When walking around in Hoboken, you're reminded of Frank Sinatra all over the place.
There's the city's entrance sign, the star on Monroe Street indicating his birthplace—which was razed in 1968 after a major fire a year earlier, yet the archway is still there—and the park that's off limits until repairs are done that's along the namesake's Drive by the waterfront. Yes, one of the United State's greatest musicians was born here and single-handedly put Hoboken on the map, but did he genuinely care about where he came from and those who loved him?
I recently sat down with Lenny Luizzi, town historian and lifelong Hobokenite, to get his thoughts on the allure of a legend.
Jason Stahl: Do you have any Sinatra stories?
Lenny Liuzzi: Everybody over the age of 60 who grew up in Hoboken has a Sinatra story and I'm no exception. In 1979, I was the transportation coordinator on a film called Atlantic City starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon. Thanksgiving weekend, guess who's appearing at Resorts International? Frank Sinatra! I'm telling Burt my Sinatra shtick–his mother lives up the block, I know his cousin Buddy, I know his cousin Franky… So my wife and kids come down for Thanksgiving Day weekend. Sunday night, they go home. I go up to my room and my phone rings. It's Burt Lancaster. He says 'I want you and your wife to come with me to see Frank Sinatra.' Oh my god, she just left. With that, there's a knock on the door. It's my father, who knew Sinatra when he was younger. I told Burt I'll bring my father. Now I may lose my Hoboken citizenship for saying this, but I was never a fan of Sinatra–take him or leave him. But when I saw him live, there truly was electricity in the air. We sat at the table with his wife Barbara, and Burt, and a few other people—there were about 14 of us. We watched the show, then they had security rope us off. At the end of the show Frank just walks off the stage. No curtain calls—goodbye, gone. A 60-year-old woman was standing on a table, screaming, jumping up and down. Then they take us out into the hallway. Barbara goes into the Camelot restaurant and we have to wait until Frank is ready. We come in and Barbara introduces everyone to Frank. So now it's my turn. 'Frank, this is Lenny Luizzi. He's working on Burt Lancaster's new movie' —like Frank's really impressed. He goes 'Oh yeah!' Barbara then goes, 'Frank, Lenny's from Hoboken.' He takes a step forward, he's about [5'8"] and I'm telling you his eyes were blue. I never saw blue like this. He looks at me, and he says 'hey kid, how are things in Hoboken?' I looked at Frank and as eloquently as I could muster, I said 'humuna humuna humuna.' What do you say to Frank Sinatra?
JS: Why are a lot of stories about Frank Sinatra negative?
LL: Frank had a distaste not for Hoboken, but for the Hoboken people. In 1947 the McFeely administration was overthrown. He was the mayor for 17 years, and commissioner for 30 years. It was the end of the German-Irish rule in Hoboken and Hoboken gets its first Italian mayor–Fred De Sapio. This was February 1948. Sinatra comes back. There's a big parade down Washington Street and Sinatra is on a fire truck with his father. There was a big catering hall on 6th and Hudson, the Union Club. On the second floor there was a huge ballroom. That night they had a big ball. Sinatra starts to sing and the people boo him and in mid-song–my mother and father were there – Sinatra stops and says 'you didn't come here to hear me sing.' And he leaves. Off the fire escape, out the stage door, gets in his car and says 'I'll never come back.' Now that's February 1948. Sinatra doesn't make another public appearance in Hoboken until July 1984 with President Reagan. He made one other public appearance [in 1985] when Stevens gave him an honorary degree and that's the last time. He would never make another public appearance [in Hoboken]. But that's why he'd down talk about Hoboken. Old-timers resented him. People used to go out to Californaia and put the bite on him. Sinatra was an easy touch, believe it or not, and Lancaster told me that. There was resentment. I met the man once and he was nice to me.