Comando Avenue became a special place to me because my first husband’s grandparents lived there, and we visited often. It was there that I first heard that Comando Avenue was named after Judge Comando because he owned a lot of property in that area and rented houses to the Italian immigrants who were moving into Cortland during the early 1900s. I was always so curious about who this mysterious Judge Comando was! Fast forward to spring of 2020 when I found a Comando family scrapbook and some beautiful photos of Judge Albert Comando and his wife Dorothy. It seemed like a big project, though, so I kept putting it aside. Finally, I wanted to know if it was true that the street was named after Judge Comando!
Well, I did not find anything in writing to tell me the story, BUT I do not believe it was named after Albert Comando. I believe it was named after his father, James Comando, and here’s why–Comando Avenue first appeared in the 1912 city directory, and Albert was born in 1908. Additionally, James Comando was an important part of the lives of Cortland’s Italian population (Albert would also be an important man in Cortland’s history). So, let’s talk about James.
James Comando was born in either 1875 or 1876 in Avalena, Italy. He and his father came to the United States when he was just 8 years old. They settled in Syracuse for a time. James worked as a water boy at a brickyard and this is where he learned to speak English. He later became a fireman at the Solvay Process plant. In 1904, he moved to Cortland with his wife of about 2 years, Mary Valentino. The couple lived at 169 Port Watson Street before moving to 3 Comando Avenue around 1921. James and Mary would have three sons: Albert, Frank, and Joseph.
James worked a variety of jobs and was both industrious and judicious. He was able to purchase a good amount of land in the Hyatt Street and Comando Avenue neighborhoods. When he and Mary moved to Comando Avenue, he established a community commissary and operated his real estate business from there as well. This information came from his obituary so there was no elaboration, but it seems that it was probably a neighborhood store and that he perhaps did rent properties in the area. More research is needed to determine that.
Last week someone asked about there being a movie theater at the Comando’s Restaurant property in the 1920s. Incidentally, that building is the former home of James and Mary Comando. James’ obituary stated that he had purchased the old Star Theatre (noted in the obituary that it was near the Schine’s Theatre). He operated it with 5 cents admission and spent more money to show better movies than his competitors, but he ended up losing money because he would not increase his prices. He sold that theater and 15 years later, he sponsored “open-air” movies at the old Trout Park. I did not find a theater at 3 Comando Avenue, so I’m wondering if this could be the theater. If you know, let us know!
James was proud of his Italian heritage and he wanted other Italian Americans to have pride in their heritage as well. He was the organizer of Cortland’s first Italian society, the Duca of Abruzzi. This later became the Sons of Italy. He was a strong advocate of education because he knew that his limited education had been a hindrance to him, and he sponsored education for the next generation. He developed relationships with college-age kids in the community and was a mentor for them.
James was a member of many of the fraternal organizations of the city and very involved in community happenings. But perhaps his most lasting legacy was his involvement in the organization of St. Anthony’s Church. When the new Pomeroy Street School was built, he bought the old building and held it for St. Anthony’s to be organized. There was then a building for the church to use. St. Anthony’s Day was sponsored by him and it was his idea to make it a Cortland County holiday.
James Comando was an integral part of building the Italian community in Cortland and he contributed to the overall strength of the greater community. Guys like this don’t come along every day! Had you heard of James Comando before today? ~Tabitha