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Long Time Olvera Street Merchant Remembered

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Wednesday, June 10, 2009, at 11:28AM
The Merchant of Olvera Street Ed Fuentes

This photo of Melone Tanzini sits in front of his small Olvera Street store.

Flowers and photographs mark the passing of Sebastian Renaldo Melone Tanzini, a long time merchant of Olvera Street who passed away on May 23, 2009, after a brief illness.

Services were held Monday morning for the Italian-American Philadelphia native, known by those in and around El Pueblo as Melone Tanzini. In front of his store, photos and artifacts are on display, including a copy of a decades-old SAG card from the 1940's and a Baptism certificate that cites his birthdate as August 12, 1921.

Tanzini arrived in Los Angeles after serving in the United States Army during World War II. Here he met and befriended Christine Sterling during the early years of Olvera Street. Sterling, who was not shy ask people to help build her dream, had Tanzini use his skills as a carpenter to build some of the street's original puestos, the booths that sit in the middle of the small street turned merchant marketplace.

He himself became a merchant, selling wrought iron and later art prints and posters. For many, he's also known as the merchant who personalized headlines for an Olvera Street tourist staple: the novelty newspaper.

Also among the flowers are many photographs from the family's collection that document Olvera Street's history. Tanzini himself took many photos of the celebrities and dignitaries that toured El Pueblo. Visits by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, then Senator John F. Kennedy, and President Jimmy Carter were important benchmarks.

Tanzini's active work with Las Posadas and the Blessing of the Animals is also a large part of his legacy. Fittingly, as people came by to remember the merchant -- even if they did not know he also built some of the original booths -- the sounds of workers drilling and hammering new puestos echoed off the store he considered a second home.

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