53c-Serrapede Family in America: Emily Leatrice’s first studio portrait, 1932 Part 2


This posting is a continuation of 53c-Serrapede Family in America: Emily Leatrice’s first studio portrait, 1932 Part 1.

Albert Della Monica, the photographer and owner of the studio where Emily’s first portrait photo was taken, achieved the American Dream twice.  He not only achieved home ownership, he also owned his own business.  We thought his story was worth telling so we have presented the highlights of the Della Monica family’s history after arriving in America.

Albert Della Monica: Artist, businessman and homeowner

We don’t know why Albert used the name  Dell Monic on the label which he put on the picture frame for Emily Leatrice’s photo. Uncle Sammy thought the decorative elements to the left and right of the name on the label represented the letter “A”.  So we began our search using Della Monica.  A quick look-up in the 1933 Brooklyn City Directory proved Uncle Sammy was on target with the right name.

53c-Mom baby photo label

Close-up of the label on the frame of Emily Leatrice’s 1932 studio portrait.

53c-Della Monica Family 1933 Brooklyn Directory

1933 Brooklyn City Directory listing for the Della Monica family member.

We now had the correct spelling of the surname: Della Monica. We also had the following names of the family members and their professions:

Elisa, wife
Armand, clerk
Diana, fctywkr (factory worker)
Lucrezia, clerk

With this information it was easy to obtain census and immigration records for the Della Monica family. In fact, it was so easy it felt like they were nudging us to be included in the posting. So, we decided to do just that by summarizing the family’s activities in 1909 and then 1920-1930.

The Della Monica Family of Gravesend Brooklyn 1920-1930

Albert Della Monica was born on July 15, 1883 in Italy. He married Elisa Niola before coming to America. Albert and Elisa immigrated to New York on the Duca de Genova. They arrived in New York on October 11, 1909. The ship’s passenger list said they had come from Naples.

In the 1920 Federal Census the Della Monicas were listed as renting an apartment on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Their children were:

Diana, 9 years old, born in New Jersey
Armond, 7 years old, born in New Jersey
Lucretia, 5 years old, Born in New York
Emma, 3 years 5 months, born in New York

Albert was self-employed as a photographer. The family were still living on Flatbush Avenue as recorded in the 1925 New York State Census. For this census Albert’s profession is described as “artist.” By 1930, the family achieved the American dream. The Della Monicas owned their own home at 2106 West 9th Street. The house was worth $7,000 according to the 1930 Federal Census entry. The following family members were employed as:

Albert, photographer
Diana, dressmaker
Armand, Broker’s office
Lucrezia, Furniture store

Albert had done well for a self-employed photographer. In 20 years he and his wife were home owners. He provided for his family and his 3 eldest children had steady work. This doesn’t mean, though, that life was easy for a self-employed photographer. Some additional reading turned up competitors that could offer quick and inexpensive photographs to the public.  These competitors had their well known names and a variety of means to attract customers to use their studios.

A&S Basement Store

53c-Brooklyn Daily Eagle Oct 20 1932 Photograph A and S

A&S advertises their Smile Contest in the October 20th, 1932 edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

In 1930 A&S Department store on Fulton Street in Downtown Brooklyn opened an in-store photo studio. For $1 a customer could have their photo taken. In 1932 to attract customers to the studio the store sponsored a Smile Contest. Whoever had their photo taken at the A&S photography studio was automatically entered into a contest. The top prize was $5,000.

When you browse through other issues of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle from this time period, you’ll see advertisements such as this one throughout the 1930s. The large prize payments or items given in lieu of money were a great incentive to use department store photo services instead of going to an independent studio. We do not know how Mr. Della Monica adapted as this trend continued because the research efforts produced no results after 1933.

Discussion with Uncle Sammy on February 14, 2016 11-11:30 a.m.

What impresses us as we review the photo collection Josie left us is how beautiful the cardboard frames were in the 1930s. It’s as if the studios knew people had to watch their budgets and provided the frames as a bonus. They are very sturdy and have a stand in the back or a way to support the photo so that it may be placed on a table. Some even have a separate piece of cardboard with a hole punched in it on the back of the frame. This would make it easier to hang the photo on the wall. These frames are also a clever way for the photographer to advertise the studio. Anyone viewing the photo would know where to go if they liked the quality of the image.

We then discussed our memories of having our photos taken as children. Uncle Sammy said the first childhood studio he remembers was taken at Marcy Photo Studios on New Utrecht Avenue in Brooklyn. It was a hand colored photo that had the look of an oil painting. He remembered the experience positively.

The first studio photo I remember did not take place in a studio. My parents arranged with one of the Brooklyn department stores to have a photographer from their studio come to our house. This may have been done through A&S or Sears Roebuck. The photographer brought along a big white screen, some lamps, his camera and a tripod to the house. We had to wear bright colors so that the photo would look very vivid and fresh. Grandma Josie saved this photo and it’s a reminder to me that whatever you pay for a studio photo is worth it.

The stark white background reflected the light well but it was not a flattering light. My sibling looked much better in his grey slacks and grey and red sweater. In contrast the red of my jacket looked too red. For some reason the photographer told Mom to put some red lipstick on me. Between the bright red sweater and the red lipstick I look like one dorky little girl. I’m still of the opinion that a studio photo would have resulted in better lighting and a better quality to the color.

My parents never had a photographer come to the house again. Dad used his different Polaroid cameras and I used my Brownie box camera to take pictures at family events.  As time went by the trend in our home was to take photos of events as they happened. The idea of going to pose for a studio portrait held no appeal for my family after the mid-1960s.


Subway Route From 66th Street to West 9th Street
Subway-4th Avenue Local


1931 Subway Map
Brooklyn Elevated Lines
NYC Subway Maps.org


Culver Shuttle


Sea Beach Line


1933 Brooklyn City Directory|
Listing for Della Monica, Albert
2106 West 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY

Records for the Della Monica Family

1920 and 1930 Federal Census records Della Monica Family
hips manifest Duca di Genova, October 11, 1909

Department Store Photo Studios

1930 A&S ad from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
September 24th, 1930, page 73.
Brooklyn Public Library Brooklyn Newsstand


1932 A&S ad from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
October 20th, 1932, page 3.
Brooklyn Public Library Brooklyn Newsstand



4 thoughts on “53c-Serrapede Family in America: Emily Leatrice’s first studio portrait, 1932 Part 2

  1. My parents had some studio portraits done of us as kids—in black and white. They were lovely. When we had Sears do our daughter’s portrait in 1980, they were so awful that even her grandparents hid them in a drawer! (And she was a gorgeous baby, IMHO.) So we never had studio portraits done again. 🙂

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    1. Oh thanks for sharing. You have just made me feel better about my parent’s decision. Our neighbors thought we were too thrifty. There was a certain amount of status attached to studio or in home photos over candid photos. I learned that there are advantages to each thanks to my paternal Uncle Robert who took pro level photos.

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