Harry A. Franco 

                 Χαρίλαος  Α. Φραγκογιάννης 

                 A Family Portrait

                 

                 For more Franco family photographs, please click here

                     

 



Harry Franco's story will inspire all Greek-Americans. From this man's humble beginning on the island of Mytilini, his decision to come to America with his brothers, success as a San Francisco restaurant owner, a difficult decision to leave everything and fight in the Balkan Wars, to marriage, numerous successes, and becoming an influential member of the San Francisco Greek community. 

 

Stella and Vicky

Harry Franco had two daughters, Euridiki (Vicki) and Stiliani (Stella) (pictured left), and one son, Venizelos. This family portrait was developed through several interviews with Vicki, Stella, and Harry Franco's nephew Gus Franco. We also utilized several documents that exist regarding the Franco family. We thank the Franco family for sharing their photographs and many stories with us. 


 


The Franco Family Tree 

When Harry emigrated to the United States, four of his brothers and two sisters emigrated as well. They were Giannis (John), Euripedes, Ahilea (Achilles), Stavros (Steve), Thalassinos, Anthipi, and Virginia. 

As for Harry's family, Stella married Benedict (Ben) Falkowski in 1943 and they had two sons; Joseph and James, and one daughter, Victoria. Victoria has four children; Tony, Rico, Reno, and Lola. Venizelos married Kiki Lentos in 1946 and they had one daughter, Libby. Libby married Dan Jones and they have one daughter, Cathy. Vicky married Athanasios Vozikes in 1947. They had no children but they proudly boast of seven nieces, seven nephews, twelve grandnephews, and eight grandnieces. 

Thallassinos married (Pari) and had two children; Kostantinos (Gus) and Mary. Achilles married (Kalliopi) and had two children; Eleni (Helen) and Giorgos (George). Euripedes married (Rodoklia) and did not have children. John married and had two children; Rodothea (Rose) and Antonios (Tony). Rose has one son, John, who is married (Anne). Steve married and had one son, Eugene. Virginia married Dimitrios (Jim) Mallidou and they had no children. Anthipi married Dimitrios (Jim) Trigonis and they had no children.

 

A Humble Beginning 

Harry Franco was born in the village of Filia on the island of Mytilini (Lesbos) December 15, 1888 and he was one of twelve children. He left Greece when he was 17 years old and before coming to San Francisco he stayed in Boston for short period of time. 

When Harry arrived in San Francisco, he opened the Splendid Grill on 516 Kearny Street, and went into partnership with three of his brothers; Euripedes, Achilles, and Thallasinos. This was the beginning of a career as a successful San Francisco restaurant owner. The Francos' most successful restaurant would open at the Crystal Palace in 1923 at 41-45 8th Street.

 

The Balkan Wars, 1912-1914 

When the Balkan Wars broke out in 1912, Harry felt that it was his duty and honor to fight for Greece against Turkish oppression. The decision was a difficult one because the restaurant at the Crystal Palace was doing very well. He would have to leave the restaurant in the care of his brothers for several years. 

Harry arrived in Greece in 1912. Harry participated in the battle of Driskus where he was decorated for valor.  He then served on Mytilini.  When he returned to Filia, his birthplace, he was greeted as a hero.  After the liberation of Mytilini he left the army and stayed on Mytilini to be with his family before returning to the United States.

During the first year Harry was not able to write to his brothers. His friends and family didn't even know that he had returned to Greece. The photograph at the left of Harry in his Greek uniform was taken in Athens.

 

Marriage 


Harry returned to San Francisco from the Balkan Wars in 1914. The following year, 1915, he returned to Mytilini to see his family. 

Some months before, Harry became acquainted with an older Greek woman from Mytilini that came into the restaurant frequently. She had little money and she wanted to go back home to visit family. Harry was kind and generous. He bought a ticket for this woman and they traveled to Mytilini. 

Harry Franco met his future wife, Ourania Alissafou (pictured left), during this visit. He fell in love as soon as he saw Ourania. However, when Ourania's family met Harry their first impression was that they thought they he was a some type of playboy because he was traveling with a woman. He had to explain everything to Ourania's family and they told him that Ourania was too young to be married. They wanted him to wait one year.


One year later Harry went back to Greece to marry Ourania. The couple returned to San Francisco and their first child, Stiliani (Stella), was born on August 19, 1917.

 

Starting A Family 

The portrait of Stella Franco (left) has an interesting story. During this period one of San Francisco's Greek language newspapers, Prometheus, held a "Most Beautiful Greek Child" contest yearly. Prometheus would receive entries from all of the United States. Ourania sent this photograph for the contest. We were thrilled to see the original photograph. 

When Stella was born Harry received a note from his brother John congratulating him and Ourania on the birth of Stella. Of course, as with most Greek men of his generation, his final comment was "God willing, next time you will get a Venizelos". Vicky was born next, and then when the Franco's had a boy named Venizelos. 




When Ourania was pregnant with Venizelos, Eleutherios Venizelos was visiting the United States at the time. He visited San Francisco in December 1921, and several receptions were given in his honor. During this time, Harry invited him to his home and they asked him if he would be Venizelos' godfather and he said yes. Family members recall that there are not many people that can say that the Greek Prime Minister was their godfather.

 

The Hellenic Liberal League 

From 1915-1925, events in Greece had an impact on all Greek Americans. The first world war and the conflict between Royalists and Venizelists created division within the Greek community. Harry believed very strongly that change was needed in Greece and Venizelos was the man to lead Greece. 

Harry was actively involved in Greek organizations. When AHEPA was formed he joined. He also joined the Greek American League. Lastly, he joined the Hellenic Liberal League, a political and social organization. The League grew quickly and influenced the politics of Greek America. Harry quickly became a board member. 

In Sept. 1921, the St. Sophia Cathedral was being formed and there was a massive fund raising effort in the San Francisco area. At this time, Eleufterios Venizelos had been voted out of office and exiled. He traveled to London where he married and later travelled to the US for his honeymoon. In Dec. 1921, the former prime minister came to San Francisco and a formal reception was given in his honor by the Hellenic Liberal League. As a board member, Harry participated in the planning for this event and Harry can be easily seen in all the formal portraits taken commemorating Venizelos' visit to San Francisco.

 

St. Sophia Cathedral 

St. Sophia Cathedral was founded in 1921 (St. Sophia became Annunciation Cathedral in 1936).  Harry believed that he should support the founding of St. Sophia and he became one of it's founders.

 

When subscriptions for the new church were being taken, Harry and his brothers donated $500 towards the building of St. Sophia, an enormous sum in those days. Both Harry and his brothers took an active role in the formation of the St. Sophia community. Harry was selected to be a member of the board of trustees and participated in all fund raising events.

 

1929, The Great Depression 

After the stock market crashed, business was bad everywhere. Harry tried to arrange better terms for rent as well as financing and he was unsuccessful. As a result, the Franco brothers lost their restaurant. Harry decided to leave San Francisco. He moved to Palo Alto were he opened a restaurant that was a huge success. 

The Franco family during this time also endured a tragedy. Euripides Franco (wedding photo pictured left) partnered with his brothers, married Rodoklia a few years before, and had settled in San Francisco. Euripedes had a wonderful life. When the stock market crashed, he lost his fortune like so many others. He needed the support of his family and became very depressed. Sadly, he took his own life in 1932 (see grave site).

 


The Battling Francos 

Harry felt that it was his duty and honor to fight for freedom and he raised his son Venizelos with the same values. Harry's son, Venizelos, enlisted in the Navy during World War II. Venizelos wanted to enlist and fight for freedom and his father was very proud of him. A news article was written about them in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 15, 1942 called the "Battling Francos". Like father, like son. “two tough Greek men fighting for freedom.”

 

Funny Memories 

Both Vicki and Stella shared wonderful stories at their parents attempt to do some matchmaking to insure that their daughters would meet a Greek boy. Both Vicky and Stella recall several times where they escaped out the back window to avoid their parent’s attempts at matchmaking. They laughed and laughed and their parents were quite embarrassed. When Stella met a very nice Polish man (Vicky introduced them) Harry and Ourania decided it was time to move back to San Francisco for Vicky so that she would meet a nice Greek boy. Well, this time they succeeded. Vicky married Athanasios Vozikes on November 30, 1947.

 

Moving Back to San Francisco 

After Stella married in 1943, Harry moved his family back to San Francisco. He sold his restaurant in Palo Alto and opened a restaurant on the corner of Church and Market and it had the slogan "Franco is Back in Town". Harry also had a restaurant at 1600 Polk Street.

Harry's last business was a liquor store and deli in the Fisherman's Wharf area. On September 20, 1967, two people entered Harry’s business and robbed him. Harry chased after them but did not catch him. The robbers returned and shot and killed him. He was 78 years old.  Harry’s funeral service was held at Annunciation Cathedral in San Francisco and his body was buried at Greek Orthodox Memorial Park in Colma, CA (see grave site).

Shortly after Harry's passing, Ourania moved to live with her daughter Vicki and her husband. She lived there for thirteen years until she passed away December 24, 1977 at the age of 79.

 

Thallasinos Franco 

After the stock market crashed, Thallisinos found a job washing dishes for a restaurant at Playland at the Beach. He worked very hard to save money to open another restaurant. He eventually opened a restaurant on the Embarcardero called "Franco's Lunch." After Thallasinos retired, the restaurant was given to his son Gus. Gus operated the restaurant for many years until the 1950's when he sold the restaurant to a gentleman named "Red" who named the restaurant "Red's Java House". Red's Java House has been a San Francisco landmark on the waterfront for over fifty years. 

Thallasinos retired to a summer home in Sonoma. Thallasinos passed away February 11, 1989 at the age of 100 and his wife Pari passed away October 10, 1997 at the age of 97.


Achilles Franco 

Achilles opened a restaurant called "Splendid Grill" at 746 Clement (9th and Clement) prior to the stock market crash in 1929. This restaurant weathered the depression era and Achilles had this restaurant until he retired.


Steve Franco 

After the stock market crashed, Steve (the youngest brother) moved to Salinas and got a job working for his brother-in-law, Jim Trigonis, in a restaurant. Later, Jim and Anthipi decided to sell the restaurant and move to San Francisco. Steve moved back to the city at the same time. Anthipi became a partner in a restaurant near the Cliff House so that Steve would have a job and manage her partnership interest. 

Steve Franco passed away October 25, 1979 at the age of 82. 


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Copyright: Jim Lucas & the Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area