Thursday, July 16, 2015

Gondolas in Milwaukee

Some time around 1990, an Italian transplant and his sons built a couple gondolas in their garage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 
His name was Carlo Treviso from Sicily.  Based off of a model from Venice,
they created their boats using mostly oak and elm. 
Three gondolas were built by the Treviso family. 
In 1991 their gondolas began taking passengers on the Milwaukee River.
The Wisconsin servizio continued offering cruises for many years.
One of the annual events on Carlo's calendar was the "Festa Italiana",
which currently takes place at the Summerfest Grounds - along the shores of Lake Michigan. 

Eventually Carlo's sons took over for a few years, he passed away,
and some years later the boats ended up being owned by the organization responsible for Festa Italiana.

I spoke with Bill Jennaro, who has the honor of running the gondola cruise division of Festa Italiana.
He told me that they now have four gondolas. 
The fourth boat (a Venice-built gondola)
was bought from Mike Novack in New Jersey.

I learned that there are two veteran gondoliers and two younger guys.
The two veterans are Sicilian and actually worked under Carlo Treviso,
and two younger gondoliers are college students who row crew.

The veterans
The whole crew - veterans, young guys, and fleet commodore Jennaro
This year's Festa Italiana takers place this weekend - July 17th-19th.

The four gondolas will take passengers in a smooth protected waterway.
The boats are not motorized, and are propelled only by the guys in striped shirts, who love their job.

When I spoke with Bill Jennaro, he told me that the Festa Italiana staff love the gondolas, and are so happy to be able to offer cruises as part of the festival experience.
And why shouldn't they?
After all, Not only is Festa Italiana the biggest Italian-American festival in the United States, it's also the only one that has a fleet of gondolas.

To learn more, go to:

There's a good photo of the Venice-built gondola on this page:

And a short video here:

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