ROSELLE PARK, NJ — Roselle Park Mayor Joseph Signorello III and Roselle Park attorney Frank Capece have a long history in the area, as do their families.
“I think both of our families go back to the early 1900s in Roselle Park,” said Signorello on Wednesday, Jan. 13. “I think it’s 1904. We go back to the inception of it. We’ve known each other for a long time, and now my dad, Joseph Signorello Jr., is on council, I’m the mayor, Frank is one of our attorneys, and it’s one, big, happy Roselle Park family.
“My great-grandfather, for sure, is considered a longtimer in town,” he continued. “Grandpa Frenchy, as we called him, knew everyone in town, because he basically started the town watering hole at the town bar. When you’re the owner of the bar, you become a pretty popular guy pretty quickly. The bar still exists, and is called Frenchy’s Bar & Grill in Roselle Park.”
The mayor said Capece’s grandfather knew his great-grandfather, starting a tradition of friendship. At one time, the mayor’s father, Joseph Signorello Jr., a former Roselle Park fire chief and councilman at large, owned Frenchy’s. When Capece, who is a columnist for Union County LocalSource, was a councilman, he was in licensing and transportation. He had to give approval for Signorello Jr.’s father to have games in the establishment. To Capece, there was a constant interaction between the two families.
When Joe Signorello came to the United States from Italy, he had four sons — Frank, or “Frenchy”; Joe; John; Steve — and two daughters — Palmer and Jenny. Frank’s son, Joseph Signorello Sr., is 83 years old and still owns Frenchy’s. Joseph Signorello Sr.’s nephew, another Frank, runs Frenchy’s.
“My grandfather Frenchy was one of the first residents to have a car,” Signorello Jr. said. “Back in the ’20s, they didn’t have an ambulance and there was no such thing as a first aid squad. My grandfather used to take people to the hospital in Elizabeth. It was quite often he would take people to the hospital. I’m proud to tell that story. He worked hard. He had two jobs and did what he had to do. Long ago, people didn’t have any money, so they bartered. They really helped each other out with a trade or a profession.”
Capece said his grandfather, Prospero, who he also considers a longtimer of Roselle Park, died in 1964. He had come to the United States from Basiglio, Italy. He and Capece’s grandmother, Angela, came to Roselle Park in 1905.
“He was a mason contractor, and the joke among my family was I was much more like him and not my father,” said Capece on Friday, Jan. 8. “My father was gregarious and friendly, but my grandfather was tough. I remember my cousin, Iggy, once told me something. You learn these things as you get older, but he said, ‘You have to understand, these immigrants came from a tough place, and they brought with them a tough attitude.’
“They had huge families,” Capece continued. “My grandfather had four boys and four girls: Jerry, Danny, Frank, Alfred, Jessi, Vira, Helen, Mary. That was culturally what happened. You had big families. He lived on East Lincoln and he was tough, even at the end. So, with my family, there was a very familiar connection to the town.”
The Signorello family moved to Roselle Park in the early 1900s for better opportunities.
“It’s a common story,” Signorello said. “I come from Italian immigrants, and, with a lot of folks, there is always a migration from the city to the suburbs. Elizabeth was the big city, where all the Italians kind of came in first through Elizabeth and Newark. When all these old families started having kids and wanting a little more space, you started to look around, and Roselle Park had more space at the time. It was a nice town, close to family, and you have a backyard here where the kids can run around and play. I think it’s an age-old story, especially for folks who’ve immigrated to the United States. You come in, start a family and you look for more space.”
Capece’s grandfather moved his family to Roselle Park in the early 1900s for the same reasons.
“It was part of the mass generation of immigrants that came to this country,” Capece said. “It never ceases to amaze me that, because of the decisions he made, I ended up in Roselle Park, I ended up a councilman in Roselle Park, I ended up dragging my wife to Roselle Park and then to Cranford. So, these immigrants, who came to this country, they set roots that still flourish.
“This is a bittersweet memory, but I’ll drive through Roselle Park and point out Aunt Helen’s house, but Aunt Helen is deceased,” he continued. “Or point out my Aunt Vira’s house, but Aunt Vira and Uncle Jimmy are gone. But in my mind’s eye, that’s still their homes.”
Capece said he didn’t know how close his grandfather and Signorello’s great-grandfather were.
“I don’t know how much they interacted,” Capece said. “But I think it’s symbolic how two immigrants came to this country, and that their offspring would be fairly successful. Everything you hear about the American dream, that’s what happened. It’s hard for me to say how much of an interaction there was, but there was an amazing pride. Everybody knew everyone in Roselle Park.”
The mayor said he’s well aware of his great-grandfather and Capece’s grandfather crossing paths multiple times. To him, they were friends.
“They’ve all been in the same social circle, because Roselle Park is a small town,” Signorello said. “We’ve all been in the same social circles for a long time, but my family, in particular, we’ve always been involved heavily with supporting local youth groups, baseball, football, now soccer. My grandfather was on the board of education, so he was involved with that. My father, for a long time, was the fire chief before he became a councilman, so we’ve just been involved, and the Capece family has as well. But mostly through sports and helping out youth programs. They were definitely friends.”
Joseph Signorello Jr. spoke to how close the two longtimers of Roselle Park and their families were.
“His dad, my great-grandfather Joe and Frenchy (and) the Capeces were masons,” Signorello Jr. said on Jan. 18. “My great-grandfather and grandfather helped dig out the basements and get them prepped, because my grandfather had the horses and plows. So, in terms of their relationship, they were masons and they used to build the foundations, so that’s how their relationship worked out. By getting the foundations ready. The Capeces built the foundations, while the Signorellos dug the basement out. They used to work with another family, which is the Venturo family. They were the masons also.
“My great-grandfather’s house was on 333 W. Clay Ave., and I think the Capeces were 170 W. Clay Ave,” he continued. “I met Frank Capece early in the ’80s and knew his cousin, Mark Rosso, who was killed on the Parkway at 52, two years after my son passed. Rosso’s son, Thomas, and my younger son, Mark, are extremely close. They’re both 24 years old and they both have matching tattoos.”
Capece said he was proud that the new Borough Hall on Westfield Avenue was built by his father.
“He was a contractor, and he built the building,” said Capece. “The advantage my father and my uncles had: They were all mason contractors. He would take me around and show me what he built.”
Capece also remembered great things about his grandfather that he still holds dear to this day, recalling the expressions he brought over from Italy.
“One was, ‘Nobody’s going to tell you to wash your face, so you look cleaner than they do.’ There were so many of these expressions that he brought with him from Basiglio,” he said. “He had so many of these that they pop into my mind now, years later. What he would do, they would sit out in their gardens at night. My cousins and I would go there and sit. That was important. You have to sit with your grandfather. That’s what it was about. I’m sure so much of that carries over. So much of his beliefs live on in my daughter and me.”
Signorello Jr. said he fondly remembered one significant thing about his grandfather Frenchy, and that was how hard he worked.
“He really wanted to buy a business when he came here,” Signorello Jr. said. “He had this business in Irvington, in the ’50s, and he really worked hard to buy this bar and business, which he called Frenchy’s in Roselle Park. He bought it in 1964. It was called Charlie’s, and when Charlie sold it to him, he took it over and called it Frenchiy’s. He was proud of that bar.”
The mayor said he thought of the Capece and Signorello story as a slice of the American dream.
“You come in, you work hard and you put in your blood, sweat and tears for the town,” said Signorello. “At some point, you have a commitment, and you have the trust of the people. Those people trust you to run and lead the future of the town. It’s two families who have been deeply embedded in the roots of this area and care about this area and have worked their way up through public service.
“My great-grandfather has passed since then, but it’s a moment of pride,” he continued. “Everybody knows me because of who my father is, my grandfather is and who my great-grandfather was. People have respect for my family, and it means a lot to me that they had such a good and positive influence on the town that people automatically know when they’re talking to the great-grandson, or grandson of that person. It’s someone they can trust, because they trusted my grandfather, and they trusted my great-grandfather. So, that’s cool to me. It fills me with pride.”
Photos Courtesy of Joseph Signorello III