Attilio's Polychromatic Piano Accordion

Deep in the recesses of the San Francisco History Center we discovered a wonderful treasure: a polychromatic piano accordion that once belonged to Attilio Raeta. Not just any accordion: a Galleazzi accordion manufactured in San Francisco on Jackson Street, at the edge of present-day Chinatown (did you know that this city once supported more than ten accordion makers?). Come visit the library and see a most extraordinary accordion, where you can also read more about the history of the accordion in San Francisco.


Polychromatic piano accordion
Manufactured by Galleazzi & Sons, San Francisco, circa 1925?
Gift of the family of Attilio Raeta
Italian-American Collection, San Francisco History Center

A reading of the History of Music in San Francisco: The Musical Trade: 1850-1940  provides the following information about Giovanni Galleazzi:
    In the province of Novara, where the village of Biandrate, his birthplace, is located, Giovanni Galleazzi learned the rudiments of accordion making—an art which he practices occasionally even today, at the age of eighty-five, in the attic of his home on the slopes of Telegraph Hill.
   Galleazzi spent the first twenty-four years of his life in his homeland, serving for a time in the Italian army. In 1888 he migrated to Mexico by way of France, and by 1899 he was settled in San Francisco.
   In order to support his family Galleazzi turned to the craft he had learned as a boy. Soon his accordions were declared inferior to none. The San Francisco Chronicle of Dec. 18, 1898 in an article on the city’s instrument makers, declared:
   “Marvelous as is the intricate mechanism of these (Galleazzi’s) instruments, a peep into the interior of their cases shows them to be scarcely less miraculous—cases of tulipwood, rosewood, mahogany, holly, sandalwood, cherry, ebony, every species of choice material known to the woodworker—inlaid in the most intricate patterns.”
   All this delicate inlay Galleazzi did himself by hand, and many of his earlier accordions are today considered museum pieces. But Galleazzi was not only a fine woodworker and craftsman, he was also an inventor. During his long career he patented no less than thirteen inventions for accordions, and today still derives a large part of his income from the royalties on these inventions.
   The Galleazzi accordions, entirely hand-made, have taken many prizes at Mechanics Fairs. One of his instruments received a gold medal at the California Mid-Winter Fair held in San Francisco in 1894; another received the Medal of Honor, highest award of the Panama Pacific International Exhibition of 1915.
   Although the accordion business is not now as remunerative as it once was, his sons, Theodor and Frank, continue to carry on at their shop at 478 Jackson Street. Galleazzi himself, having retired from active participation, works in the attic above solely for his own pleasure.

   According to the above-mentioned article in The San Francisco Chronicle: "There is only one man on the Pacific Coast whose work Galleazzi will admit approaches his own and that is Louis Miller—and they applaud each other's success" (Chapter 1: Instrument Makers, p. 2-3).


Detail: polychromatic piano accordion
Manufactured by Galleazzi & Sons, San Francisco, circa 1925?
Gift of the family of Attilio Raeta
Italian-American Collection, San Francisco History Center



And what of Attilio Raeta? According to a memorial excerpted from the Cayuga Park Senior’s Club News Bulletin of March 1981:

   Attilio Raeta was born on October 9, 1895, in Bagniolo Irpino, in the Italian province of Avellino. His father Gaetano, was a railroad man, who died in Italy when Attilio was nine; his mother died in San Francisco when he was thirteen years old. He was forced to earn his way in a country whose language he did not know; consequently his American education was limited, since he had to obtain a job at an early age. He started as an office boy with the daily newspaper L'Italia and after several years with other American printing establishments he opened his own printing plant, which he operated for about twenty years. In later years he was an insurance and real estate broker.
   In 1915, he was enthusiastically applauded for his classical and standard musical renditions played on his "magic accordion" at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. In his Story of the Exposition  (vol. 4, page 97), Frank Morton Todd writes: "Galeazzi (sic) & Sons had on exhibition a full line of accordions and of stringed instruments, and a magical sort of device in the shape of a transposing organ, on which it was possible, by the setting of a dial, to play a melody in one key and have the organ produce it in another." (We wonder if this was Attilio's "magic" accordion? As for the Galleazzi accordion on display, we have no information other than the card on the back of the instrument.)
   In 1917 he married a San Francisco girl, Amelia Segali, with whom he celebrated sixty-three years of marriage. They had one daughter, Dorothy.

   His career in fraternal organizations began at the age of eighteen. Eventually he would serve eleven terms as president of the Italian Catholic Federation. He was a member of the Order of the Sons of Italy, serving as Orator, then Venerable, and finally Grand Venerable of the State of California. He was also Historian and First Vice President of the Cayuga Park Senior Club, where he founded, edited, and reported on activities for the club bulletin. He spent his spare time translating articles and stories from the Italian language to English.
   Attilio Raeta died at Cayuga Park in 1981. He is remembered as an able organizer, and a popular and forceful speaker.
Here in the San Francisco History Center, Attilio is remembered for his beautiful polychromatic piano accordion. His collection of memorabilia and scrapbooks was donated by his family to the San Francisco History Center, where it may be found in the Italian-American Collection.





Further digging in the library's Government Information Center unearthed more accordion history. In April 1990, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, after much campaigning by members of the accordion community, approved a resolution naming the piano accordion the official musical instrument for the City of San Francisco. The New York Times reported: “Elated fans said the accordion was just what San Francisco needed after the devastating earthquake that hit the city and other parts of Northern California” in 1989 (The New York Times, April 26, 1990).

The Board of Supervisors adopted the resolution on April 23, 1990, then sent it to Mayor Art Agnos to memorialize, proclaim and name the piano accordion the “OFFICIAL MUSICAL INSTRUMENT FOR THE CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO.” Mayor Agnos declined to sign his name to the resolution. Thus, the piano accordion remains San Francisco’s unofficial musical instrument. See the San Francisco City Charter, Section 1.3 through 1.6-1 for official designations.

Read more about the accordion in San Francisco:
 
History of Music in San Francisco: The Musical Trade, 1850-1940 (San Francisco: Work Projects Administration, [1941]
 
Ron Flynn et al. The Golden Age of the Accordion (Schertz, TX: Flynn Associates Pub. Co., 1990)

Ron Flynn. Some Thoughts About the Accordion in San Francisco [San Francisco]: R. Flynn, 1984 

Comments

  1. Avery nice article,thank you.As an accordion player,maker and collector I really took pleasure reading it.By the way,I wonder if this accordion is for sale.

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  2. Thank you! We love our piano accordion; its home is in the San Francisco History Center, where it may be seen along with many other artifacts, books, periodicals, digital and analog materials, photographs and documents recording the history of San Francisco. Our collection is here to stay, so sorry to disappoint you, but the accordion is not for sale.

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  3. This accordion looks really nice :-)

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  4. WOW MI NAME IS FRANCO RIZZO I HAVE THE PRIVLAGE TO OWN A NICE 120 BASS G,GALIAZZI ACCORDION IN MINT CONDITION IT PLAYS AWSOME I HAVE IT IN MY COLLECTION OF VINTAGE PRE WAR ACCORDIONS WOULD LIKE TO SEE PICS OF OTHER ACCORDIONS THEY HAVE MADE I LIVE IN VANOUVER BC CANADA .

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