John B. Lavezzorio

11 September 1870 – 2 June 1928

The story of John Lavezzorio was fairly easy to discover as his death was written up in the Chicago Tribune, and unfortunately it is a tragic one.

Lavezzorio was born in Genoa, Italy, to a family of laborers but was brought to Chicago by his father at the age of five. By the age of seven, he’d been apprenticed out (unclear to whom or what profession) and by fifteen, he held the responsible position of cashier with Garibaldi & Cuneo, a wholesale fruit firm.

He stayed in this business, but at 30, went out on his own, opening an establishment on the corner of Dearborn and South Water which was apparently successful enough to allow him to eventually add real estate to his portfolio.

By 1923, he owned the southwest corner of 63rd and Halsted which he leased to the S.S. Kresge Company on a 99 year lease (so… still a year left on that) for $1,000,000. The Kresge company had begun to expand from discount to higher-end department store offerings that same year, so it appears the lease was to allow for the upscale department store branch of the company to expand into the Chicago market. In 1977, the Kresge company changed its name to Kmart and it was eventually bought out by Sears Holding in 2005. I suppose it’s possible that Sears still holds that lease which will expire next year but that seems unlikely. Still, you have to love the hubris of those old pre-Great Depression tycoons.

These days, that exact corner lot is empty and the buildings on either side which were likely also built on Lavezzorio’s property (possibly by the Kresge Company as they appear to be about the right age or close to it for that) don’t have any branding on their stone edifices to confirm any association with that company or any 1930s occupants. Still just from the design, I expect they were Kresge department store buildings or part of a larger building that housed the department store in the 1920s and ’30s.

Lavezzorio also owned many other properties and had established a company called First Realty which seemed to have been focused on commercial properties and leasing. There’s no company in Chicago that still has that name but one wonders if some descendant of it is around somewhere holding onto that 99 year lease!

Lavezzorio had no children and was married to Maria Camponosi when he died, a woman fifteen years his junior who’d worked for his company as a clerk and cashier for twelve years before they married. The records, however, tell us he was married more than once though this is not mentioned in the write-ups or in his obituary.

John married his first wife, Francesca Ventura (1868 – 1919), the same year he launched his own fruit wholesale business (1900). In 1910, the couple lived at 1800 N. Clark Street in a building that appears to still be standing and in good shape. They had no children but did have a live-in housekeeper so were clearly doing quite well. Sadly, Francesca died in 1919 at the age of 51, possibly in the Great Pandemic. She was originally buried at Calvary in Evanston but was moved to Mount Carmel at a later date. However, she isn’t interred in her husband’s elaborate mausoleum, so one presumes this relocation preceded John’s death, and possibly Maria decided not to move the former wife yet again into the mausoleum. I am curious whose idea the elaborate mausoleum was. John had a few siblings so perhaps it was theirs or perhaps Maria wanted to really go big on honoring her husband.

In spite of all his success in business, John suffered from “nervous depression and insomnia.” Tragically, the trip to his summer home in Michigan was meant as a getaway from the stresses of the city and his business and was recommended by his doctors as a treatment for these complaints, but it was there that John took his own life, drowning himself in Saddle Lake.

Lavezzorio had been celebrated in life as a great success story, a Gilded Age tale of rags-to-riches and yanked bootstraps — an immigrant child who’d worked for a dollar a week becoming one of the wealthiest Italians in Chicago, and his realty colleagues denied any concerns about financial failure contributing to his death. Of course, the whole economy was doomed for disaster in the near future, but no one knew that in these last days of the Roaring Twenties.

Maria passed away in 1955. In 1930, she was living alone in a nice apartment on Addison and has no occupation listed (that building is also still standing and looks like any number of cute early 1900s now-condo blocks that can be found all over the city and inner-ring suburbs). I can find no probate records or other information to see how John’s estate was settled, though as I said, it seems she was taken care of even if things were shaken up by the economic collapse the year before. In her sister’s obituary from 1952, she’s still listed as Mrs. Lavezzorio (though her name is either misspelled or she’s changed the spelling over time) so it does not appear she ever remarried.

I rather expected to find more information on about who was interred in the mausoleum since you can peak in the windows so didn’t take pictures of that or make any notes, so while I believe Maria is interred with her husband, I couldn’t find a detailed death record or obituary to confirm that. I’ll check again next time I’m there.

It is interesting that in spite of the circumstances of his death, John is buried in a Catholic cemetery, but I expect either wealth or simply a kinder cleric allowed for this. That said, I’m not Catholic, so I’m not sure how strictly that exclusionary practice was observed in the modern era anyway.

RIP John, Francesca, and Maria Lavezzorio

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