Striking a Chord at Chutes Park, Los Angeles, with Manfredi Chiaffarelli and his Italian Band, 1905-1906

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Today’s “Striking a Chord” entry highlights a program in the Homestead collection touting the performance of music by Signor Manfredi Chiaffarelli and his Italian Band at Chutes Park in Los Angeles, sometime between October 1905, when his engagement opened at the amusement park, and April 1906, when the run ended.

Chutes Park has been mentioned here before, as it was previously the site of an early public facility in Los Angeles called Washington Gardens, located between Main Street and Grand Avenue, east to west, and Washington Boulevard and 21st Street, north to south.  With all kinds of rides and attractions, a baseball stadium, and a 4,000-seat theater, Chutes Park was a major draw in the early 20th century.

Chutes Park music program front

The program’s front cover has the title “SOMETHING IN MUSIC / FOR MUSIC LOVERS”, a photo of conductor Chiaffarelli and the statement that he had fifty musicians in his ensemble.  Inside was a statement that the band

is the most expensive organization of its kind ever brought to Los Angeles, and it has just begun a limited season in concert presentation of the world’s greatest music.

Musical matinees held outdoors were offered every day but Monday and orchestral performances by the full band of “Fifty Italian Artists” were held on evenings five days a week, save Monday and Wednesday.  Special request programs were for Thursdays and Saturdays.

Also noted on the inside was the park’s endorsement of “descriptive compositions” bu Paul de Longpre, a well-known French artist, whose home in Hollywood was famed for its gardens and had frequent public visitation.  A half-dozen of his works were listed and described.

Chutes Park music program inside

On the reverse was an excerpt from a Los Angeles Express review of 14 September 1905 praising a concert of de Longpre’s compositions with his statement to the audience that focused largely on his tribute to Theodore Roosevelt, then president of the United States, and his Rough Riders with their legendary assault in Cuba, memorialized in the de Longpre piece, “Up San Juan Hill.”

As noted above, Chiaffarelli’s engagement at Chutes Park ran from 1 October 1905 to early April 1906 when it closed, so the program looks to be from the earlier part of that run, though this can’t be verified.

Chutes Park music program back

With regard to the band leader, he hailed from Isernia, Italy, a town in the central part of the country roughly between Rome and Naples and was trained in music in his native country, where he was said, by one American newspaper account, to be as famed a conductor there as John Phillip Sousa was in the United States.

In November 1902, he landed in New York after sailing from Naples and went to Philadelphia, where he had an extensive engagement early in the following year.  During the remainder of 1903, he worked in Iowa, Oregon, Washington and the Bay Area of California.  This was all done under the auspices of impresario Channing Ellery’s Royal Italian Band and news articles observed that Chiaffarelli was replacing a previous conductor because of his emotion, passion and genius.

From the Los Angeles Times, 16 November 1903.

That, however, appears to have led to a rupture with Ellery in summer 1904 when the combustible conductor suddenly left the band in Davenport, Iowa amid reports that his mental stability and physical constitution were in a shambles.  Chiaffarelli returned to Philadelphia where his wife and children remained and recovered.

By 1905, the bandleader, once referred to as the “picturesque Tuscan Titan,” had a new ensemble and toured the country, winding up in Los Angeles to open at Chutes Park.  After ending his run there, he played a benefit concert for victims of the San Francisco earthquake and fire, which occurred just after the Chutes Park gig concluded.  In 1908, he engaged his Los Angeles Italian Band in a series of concerts at Bullock’s department store and also played at the Pacific Electric Railway building in downtown.

Los Angeles Herald, 2 October 1905.

At the recently developed Venice of America community on the coast south of Santa Monica, Chiaffarelli had a long series of engagements there from early 1909 to fall 1913.  He then had a run at Coronado near San Diego the following year and played shows in the Bay Area.

The conductor, who applied for citizenship in Los Angeles in 1910 and was rejected four years later for “insufficient knowledge of the Constitution,” though he applied again in 1917, brought an opera called “One Night in Venice” to the seaside resort with a mixed review by the Los Angeles Times‘ critic Edwin Shallert (mentioned here before).

A cartoon, perhaps playing to Italian stereotypes in its depiction of Chiaffarelli and his Italian band, in the Times, 4 February 1906

Three years later, in 1920, Chiaffarelli premiered a lyric drama called “Lenore” at the Mason Theater in downtown Los Angeles, but then largely remained out of the public eye locally for nearly two decades, when he conducted some operatic aria performances in 1937.  He appears, instead, to have turned to more reliable employment and income as a music teacher in Los Angeles and Portland during the 1920s and 1930s and spent his final years in the former, where he died on the final day of 1943 at the age of 74.

Leave a Reply