When Ronn Dominici came back
Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society
By now, everybody knows that Ronn Dominici is back in town. He moved to Idaho some time back, but he missed us, so he came back for a visit. Ronn dropped by our house yesterday, and we talked. After he left, an old story came to mind. I mused and mused on this tale so much that I have decided to tell it again, so here it is.
It must have seemed like a cruel joke, and indeed it was cruel, but it was no joke. The young Italian immigrant had come to America, found work and sent for his wife and child. In 1911, the mother and son arrived in Madera, and the family was together once again. Then, in 1914, the father returned temporarily to Italy to put the finishing touches on some personal business, when the government suddenly snatched him up and put him into the Italian army.
It made no difference when he protested that he considered himself an American. Neither did it make any difference that his wife and son were in Madera. What was paramount was the fact that World War I had begun, and Adamo Dominici was needed in the Italian army.
After serving four years in the army, they discharged Adamo and he immediately returned to America and his wife, Romilda, and their son, Julius. From this fragile beginning, a saga was born — a story emerged — a story that is still being felt today.
For awhile, Adamo lived in southeast Madera with his wife and son while he worked for the Sugar Pine Lumber Company. Then they moved to the La Vina district, where he found employment on various ranches in the vicinity, and young Julius started school.
Life was difficult by today’s standards, and by the time he was in the fifth grade, Julius Dominici found himself spending more time working with his father to help make ends meet than he did going to school. Finally, by the end of the 5th grade, the youngster had to leave the classroom entirely to help his family. His formal education had come to an end, but he didn’t stop learning — not by a long shot.
Julius learned most of life’s lessons out there in the country in his early years. He learned that one had to be self-reliant and willing to work. Somehow he gained a certain optimism in the face of adversity that served him well when he married Anne Sciacqua, and they started a family of their own.
The self-reliance that Julius learned out in the country translated into a kind of rugged independence for him by the time he started his family. Just about the time that Julius and Anne were expecting their firstborn, he went to work for Marion Capra in his gas station, which was located on the approximate, present day site of Schoettler Tires. Then the Great Depression hit, and Julius lost his job.
It apparently never occurred to the young Italian to whine about his dilemma; instead, in 1933, he decided to throw caution to the wind and go into business for himself. He walked into Madera’s Bank of Italy and got a loan to open a gas station of his own.
This move was unusual for a couple of reasons. First, the only Americans who were starting businesses during the Depression were folks who had some money tucked away. Julius Dominici was not one of these. Second, the financial arrangements between Julius and the Bank of Italy were secured by a simple handshake. No complicated contracts were involved — just a man’s word.
Julius Dominici got his loan and opened his gas station on the corner of 4th and F Streets (Gateway Drive). Meanwhile, Anne gave birth to their first child, J.R. He threw himself into his business and within a year, that hard work paid off. The company offered him a larger gas station to be built on the corner of 6th Street and Gateway Drive. With his usual determination, Julius Dominici made this new venture prosper as well. So successful was he that his Flying A service station continued in operation under his watchful eye for 48 years.
If anyone doubted the work ethic of Julius Dominici, all that was necessary to dispel those reservations was to watch him expand his business opportunities. While he was operating his service station, he seized upon the opportunity to go into the restaurant business with his friend, Stelio Manfredi. The result was a Madera landmark, the Town House Restaurant.
At first the restaurant was located near the corner of Yosemite Avenue and Gateway Drive, where the Yum Yum donut shop is now located. Later they moved it down the block and back again. Finally, they saw an opportunity across the street at the old Studebaker dealership where the Village Restaurant would one day stand.
By the late 1930s Julius and Anne Dominici were well on their way to making their mark on Madera. They had two children, J.R. and Pattee, and in 1937, they joined a large number of Italian families who lived on G Street. They kept their shoulders to the wheel, and taught their children to do the same. Then in 1945 the Dominici family got a huge surprise — one, which is still making an impact on Madera today. We will tell you about that next time.