Newsletter Archive: Part II: Spaghetti Western / Thanksgiving

Part II: Spaghetti Western / Thanksgiving

Greetings! Let me begin by apologizing to those of you who may have received Part I twice (owing to a technical glitch–or more likely my clumsy typing). I am not such a moron as to think that a “Double Issue” is the same as sending the same newsletter twice. That said, welcome to the much-heralded Part II, the “Spaghetti Western” Issue.


Friends, Family and Customers,
It is time again to spew forth wit and wisdom from “MONTI’S WORLD
HEADQUARTERS” at 100 South Mill Avenue.  But first:

HOW TO GET OFF MY LIST INSTANTLY: If you do not want to receive any
e-mail from me ever, please send me (Michael Monti) a message at
mmonti**@** and I will gladly remove you from my distribution
group. See the end of this newsletter for more detailed instructions.


With Thanksgiving coming up, my kids keep asking questions about who the Pilgrims were and why they came here. After dutifully answering them, I mused on the meaning that coming to America held for my family, and to other families who journeyed here from our former homeland, Italy. In particular, there was a romantic notion attached to Arizona.

So, what is in a name? As I purchased a DVD copy of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” recently I ruminated upon the origins of our establishment–an amalgam of Arizona heritage and Italian immigrant elbow grease. With a name like “Monti’s La Casa Vieja” we frequently get confused tourists seeking Mexican fare. I can’t tell you how many times I get peppered with questions about this & so I find it
necessary to explain why our sobriquet is an Italian surname coupled with a Spanish phrase–yet we serve steak and American cuisine. My father Leonard was the first of the family to be born in the United States, his first siblings
were born in Italy. When he came into possession of the historic Hayden House some fifty years ago, he wished to honor its history and tradition and
purposely did not change it’s name. The phrase “La Casa Vieja” had already become firmly associated with the building (As it literally means “the old house” in Spanish, a reference to its status as the former residence of the pioneer Hayden family). Not wishing to undermine a meaningful title, Dad just added his surname as a prefix.

And Now, a Pause From Our Sponsor–Monti’s La Casa Vieja World Headquarters–to Make The Cash Register Ring:

Thanksgiving: In an effort to continue to buck what may seem obvious, we ask WHO NEEDS TURKEY??? We don’t and we won’t.  Instead, I invite you to try our
Thanksgiving Special — the Monti’s Surf & Turf Special 11oz. Herb Crusted Prime Rib & 3 Jumbo Fried Shrimp for $19.95. Meal includes our famous Roman Bread,
soup or tossed salad with dressing choice, vegetable medley and your
choice of baked potato, French fries, cottage cheese, spaghetti, mashed
potatoes or long grain wild rice pilaf. Finish off the meal with a slice
of pumpkin pie for only $2.95. And, as always, we will offer our regular
full menu (which does not include turkey) for those of you that come to
the restaurant craving your “usual” this year. For reservations call

Sergio Leone’s “Spaghetti Westerns” of the 1960s may be the most well-known evidence of the Italian fascination with the Old West, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. When visiting family in Italy, my Dad would often ask his elderly cousin Elena to sing a popular song of the early 1900s, “La Giu in Arizona”–“Down There in Arizona”. Over a decade ago, while channel-surfing on cable, I was floored when I ran across a TNT-produced movie called “Time to Kill”, starring Nicolas Cage as a young Italian soldier in Africa whose life is turned upside-down when he accidentally kills the woman he loves. The story
unfolds during Mussolini’s 1936 attempt to conquer Ethiopia. In one scene Cage and another soldier, far from home, sit on a porch listening to Italian music crackling from an old hand-cranked Victrola. The song? “La Giu in Arizona.” The song is a testament to the romance of the Old West felt around the world.


The cowboy mythos–as well as a good, old-fashioned sense of adventure and a desire to exploit economic opportunity–brought many Italians to Arizona. Stone masons were imported for their expertise to build Roosevelt Dam, completed in 1911, and part of the vital water system that made urban Arizona as we know it
today possible. Interestingly, there is another tie-in here with Roosevelt Lake: Italian Commander Francesco de Pinedo’s Santa Maria was the first seaplane to land in Arizona. It landed at Roosevelt Lake on April 5, 1927. During a global circumnavigation  from Italy, the pilot and his crew stopped on the lake for a meal and refueling.

Unfortunately, some local bumpkin dropped a cigarette, igniting the fuel and
incinerating the plane. Its tattered remains are still down there at the
bottom. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. (You can see a pre-fire photo of the plane on the Arizona Historical Foundation web site.)


Cowboy hero “Tex Willer” was created in Italy on September 30, 1948 in the adult pocket comic book format. An outlaw-adventurer-turned-man-of-justice, Tex became a runaway hit in post-WWII Italy, with the comics translated and published in many other countries. Surrounded by a cast of characters such as Kit Carson,
Cochise and “El Morisco”, the completely fictitious adventures became so
ingrained in the minds of some fans that many Italian tourists visiting Arizona and New Mexico follow an elaborate pilgrimage route to visit specific locations
mentioned in the comics.


When I was growing up, night drives along Washington Street from Tempe to Phoenix were always punctuated by the mysterious Tovrea Castle glowering in dim light from its hilltop. Widely regarded (by most kids I knew) as haunted, the castle was built in 1928 by Italian immigrant Alessio Carraro. It was to be a resort castle surrounded by 200 acres of cactus gardens.

The odd ziggurat failed to prosper when sheep and cattle pens–with their associated odors–were built for the nearby Tovrea meat packing plant. The Tovrea family (cattle barons) bought the property from Carraro as a home in


In 1938, Salvatore Pace Bondanza Cudia,  an Italian immigrant, built a 2-street Western set and movie studio on 160 acres at the northeast corner of Camelback Road and 40th Street in Phoenix. This facility became known as Cudia City. Four movies were made there, beginning in 1941. (Other movie projects were derailed by World War II.)

In 1957, ABC Films created a Western TV series to compete with Warner Bros.
popular show, “Maverick”.  Tales adapted from the actual case files of the Arizona Rangers (around 1901) were recounted in “26 Men”, which aired on ABC TV between 1957 and 1959. (I recently obtained a DVD of the first four episodes.) So if you ever find yourself quaffing a beverage over on the patio at Chelsea’s Kitchen, look to the East across 40th Street and picture the Rangers galloping around as someone croons the theme song:

“This is the story of 26 men who rode the Arizona

territory….26 men who lived to ride again, and

fight for the right and the liberty of all”.

Cudia Cty burned to the ground in 1967. Tract homes called “Cudia City
Estates” and an apartment complex were built in its place.

Finally, a little housekeeping before I wrap up.

Just a reminder that Monti’s gift certificates are available in any
denomination. Also, we still have open dates available for business and
family banquets for large parties, but not many so book now! And, by
popular demand our tent will be back this year to accommodate parties of
up to 125.  Definitely call Erin or Kim ASAP to get the scoop about
booking your party in the tent.

We will celebrate Christmas early with our staff on Monday, December
3rd, so the restaurant will close early. I am sure you will pardon this
minor inconvenience so we can show our hard-working people a good time.

Finally, we will be closed on Christmas Day–and that is the one and
only day we so honor each year.

I hope that you have found this incomplete smattering of spaghetti
western stories amusing. Hopefully, this newsletter also explains, the
second most popular question: why we serve spaghetti as a side.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Best regards,


HOW TO GET OFF MY LIST INSTANTLY: If you do not want to

receive any
e-mail from me ever, please send me a message at

mmonti**@** and I
will gladly remove you from my distribution group. You are

this because you know me or are related to me, (you or

purporting to be you)
has given me your business card or filled out a promotional

slip, have requested a donation or sent me an e-mail for

some other
reason, or you gave your address to me on a customer

comment card. I do
not wish to intrude, and no harsh invective is required to

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and ask for my PERSONAL voicemail box or f*a*x* (480)967-8129

and leave a
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100 S. Mill Ave, Tempe AZ

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  1. Tres Wiley said,

    On a lark I was looking for picutres of Cudia City and found your bit. I was raised very close to there, 40th street and Stanford, and your descritiption of Cudia City rising on the ashes of the studio is incorrect. The studio and town/set were on the west side of 40th street. Cudia City Estates is east of 40th st. There were apartments built on both sides of 40th st.
    The sudio was on the NW corner of 40th and Camelback.
    A nit, for sure.
    I’m looking for pictures of the studio.
    You may not know but there was a corral and animal cage in Echo Canyon where the studio kept , I was told, among other animals a mountain lion for some of the shots.

    Tres Wiley

  2. mlmonti said,

    Thanks for the update. I stand enlightened.
    The important thing is to keep true Arizona memories alive.

  3. Neil Sargent said,

    Accidentally found your website while searching for info on Cudia City and, as a resident off and on since 1956, found it fun to read.

    Question: As I recall, there were a couple of pioneer film makers who left New York for California in the early 1900s, but, while on their way, decided to land in Phoenix and make their films. They were here for a few years before moving on to L.A. I believe one of them might have been D.W. Griffith. It was my understanding that they had their studios somewhere around the Cudia City location. Do you have any information on this? Thank you.
    P.S. Have always enjoined Monti’s.

  4. Alexwebmaster said,

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