Friendship, drama, laughter at old Jacksonville City Hall

Former city council members reminisce about time in chambers

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Roxy Tyler - Web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville’s 1960s-era city Hall Building means a lot to those who worked there, including former city council members.

In a time before term limits, some of them served for 20 years in the chambers.

Four past city council presidents who served in the soon-to-be demolished building -- Eric Smith, Warren Jones, Bill Basford and Matt Carlucci -- shared their thoughts of the time they spent there.

“It brings so many memories of so many good people,” said Smith. “And it makes me a little sad to look at it.”

Each former city leader has their own unique perspective on this historic building.

“It holds a lot of memories, a lot of fond memories,” said Jones, who now is a Duval County School Board member.

Warren Jones said he had good days and bad ones at the old City Hall. He remembered being at odds with other council members over various issues. He stood up for what he believed in and decided the building was on prime real estate -- too prime-- for a city property. He thought the location was a waste of money.

“I supported the move from the old City Hall to the new City Hall, to put those properties on the tax roll. And I think the city will be better served with that more valuable property on the tax roll,” Jones said.

Basford, 88, is now a lawyer and remembers the building as the center of downtown.

"I have such unbelievable memories,” he said.  “(The) river was there, Bay Street, they were well-built. There still very usable. And I just fear that the taxpayers are going to suffer for a lot of us.”

Carlucci, who is once again running for Jacksonville city council in March, served in the building following in his father Joe Carlucci’s footsteps. He remembers the ups and downs of being a kid there.

“I was at the house. I was doing my homework and the phone rang. A man that said he was headed down to City Hall because he was going to murder my father. And my dad was like my hero to me, I wasn’t about to let that happen. So, I got my old Mercury, and I drove really as fast as I could to City Hall.”

“I said, ‘Dad, there’s somebody coming up here to murder you.’ He said, ‘Son, I get those calls all the time, don’t worry about it.’’”

The former lawmakers agree a lot was accomplished inside the walls of the old city hall.

“The city council itself originated the 911 system here in Jacksonville,” Smith remembered. “We were one of the last big cities to get it.”

Basford helped bring computers to City Hall in the 1980s. Jones remembers passing the gas tax for city roads and infrastructure, and Carlucci still grins when he thinks about the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The council voted on the team while in the chambers at the old City Hall.

There were also lighthearted moments -- these former city leaders remember the laughs, the jokes and "the good ole days.'’

“I was really surprised that the council secretary kept some liquor in his cabinet,” Jones said with a chuckle. “So, I would say, 'Why is everybody drinking coffee now?' And therefore and liquor in the coffee.”'

Whether they like it or not, this building full of memories is soon to be just that, a memory. Some of the former leaders want to watch the demolition. Others don’t.

“I’ll probably go to Palatka or someplace so I don’t have to,” said Basford. “I don’t think I do (want to watch). I think it would break my heart watching those bricks fall.”

“I hate to see any public building that we spent so much money on have to go down like that one is, but time marches on, and since the building is not beautiful (in an) architecture way, like for example the new City Hall, you can’t save it,” remarked Smith.

The former City Hall is set to be imploded at 8 a.m. Sunday. The former Duval County Courthouse is being demolished in sections, with total demolition due to be complete this spring.

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