Angelo Bruno, Philadelphia’s mob boss in the 1960s and 1970s, was killed by a shotgun blast in 1980 as he sat in a car in front of his house on 934 Snyder Avenue.
The grisly story is no doubt a point of fascination for Mafia aficionados, but it wasn’t enough to land the address on Philadelphia’s list of historical designations.
On Thursday, a historical landmark advisory board committee said the home of the mobster, known as the “Gentle Don,” was not significant enough to merit the landmark status. The committee’s unanimous recommendation now goes to the city’s Historical Commission, which will have the final say, The Associated Press reports.
Author Celeste Morello nominated the home for inclusion on the designated list last month. She told the panel that Bruno was an important historical figure, whose underworld dealing helped shape the way police tracked and prosecuted organized crime.
“If Bruno didn’t do things to make law enforcement notice him, I doubt that Philadelphia would have been one of the first organized-crime law enforcement units with a ‘strike force’ in the country,” she said, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
The logic sounds like a joke to David Fritchey, the recently retired chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The newspaper wrote:
“[He] burst out in laughter last week when the Daily News informed him that Bruno’s house could become a landmark.
” ‘That’s a little unorthodox,’ he said. ‘It’s not like he was William Penn or Ben Franklin.’
“Bruno, who ran the Philadelphia mob through the 1960s and 1970s, was a shrewd businessman with a reputation for preferring diplomacy over violence – at least compared with bloodthirsty Nicodemo ‘Little Nicky’ Scarfo, who took over as mob boss in 1981.
” ‘That’s sort of like saying the Visigoths were nicer than the Huns,’ Fritchey said of Bruno. ‘He had his share of bodies.’ “
At the hearing, Morello said Bruno’s FBI file is part of the John F. Kennedy assassination record, and includes transcripts of conversations in which Bruno says he wanted the president killed.
“That’s big. That is very significant,” Morello said according to the AP. “I don’t know of anyone else in Philadelphia who has had their FBI file become a part of such a critical moment in 20th century history or United States history.”
But Jean Bruno, the Mafia chief’s 74-year-old daughter who still lives in the family home, said she knew her father to argue against the president’s assassination.
As for the home’s inclusion on the historical places list, Bruno’s daughter said she would consider the designation “an honor” and wondered if it would warrant any tax breaks.
The Daily News writes that other cities have historically designated buildings with certain shady histories, but not to honor criminals:
“Damaris Olivo, spokeswoman for New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, said the city has some landmarks associated with unsavory characters ‘but that’s not the reason why they were designated.’
“Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, said its city council had given landmark status to buildings affiliated with gangsters such as Al Capone (the Lexington Hotel) and John Dillinger (the Biograph Theater). But, as in New York, those mob ties didn’t play a role in the designation, he said.
” ‘A person’s affiliation with the underworld is not considered a significant contribution to the development of the city,’ Strazzabosco said.”
Morello, who wrote a biography of Bruno in 2005 called Before Bruno and How He Became Boss, is undeterred in her quest for recognition for the late gangster and his former home.
The AP reports that she “asked if she should resubmit the application with stronger arguments or a different angle.”
Committee member Jeffrey Cohen, a Bryn Mawr College professor of architectural history, said that decision was up to her, but noted, “I don’t think you see a lot of encouragement here.”