Preserve Little Italy

In 2010 ISYS (now the YESS Research Center) began a collaboration with San Diego’s Little Italy Association (LIA) to research and document the rich history and geographies of San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood. A $40,000 grant was secured from the National Park Service through the Preserve America program, with matching funds committed by LIA and the office of County Supervisor Ron Roberts.

Artifacts of Little Italy


The long-range goal of this project was to increase opportunities for heritage tourism in Little Italy, with research and documentation representing the first step in this direction. Geographers at SDSU were also interested in critically examining the ways in which the history and place identity of the neighborhood were understood by those inside and outside of the neighborhood and were sensitive to the emotional geographies of community members.


Project Methodology:

The project included collection of interviews of people with knowledge of the community’s history, review of existing books and articles about the neighborhood, an inventory of historic structures and sites in the neighborhood, and identification of historic documents, photos and artifacts that can be used to help visitors understand the local history and geography. All of this information was be tied together through mapping, with the goal being to use maps to help visitors navigate through the neighborhood and connect with its history through multimedia resources.

Engaging members of the community

Project Team:

The project was  exciting because it provided SDSU and local K-12 students with project-based learning experiences and opportunities to engage with the diversity of local neighborhoods and communities. Two Department of Geography graduate seminars – Professor Stuart Aitken’s Politics and Place seminar in Fall 2010 and Dr. Fernando Bosco’s City and Memory seminar in Spring 2011, both of which were co-taught by Project Director Dr. Thomas Herman and Research Coordinator Dr. Giorgio Hadi Curti –  incorporated fieldwork for the “Preserve Little Italy” project as part of their curricula. MA student Lydia Wood also made significant contributions to the project as part of her Graduate Assistantship. Local partnerships were  established with High Tech High School and Washington Elementary School.

Collaboration with neighborhood residents

Internet Links and Project Resources

2012 State of the Neighborhood Presentation


USGS 1:62,500 San Diego Quadrangle, 1904 edition based on 1902 survey


Video: segment on Little Italy from Ken Kramer’s “About San Diego”

Video: 2008 Sicilian Festival


Reprinted Union-Tribune article from 9/5/2009: “San Diego was once ‘tuna capital'”

Union-Tribune article from 9/26/2009: “Tuna canneries’ lasting legacy”

La Prensa San Diego article from 8/14/1998: “The Pillar Remembered: The Story of the Cannery Workers”

California Division of Fish and Game, Fish Bulleting No. 51: “The High Seas Tuna Fishery of California”

July 1922 article from The American Food Journal: “Tuna Fish Packers on Coast Merge”

Video: Port of San Diego Honors Tuna Cannery Workers

Video: “Tuna – From Catch to Can,” 1950s industry film made by Chicken of the Sea