By: Marcia Dlutek, Vice President of Communications/Development
Julia Chiavaroli Viscardi’s gentle voice takes the listener back to a far-away time when the Bullshead neighborhood in Rochester, New York bustled with family-owned shops, streetcars were a mode of transportation, children pitched in to make ends meet, meals were crowned by a giant bowl of homemade pasta, and pride in craftsmanship permeated the workplace.
An era of prosperity
That was the era in which the Cunningham Motor Car Company, formerly the Cunningham Carriage Factory, thrived producing luxury cars that were appreciated all over the world for their exquisite workmanship.
Julia, 91, a former employee of the Cunningham Motor Car Company now being renovated by DePaul into apartments for income-eligible tenants, some with special needs, spent her childhood in Bullshead and recently shared her memories of an era when “people helped one another,” knew their neighbors, when children played hopscotch and jumped rope, when times were simpler.
Her parents, immigrants from Italy, ran a family bakery on Prospect Street and the president of the Cunningham Motor Car Company, Augustus Cunningham, would sometimes stop in for freshly-baked bread. The roaring 20s was a pre-depression era of prosperity.
The modest Chiavaroli flat above the bakery provided a warm, family home for Julia’s parents and her eight brothers and sisters, who all pitched in with household and bakery duties. They took time out to appreciate music on the Stromberg Carlson console radio, a Victrola, and a Wurlitzer player piano. It was a happy time in a closely-knit community.
The Chiavarolis and their Cunningham
Julia’s father, Giulio, developed relationships with his customers, sometimes over a glass of homemade wine. Mr. Reed, who owned a small glass business in the neighborhood, struck a deal with Giulio to sell him his Cunningham touring car for just several hundred dollars and a barrel of wine.
Oh what a thrill it was to have a Cunningham; Julia remembers it being her older brother Chester’s pride and joy. It could not accommodate the entire Chiavaroli clan at once, but what a treat to go for a spin.
Eventually, Julia would work for John Cunningham, and recalls him personally distributing the employees’ weekly pay in cash, carefully packaged in small, labeled envelopes. Mass production of the automobile ultimately forced the evolution of the Cunningham Motor Car Company into one that produced tanks, aircraft safety belts and crossbar switches.
Rochester’s Bullshead area is experiencing a revival and DePaul is pleased to be an integral part of that movement, first with the development of the Bullshead Commons campus on West Main Street, and now with the renovation of the Carriage Factory Apartments on Litchfield Street in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood.
Many thanks to Julia Chiavaroli Viscardi for sharing her memories of a by-gone era when the Cunningham Carriage Factory was a prominent part of the local landscape for over 100 years.