The Way We Were: Michael Trower Carlucci

The Way We Were: Michael Trower Carlucci
Michael Carlucci stands by a sign for his popular store, Sincerely Yours, which used to be in San Marco.

The San Marco area was a completely different world 60 years ago, filled with the imaginings of an atomic age side-by-side with hand-mixed cherry cokes, gender-divided dances, and freedom from parental oversight. 

The Bolles School was still a military school, Jacksonville International Airport was called Imeson, and kindergarteners still pedaled around on Schwinn bicycles unaccompanied, as they scrounged for Coke bottles they could transmute to tickets for the Saturday children’s movie matinee at the San Marco Theatre.

Michael Trower Carlucci, 70, has lived in other places, including Miami and New York, but for 68 years San Marco has been where he hails to.

Michael Carlucci holds up the train set he won in a drawing at the Rexall Drug Store in San Marco when he was 7.
Michael Carlucci holds up the train set he won in a drawing at the Rexall Drug Store in San Marco when he was 7.

“Jacksonville has always been home,” said Carlucci as he visited a contemporary Starbucks in an updated Lakewood Plaza. 

Carlucci, an artist and photographer, is the brother of Jacksonville City Council Member Matt Carlucci and the stepson of former City Council Member and Florida Senator Joe Carlucci. He was also the owner of Sincerely Yours, a popular and colorful store that had two locations in the 1980s, San Marco and Mandarin. 

Carlucci was born in 1948 and living in Lakewood on Colgate Road with his parents, Milton and Louise Moore Trower (later Louise Moore Trower Carlucci McCreight). 

He was just two years old when his father was killed in an airplane crash, leaving a life insurance policy that paid for his mother to move with her young son to the 1600 block of Avoca Place in San Marco.  Grandparents Ira and Lottie Moore also moved into the home for a time to help, but when his mother married Joe Carlucci, his grandparents moved again. Their new abode, a one-story home built in 1939, was right around the corner on Belote Place. After their mother’s passing in 2017, Carlucci has remained in his grandparents’ home.

Michael’s younger brother, Matt, was born when he was 5. “My mother was very pretty,” he recalled, noting she went on to become a statesman’s wife.

His stepfather, Joe Carlucci, was elected to the first consolidated Jacksonville City Council and eventually to the Florida Senate. Carlucci was a member of the Jacksonville, City Council from 1968 to 1978, after which he served in the Florida State Senate from 1978 to 1986.

His mother was widowed again after Joe Carlucci suffered a massive heart attack in 1986, while still a senator. He died at 58, leaving an extensive legacy. Later, The Joe Carlucci Sisters Creek Park and Boat Ramp on Heritage River Road was named after him. 

His brother, Matt, went on to follow in their father’s footsteps – both were State Farm insurance agents, and Matt still operates Matthew F. Carlucci Insurance Agency Inc. in San Marco. Matt formerly served three terms on the City Council, including a year as president, before recently beginning another term as an At-Large Group 4 representative.

Wearing  a digital watch and carrying a cell that rings like a rotary phone, Carlucci  recalled 1950s and 60s experiences from his childhood in San Marco, such as the  “atomic cleaner,”– a foot-measuring device that literally X-rayed your feet at a run-of-the-mill shoe store – as well as classic drugstore enjoyments and a time when Five-and-Dime stores were the closest thing to Walmart.

“Next to Fire Station 13, there was Abe Levert, a record store,” Carlucci remembered. “At that time, they had little booths that were closed in, and each one had a small record player. If there was a record you wanted to buy, you could take a record in and listen to it before you bought it.” He said he tried it and bought his first record: James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” and the experience was “almost as cool as when portable radios came out.”

When new portable record players came out, the players were “basically a suitcase with a handle,” he recalled, noting that some radios were turquoise plastic. “We all thought we were in science world,” he said.  

The record store later moved next to the San Marco Theatre, which had a children’s matinee every Saturday that prompted Carlucci to become perhaps the area’s youngest recycler. He would pick up used Coke bottles and turn them in for the deposit. With nickels in hand, he would then have money to go to the show. 

Michael Carlucci is a photographer and graphic artist by trade.
Michael Carlucci is a photographer and graphic artist by trade.

Simple times, dangerous times

Carlucci remembers although his red Schwinn bicycle had no decals, he would decorate it with clothespins to make music in the spokes as he rode to the Southside public pool.  The pool was a huge draw for young people, although it did later claim his two front teeth.

“I did a backflip off the side and hit my teeth on the bottom,” he said. The accident left him with an unintentional Dracula visage until his new teeth were put in place.  Even though his appearance was altered, that didn’t stop him from going to dances at the pool, which took place in a large empty room where “all the girls were on one side of the room and the boys were on the other.”

Also claiming his attention was a shoe shop called Buster Brown that used a fluoroscope, a machine that X-rayed children’s feet for entertainment under the guise of helping them find shoes that fit. After he stepped up and put his feet in the holes of a mahogany box, he could see the bones in his feet, wiggling. Although many years later a Smithsonian curator would warn that the radiation-using machine was “the triumph of salesmanship over common sense and a lack of knowledge about the health consequences of certain technologies,” Carlucci, like most kids at the time, just thought it was “cool.”

The San Marco dry cleaner, that Carlucci can’t remember the name of, also gave a nod to radiation by using ‘atomic’ in its advertising.   This was probably because of the age, Carlucci said. It was the Cold War, and at that time, families stocked fallout kits instead of today’s hurricane kits, though the contents of both were about the same.

“People were on edge,” he said. “Now we have active shooters. Then, we had Cuban or Russian missiles.”

There was also an A&P grocery store with four registers to the left and another cool invention: a grinder that let you grind your coffee beans yourself. Although he can’t remember the brand of coffee you could grind, he thought it might have been Maxwell House, which has had a plant in Jacksonville since 1910. Today, Jacksonville is the only place in the U.S. that still has an operating Maxwell House plant.

“It was really new,” he said of the grinder. “I watched my grandmother do it.”

There was also a bowling alley that he didn’t go to much and a Rexall Drug Store he went to all the time. It was where adults could get True Detective Magazine and kids could get a cherry coke mixed while sitting on the sleek vinyl seats at the soda fountain. Sometimes kids would get a surprise before they left, as Carlucci recalled he did when he was a child. “There was a nice old man who worked behind the drug counter, and that’s where I put my name in the box and won a train set,” he said, noting he was around 7 years old at the time and his brother, Matt, was only 2, so he gave him the set. 

There was a store with an Indian costume that he always wanted to go into, but never did, just as he never figured out what kind of shop it was.  Also, in the square was the Silk Shop, where women could buy material and patterns to make their own clothes, and Underwood’s, which advertised on the curved surfaces of the era’s television sets. People went to Underwood’s to buy wedding presents and other things, he said.  “I still remember Mr. (Herb) Underwood. He had commercials of him working on stuff. He was old then, already.”  

Michael Carlucci
Michael Carlucci

Underwood opened the branch in San Marco in 1953 after growing a successful diamond and watch business in Palatka, then opened a store in downtown Jacksonville, according to the official store website. He sold his business in 1974 and passed away in 1998.

The other store that Carlucci recalled vividly was the popular Peterson’s Five-and-Dime in San Marco. “If you needed something, you went to Peterson’s first,” he said. “Even though they were a Five-and-Dime, they always seemed to have everything. It had a really good name in San Marco.”

The fountain in San Marco never did seem to operate right. It was shaped like a wedding cake, and if the wind blew too hard, it would spray your car. This being Jacksonville, a plastic bubble was placed over the top, which would fog up with condensation whenever it was hot, which is pretty much almost always, he said. “It was the 1960s’ worst fountain in the world.  The top of it is in Fletcher park, and weeds are growing in the middle of it.”

Carlucci’s brother, Matt, also has fond memories of drinking cherry Coke as a youngster.

“The Rexall was Coley Walker’s drug store, and they had a counter, and they served the absolutely best cheeseburgers, crinkle fries and cherry Cokes you could ever imagine. I would mow yards to make my money, back in those days, and when I would earn enough money, I would go up there with a friend. On a hot summer day in the summertime, when you’re out of school, a hamburger and those crinkle fries and a cherry Coke. Whoa mama, that was good.”

Matt also said his aunt lived in the neighborhood, and the little family they had all resided within blocks of each other. Matt and his wife, Karen, still live within two blocks of Carlucci. When they were young, the brothers rode their bikes everywhere. “When it was dinner time, my Mom would walk down and call us, knowing we were in hearing distance,” he recalled. Years later, while he and his wife were remodeling their home on Alexandria Place, they lived with his mother in her home on Avoca Place.  “(One day) she was walking down the driveway saying ‘Matthew!’ She was calling my son. It brings tears to my eyes right now,” Matt said.

Like his brother, Matt also remembers the coffee grinder, and his grandmother letting him grind the beans and their wonderful smell. “It’s a sweet memory,” he said. “That’s why we still love living in San Marco. When the wind begins to blow, it wafts the smell from Maxwell House, just a wonderful smell.”

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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