The place where you live

Bella Vista

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Boundaries: South Street to Washington Avenue, west side of Sixth Street to 11th Street

Population: 6,800

Demographics: The oldest Italian neighborhood in the city is still a stronghold of ethnic settlers, but in recent years the population has diversified to include an influx of Vietnamese and Mexican residents and merchants. Bella Vista also houses a number of artists and independent art galleries. Residents under 18, 15 percent; ages 18-34, 30 percent; over 34, 55 percent.

Origin of name: The name is Italian and means "pretty view." Real-estate agents dubbed it Bella Vista as a selling point because many dwellings have views of the Center City skyline and Ben Franklin Bridge. "Of course there are other people out there who might try to claim they stamped that name on our community, but it was actually Realtors," says lifelong resident Vern Anastasio.

Brief history: Many Italian immigrants who entered Philadelphia via Washington Avenue gravitated to the neighborhood because it had become a settlement for natives of Spadafora, Sicily. The Palumbo Restaurant family, for one, built boarding homes for immigrants to the area. The first Italian immigrant bathhouse later became the Fante-Leone Pool at Montrose and Darien streets; the site soon will become the home of the Italian Memorial.

Alfred "Freddie" Cocozza, better known as opera legend Mario Lanza, was born in the neighborhood and made his first public appearance here. At 19, the tenor sang the Ave Maria at St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Church, 712 Montrose St., where he also served as an altar boy.

But Bella Vista also has lost some of its treasures. Among them are Verdi Hall, which opened in March 1905 at 713 Christian St. and later became an Italian cinema; and Fabiani Italian Hospital, founded by Giuseppe Fabiani in 1904, which used to be at 10th and Christian.

Dominic Lazzaro, honorary neighborhood historian, still lives in the house on the 700 block of South Sheridan Street that his parents, Nicolina and Domenico, bought when they wed in 1926. The couple raised six children there. Dominic, 68, still has family in the area: His sister, Helen, and her husband, Vincent Carnuccio, a Republican ward leader, live around the corner on the 600 block of Fitzwater.

Famous residents: Mario Lanza; Eddie Lang, born Salvatore Massaro in 1902, the "father of jazz guitar" and a Bing Crosby accompanist; author/lecturer and social activist Francis E.W. Harper, who devoted her life to championing the rights of slaves and free blacks; actress, director, playwright and Barrymore recipient Jennifer Childs

Major landmarks: Italian Market, said to be the country's oldest open-air market; the former Fante-Leone Pool; Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St.; Mariani Italian American Museum and Institute and the Mario Lanza Museum, 712 Montrose St.; Palumbo's Restaurant, which burned down in 1994, at Ninth and Catharine (now a Rite-Aid); the old Curtis Publishing Co.'s five-story printing facility at 1101 Washington Ave., soon to become a 78-condo building called Lofts at Bella Vista (also bordering Hawthorne).

Architecture: Federal, Colonial, Victorian and even post-Victorian. A lot of homes and buildings still have their original fa´┐Żades.

Median home sale price: $310,000

State Senate district: First, Vincent Fumo (D)

State House district: 175th, Marie Lederer (D); 182nd, Babette Josephs (D)

City Council district: First, Frank DiCicco

Ward: Second

Police district: Third

Civic groups and townwatches: Bella Vista United Civic Association, Bella Vista Town Watch

Schools: Fleisher Art Memorial (art classes taught there), 719 Catharine St.; George W. Nebinger Elementary School, Sixth and Carpenter streets; Christopher Columbus Charter School, 916 Christian St.

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