The Mystery of “Pasquale’s Tower”
If you are strolling the Broadway block between Columbus Avenue and the steep slope of Montgomery Street, look up the hill and your eye might alight upon an unusual structure. A white tower, four stories tall, topped with a Mediterranean blue dome, sits among the jumble of apartments and houses clinging to the hillside. If you are not looking for it, this tower is easy to miss.
On foot, “Pasquale’s Tower” is accessible only from Dunnes Alley, a short stretch of pavement that juts off from Kearny Street. If you walk down the alley a bit, you approach a set of intricate gates with ironwork forming the letters,”GOGNA.” The original tower has a set of apartments at the base, probably added at a later date.
Pasquale’s Tower Legend
Local legend has it that Pasquale Gogna came from Italy to work at some manner of trade, perhaps at the nearby Produce Market. He bought an undesirable lot for a cheap price and built a 4-story tower with one room on each level. It is said that Pasquale sent to Italy for his wife after the house was finished, but she didn’t like it. She left, and Pasquale was heartbroken.
That’s the legend, anyway. It’s undoubtedly a interesting theory but who knows?
Ti Penso Sempre
When I first walked up Dunnes Alley toward the tower, on the retaining wall someone had painted a tricolor Italian flag design with the words: “Ti Penso Sempre” underneath. Translated from Italian, this means “I Think of You Always.” Was this Pasquale’s tribute to his lost love? I can’t find anything to support this romantic theory, but it is nice to contemplate. Sadly, on my last visit, the bittersweet sentiment had been painted over now and replaced with “Pasquale’s Tower.”
Who Really Built Pasquale’s Tower?
Based on my reading, the building of the tower is attributed to a Pasquale “Pete” Gogna. In her book, “San Francisco’s North Beach and Telegraph Hill” Catherine A. Accardi writes, “In 1930, Pasquale Gogna built his romantic tower dwelling overlooking Broadway.”
I continued with the SFMOMA site, where one photo is captioned with the following: “…Pasquale’s Tower, built in 1930 by baker/hotelier Pasquale Gogna. One of the legendary structures of Telegraph Hill, this tower located at the end of Dunnes Alley consists of four small square rooms stacked together and topped with a dome in a supposedly Genoese manner.” An excerpt from the National Trust Guide, San Francisco claims “Pasquale Gogna, a baker who owned several hotels in the neighborhood built the odd tower at the end of the alley in 1930 for his residence.”
Why the Mystery?
The problem comes when you compare dates. The tower was built in 1930, but records available from that time show Pasquale Gogna living in Stockton that year. The June 1917 Crocker-Langley San Francisco city directory shows Pasquale Gogna’s residence at 548 Green Street, quite a few blocks away on the north side of Telegraph Hill. Another record from 1920 shows Pasquale Gogna, again with a San Francisco residence. Marriage records, however, show that Pasquale Gogna married a Rose Lagomarsino in January of 1920, in Stockton.
The only pertinent record I could locate after 1920 is an annual report from the Superintendent of Banks of the State of California, showing a Pasquale Gogna with an address of 26 Dulles. This is possibly a misprint, maybe referring to the addresses of 2-6 Dunnes Alley, and which he may have still have owned in 1948, the date of the publication.
Looking a little further into Pasquale Gogna’s history, I found census records that showed he was born in Mongiardino, Alessandria, Italy in 1892. Mongiardino is a municipality located in the province of Alessandria and the region of Piemonte. Alessandria is located in the northwest corner of Italy, not far from the seacoast and the city of Genoa. During the early part of the 20th century, there was a large influx of Italians into San Francisco from the regions of Piemonte and Liguria. It would seem logical then that Pasquale would construct a building in the Genoese style, far from his birthplace but in a predominantly Italian district of San Francisco, North Beach.
I found no evidence to show that Pasquale ever came back to live in San Francisco. He lived in Stockton until his death in 1981. We will probably never know why and for whom this mysterious tower was built.
Helping to Solve the Mystery of Pasquale’s Tower
In the time since I first wrote this article, several people came forward to add to my research and to provide corrected information about Pasquale Gogna. I am most grateful to each and every person who helped to contribute. Their comments are reproduced below.
November 18, 2014
Great write up! I’ve always wondered about this building and it is awesome to see that others are curious as well. I recently found a book called “San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill”, by David F. Myrick (1972) that may help shed more light on this mystery. The following was on page 117:
“Pasquale Gogna built the house in 1930. Arriving in San Francisco in 1907, he worked as a baker and through frugality he was able to join his brother in purchasing several small hotels in the city. The tower consists of four square rooms directly above each other, with access provided by an enclosed stairway on the west side of the building. In the northern corners of each room are two alcoves which collectively house the usual appurtenances found in kitchens and bathrooms. With the sink in one corner, the stove in another and so on, this arrangement offered some inconveniences, but the spectacular view offset these minor annoyances. Mr. Gogna must have enjoyed the house, for he lived there comfortably—with all utilities—until January 1956, when his arthritic condition caused him to move into his brother’s home on Russian Hill, after which the tower was rented. As the tower attracts much attention, a wrought-iron gate—with the name GOGNA in black metal letters on the top of the grill—has been erected to keep out trespassers.”
It looks like perhaps Pasquale went by “Pete” most frequently, because in the 1956 & 1961 City Directories, a “Pete Gogna” lived at 1657 Mason with Eugenio and Emily Gogna (perhaps his brother and sister-in-law?). Eugenio was listed as the manager of the Italian-American Hotel at 838 Sansome (about a block away from the tower, on Sansome between Broadway and Pacific). Interestingly, the Italian-American Hotel is still in business as a residential hotel. I found some different pages showing Eugenio was born May 22, 1893 and died in San Francisco in November 1971.
December 8, 2014
My Great Grandfather was Pasquale Gogna from Stockton, Ca. and My Great Grandmother was Rosa Lagomarsino who lived in San Francisco with her Mother Maria Lagomarsino. After the death of Maria, Rosa and her half brother Leo Arrigoni moved to Stockton and some time around 1919-1920 she married Pasquale Gogna. You can find the family information on Ancestry.com along with photo’s and more family information. I’m not sure if this Tower has anything to do with my Great Grandfather but I sure would enjoy finding out more about the history behind Pasquale’s Tower.
January 5, 2015
I have some info. on Pasquale Gogna who was born 1883 lived in San Francisco. He never married and built the tower for himself. I also have census records and Immigration record from Ancestry.com. You can find it on facebook I also found a a death record for Pasquale Gogna Sept. 16, 1958 in Colma, Ca. Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery. I can’t prove it is the same Pasquale but it’s the only record I can find on this Pasquale Gogna. In his Immigration it shows father name as Francesco Gogna and again who knows if this is true.
March 26, 2015
Saybrina, great info! I did a little more research (censuses, city directories, etc.) and found more information. It looks like there were two Pasquale Gognas—one in San Francisco and your Great-Grandfather in Stockton. Given that they both lived in Northern California and were born around the same time, I’m not surprised to find several sources that mixed the information for both together. However, in looking at several sources over a span of years, below is what I found:
#1) Pasquale Gogna Family in San Francisco
Born: 7/15/1885 (or 1883—depending on source), Montjardino, Italy
Death: 9/12/1958, San Francisco
Brother: Eugenio Gogna (b. 1893)
Sister-in-Law: Armida (b. 1900)
Niece: Rona (b. 1922)
Nephew: Alnado (b. 1929)
Throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, city directories list this family living at the Italian-American Hotel at 838 Sansome, with Pasquale periodically listed as being the manager. By the late ‘40s, the family moved to 1657 Mason while continuing to manage the hotel. Meanwhile, Pasquale was listed as living at the tower property as early as 1925. The family also started managing the Cavour Hotel at 379 Broadway a block down the street from the tower.
#2) Pasquale Gogna Family in Stockton
Born: 3/17/1890 (or 1892—depending on source), San Lorenzo, Italy
Death: July 1981
On a side note, I discovered that separate parties originally owned the original three lots that make up the tower property. Pasquale Gogna originally purchased the land directly under the tower in 1920 and adjacent land (that I believe mainly encompasses the cliff in front of the tower) in 1933. Interestingly, the land under which the current apartment building, that is attached to the left of the tower, was still owned by someone else in 1944, but was owned by the Gogna family by 1960. That apartment building was built in 1957 after Pasquale moved out. To see a picture of what the tower originally looked like (in 1953), see this link:
June 20, 2015
David, My grandfather is William Gogna who is the oldest of the five boys that my Great Grandparents had Roy and Ray are twins and the youngest is Uncle Ernie. Thanks for sharing this information and I will keep up on the search.
I welcome your comments or additional information about Pasquale’s Tower. It has been quite an adventure learning about this remarkable building. Thanks to those who have provided me with more insight into Pasquale Gogna’s history!
North Beach and Telegraph Hill History on Amazon
All photos by author except where indicated