Lombardi Family Residence: Lombardi Family Films

1637 S Broad St

My grandfather, Joseph E. Lombardi, came to Philadelphia in 1896 at the age of 13 years old. His boat was originally bound for Brazil, but it ended up in Philadelphia instead. He first worked at a bakery; then became a ditch digger; moved up the ladder to become a brick layer, and eventually started his own construction company which specialized in building storm relief sewers. By the 1920’s, Joseph Lombardi was a millionaire and one of the wealthiest people in Philadelphia. In addition to his construction company, my grandfather owned the “Dante,” a movie house on Broad Street, which bought the first Italian movies into the United states in the early to mid 1930’s. The films were mostly opera films in motion.

Major projects of Joseph Lombardi’s construction company include the Hog Island storm relief sewer, 1928-30, where 40,000 40 foot piles had to be sunk. Lombardi’s company built the Ridge Ave. subway in Philadelphia; also, a storm relief sewer in Johnston, PA which was as big as a subway, and a large storm relief sewer in Washington, D.C. That would be valued at $30,000,000 to $40,000,000 if built today.

Joseph Lombardi married Attilia Volpe around 1915; Attilia and her family were Italian immigrants living in South Philadelphia. My grandparents first lived on Carpenter St. and then moved to 1637 S. Broad Street. They also built and owned a home in Ventnor, N.J. The Ventnor home was a Sears and Roebuck beachside mansion built in 1935; it is now owned by someone else, but has been beautifully preserved.

Besides taking lavish tours, my grandfather returned to his hometown village of Fornelli in southern Italy. He installed modern plumbing and electricity for the whole town, amongst other good deeds. After the war, he returned with a thousand pairs of shoes. Fornelli was extremely poor and in bad shape after the war. The name Lombardi draws respect in Fornelli to this day.

My father, Robert J. Lombardi (b. 1924) and his older brother Dominic shot home movies of our family for several decades. Dominic's 16mm films from the 1930’s include trips back to Italy via the “Rex” and the “Roma”, Italy’s two biggest steamships; travels around Italy, idyllic scenery, absolutely beautiful images, and even shots of Mussolini’s youth camps. The films also include some of the company construction projects, some of the seashore and some of the home in South Philadelphia.

Father's 8mm films start with my parents’ marriage and include all aspects of family life, and time in South Philadelphia, images of my grandparents and great aunts and uncles. My parents moved to Bala Cynwyd in the mid-1950’s, but we spent many weekends at my grandparent’s home in South Philadelphia, and summertime at their shore homes.