Sunday, June 8, 2008

POSTCARD HISTORY LESSON - Could this be John Scarpa?

Here's a postcard from Balboa, California.
Yes, there are many places on the West Coast that carry the name "Balboa" in some way or another, but I believe this comes from the Balboa we have here in Newport Beach. This area is currently referred to as Newport, Newport Beach, Newport Harbor, Balboa, and a few other names but in the early 1900's, most folks just called it Balboa.

There's no way to tell when it was printed, but the postmark is from August of 1911.
Back then, it was common for postcards to have little or no descriptive text. Some would list just the place the picture was from, like you see here.

The writing on the back gives nothing away either, except that the card was sent to someone in Minnesota. I realize that some of the postcards I put up may have written content that could be considered personal, so I try to avoid exposing information that isn't relevant to our scope of study here.

The image on the postcard is quite typical of the time. Just like so many of the ones we've seen from Venice, California: at first glance it appears to be a colorized or highly re-touched monochrome photo.
Some of these are actually artist renderings - some more convincing than others.
With this one, I believe we're looking at an artist rendering.
Luckily, we have a few real photos of John Scarpa on his gondola, and with the exception of the felze-di-tela (removable canvas canopy), the gondola looks like it could be this one.
The relief-work on the deck in this postcard is the same as that in the photos.
"ALMA" is clearly written on the bow.
I would guess that whoever created this image, used photos of John Scarpa on his gondola.

The most curious thing in the image though, is the flag on the stern. The one on the bow is the American Flag, but the on behind the gondolier doesn't resemble any national flag that is currently flying today. Flip it upside down and it's the modern Hungarian flag, but in the first two decades of the twentieth century, there was a big crest in the center. Either it's a flag that has since been retired, or the artist that rendered this image, forgot the direction of the stripes on Italy's flag!
After further research, I've learned that all Italian flags of that time period had some sort of crest or character in the white field (similar to that of Mexico), and while there was one variation which had horizontal stripes, it too had a crest of sorts in the center of the white field.
If anyone reading this knows more about the flag, please reply to this post - I'm dying of curiosity.

The gondolier may or may not be John Scarpa. It's possible that he is, but then, I've already stated that I think this is an artist rendereing. If it is Mr. Scarpa, he's put on a bit of weight since we last saw him in a photo postcard from 1907.Here's a side-by-side from the two postcards.
The one on the left is from the monochrome that we know to be John Scarpa, while the one on the right is from today's post.
The stance on the left is trademark-Scarpa, while the one on the right shows a guy just standing there. it also looks like he's only got one arm, but I'm willing to accept the idea that his left arm was perfectly lined up with the camera.
Then there's the hat - our other images of John Scarpa show him in a sort of Greek Fisherman's Hat, while the guy on the right is wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
My guess: it's Scarpa's gondola, and either a bad rendering of the man himself, or maybe his fat uncle came out to row the boat one day.

We do have one more curiosity here:

The ferro.
Up until I saw this postcard, I'd never seen the whole ferro on Scarpa's gondola. In the other images, the ferro is either cut off or completely out of the shot.
This is the only image we have of it so far, and it appears to have been a "five fingered ferro", with only five prongs facing forward.
(to read more about "five fingered ferros" see my post from March 5th, 2008)
As I was analyzing this image, and realized that the ferro may have possessed this unique trait, it occurred to me that while the gondola itself is probably nonexistent by this point, chances are good, that someone saved the ferro.

Who knows, it might be out there someowhere, hanging over a fireplace in a home on Lido Island, or maybe in a closet on Balboa Island, in the back room of an old bar on the peninsula.
Who knows, maybe someday I'll be lucky enough to come across it.

2 comments:

Nereo said...

Hi Greg,
just few words to confirm that the crest in the middle of the white stripe in the old Italian flag is the symbol of the Savoia, the Royal family. The crest has been removed in 1948 after the declaration of the Italian Republic.
Great post btw. Nereo

Gondola Greg said...

Thanks Nereo.
It's always great to have your input on these things.
I'm glad you liked the post.
You know, John Scarpa may have distant relatives in YOUR neighborhood.