Tribute to John Pente and the Little Italy Open Air Film Festival

John Pente lived his entire life within a one-block radius in Little Italy. He worked as a machinist for Western Electric and devoted himself to his family, his neighborhood and his church, St. Leo's. But in 1999, he allowed the community promoters of an open-air film festival to install a projector in his grown-up sons' old bedroom.

By the time Mr. Pente died on Monday, at 100, this simple act of generosity had made him "Little Italy's ambassador to the world." Little Italy's Open Air Film Festival didn't just heal a rift that had developed between area restaurant owners and residents.

It became a celebration of movies and community that attracted tourists to the corner of High and Stiles streets and set an example for neighborhoods around the world. "He's been so well known and so well acknowledged for his kindness and his hospitality and just being a simple man who lived a simple life.

He never achieved any kind of greatness, but in his own small way, he did remarkable things," his older son, Joseph, said Tuesday. The festival provided him with a long life's perfect closing act. Joseph Pente continued, "He was always there to contribute: to neighbors, to the church, to the school. He did it without any fanfare, and he did it well.

He welcomed people into his home of all colors, all races, male or female." It didn't matter whether they were distinguished Italian jurists or a woman who needed a phone to call for jumper cables. They savored his hospitality and often became friends for life.

When he was 89, Mr. Pente was only hoping to do his bit for his community when he agreed to have movies projected on summer nights from his third-floor window. In 1999, nothing but white space filled the outer wall of the Ciao Bella restaurant where Little Italy's restaurateurs had hoped to install a 15-by-20-foot mural on a billboard facing the Da Mimmo's restaurant parking lot.

The Little Italy Owners and Residents Association protested, fearing gaudy billboards. The Little Italy Restaurant Association fired back that the neighborhood had to be commercial to stay alive. The mural was shot down, and the space stayed blank for months. At a neighborhood association meeting in 1999, one frustrated restaurateur brainstormed, "I think we should just show movies on it, 'cause it looks like a drive-in." Read the rest of the story in the Baltimore Sun.

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