Lovelle Harris | Guest Writer
The bar in LaRocca’s Corner Tavern has been described as small and dark. A San Francisco landmark nestled in the heart of North Beach, the place is home to drunken bartenders and, rumor has it, the Mafia.
Some say it’s served as a meeting place for the clandestine group, providing neutral ground for crime families to settle important business.
This is just one of the tales that photographer and City College photography lab assistant Angela Casagrande Lowrie, 33, grew up hearing in her small Italian-American community in Humboldt County.
“Grandpa said there used to be a table with a bullet hole in it,” Lowrie says. “Someone pulled a gun and started shooting. If I remember right, it seemed to be over a woman.”
Grandpa Angelo Casagrande passed away in Lowrie’s hometown of Eureka in 2002, but continues to live on in his namesake.
“I hung out with him more than the women in my family,” Lowrie says. “So I picked up a lot of his habits. Even my husband says, ‘You don’t act anything like your mother. I think you act more like your grandfather.’”
Lowrie, who graduated from Humboldt State in 2000 with a degree in fine art, picked up photography 13 years ago after taking a course. She moved with her husband to Sacramento two years later.
“I wanted to get away from where I grew up,” Lowrie says.
The timing would prove tragic.
“I moved down here and 10 days later he went into the hospital. Five weeks after that, he passed away,” Lowrie says of her grandpa. “About a week or so before his 82nd birthday.”
In 2004, her interest in photography led her to City College and into instructor Paul Estabrook’s medium-format photography class. Estabrook would encourage her to get into teaching.
Now, in her second semester assisting former Bee photographer Randy Allen in his intermediate photography class, Lowrie finds a balance between finding time to work on her own art and assisting her students.
“I know it’s like morbid, but I like going out to the cemetery,” Lowrie says. “I like to look at the headstones and what people put on them.”
Lowrie describes her work as edgy.
“That’s the common word I hear most from people. I never know what to say about it. It just ‘is’ to me.”
Her dedication to her students is exhibited by the insightful yet gentle criticism she provides.
“She’s shown me different techniques for photography,” says Courtney Farnworth, 27, a student in Allen’s intermediate photography class. “She’s shown me how to get out of myself some more instead of just being so bottled up sometimes, just personally.”
Allen’s comments speak to the inner workings of their professional relationship.
“We kid each other about the fact that I’m a lot more traditional and she’s a lot more experimental.” Allen says. “I honestly think that we have a relationship where we learn a lot from each other, which is really, really helpful.”
Wearing a bright orange T-shirt bearing the likeness of two characters in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” re-imagined as oranges, Lowrie beams when discussing her students.
“I enjoy the students. They’re not afraid to try something new.”
A gentle breeze rustles the blond streak of hair floating in the sea of brunette in her choppy bangs. As the sun shines in her eyes, she thinks back to her grandfather. She thinks back to the legend of LaRocca’s. The story of gunplay at the tavern still intrigues Lowrie years after its telling.
“Mafia-related? Not sure, but I looked for the table when I was there,” Lowrie says. “No luck.”