Suzanne Catto

Suzanne Catto

Suzanne Catto

By Laura Jane Pittman
Resident Community News

Longtime Jacksonville resident Suzanne Catto of Empire Point can’t imagine being any more blessed than she felt while growing up in the Miramar area of Jacksonville. The ‘50s and ‘60s of her childhood were wonderful, she recalls.

Catto’s parents bought a house near where the Miramar Shopping Center is today – partly because that area was zoned for a park at the time and that was a draw for the family. There was a Piggly Wiggly nearby and then a Publix, she remembers, before it moved to the Lakewood area. The family attended Southside Methodist Church.

Catto_01 Catto_03 Catto_02With a strict mother and very loving father watching over her, Catto attended first DuPont School, then Hendricks Avenue Elementary, then DuPont for Jr./Sr. High School.
“I remember feeling so free riding my bike around San Jose, and we would cut through the cemetery [Oaklawn] for a shortcut to St. Augustine Road,” she recalled. “We had to be back through by dusk because that is when the gates would close.”

Even though Catto was a tomboy, her mother insisted on dancing, hoping it would give her a lot of poise, she laughs. She took modern and jazz from Earl Bagley and Phil Phillips, then from Mary Weaver Lucker on LaSalle Street.

There was a Flamingo Shopping Center on Hendricks Avenue, where the Gate gas station is today. Catto and her friends frequented the drugstore located in the painted stucco building to get “sundries” and a coke.

The kids often went to the early matinee on Saturdays at the San Marco Theater. Twenty-five cents, plus a couple of Pepsi bottle tops would get them in the door.
“I remember juggling that money and tops in my hand on the way there, so afraid that I would drop the quarter,” laughed Catto. “Also, on Saturdays, my mom and I would ride the bus to Hemming Plaza and go to all the glorious shops that were located downtown.”

The official city limits ended at Gadsden Road – that was as far as the buses would go. University Boulevard was called Longwood Road up to Beach Boulevard, after which it had a different name. It was later changed to University Boulevard because it went all the way to Jacksonville University.
One of the most treasured Catto family traditions was attending the Little Theatre (now Theatre Jacksonville).

“We had season tickets every year, and we were always there on opening night,” Catto said. “My father would always wear a tux, and I would wear a party dress. I still have season tickets, and I still put something special on. I don’t walk through those precious doors that I don’t think about my family going there. It will always be the Little Theatre to me.”
Catto still keeps in close touch with her 1963 graduating class from DuPont High School, where she has many fond memories of teacher Mae Boren Axton. Axton later went on to be a songwriter, penning the words to “Heartbreak Hotel.” The Elvis manatee in Catto’s yard has particular significance because of that connection.

“There was nothing like the San Marco area during the 50s and 60s,” said Catto. “I didn’t need to go anywhere else – my whole world was right there.”

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