History: Papa Frank came a long way from carriage shop in Italy

articleOn November 17, 1978 the Akron Beacon Journal wrote an article about the history of Alexander Body & Fendor Co.

ANNIVERSARY: It was the end of Francesco D’Alessandro – only 18 – although he didn’t know it at the time. Francesco only knew that he was hungry and standing in line outside a carpet plant in Philadelphia hoping to get a job. A tall, rawboned man walked down the line asking questions in a mountain state accent. “What’s your name?” he asked the young Italian boy.

D’Alessandro told him.
“Awright speak up,” the man said. “We don’t want any mumblers here. What did you say it was – Frank Alexander?”
“Ah . . . yes,” said the former Francesco

Those words were to take him even farther from his native village of Notaresco in the Abruzzi region of Italy. But not everything was left behind; not his “fine Italian hand”; not his belief in the good family life. In Notaresco, working with his father Domenic, he has helped repair the carts and carriages of the estate owners – a skill that would be useful in the Auto Age.

With a first cousin, John D’Antonio, he came by steamship to the U.S. in 1908. Were not the streets in American paved in gold?


After Philadelphia and its brick pavements, he found work in the rubber shops here and the steel mills of Youngstown. Then he bought an auto radiator repair shop in the latter city and his craftsman’s hands learned the feel of metal.
Frank Alexander returned to Akron in the early 20’s and went to work in the body shop of Dave Towell’s Cadillac agency in the old building on W. Market Street.
Soon he ran the body shop for Dave Towell. Frank had a genius for finding a squeak that could annoy new Caddy owners. There was a lot of wood in car bodies then – as there had been in the carriages back in Nortaresco.

It was during this period when he assumed two new roles – star boarder and husband. He lived then in a boarding house, now an almost forgotten institution, on N. Howard Street near North Street operated smartly and efficiently by diminutive, 4-foot-6 Mrs. Grace Bocchiaro. Mrs. Bocchiaro had a pretty daughter, Rose, whom Frank came to admire even more that her mother’s cooking. Their marriage eventually produced two sons, Dominic (“Dom”) and Gus; and two daughters, now Mrs. Stephen (Elizabeth) Caiola and Mrs. Ralph (Grace) Hickman.

In 1928, Silent Cal Coolidge still was in the White House and all seemed right in a prosperous world. Frank Alexander opened his own body shop on N. Main Street where DeWitt’s auto agency is now. The sign read: “F. Alexander Body and Fender Works.” So this is the golden anniversary year.

That first stay on N. Main lasted only two years. Frank built a four-car garage behind his home at 390 Patterson Ave. “I can remember him,” says Dom, “spraying fenders in a vacant lot next door.” Times were tough in 1930. But the man who had courage enough as a teenager to cross the Atlantic to a new land couldn’t be kept away from Main St. In 1932 when many body men were afraid to buy a rubber hammer, Frank Alexander bought a tune-up shop on E. Tallmadge one door from Main. A Sinclair gas station stood at the corner. He soon had three men working with him – and a couple boys – Dom and Gus. “Dad always kept Gus and I close to the business,” Dom remembers. “We worked after school and in the summer.”

Dom was the eldest son, which meant something in an Italian Family. When he started at North High in 1933, his father inspected the report card with care. Finally he asked, “What are you learning in school?”
“Algebra,” said Dom.
“I don’t see anything here about book-keeping,” said father.
“I’m taking a college preparatory course,” said Dom.
“I want you to take bookkeeping,“ Frank said, “and typing.”

By the time he was a junior, Dom was keeping the books for Alexander Body and Fender Co.

Franks hands were busy at other things. For the shop he built an air compressor which still is in use. When “the boys” could take more of the work off his back, Frank Alexander turned to a new project. With a little help from skilled friends, he built a brick home at 556 Marview Ave. He died in 1968.

Now, in the company’s 50th year, Dom is president and Gus, vice president. But it is easy to sense that “the boss” in their hearts and minds still is their father.
The third generation already is represented. Dom’s son, Nicholas, is there learning the business. How many more Alexanders will follow is guesswork. Both Gus and Dom have big but young families.

It might turn out that the first 50 years were not the hardest.

The Alexanders foresee great changes in the business. To lessen the weight of cars, there will be, they feel, a vastly greater use of plastics, fiber glass and probably aluminum. Much more sophisticated equipment will be needed to work with the new materials (some engine repair shops already are using computers). The Alexander Body and Fender in 1978 covers the site of the Sinclair station and stretches south toward Frank’s first shop. It’s quite a monument to the hungry lad outside the carpet plant in Philadelphia. And quite a compliment to America.