A 'Little Italy' of our own ?

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A 'Little Italy' of our own ?

February 22, 2017 - 10:26
Mulberry Street, NYC

With the development of Spring Hill and the numerous Italian families that moved down from the Northeast, it seems like Hernando County is a prime spot for a 'Little Italy.'

The community of Spring Hill was founded in 1967 by the Mackle Brothers’ Deltona Development Corporation. The Mackle Brothers had already successfully started developments throughout Florida.

The marketing for Mackle Brothers was innovative. The Mackle Brothers set up a model home in Grand Central Station in New York City and a model home/sales center on Long Island, New York. They aggressively pushed their economical Florida homes to people living the the northeast . They sent salesman door to door in middle class neighborhoods in the northeast. The real estate in the northeast had greatly appreciated and a homeowner could trade an older home up north for a new home in Spring Hill of a similar size and still have a significant amount of money in their pocket. Many of the areas targeted by the Mackle Brothers contained large amounts of Italian Americans.

Nick Morana shared his memory of purchasing a lot in Spring Hill from his home in Natick, Massachusetts. A fellow came over on Sunday afternoon and showed him a map of Spring Hill. The lots were offered at $195 down and $28 a month for six years. He also took advantage of the Deltona Corporation's $99 weekend special. For $99 they would be flown to the Ocala or Gainesville airports. From there they would be bused to Spring Hill to see the community. They were put up at the Jack Tar Hotel in Clearwater with everything included. Nick reminisced, "We had a lot of fun." Nick moved down as a snowbird in 1979 and moved down permanently in 1982.

The $99 weekend special was part of the larger fly and buy program where the Deltona Corporation would fly potential buyers down on a McDonnell Douglas aircraft and have them play golf, see the community, and buy a lot in Spring Hill. Spring Hill opened to huge crowds in May of 1967. Sales of home sites at Spring Hill went very quickly and the 28,500 platted lots were mostly sold out in three years!

Large numbers of the new owners in Spring Hill were Italians. These new residents started a number of traditional Italian social clubs Knights of Columbus and Sons of Italy.

Daniel Webster, the area’s US Congressman, credited Italians in Hernando, Pasco and Citrus with helping to turn Florida to a red state. For years the Republicans had similar numbers in the State House, but had never been able to get the majority. As a representative in the State House, Webster explains, “For sixteen years, I was in the minority.” That was the case until the Republican leadership noticed the large groups of Italian Americans in Hernando, Pasco and some of the surrounding area. They started recruiting Italians to run for those offices, examples he provided were Paula Bono Dockery Mike Fasano and Heather Fiorentino. The strategy paid off and Republicans took control of the house in 1997. “They all won,” he said, “and we had the majority by one vote.” A Republican majority followed in the Senate.

It is interesting that although the Tampa area is home to many Italian Americans, there is not a "Little Italy," where there are Italian groceries, bakeries, meat markets and restaurants. Southeastern Ybor was known as 'Little Italy' for a while, but has since lost that designation as the Italians integrated into the larger community. Hernando could take the opportunity and create a 'Little Italy' of our own. This could be great way to create a draw to the community, offering the residents something that could be used everyday. It would also encourage small business and the local economy.