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March 30, 2004 > The Di Giulio Family

The Di Giulio Family

by Phil Holmes

Salvador Di Giulio immigrated from Italy to San Francisco in the early 1900's. He married Egizza Del Poggeto and they moved to Niles before the 1906 earthquake. The couple lived on Vallejo Street in "Old Town" until 1923 when they moved their house across the railroad tracks to G Street in Niles. Their children, Louis, Caesar "Chet" and Theresa were all born in Niles and attended local schools.

The Di Giulio family erected a two story building on an empty lot at the corner of G and First Streets just east of the Essanay lot, some years after the film studios had moved south. Apartments were upstairs and Salvador and Egizza founded the American Garage, an auto shop, downstairs. Their advertisement in 1924 said, "Bring your car to us in the eve and we will repair it in time for you to have it the following morning." The garage featured Hood tires and specialized in overhauling engines.

Louis took over the garage in 1926, opened a towing service and in 1929, expanded to handle Whippet and Willys Knight automobile sales. He recalled that he earned an extra 50 cents to get up at night and come downstairs - half asleep - to dispense gasoline for desperate motorists. These motorists were usually grateful to be rescued, but when one refused to pay, Louis was forced to take the obstinate motorist's keys and punch him before the motorist saw the error of his ways.

A 1931 photo shows the American Garage with several Niles men posed in front near a pickup truck. There is an attached building where cars were washed and greased. Gasoline was 15 cents a gallon or 7 gallons for one dollar.

Salvador died in 1934; Egizza and Louis carried on the business. Egizza eventually married Ettore Ragghianti and built apartment houses and other buildings.

Louis - "Louie" - married Virginia Matei and they raised two daughters, Carol and Cheryl, and son Ron. Carol taught French and English at Hayward High School and Cheryl taught Spanish and English at Campbell. Ron was the general sales manager at Di Giulio's Pontiac. Louis was a long-time member of the Centerville Lions Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the Elks Club, the Niles Fire Dept., the Washington Township Men's Club, Sons of Italy, and the Corpus Christi Catholic Church. He died in 1996 at the age of 87.

Caesar "Chet" studied electrical engineering at Cogswell College in San Francisco. He married Suzie Del Grande in 1939 and they raised two children, Richard and Arlene. Arlene married Gary King who worked with Richard in the Di Giulio agency.

Theresa did the bookkeeping for the family business for 35 years. She married Edward Leal and they had two boys, Edward and Bob. A year after Edward's death in 1945, Theresa married Steve Yuhase and gave birth to a daughter, Sharon.
Chet served in the army during World War II and saw active service in the China-Burma-India front. He returned to Niles after the war to work with his brother Louis in the garage. The two brothers formed a partnership about 1947, acquired a Pontiac dealership, and changed the business to Di Giulio Pontiac.

The brothers remodeled their building in 1948, putting in a large attractive show room, a big parts department and new offices. They purchased the old Township Register property in 1955 and established a used car lot and a body shop. A 1960 photograph showed salesmen Frank Rickenbacher and "Stew" Wilkinson with Louis and Chet. Stewart joined the firm in 1949 and "Ricky" in 1951. The firm was listed as "Di Giulio Pontiac and GMC Trucks" at Niles in 1960.

The Di Giulio Brothers "made history" when they moved their headquarters to Centerville in 1964. On a four acre site, they built a modern plant devoted to the auto industry and became the first big firm in Centerville's new business district on the Peralta Boulevard extension. They employed 94 people with a $500,000 payroll in 1968. Chet died in 1989 and the surviving partners closed the dealership in 1991.

Four of the grandchildren, Robert Leal, Arlene Di Giulio King, Carol Di Giulio Zilli, and Sharon Yuhase Soulis still live in Fremont and have been involved in the community for many years. Robert (Bob) owns Leal's Auto Mart and is an active member of Holy Spirit Catholic Church; Arlene recently retired after 30 years of teaching elementary school in the Fremont Unified School District and her husband, Gary, serves on Niles/Centerville Planning Advisory Groups; Carol, a music teacher in Newark, is the founder and director of Music for Minors II in Fremont, a nonprofit organization originating at Niles School that serves Fremont and Newark schools by keeping music in children's lives; and Sharon, a retired P.E. teacher in Fremont, with her husband John brings the nonprofit East Bay Traditional Jazz Society to the youth of the Tri Cities/East Bay.

The grandchildren of Egizza Di Giulio Ragghianti who died in 1986 and is affectionately remembered as "Nonna," still own her old buildings in Niles and are committed to preserving them for their children and grandchildren - 87 descendents including nine grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren, 35 great-great-grandchildren and 8 great-great-great grandchildren. They have inherited the family work ethic combined with a great love for Niles. The cousins hope to pursue their grandmother's vision for business growth in that community and maintain the link between the family's past and future generations. The "Di Giulio" family is excited about the railroad coming to Niles again and hopes to help preserve and share the Niles community's unique historical relationship with this country's film industry, especially since the family's properties border the original Essanay Studio site.

Even as the family grows, they stay in contact with each other and take every opportunity to gather together, not only for business, but also for pleasure. It is their hope that "Nonna Egizza's" vision of a close family that works and plays together will never die. Regardless of whether they remain in Niles, all descendants carry within them the strong sense of family and good stewardship.

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