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L.A. FEAST BRINGS HOME TOUCH OF ITALY.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

San Francisco has one. So does San Diego.

But Los Angeles - ranked sixth by the U.S. Census Bureau in cities with the most Americans of Italian descent - doesn't.

I'm talking about a Little Italy. A couple of blocks of Italian restaurants with smells rolling out the door guaranteed to blow your diet.

A few blocks of mom-and-pop delis filled with Italian cheese, salami, red peppers, olives, hard rolls, and everything else you need to build a great hero sandwich, and clog a few arteries.

Throw in a handful of local businesses and a couple of corner joints where the jukebox plays nothing but Sinatra, Dean Martin and Al Martino, and you've got it - all in one neighborhood.

Yeah, I know, can't happen here. Urban sprawl, and all that. The town's too big, too spread out.

So what's New York and Boston? Chatsworth?

What about San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, and all the other big cities with Little Italys?

It could happen in L.A. All you have to do is think big, like Doug DeLuca and his pal, comedian Jimmy Kimmel.

Three years ago, they turned a backyard talk about their childhoods into an annual Italian festival they hope will someday lead to a real Little Italy section in Los Angeles.

``We were reminiscing about growing up on the East Coast, and how much we missed the Feast of San Gennaro every year,'' said DeLuca, who produces the ``Jimmy Kimmel Live'' television show.

The feast, named for the patron saint of Naples, celebrates Italian culture, entertainment and food. The weekend event has been a tradition in New York for 76 years.

``I used to come in from Jersey with my family to celebrate my heritage, and Jimmy came from Brooklyn with his father, who was German, and his mother who was Italian.

``It was a big part of our culture growing up, and, as adults, we'd joke about bringing the feast out here one day. Well, that one day came three years ago.''

With the help of some of Los Angeles' most prominent Italian-American citizens, such as Tommy Lasorda and comedian Adam Carolla, the San Gennaro Foundation was formed to benefit local youth charities, including the Los Angeles Police Department's program for at-risk youths, and a support group for the children of police officers killed in the line of duty.

``The funds the Feast of San Gennaro raised for us last year helped make up for the cutbacks in state funding and meant that more than 400 at-risk kids got to stay active in swimming, soccer and dance programs we provide,'' said Dave Gajda, president of the board of directors of the Police Athletic League at the LAPD's Hollywood Division.

This support for local charities helps ease the guilt he'll feel this weekend at the third annual Feast of San Gennaro in Los Angeles ``gorging myself with meatballs,'' Kimmel joked Monday.

``If it wasn't for charity, we could have had a party in my back yard, instead. It was Little Italy every day in my back yard growing up.

``Seriously, all of us associated with the feast want to bring pride and recognition to the large Italian-American population living in Los Angeles.

``We know that many nationalities don't integrate in certain neighborhoods in Los Angeles like they do in other cities - that you can't manufacture a Little Italy.

``But that doesn't mean we can't try. Having our own Feast of San Gennaro one weekend a year is a good start.''

Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749

dennis.mccarthy(at)dailynews.com

IF YOU GO

--The San Gennaro Foundation fund-raiser will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at The Grove, Third Street and Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles. Tickets are $100 and $250. Call (818) 994-4661.

A celebration of Italian culture, with art, food and entertainment, will be held 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday through Sunday, also at The Grove.

For more information on the foundation's charity, call (310) 995-9039 or e-mail charities(at)sangennarofoundation.org.

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

At L.A.'s 2003 Feast of San Gennaro, comedian Jimmy Kimmel, left, Doug DeLuca and Gregg Cannizzaro, head of the foundation board, are shown carrying a statue.

Box:

IF YOU GO (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 21, 2004
Words:707
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