We The Italians | IT and US: Paterno Family, Chronicling a New York Real Estate Legacy

IT and US: Paterno Family, Chronicling a New York Real Estate Legacy

IT and US: Paterno Family, Chronicling a New York Real Estate Legacy

  • WTI Magazine #155 Sep 24, 2022
  • 365

As the entire world quickly shut down in 2020 for the pandemic, my inner world slowly opened up in new and exciting ways. Finding myself at home on Hilton Head Island on the coast of South Carolina in the USA with extra time, I committed to an earnest and thorough effort to finally research my genealogy. It wasn’t long before I was completely engrossed, totally enchanted, and on a devoted quest to learn more about my people and their Italian village.

My maternal grandfather’s father and his family immigrated to New York City from Castelmezzano in 1885. They made their way in the building industry and contributed significantly to the development of fine apartment houses during the first half of the 20th Century. Giovanni Maria Paternò (aka John Paterno) and his wife Maria Carolina Trivigno Paternò (aka Carolina Paterno) had a family of five sons and five daughters.

All five sons and all five brothers-in-law worked in the family construction business. In the New York City borough of Manhattan alone they built 155 apartment houses, four family homes, one garage, one theater, one cultural center, and one magnificent residential castle on the Hudson River for a total of 163 buildings of which only thirteen have been demolished. Their private residences, personal estates, and additional commercial projects eventually expanded beyond the borough of Manhattan and the state of New York.

My research has tallied, for the first time in history, the complete portfolio of the Paterno building legacy. I am very proud to know the lasting legacy my ancestors left on one of the greatest cities in the world. They were skilled, hard working, and very successful in the New World while remaining steadfastly loyal to their mother country. Brothers Joseph Paterno, Michael Paterno, and brother-in-law Anthony Campagna donated to the University of Columbia in New York City the building materials and construction labor for an Italian cultural center in 1926. My great-grandfather Dr. Charles V. Paterno donated 20,000 books to the library of the Casa Italiana. In time it became a place of scholarship and promotion of Italian culture and made a substantial contribution to the academic study of Italy in America and to the understanding of Italian cultural identity abroad. The facade is inscribed with “Italy, Mother of Arts, thy hand was once our guardian and is still our guide.”

Eldest brother Saverio Paterno was the only sibling to return to Castelmezzano to live. He was instrumental in helping laborers relocate to New York City to work for the Paterno Brothers Construction Company. He served as a Top Sergeant in the Italian Army in World War I as an interpreter and in 1922 became podestà of Castelmezzano until the end of World War II. With financial contributions from his siblings, Saverio was able to improve the family home, enhance the infrastructure of Castelmezzano, and preserve historical features in the village.

Second cousin to, via the Trivigno line, and husband of Marie Paterno, Anthony Campagna helped raise funds for the restoration of Virgil’s Tomb in Naples and a historic Roman tower in Minturno. He contributed substantially to the excavations of Roman ruins at Herculaneum, to the Italian Historical Society in Rome, and to the orphans of World War I. Anthony was conferred the title of Count in 1930 by King Victor Emmanuel III for his many philanthropic endeavors and service. In Castelmezzano he built a school, helped fund the electrification of the village, and helped construct a municipal aqueduct. Palazzo Campagna, Piazza Campagna, Casa Paterno, and the Paterno mausoleum are all elements of family history that still exist today in Castelmezzano.

Genealogy is a treasure hunt but rather than seeking hunted treasure, the hunt itself is the treasure. The people I have met - near and far - and the stories, photographs, and records that have been shared with me are priceless gems. While chasing an internet research thread not long ago I discovered ‘We The Italians’ website. I wrote asking for help with on-location information 5,000 miles away from where I sat at my desk. Katia Lacerra, the organization’s Ambassador in Basilicata (the southern Italian region in which Castelmezzano is located), was a tremendous help to me in gathering details about my family, some included here, which I could not have determined on my own online or by studying maps. 

I sincerely feel that my ancestors place kind, curious, and helpful people in my path to help me capture and retell their impressive story. I feel my ancestors guiding and encouraging me to bridge the past and present, to revive admiration for their architectural contributions, and to stoke new appreciation for one immigrant Italian family’s story of success in the New World. 

For those interested, I have created a website that shares much of this family history and all of the Paterno buildings. It is my hope that you will find something there that delights you.