The John Pirelli Lodge #1633 was named for an Italian aviator, Giovanni Pirelli, who was testing planes at Wright Patterson Air Force Base during WW I. He died while testing a plane in 1919. Prior to his arrival in the United States the Lieutenant had distinguished himself repeatedly as a military aviator over the Austrian Front in WW I. When his family (Pirelli Tires of Milan, Italy) came to Dayton for the funeral and burial, the members of our lodge met with them and assisted in arrangements for shipping the body to New York for eventual shipment overseas, including acting as interpreters with the military, inviting the family to dinner and providing hospitality while they were here. His photo is located in the dining room of Bella Villa Hall.
The John Pirelli Lodge was originally organized as Societa di Mutuo Soccorso Italiana, Dayton, Ohio and had a meeting place on Wayne Avenue in the East End of Dayton where the early Italian immigrants settled, along First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Streets. They shared St. Joseph Catholic Church with Irish immigrants and Holy Trinity Church with German immigrants. Third Street became the hub of activity. There were Italian restaurants and grocery stores in the area, and an Italian gelataria (Malted Milk Shop) that everyone patronized. The early immigrants came to America because they could not feed their families in Italy due to famine. In Dayton, many became fruit peddlers, restaurateurs, and/or worked in local factories.
They all had very large families and helped each other. The Italian immigrants in the area came from Southern Italy. In 1938 there were only 300 Italians in Dayton. Now we number in the thousands due to settling in the area after attending University of Dayton or being transferred here in the military or for business.
Bella Villa Hall became the home of the John Pirelli Lodge back in the fifties. Ten acres of wooded ground were acquired at 2625 County Line Road, surrounded by corn fields. Members would cook breakfast in the woods with their families, and have picnics every Monday or Tuesday during the summer. They would play bocce, horseshoes, softball, badminton and shuffleboard. Women were permitted to join the Order during the 40’s. Activities also included sausage fries, dinner dances, parties and Christmas parties for the children. They would hold their membership meetings on the First Tuesday at banks and various places until they built Bella Villa in the fifties, which they financed through selling bonds. Columbus Day Dinner Dances were the big event of the year, being held at local hotel ballrooms and attracting hundreds of members and guests. For a while Columbus Day Parades were held in Downtown Dayton complete with floats, bands, and beautiful Italian American girls riding on the back of convertibles! The Italian Festa was begun in 1978!