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Largs and the Castelvecchi's

The Castelvecchi family links with Largs go way back to 1902. Similar to their Italian cousins the Nardini's the Castelvecchi family have made a huge contribution to Largs over the years. Their cafe’s, restaurant and other businesses have helped attract visitors to Largs for over 100 years and have help shaped Largs into the popular seaside resort it is today.

It all started with Leo Castelvecchi. The son of an Italian farmer, Leo was 10 years old when he decided farming was not for him. In his late teens he went to America. He had no money so his father lent him the fare of 300 dollars which he paid back in full later. On arrival in America he went to work for his brother in law who had a small business in a Kentucky township. The stayed for 6 months and then started to look for a shop of his own. He had no money but he set up a shop in Paris Kentucky from borrowed money from a friend. After 9 months he sold his new business to his assistant.

He then went back into partnership with his brother in law who shortly after went back to Italy. His next partner in business was another Italian who unfortunately conned him out of a lot of money and forced him to sell his share. He was only 17 at this stage. Leo eventually got even with his partner by approaching the owner of the land the business was located on. He bought the land and then increased rent of the premises.

By this time he was thinking of heading back home. He had two cousins in Largs who had two shops and in 1902 the young Leo moved to Largs and entered into partnership with them. The two shops were located where in WH Smiths is today on the Main Street and one in School Street.

leo image

As the two businesses grew he found himself in competition with a rival Italian in Largs who vowed he would clear Casteececchi out of Largs. However, young Leo declared that his rival would go first and sure enough 8 years later he was left with the field to himself.

As his business flourished he was presented with a chance to buy ground at the Pier head along with his partner and brother in law from Paisley, Mr Nardini. The old first wooden Cafe on the site was owned by Cornelli Antori. Soon after he proceeded to build a new wooden building called the Pier head Cafe with shops attached. Later more cafes and shops were opened in Nelson Street, Main Street and Tron Place.

old pierhead cafe
old pierhead cafe
A rare view of the first Castelvecchi Cafe from Gallowgate Street
Another view from the Pier

As the years passed the summer time visitor trade to Largs increased and so Leo's business grew rapidly. By 1935 plans were being laid to start on the building of the Moorings Cafe which would include shops, a restaurant and ballroom. Work began on the construction of the Moorings in 1936.

By this time Leo Castelvecchi had passed the burden of his business to his three sons Corrado, Leo and Cosimo. They emulated their father by carrying on the business. The architect chosen for the new Moorings building was James Houston of Kilbirnie who also designed the Largs Viking Cinema.

In 1936 The Moorings café and restaurant opened on the seafront at Largs. It incorporated its own ice-cream factory and bakery, and housed a ballroom with a capacity of 1000 people. The building had a distinctive nautical design, in keeping with its location. It featured porthole windows, a third floor sundeck and a cut-away corner echoing the prow of a ship.

This magnificent building was the jewel on the Clyde for many years until the 1980’s when its popularity declined. The Moorings building was eventually demolished in October 1989 and replaced by the New Moorings building which incorporated shops and flats. The design of the new building took inspiration from the old with its distinctive ship curved at the front.

Check out our old and new page for images of the old and new Moorings buildings which are merged together

old moorings
old morrings

The Lugano and Harlequin

In December 1955 the Castelvecchis opened a new enterprise called the Lugano Bar. Located in Fort Street to the south of the Moorings building, it was soon incorporated into the Moorings complex. The Lugano was a new restaurant and cocktail bar and had a continental decor with teak, maple and mahogany. Later this building became the popular Oasis bar and disco.

Later in April 1965 the Castelvecchi's started a new venture with the opening of The Harlequin Cafeteria on the Main street. The Castelvecchi brothers appointed a well-known Edinburgh design consultant, John Glover, to design the restaurant with the main feature being the self-service cafeteria counter. The opening hours were from 9 - 12 midnight daily, and described as Largs's First Self-Service Cafe Restaurant.

Eventually one hundred years of the Castelvecchi catering business in Largs has come to an end with the retirement of Leon Catelvecchi from the Harlequin Restaurant in the Main Street just a few years back. It is now the Blue Lagoon takeaway and cafe.

old moorings
old harlequin
The white Lugano Bar and Restaurant to the right of the Moorings
An early photo of the Harlequin Restaurant

And finally the Prom Kiosks

Another little known Castelvecchi addition to the the town of Largs is still here today. The Kiosk at the Mackerston putting green next to the children's playground was imported from Venice Italy by the Castelvecchis in the 1930s. Almost 80 years old this wee lovely blue kiosk is still a major feature of the south prom and still provides a service to the town in summer days. We are not sure who owns the kiosk as of today but it appears still to be in use and open every summer. Thankfully attempts to demolish the kiosk a few years back were cancelled.

The second Castelvecchi imported kiosk was located on the prom for many years and located where the Beachcombers cafe is right now situated near the Largs lifeboat station. Sadly this was demolished many years ago.

old mckerston kiosk largs
Our lovely wee 80 year old Castelvecchi Kiosk still in use to this day
the old prom kiosk largs
The old kiosk at the Largs Lifeboat Station. Sadly long demolished.



Foot Note

Just a quick note to any Castelvecchi family members who may have read this feature. If we have got any facts incorrect then please let us know. In addition if you would like to contribute any additional facts or photos we would love to hear from you. Thanks The OldLargs team.