By Martie Thompson

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. 

Family Remodeling Contractors! Bath, Kitchen &ADA Remodeling

“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.

  • Ackerman Urology We specialize in Prostate health, sexual health, bladder health, and Kidney health
  • Smiles by Glenos & Hadfic Orthodontists
  • Pavers concrete and more Free estimates
  • Snip's Tree and stump service over 25 years experience
  • Quality Eye care 25+ years of experience
  • Staverman Hearing Centers Hear loud and clear
  • Westminster Woods on Julington creek. Live well. Be Happy
  • Ackerman cancer center. We're here for your cancer treatment
  • Have questions about your medicare benefits? Call a SHINE volunteer.
  • Prudential Financial Planning Services with Andrew Laino
  • Vote for Dr. Erick Aguilar Republican candidate U.S. House Fl 4th district
  • Academy of Dance Open House & Registration August 19th and 20th 3pm to 6pm Classes start August 24th! Ballet, Pointem Jazz, Hip Hop Contemporary, Modern, Lyrical, Music Theatre, Vocal
  • Affordable Water
  • DIscount up to 30% Jim Register state farm agent
  • Nemetz Dental Associates! Your new smile awaits!
  • Havana Printing and office supply Call us today for all your cutome printing needs
  • Future home loans. North Florida's Premier Mortgage Expert Ryan Proffitt
  • Wild Birds Unlimited Nature shop. Have you watered your birds lately?
  • Legends of Real Estate call Kim Kessler
  • Harbor Chase! The Covid-19 vaccine is now available! Harborchase of Mandarin Independent, assisted living and memory care residences.
  • Dont Forget to vote for John Turner School Board member
  • Lori Hershey for School Board, District 7. A school system we can all believe in.
  • Matt Schellenberg. Dependable Leadership for these challenging Times. School Board District 7
  • Concrete Works! Free Estimates, driveways, Patios, Walkways, Concrete removal, Driveway extension, Pavers
  • Family Remodeling Contractors! Bath, Kitchen &ADA Remodeling
  • Mobile Notary Service. 15 years experience, 24 hour services
  • River Garden Senior Services, However and whenever you need us we're here
  • Starlight Gymnastics! Our #1 priority is your children!
  • Sugar Bear Antique Mall Summer spectacular sale July 10th-12th
  • Baptist Health, Great tools for motherhood
  • A Green Cleaner, Free pickup and delivery to your home!
  • Luxury living and compassionate care come together at starling. Welcome Home.
  • Alive Credit Union Start banking healthier today!
  • Clara's Tidbits Now in Mandarin!
  • 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!
  • HarborChase independent & assisted living Memory Care Mandarin. Your safety and peace of mind is always our Top Priority
  • Smart Choice Medical healthcare membership! No VoPay, No Deductibles, No Hassles
  • Havana Printing 904-447-5021