The dream of establishing a great athletic and social club in our Italian community has its roots in the old Latin saying, “Mens Sana in Copore Sano” meaning. “A sound Mind in a Sound Body.”
Some enthusiastic young men from Italy living in North Beach organized a club called Circolo Recreativo Italiano Virtus in 1917 with its clubrooms on Mason Street between Green and Vallejo. By 1919, the Unione Sportiva Italiana followed, with headquarters at 120 Columbus Avenue. Shortly after that, another Italian club emerged called Sporting Club Italia located on Powell Street at the corner of Broadway.
There were numerous sporting events and social functions which had a tremendous positive impact on the burgeoning Italian community. The activities of these three clubs were related by the Italian newspapers La Voce Del Popolo and L’Italia.
The Unione Sportiva Italiana sponsored the first Statuto Race in 1919, producing a response among athletes and spectators alike that gave birth to a new spirit in the North Beach community. This classic foot race has continued through the years, and is now the 4th oldest continuously run footrace in the United States. The clubs, especially the Virtus and Unione Sportiva, took a very active part in the welfare of our community and engaged in dramatics, music, and such athletic events as long distance running, soccer, basketball, baseball, cycling, fencing, and gymnastics.
The clubs prospered and gained prestige and stature in the community. In 1921, the Sporting Club Italia and the Virtus merged under the name of Italia Virtus Club, located at 415 Broadway. Another merger followed in 1926 when the Unione Sportiva Italiana and the Italia Virtus unified their strengths under the name of Unione Sportiva Italiana Virtus with their main objective being that of erecting a modern clubhouse for their many members on the site of the current SFIAC building.
In 1933, plans for building a clubhouse were realized. Specifications were drawn, financing mapped out, and estimates were received. A new membership and building campaign were carried out. On June 1, 1936, under the new name of Italian Athletic Club, we moved into our new building, which we still proudly occupy and which is a monument to the Italian community of San Francisco.
The years that followed were plagued by hard times: the continuing Depression and World War II. The club struggled to make ends meet. Social pressure in World War II forced a name change to San Francisco Athletic Club. A few years after World War II we began to enjoy a new era of prosperity. In
1978, a group of enthusiastic members decided to re-insert the word Italian to the name. While they were proud of the accompishments of the San Francisco Athletic Club, they were equally proud of their ethnic identity which had been removed during World War II.
The San Francisco Italian Athletic Club is proud of its many athletic, cultural, and social achievements during its history. But we are not satisfied to stop here. We continue to involve ourseleves as an organization in Italian community affairs. The club continues to improve upon its sports and clubhouse facilities. We encourage our members to participate in athletic as well as social activities to bond, within our membership, a relationship to their ethnicity.