We have learned of the impending demolition of Marcucci’s Building at 612 S. Second St. News went out on the Internet, and at least 50 people responded with fond memories of this establishment.

Gilbert Marcucci began the business with his cousin Tony in the early part of the century. A brother-in-law, Julius Sodini, was also in the business before moving to Oelwein and starting The Candy Box, which flourished there until 1957. Gilbert had been born in Italy in 1870 and came to America in 1895. His old frame building was torn down in 1924; the new building, completed in just 60 days, remained a downtown business for about 40 more years. The Town Talk newspaper took over the building in the 1960s.

Marcucci’s was a famous hangout for teenagers in the evening and a great luncheon spot for downtown businessmen during the noon hour. In those days, everyone said, “I’ll meet you at Marcucci’s (or The Revere) after school.” Some called it “Mike’s,” for a great uncle who was the first one in America, and he started with a push cart.

Rastrelli’s came right after those two meeting spots, originating at The Revere before moving to Lyons. Between 1948 and its closing in the 1970s, Marcucci’s was run by two gregarious individuals: Charley Marcucci (Gilbert’s son) and his partner, Jim Pitts. One of them was always there, and they greeted one and all as honored guests, deserving of respect and good service. Charlie Fletcher was one of the candy-makers out back, and he and Charlie might be found at the Elks Club if they weren’t working.

Charley lived at 509 Seventh Ave. South. He and wife Anna and had four children. Besides Gilbert and cousin Tony there was also uncle Emil in Maquoketa, (where his son “Gib” still lives in Monmouth, Iowa). They all knew about making sweets, and the recipes were always in the family. Charley’s daughters were Marianna, Katherine, and Ann; his son Charles was in the Class of ‘55, but graduated from Campion (Jesuit boarding school). Chuck, Jr. is a builder living and working in the Clinton area.

Charley Marcucci was a friendly talkative guy loved by all. The real pronunciation of the name was “Mar-coot-chi,” as in Moan-ti-chello, not Mont-i-sello — (The instrument is a cello [chello] not a sell-o.) However, the name was anglicized in America. Charley never corrected anyone, and his family graciously accepted the American pronunciation of the family name. That’s the way many immigrants were — They instantly adapted and melded into society. By the second generation, they were as American as every other ethnic group.

Marcucci’s Restaurant — where Esther Koehler was the cook out back —was famous for such things as toasted ham salad or olive nut sandwiches, chop suey, hand packed chocolate ripple ice cream, peanut brittle and bar candy. Charley loved making the ice cream, and the Zombie sundae was his specialty. Don Johnson, who only moved up to sandwich-maker, said his brother Bob advanced to dispenser and had fun making malts and Green Rivers. Remember the wonderful caramel apples? Don and Donna Johnson still make and sell them in this area. They were the managers who closed the place and moved up the street to manage Reynold’s.

As one entered Marcucci’s, silver dollars were embedded in the floor. (Kids tried kicking them out.) The lunch counter was on the left, with the cash register in front. On the right were candy cases full of wonderful assortments of peanut clusters, peanut/ coconut brittle, and more. In back, there were booths for luncheoners or teenagers. They were very private. (Did any kissing occur there?) There were windows high above, on the alley side — small half-moon openings on the north. They were good for air and avoided a closed-in feeling.

Way out back is where candy was made and some dishes were prepared, but most of the cooking was on the grill up front. In the 1920s, it’s said that bootleggers would deliver “hooch” to the back door, whereupon it was hidden for certain clients’ clandestine purchase. Several young men who worked at Marcucci’s — like the famous Frank “Bud” Lynch, a future barrister and judge — knew of a clear liquor out back and brainstormed the idea to take a drink (of gin?) and replace it with water. Who’d be the wiser? If one had done it, okay… but several did so simultaneously. One “paying customer” is said to have been the Reverend Horton, from St. John’s Church. This may not be true, but it’s said he had a rather affected or high-brow way of speaking and, upon receiving a “watered down” bottle of the contraband, he returned next-day with a comment… (done in his own inimitable style), “Ah, Mr. Marcucci. The last shipment was a bit shy, I believe.” I’m sure the Reverend was compensated by the senior Marcucci in a customer-friendly fashion, and that the errant employees were no less kindly corrected.

The stories have been great. Former employees likely learned the most and loved Marcucci’s the best. Some of them were Bill Clark, Dick Clary, Jack Ryan, Wayne Weller, Jim Pearson, Jim Hyde, Jim Grayes, Stan Striley, Dave Hyde, Russ Marx, Dave Farrell, Ken and Jerry Springer, plus many more. These young fellows worked late, ate, played “Pass” (a card game) then went swimming down by Climax and, if they had a car plus gas money, they’d go joy riding afterward. Bill Clark said, “I think it was 1949 or ‘50 when State Men hit the bowling alley and Marcucci’s and sent everyone under 16 home. After that, you had to have a work permit and go straight home from work.”

The socialization, work ethic, manners and general “growing up” which occurred at Marcucci’s could rival any schooling received anywhere. Gilbert, Charley, Jim, Esther and the boys all provided a wonderful service to the community while they lovingly earned their living.

Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist. His column appears on page 5A on Fridays.