Olneyville Oral History Project

Olneyville Oral History Project


For its 25th anniversary, the Olneyville Housing Corporation compiled an oral history of the neighborhood, with interviews conducted by Vera Carothers and Carolina Buitrago during the summer of 2013.The final result was an exhibit showcasing stories from community members, historical images and documents of Olneyville since its founding in 1785, displayed at City Hall, Yellow Peril Gallery on Valley Street, and at OHC’s 25th Anniversary celebration.


You can listen excerpts of the interviews below, in Spanish or English as indicated.


Jaime Blancas

Dueño de La Lupita

Jaime Blancas“Cuando recién llegamos aquí, Olneyville estaba en unas condiciones no muy agradables; era muy sucio aquí y no había tanto negocio como ahora. Hemos visto en los últimos 10 años cambios para bien.”


Alvaro Morales

Residente y activista

Alvaro Morales“Yo pienso que lo mejor es que cuando uno pide ayuda la gente siempre está ahí para decir sí y todos colaboran, yo pienso que esa es la respuesta más común. No se niegan, dicen “O sí, vamos a hacerlo, todos juntos”.


Abelardo Hernandez

Residente y activista

Abelardo Hernandez“Los cambios que he visto desde la época que estoy activamente involucrados, son que hay un poco más de lugares para los niños, como playgrounds, hay diversidad de comida; restaurantes, anteriormente no se veía mucho comida Centroamericana, ahora ya hay comida Centroamericana, Dominicana, Puertorriqueña, tenemos todavía el icono de Olneyville que es el wieners del NY System, eso no ha cambiado.”


Waleska Pinto (with her family)

Activista del barrio, Fundadora de Olneyville Homeowners Association

Waleska Pinto“Como éramos todos dueños de casa decidimos ser Olneyville Homeowners Association cual, lo que nosotros hacíamos era hablar en nuestras casas, nos reunimos en diferentes casas, éramos alrededor de quince familias… y lo hicimos porque queríamos que la policía estuviera pendiente, que los políticos cuando llamaremos los políticos nos ayudará por la cuestión de inmigración y de trabajo.”


Tom Lopotosky

Neighborhood Resident & Owner of Lopco Contracting

Tom Lopotosky“Each of [the Atlantic Mills towers] were bell towers. When it was 5:30 in the morning and it was time to signify the shift change or call the workers to work, they used to ring the bells there like it was a church bell, and all the workers would come down to the mills.”


Sabina Matos

Councilwoman, Ward 15

Sabina Matos“One thing that I always brag about Olneyville when I go to other areas is the way how, specifically the nonprofit organizations in the area, have been working together and building on what the other is doing. You don’t see this competition between the organizations, it seems more like a collaboration. And that is very unique and special.”


Rick Mancuso

Neighborhood Resident

Rick Mancuso“The river is kind of in my blood… the kids would come and swim in the twilight of the evening, the teenage boys would go down there, and they’d call it, if you’ll excuse me, the Bare Ass Paradise because the kids would swim in the The Box, they called it. And the girls from up on the hill sometimes would sneak down, the more adventurous ladies, and swim with the guys as well.”


Norman Roy

Former Neighborhood Resident

Norman Roy“They had 5 cents hamburgers next to the Olympia theater, they were hamburgers for a nickel, they were dipped in a red sauce. They were very good, 5 cents, but if you went across the street towards the white tower, they were ten cents per hamburger– but they had a pickle in it, that was the big difference.”


Nancie Trasko

Former Neighborhood Resident

Nancie Trasko“Every afternoon at 1 o’clock, my mother and Mary’s mother across the street used to take a walk into Olneyville and they used to shop in Olneyville. They’d go to the markets and they’d go for that nice walk. And then one time I had a serious operation and I couldn’t go to work so then I started walking with my mother too, there and back again.”


Mike Solomon

City Council President and Owner of Wes’ Rib House

Mike Solomon“My grandfather came to this country, I think, 100 years ago and one thing I learned from my grandfather, which I learned from my father, is that if your community is good to you, then you have to be good back to your community.”


Mark Sawtelle

Local Historian

Mark Sawtelle“It was sort of a satellite downtown to downtown Providence. For many years, Olneyville Square was just as busy as downtown. It was actually so crowded that in the late 1940s, they built a highway bypass around it…But it was never a fancy place, it was a working neighborhood, where people could still make a nice, honest living and have nice meals on Sunday, and kids could play in the street, even after dinner.”


Maria Mancuso

Neighborhood Resident

“Now as we were growing up, we didn’t have to go a lot of places, because the vegetable man would come with a truck and we’d buy from the vegetable man, the fish man would come and we’d buy from the fish man.  A lot of us didn’t have refrigerators; we had ice boxes, so if you needed a 10 cent piece of ice, we’d put the sign in the window and he’d bring it up…”


Lt. Dean Isabella

Providence Police Department

Lt. Dean Isabella“People are afraid to report crimes if they are undocumented workers; we try to do a lot of work to prevent that from happening. Over the last ten years, I’ve had a lot a lot of contact with the Central American population, the Hispanic population in Olneyville… a very important thing we try to do in Providence is try to make sure everybody feels that the law represents them, no matter what their circumstance.”


Leo Tracey

Owner of Cathedral Art Metal

Leo Tracey“There used to be a lot of little jewelry companies around, that was a big part of Olneyville at the time, and you see a lot less of that now. But you see different things coming in…places like the Salvadorian bakery over there, which continue to reflect the type of Central American and Spanish influences.”


Jenine Bressner

Artist and Resident

Jenine Bressner“In a few decades, Providence became the jewelry capital of the world and to look at the floorboards here, to look at the spaces, if you look in between the floorboards there are fake pearls and rhinestones and fake gold beads… so for me to contemporarily be making jewelry and working with textiles in these spaces but in new ways, makes me feel like another link in a chain.”


Jane Sherman

Founder of Woonasquatcuket River Watershed Council

Jane Sherman“The parks are the barometers of the health of our neighborhoods. And right now, if you look at the care the community is giving to the parks and they are using the parks, it’s a really good barometer of where Olneyville is at the moment.”


Lucille Furia

Former Principal of William D’Abate Elementary School

Lucille Furia“I just hope that the children learn, between the Woonasquatucket River Greenway and the fact that maybe their parents are owning homes, they develop an understanding of what it means to be a steward of the earth, and to take care of it, and to understand that you have a voice and the only way things are ever going to move is when people are united.”


Greg Stevens

Fourth Generation Owner of Olneyville New York System

Greg Stevens“Well another great slice of Olneyville, who would think Olneyville has a bike path? No one would think of that. Olneyville, you mention to the average person and they would think, crime, drugs, prostitution, they wouldn’t think bike path.”


Frank Shea

Executive Director of Olneyville Housing Corporation

Frank Shea“The things that struck you were the kind of strong institutions in the neighborhood: the D’Abate School and Nickerson House and the Watershed Council were all active and positive in the neighborhood. Now, there’s so much more of that kind of activity. The collaborative that we work with in the neighborhood now has twenty-four or twenty-five members, and back then there were two or three or four institutions playing a positive role.”


Father Raymond Tetrault

Resident and Retired Pastor at St. Teresa’s Church

Father Tetrault 2“I’ve been their [Latinos in Olneyville] priest for many, many years, for forty years, so I know children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. I see life and I see death, all the turmoil that goes into it, struggle, I’ve participated with people in their sorrows and in their joys: their weddings, their baptisms, trials, all kinds of problems that happen in any immigrant family that is unsettled.”


Daniel Schliefer

Resident and Member of What Cheer? Brigade

Daniel Schliefer“[Why do artists come to Olneyville?] It’s a combination of the cheap space and the fact that there is already a community here… We’ve just strived to create a space where there is freedom but where nobody’s freedom is going to impinge on somebody else’s sense of personhood.”


Cathy Bonetti

Olneyville Post Office Employee

Cathy Bonetti“Olneyville’s not really that big of a place if you look at the map. And, I mean, I have seen every type of Spanish: Guatemala, people from El Salvador… I have seen Nigerians, Liberians, my god, people from Ghana… and they come in and they wait in line, and sometimes they wait longer than others, and there’s not a lot of grumbling going on.”


Carlos Fierros

Owner of Chilangos Taqueria

Carlos Fierros“[Tenemos] Pintores, escultores, escritores, fotógrafos, y es muy bonito porque realmente es lo que la comunidad necesita. Ahora me doy cuenta que hay bastantes, hace tiempo descubrí que está Studio 4 aquí en seguida y veo muchísimos artistas subiendo y bajando toda Manton… y eso es bueno, por un lado demuestra que hay seguridad y por el otro demuestra la diversificación que hay. Gente artística es la que queremos, personas talentosas.”


Anthony Solomon

Owner of Anthony’s Pharmacy

Anthony Solomon“I think my favorite aspect is that we are starting to see a mixing of the old and the new. The old is still the old-timers in the neighborhood and the new is the immigrants who are coming in. A lot of them are from overseas, they’ve never had this kind of freedom, they are coming here, they are all excited. For them this is new and it’s nice to see that look on their face.”


Xander Marro

Artist and Co-Founder of the Dirt Palace

Xander Marro“There are kind of unlikely allies that are brought together by everyone’s shared sense of vulnerability, whether it is artists living illegally in warehouses, immigrants living without papers, realizing the commonality between different ways of living that all, at any moment, could be snatched away because you don’t have some documentation or something isn’t right…”


Olneyville Square

Olneyville Square picture 2“In Olneyville Square, we had two movie theaters, one called The Royal and one called Jackie Kahn’s, both cost ten cents. We had a bowling alley there, we had McCaffrey’s soda fountain, we had a five and dime store… we had the White Tower with hot dogs, we had a Boys Club, a department store called San Souci… we had Kennedy’s Buttery, where you went to buy butter, we had Nickerson House, where we had our teeth fixed as children.”


Olneyville Boys Club

Olneyville Boys Club picture 3“What [the Boys Club] did was gave you a safe haven from some of the harsher realities of the neighborhood, and it gave you a chance to socialize with a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds. You’d have kids whose families were squarely in the middle class with kids whose families were poor… a lot of people from Olneyville who went on to be successful later in life did so because they had that safe haven in the Boys and Girls Club.”


Riverside Park

Riverside Park After 1“I go to Riverside Park and I see a mom teaching her daughter or son how to ride a bike. I see people jogging, I see grandparents with their kids playing in the park, and I am thrilled. I think the bike path is wonderful… it has become a safer place for people to play, and this has given the community pride in their neighborhood.”