
me since I was the person speaking for them. I had a nice rapport, I never
pointed my finger at them. If I had to talk to someone, I would walk them down
the block and talked to them privately. If you talk to them in front of the
other kids, then they would rank them out.”
|Celia and husband Joey at |
jazz club Birdland
Celia also helped reactivate the original Society
of Mother Cabrini of South Brooklyn, and their feast and procession. Celia has that rare combination of deep pride
in her identity (a layering of family, ethnicity, neighborhood) and the ability
to simultaneously support others affirming their own, plus the smarts to
understand that everyone needs to be included for a community to work.
Ever the intermediary between groups, she
facilitated special events like the 100th anniversary for the Norwegian
Seaman’s Church (now condos), coordinating between the Scandinavians, the
Italians and the police; and helped arrange donations for many churches not her
By the 1990s, she was ensconced at a desk at Postal
Press on Court Street, where I first spotted her when I went in for photo
copies. Her small head would pop up from
behind a desk piled high with clippings from local papers. I observed a steady stream of people coming
in to have hushed consultations over the counter with her: problems with bad landlords, unfair
evictions, seniors who didn’t understand their meds and had Celia be a liaison
with the pharmacist, older Italians needing translation help, teens looking for
jobs, people who needed help with city permits or were stymied by bureaucracy,
or were just overwhelmed for whatever reason.
By the 2000’s, I would catch up with Celia at Joe’s
Restaurant on Court Street, where she spent hours every morning cutting
clippings from local papers and serving as on-the-spot greeter, advisor and nanny.
Many a weekend morning, I saw young parents come in for brunch and sit frazzled
by their children. Celia would step in with toys she bought on sale or at stoop
sales and then boiled and bleached at home. I could see parents relax and see
them find time for one another as the tikes’ action was transferred to Celia.
|How Celia handled special event parking |
changes in 1978, with NYPD permission,
Celia’s beef with the term “Carroll Gardens” is
that she remembers the slight to her pride. This area was once redlined, her
own family could not get a loan; and real estate brokers and other activists
invented the term in the 60’s to help market the brownstone area and delineate
it from what is now called Red Hook “across the tracks” of the BQE. Rather than
rebranding where she lived and pulling away from others, Celia preferred to help
get jobs for people from “the Hook” and to wear a t-shirt “I live in South
Brooklyn Red Hook not Carroll Gardens and I’m proud of it.” It’s a “love us for who we are, not who you
want us to be” approach. She delivers a lot of love on the ground.
Several years back, I and Allison Prete, the
director of the documentary film about the Gowanus Canal “Lavendar Lake” agreed
that someone should make a documentary about Celia Cacace. Her stories, meeting notes and clippings are
legion. As her apartment is being packed
up, some 40 bankers’ boxes have already been transferred to an archivist,
journalist and local historian.
Celia Cacace is mother and memory of this community
which needs her as much as she needs to be here. We are organizing a “Tribute to Celia” party
for her and a campaign to bring her back. That kicks off Sunday January 1/13/13. Everyone is invited. Please bring a memory of
Celia if you can.
There is a great series of photos of Celia on the blog Pardon Me for Asking
|Councilman Brad Lander and Celia at CB6 Holiday Party 2012|
Cacace Tribute Party
Sunday January 1/13/13
3:30pm to 6:30pm
$20 for everyone under 65, $10 for seniors
RSVP to Community Board 6
(718) 643-3027, ext 201
live in your house?
Local addresses of Celia Cacace
107 Rapelye Street
|Note taped to Celia's kitche wall from 5-year old who |
Celia gave a popsicle
288 Van Brunt Street
28 First Place
64 Third Place
252 President Street
271 Union Street
285 President Street
83 First Place
Recent stories about Celia Cacace
NBC covered by John Noel