There is a home on Alice Street that holds many colourful stories and its present owner Mike Silvestro has heard them all. In fact, he is the source for many of them.
“I grew up here,” he said. “I moved away for 14 years when I got married and I came back after my mom died 14 years ago.”
The adjacent storefront was originally a convenience store operated by his maternal grandmother Rose Sorbara.
“The 1950s was when it was making money but she ran it right up into the 80s,” said Silvestro. “We ran a lot of bus tours out of there. That was the fun part.”
Silvestro has put his own distinct mark on the properties and if you are looking for some rhyme or reason for the exterior motif you can easily find the rhyme.
“There was a Three Stooges skit called Malice in the Palace and I saw that Malice rhymes with Alice which rhymes with Palace so, I just keep switching,” said Silvestro. “I’ve got to go back to the Palace on Alice but it’s hard to find somebody with a ladder. I don’t like going up. I let someone else do the change. I’m not good at that.”
The storefront has had a number of unusual signs over the years.
“I don’t make too many stupid signs anymore,” said Silvestro. “I had signs before like Crack Corner and For the Good of the Hood. I had Alice Street Petting Zoo and people actually believed there were animals in there.”
It isn’t the only time people took Silvestro’s quirky sense of humour seriously.
“A couple years ago a friend brought me some pictures from the Stag Shop and I put them up with a sign Bella’s Brothel Opening Soon,” said Silvestro. “People were coming here and actually believing it. They didn’t pick up on the joke.”
The curious array of ornaments decorating the exterior of the house such as a skeleton of a dog, a psychedelic alligator eating a fish and a rat in a trap, look as if a tornado hit the studio of surrealist painter Salvador Dali and the debris ended up on Silvestro’s porch.
“This is not my creative thing,” said Silvestro. “People just bring me stuff and say this will fit with your house.”
The collection of artifacts inside the house is much more personal and Silvestro has been immersed in nostalgia lately as he prepares the family home for major renovations
“It was built in 1923 and there was an addition put on the back in the 40s, probably after the war,” he said. “I turn 65 in September so I am hoping everything is done by then.”
He is gutting and restoring everything including a bar his father built in the basement.
“I think it was around 1961 or 62 that he built it,” said Silvestro. “We’re going to make it into a bar again and have the real old stereo and all my rock and roll memorabilia on display.”
For three decades leading up to 2015 Silvestro ran concert bus tours and that is where much of his rock and roll memorabilia came from.
“I have about 2,000 ticket stubs,” he said. “I honestly believe I have the biggest collection of the hard tickets from Maple Leaf Gardens.”
He has been going through dozens of old family photos including one of him at three years old, photos of his father who died in 1978 and a photo of his grandmother’s brother Joe Verone, a notorious bootlegger who was murdered in the 1920s.
He said his grandmother who passed away in 1984 told him stories about Verone but rumours and published accounts of his family’s mob connections are exaggerated.
“Nobody I know ever gave a true story,” he said. “Yes, my grandmother was a reliable source but they kept quiet about a lot of stuff. There was nothing to brag about.”
His fondest memories of the home include family and friends.
“When my grandmother and my dad were alive, we had probably a hundred people come through on Christmas,” he said.
Silvestro said the neighbourhood has changed and the family connection to the house has changed as well. His son Aaron is a neurologist at McMaster in Hamilton and his other son Dylan is a commercial artist in Toronto.
“They don’t want this house,” said Silvestro. “No, they aren’t going to want to live here.”
He has plans to move to a smaller house nearby so the renovations are in many ways a last labour of love for a home that brought him so many memories.
“I want to make it look nice – make it sellable,” he said. “It really is stupid. It’s just me living here now. I don’t need a big house.”