Honoring a storied man

On the day that Charles Santore would have been 93, Southwark Library will be named in his memory.

And what better birthday gift is there than recognition of a legacy?

Santore’s legacy is at least large enough to fill a library. He was a Republican leader of the former Fourth Ward, founder of the Municipal Employees Union Local 696 and a onetime professional boxer, to name just a few of his roles.

The dedication ceremony to honor the lifelong South Philly resident takes place tomorrow at the library at 11 a.m.

Located at Seventh and Carpenter streets, Southwark Library is a few short blocks from where Santore — better known to some by his nickname, Charlie Hart — was born, lived, worked and died.

Family, friends, political leaders and union representatives will all be on hand to remember a man who gave more than 70 years of service to his city and community.

"He would love to have something in his name. He’d be pleased and honored. And for the sake of the family, I’m happy it’s being done," said longtime friend Vincent Carnuccio, Republican committeeman for the Second Ward, 24th Division.

Bella Vista resident Carnuccio, along with First District Councilman Frank DiCic-co, a Democrat, spearheaded the effort to rename the library for Santore. Both men will attend tomorrow’s ceremony along with representatives from the Republican Party and John Gallagher, vice president of the Veteran Boxers Association.

Former Congressman and Ambassador to Italy Thomas Foglietta also is scheduled to attend, as is Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ron Castille.

For years, Carnuccio and DiCicco tossed around the idea of naming a street after their friend and colleague Santore. Then one day, Carnuccio had another idea that he felt was more substantive.

Why not a local library?

Last spring, he wrote a formal letter to DiCicco requesting Southwark Library be renamed Charles Santore Library.

Other organizations with which Santore had been involved also sent letters, including the Veteran Boxers Association and Municipal Employees Union Local 696.

On April 25, a bill introduced in City Council proposed the name change. Two months later, the bill passed.

Carnuccio believes his friend would be thrilled to have a tangible legacy in his beloved neighborhood.

"It means more to him because of where it is. He loved South Philly," Carnuccio said. "He never moved far from the house he was born in. He just loved that neighborhood. So that I think would really have pleased him to know that it’s a library right there, not far from where he grew up."

When Santore died Jan. 13, 2002, he left behind his wife, Nellie, and three sons, Charlie, 69; Richie, 68; and Joe, 58. Richie’s twin brother Bobby died in 1978.

Charlie is a children’s book illustrator who lives in Center City. Since his profession is in books, he feels especially touched that a library will be named after his dad, he said.

Richie owns The Saloon restaurant at 750 S. Seventh St. and the Fitzwater Caf� at Seventh and Fitzwater, while Joe is a painter who has lived in Manhattan for 25 years.

"We were really surprised by the whole thing," Charlie said of the renaming. "The thing that is most gratifying is that we know our father would have loved it. He loved politics, interacting with the community."

Born in 1910, Santore was the third son of Frank and Mary Santore, who emigrated as children from the same province in Southern Italy around 1872. The family lived on South Seventh Street in a group of tenements just south of Bainbridge. Santore attended James Campbell public school, formerly at Eighth and Fitzwater, and then Southern High School. In high school, he earned the nickname Charlie Hart because of his love of cowboy movies and silent film star William S. Hart. The name stuck and, in time, Charles Santore would become better known as Charlie Hart in his personal and professional circles.

In the late 1920s, Santore fought in amateur bouts under the name Charlie Hart; years later, he boxed in seven professional bouts.

The contender instilled his love of the gloves in his sons — all of whom sparred a bit while growing up here.

In 1936, Santore took over operation of a candy store that had been his mother’s. The family lived above the store at 709 S. Seventh St.

Today, that location houses the Third Ward Republican Club.

Growing up, Charlie and his brothers were literally "like kids in a candy shop," he said. Locals simply called the sweet shop Charlie Hart’s.

Santore went to work for the Water Department in 1943 and three years later moved to a home on the 700 block of Fulton Street, where Nellie still lives. In 1950, Santore was elected leader of the old Fourth Ward. The candy store became his political headquarters. In 1968, he was named treasurer of the Republican Party in Philadelphia.

"He was a caring person. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for anyone. Regardless of gender, race, creed — he was there," Carnuccio recalled of Santore’s ward days. "That’s how good he was. If he could help you, he would."

But perhaps Santore’s biggest achievement was founding the first white-collar union in the city in 1952. Santore remained active with the union until his death. The organization has grown to more than 2,000 members from many city agencies, including the Department of Licenses and Inspections and the Free Library.

As ward and union leader, Santore attended countless ceremonies and events. "And now he’s being honored. To have something like this — he would have loved it. And it makes us feel really good," Charlie added.

Santore even had the chance to meet Queen Elizabeth on one of his union trips. But no matter where his travels took him over the years, he couldn’t wait to return to South Philly. He never had aspirations to live anyplace else, Charlie said.

"He was a satisfied man," he said. "There are very few of those that I’ve run into in my lifetime."

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Jane Kiefer
Jane Kiefer, a seasoned journalist with a rich background in digital media strategies, leads South Philly Review as its Editor-in-Chief. Originally hailing from Seattle, Jane combines her outsider perspective with a profound respect for South Philly's vibrant community, bringing fresh insights and innovative storytelling to the newspaper.