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Steven Peck, 76; Opened Angelo's and Vinci's, the 'Gaudiest' Eatery in O.C.

Obituaries

October 20, 2005|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Steven Peck, an actor, dancer and choreographer turned restaurateur whose Angelo's and Vinci's Ristorante in Fullerton is as well-known for its eclectic decor as its pizzas, has died. He was 76.

Peck died of cancer Oct. 9 at his home in Fullerton, said his wife, Cynthia.

Peck was a choreographer for singer-actor Tommy Sands when he was cast to play Shirley MacLaine's boyfriend in the 1958 film "Some Came Running." Peck went on to a career as a character actor in more than 100 television shows and movies, including playing Sylvester Stallone's father in "Rhinestone" and dancing the tango in "The Godfather: Part II."

He also ran a dance studio in Los Angeles from the 1950s to the '80s, and during that time choreographed dance concerts and original musicals. In 1971, after starting a second dance studio and repertory company in Fullerton, he launched Angelo's and Vinci's.

"He started the restaurant as a place to feed his dancers," said Cynthia Peck, a former professional dancer who has been overseeing the business' operation the last few years.

Angelo's and Vinci's began as a cafe on the street-front patio of the historic Fox theater on Harbor Boulevard, where Peck had renovated the landmark film palace's onetime tearoom into the 99-seat Jupiter Theater.

But Peck eventually expanded his restaurant onto the stage of the Fox, a former vaudeville theater whose proscenium had been walled in decades earlier when it was turned into a movie theater.

Angelo's and Vinci's became known for its pizza and sauces made from the Peck family's old Sicilian recipes. But the decor received as much notice as the food.

In 1988, a writer for The Times described it as "probably the gaudiest restaurant in Orange County ... an interior designer's nightmare, a gawker's paradise, a trattoria gone slightly amok."

Born Ignazio Pecoraro in Brooklyn, N.Y., Peck named the restaurant for Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, his Sicilian-born parents' favorite artists.

But beyond reproductions of the two artists' works -- and the prominent display of photographs of his parents and other relatives that he called the "Love Altar" -- Peck filled the main dining room and two banquet rooms with an exotic array of knickknacks collected on his trips to Sicily and the Italian mainland: mirrors, neon, white Christmas lights, plaster cherubs, and knights in armor.

In what had been the theater's basement dressing-room area, Peck created what he called the Monster Wine Cellar, 3,000 bottles guarded by 6-foot figures of Dracula, Frankenstein and King Kong behind bars.

In 1992, the restaurant -- decor and all -- moved across an alleyway to its current location in a cavernous building the Pecks had bought and renovated. As he had in the original location, Peck prominently displayed a nativity scene year-round in the main dining room.

"There's always a tribute to Christmas, because Steve felt every day was Christmas," said his wife, who added something new to the decor: photos of her husband with Stallone, Frank Sinatra and other stars he had worked with over the years.

"He loved so much our customers, giving tours and showing the history and the traditions of his family, his ancestry, and his film and dance career," she said.

The Pecks often used their restaurant, which was rated as having the "top pizza in Orange County" by KABC-TV Channel 7's "Eyewitness News" last year, to hold fundraisers for Crittenton Services for Children and Families and Fullerton Interfaith Emergency Services.

In addition to his wife, Peck is survived by his son, Jerome Pecoraro; his brother, Charles Pecoraro; and his sister, Frances Labozzetta.

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