My grandfather & the Liberty Bell at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition
By Rose Marie Cleese,
I’m a third-generation San Franciscan with more than one Gold Rush ancestor on my family tree. I grew up on Union Street near Scott in Cow Hollow and our view out the back was the Marina district anchored by the Palace of Fine Arts. My mother, Rosamond Rossi (Cleese), grew up in that very same house and, in 1915 when she was 6 years old, she would walk down Scott Street every day with her maternal grandmother to spend hours in “the Zone” at the PPIE. She also posed with her parents and two siblings around the Liberty Bell at the expo. Her father, Angelo J. Rossi, born in the Gold Country town of Volcano in Amador County in 1878 and now, in 1915, co-owner of one of San Francisco’s leading florists, Pelicano and Rossi, was assigned the job of creating a float for the Liberty Bell as it was transported from the train station to the Exposition grounds via a grand parade up Van Ness Avenue. That same year as the PPIE, Angelo was given his first official city role as a Playground (now Park and Rec) commissioner. He would go on to be elected as a city supervisor in the 1920s and then mayor of San Francisco from 1931 to 1944 (a seminal period of the city’s history). He always wore a white carnation in his lapel, a nod to his florist background; if he ever showed up without it, it would make the front page of at least one of the city’s numerous newspapers.
In a city that has always opened its doors and opportunities to everyone (sometimes to the gripes of previously arrived “natives”!), Angelo had the distinction of being the first person of 100% Italian ancestry to be elected mayor of a major U.S. city (i.e.,”major” being the top 10 cities in population). It’s shocking that it took until 1931 for that to happen!
I’m thrilled to be able to share these “Liberty Bell” images with the visitors to this site; this could be the first time these photos (glossy 8x10s in their original form) are being seen outside our family.
During my career as a marketing creative consultant, I’ve written marketing materials for universities, book publishers, direct mail catalog companies, and websites of all kinds; as a journalist I’ve focused mainly on wintersports, but I’ve also written articles about everything from the Fairmont Hotel’s centennial to the bear problem in Yosemite. Without question, the most important thing I’ll ever write is the biography I’ve been trying to finish about my grandfather, Angelo, for the past couple of decades. If you know of any native 85-year-plus San Franciscans who have vivid memories of pre-World War II San Francisco, send them my way!
View Rose Marie’s family photos of the Angelo J. Rossi’s Liberty Bell float online at HistoryPin.com.