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De Angeli Frua Workers’ Village
Situated between Via Moncalvo, Via Anguissola, and Via Desenzano, just a short distance from the Pio Albergo Trivulzio, one of the finest examples of a twentieth-century workers’ village is still standing today. The De Angeli Frua village, along with the small building that today houses the local library, is the last surviving physical trace of the famous Milanese printed fabrics manufacturer, a leader of the Italian textiles industry.
In 1872 Eugenio Cantoni had bought a small fabric printing shop in the so-called La Maddalena quarter, along the Olona river; he later sold the company under management to his faithful associate Ernesto De Angeli. Under De Angeli’s guidance, the company grew and grew, quickly becoming one of the most important industrial entities in the city, at the same time promoting a process of renewal in the entire quarter, including the creation of services for the resident workers, such as the childcare center built in 1891 by Luigi Broggi, called “Asilo Maddalena De Angeli,” no longer standing today.
Ernesto De Angeli was soon flanked by Giuseppe Frua, his brother-in-law and trusted associate, who in 1896 rose up to the top of the firm. In 1899, the company changed its name to Società Italiana per l’Industria dei Tessuti Stampati, thus circumventing the control of the Cantoni family, and by 1914 it was operating seven plants, from Ponte Nossa in Val Seriana to Agliè in Piemonte.
During the thirties, the company assumed the historic double name De Angeli Frua, occupying in the La Maddalena quarter an area of 100 thousand square meters, and providing employment to 2000 workers.
In 1931, at the wish of Giuseppe Frua, a new office building was erected on the factory premises, designed by the Rationalist architects Gino Pollini, Luigi Figini, and Luciano Baldessari; it is no longer standing today.
Having survived the ravages of the war, in the postwar period, the company diversified its production facilities, even opening up to the motorcycle industry. It was a transformation, however, that could not halt the progressive decline in business until the sixties, when the new residential zoning regulations required the closure and dismantling of the plant.
Ernesto De Angeli’s successor Giuseppe Frua shared his awareness of the social problems linked to the growth of industry, and agreed with his initiatives in the areas of work-related injuries and education. In 1919 Frua began to draw up a proposal for a workers’ village. Already in 1887 De Angeli had built in Corso Vercelli a large 3-storey building, the “Cà rossa,” with 77 rooms, 33 bathrooms, and 2 dining halls; it had running drinking water and gas lighting, and adhered to a construction typology that was still tied to traditional models.
Following the lively debate in Milan over workers’ housing and housing projects, on July 12, 1919 the decision was made to found a cooperative society for the construction of houses for the employees of the Stamperia Ernesto De Angeli in Milan, for the purpose of building a modern workers’ village near the factory.
As envisaged by its founder, the village was to have excellent hygienic facilities, electricity and running water, green spaces and an independent sewage system, and furthermore, after thirty years of company service, the employee was entitled to purchase the home.
Between 1921 and 1929 many houses with gardens were thus built, both single-family and multifamily dwellings, along with a large building on Via Desenzano, known as the “Casone.”
Having passed through World War II unscathed, the De Angeli Frua village has kept its original appearance as garden district, and in 2003 obtained landmark status.