By Martie Thompson
editor@floridanewsline.com

The Italian-American Club of today was officially founded in 1951, but its roots as a social club celebrating arts, family, tradition, music and food — everything Italian — actually go back to the early 1920s. The original club, founded by a small group of immigrants, disbanded pretty quickly, but the American Italian Club of Jacksonville was founded in 1935 and consisted mostly of first generation Americans. During World War II, the club was again disbanded, but once the war was over, the present day club made its debut via formal charter. The club takes pride in being Jacksonville’s oldest ethnic organization. 

In the early days, meetings were held at members’ homes, restaurants and meeting halls. The Italian-American Club’s first structure was a pavilion on the Southside that was eventually enclosed. 

Starling At San Jose Inquire today to learn how your first month can be free!

“My childhood revolved around club activities: picnics on the beach; socials in restaurants; parties at members’ homes,” said club member Lucy Cortese. “I recall potluck dinners at our first property, an open pavilion on Southside Boulevard, then a dirt road. Members brought their kids along and we enjoyed outdoor games while the dads played bocce and the ladies shared favorite recipes sprinkled with stories of the old country.”
Members continued to dream of a true clubhouse. But according to Cortese, when her mother discovered an opportunity to purchase property on Westberry Road, club members were unsure. “Who would want to drive all the way to Mandarin?” they asked. “There’s nothing but orange groves out there.” Eventually they were convinced and charter members pledged money to buy the land at 2838 Westberry Road and build the club’s current facility in 1978.
The opening of the new building, with much pomp and ceremony, marked the realization of a dream, especially for the club’s original members. 

Today, the club is bustling with activity, including social events such as dinners, dances, and day trips. The club’s famous Festa Italiana, a celebration of all things Italian and open to the community, is held each spring and fall. Tables are set up inside the club and decorated in the Italian colors of red, white and green. Along with music and an array of homemade baked goods, the atmosphere is decidedly festive. Spaghetti dinners “to go,” featuring homemade meatballs like mama used to make, are held most months as fundraisers for the club, which is all volunteer-run.

Carlo and Ann Clemente have been club members for 15 years. They have served the club in many different capacities and are presently both on the board of directors; Carlo serves as board chairman. 

“We came to this area from out of state,” Carlo Clemente said. “At the club, it feels like family. You can meet people and automatically have friends. And you don’t have to be Italian. Anyone who appreciates Italian culture and food is welcome to join.”

Ann Clemente said that club is also available for rentals, fees from which go to help with the upkeep of the aging club building. 

“We are so thankful for the club,” Ann Clemente said. “Everybody gets along and we just enjoy coming together with people who share an appreciation of all things Italian.”

 

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Dore

Mario Cortese, Italian American Club vice president and volunteer chef, preparing for the Festa Italiana.

  • Staverman Hearing Centers Hear loud and clear
  • Brian E. Floro DMD, PA Dental services
  • JR Dental General, Specialty and Dental lab
  • Support community journalism! Subscribe to the Mandarin Newsline today!
  • Railing Chiropractic & Acupuncture
  • Let them know you are open for business! Advertise in our may issue!
  • Smiles by Glenos & Hadfic Orthodontists
  • Affordable Water - Conditioning, softening, purification! Residential commercial industrial. Family owned and operated since 1989. Call today for your complimentary water test and analysis 904 262 0197
  • Nemetz Dental Associates! Your new smile awaits! We offer Pediatric, Family dentistry, Periodontics/prosthodontics. Our team at nemetz dental associates is ready to help you with all of your dental needs and we look forward to providing you with personalized service and unparalleled treatment. Call us Pediatric dentistry 904 292 2210 Adult Dentistry 904 886 4867
  • Prudential Financial Planning Services with Andrew Laino
  • Snip's Tree and stump service over 25 years experience
  • Sportclips! we are open, safe, and ready for you.
  • Starling At San Jose Inquire today to learn how your first month can be free!
  • JCA Jopin more than a gym Join a community!
  • K&D Roofing & Construction Professional quality at the best price
  • Mandarin Veterinary clinic. Caring for pets!
  • First Christian Preschool We are open for tours!
  • Winn Dixie Get the best taste and the quality, at a winning price.
  • New look insurance LLC Call today for your quote and save $$$
  • Strictly senior services inc. Wheel chair accessible transport for seniors
  • River City Science Academy Mandarin! Tuition free, stem focused, public charter shcool
  • Family Remodeling Contractors! Bath, Kitchen &ADA Remodeling
  • Harbor Chase! The Covid-19 vaccine is now available! Harborchase of Mandarin Independent, assisted living and memory care residences.
  • Harbor Chase! The Covid-19 vaccine is now available! Harborchase of Mandarin Independent, assisted living and memory care residences.
  • Concrete Works! Free Estimates, driveways, Patios, Walkways, Concrete removal, Driveway extension, Pavers
  • River Garden Senior Services, However and whenever you need us we're here
  • Starlight Gymnastics! Our #1 priority is your children!
  • Wild Birds Unlimited Nature shop. the super wat to feed this winter
  • Premier cancer care close to home. Dat Pham, MD Medical Oncologist
  • Dermatology south east welcomes Dr. Cooper!
  • DKB Certified public accountant. Let us simplify your accounting needs 42 years of serving clients
  • Havana Printing 904-447-5021