Glamour in the Pines

February 25, 2021

Heading to a wedding.

From left: my grandmother, Anna Renzi, Aunt Helen, and Mom, all in white.  Who said we never dressed up in our small rural town?



We liked to dress up. Here, with a very suntanned Aunt Maddy in the guest bedroom of her house that contained our costumes. (I’m in green.)


Hammonton, New Jersey had its very own movie theatre, The Rivoli. Sadly it closed and had been boarded up for some time when, in 1961, Uncle bought it and turned it into his office building

Samuel Frank built the Rivoli Theatre on Hammonton’s main street in 1927, with a façade that was designed to imitate the Ducal Palace in Venice. Named after the famous Rivoli Theater in New York on 49th and Broadway, the theatre boasted 450 seats, including 250 balcony seats.

According to an historic Manager’s Report (below):

Type of Patronage: Small town, farmers and mill workers. Poor class of Italians.

In answer to the question, Balcony for Colored?:  The manager typed Yes.

I was very young on a beautiful spring day in 1961, when Mom and I stood next to Uncle and the three of us looked up at the façade of the old Rivoli Theatre.

“I’m buying it, Lorraine,” Uncle said.

I tugged at the soft fabric of his jacket. “What about the movie theater, Uncle Lew?”

“What about it, darling?”

“Are you going to open it again?  So we can go and see movies?”

Uncle ignored me, and I knew by the firm way Mother held my hand that I wasn’t to insist.

What was once the old Rivoli Theater. Here, Uncle’s office building on the main corner in town.


Atlantic City Race Track
Riding high in the post-WWII boom, Uncle’s automobile finance company, HIMCO, owned race horses.

“Watch for me around twelve-thirty, darlings,” Uncle said.

My sisters and I were in the pool, ready to wave.  My arms were half out of the water as I heard the small plane droning in the distance. It made a wide loop and buzzed us twice. Uncle flew frighteningly low over the tallest pines, and I tried to pick him out behind the glass of the cockpit. But he was gone in a second, and the plane’s departure left a hole of sound I filled with energetic strokes, as I pulled through the water with greater purpose.


Taken from a fire tower. What it must have looked like when Uncle flew his plane low over the pines.


  • Kate Penza April 19, 2021 at 11:41 am

    MY NAME IS Kathleen Penza nee Renzi.. your mom and I are first cousins…My dad is John Renzi who often visited his brother , your grandfather,Bill on the Basin road farm…aunt Helen and Uncle Alfred were my favorites… in later years they became good friends with my son Chuck…..Is your mom still on Central Avenue. I remember how pretty she was

    • Gail Reitano October 19, 2021 at 11:31 pm

      Hi Kate!
      You can tell that I rarely check my website! Mom saw this email and wanted me to send you her email: She would love to connect with you. I remember your father very well, and one of the best things about this website is having relatives make contact after a very long time.
      Please do write to Mom who’s in LA in her own apartment and near my daughter and my sister, Lisa, which is great. We have a lot of fun visits back and forth.
      xoGail Reitano

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