Interviewee: Nick Nuccio
Interviewers: George Pozzetta and Gary Mormino
Date: June 10, 1979
M: Today is June 10, 1979 and George Pozetta and myself Gary Mormino are
talking to Mr. Anthony or is it Nick?
M: Nick Nuccio at his lovely home in Tampa, and Mr. Nuccio why don't we begin.
Could you tell us something about your families background? Maybe your father
and where he came from?
N: My father came from Palermo, at the age of fifteen. My mother came from __
at the age of ten. They got married in Tampa.
M: What did your father do in the old country?
N: In the old country? Well he came has a child, he was fifteen, he didn't do
M: How about his family?
N: His family were farmers, and when my father came to Tampa he started working
for the railroads [in Saint Clouds]. Then after that he came back to Tampa, and
he started working at a cigar factory, in industry. My mother also started working
at the cigar factory.
M: Do you know what type of job your father did in the cigar factory?
N: My mother was a roller, my father was picking up bunches, you know that type,
for many, many years. And my father naturally went into business and
stayed in it for thirty years, and then he retired and didn't do anything until he
died at the age of ninety-two. My mother passed away at the age of ninety-five
here in Tampa.
M: You feel kind of confident then?
N: Yeah, I'm going to live to ninety-five.
M: You have said a lot there, lets break it down a little bit. Your father was from
Palermo, or was he from some of the towns...
N: He was from Palermo.
M: How did he hear about Tampa, why did he come to Tampa and not New York or
N: Well, he had some family here, his father was here, his father worked here and
then he sent for him. The same thing with my mother, her father sent for her.
Because they came for themselves, and they wanted a family, and they sent for
__, and then they had the whole family here.
M: What was he expecting when he came? Did he ever tell you? What did he expect
Tampa would be like, or what had he heard about America or Tampa?
N: Well he knew that he was going to live with his family, and like my father
when he retired, and I wanted him to return to Italy and visit his whole country
where he was born. And he said no, I will never go there, once I left there I
decided I would never go there again. The misery and suffering that I had, that's
what he was saying, you know it's true. He said with a piece of bread in my
pocket and I would have to __ water and climbing mountains from morning to
night everyday of the week, __
M: And what year did he come to Tampa, your father? Do you remember? You
have to guess?
N: I have no idea.
M: You mentioned he came to Saint Cloud, tell us why he came to Saint Cloud and
what he did there?
N: Because all the Italian people were working on the rail road at that time. so
he went to Saint Cloud, he was a youngster you know. Then he got married and
started working at the cigar factor, worked there four or five years [rail road], then
he started working at the cigar industry.
P: Did he ever talk about what the early cigar factories were like, what conditions
N: Same as __ day. __ machines make cigars you know, and at that time they
didn't have any machines. They all made hand made cigars, that's the only
M: What about Saint Cloud, did he ever tell you what life is like there, what kind of
job he did.
N: He said he enjoyed it, he had a good living .
M: What did he do?
N: Working on the rail road, fixing up tracks.
M: And then he came from Saint Cloud to Tampa, any idea what year this might
have been, if you had to take a guess?
M: What was his first impression of Tampa?
N: Well he liked it very much, he liked it very much. He made a home here, could
have gone any where else, you know what I mean, but he didn't, he wanted to
stay in Tampa.
M: Why did he get a job in the cigar factory, why not?
N: Because they live better.
M: How did he learn the trade?
N: At that time they had people that trained these workers __ some old timer that
was making cigars in Cuba, for example that immigrated here to Tampa taught
all these new comers how to make cigars.
M: What did he tell you about conditions in the factory?
N: Very good, very good, he enjoyed it very much. He had no problems with that.
P: Did he ever talk about how the different ethnic groups in Tampa got along, the
Cubans, Spaniard, and Italians?
N: Very, very close, as a matter of fact they were closer then than how they are
M: Why do you think that was?
N: Well, at that time they all used to live in one section, for example, like with Ybor
city in west Tampa. West Tampa was mostly the Spanish and the Cubans, and
Ybor city was mostly the Cubans and the Italians, mostly Italians over there.
Italians were in west Tampa, see __ over here is supposed to be the West
Tampa section. Everybody from Ybor city came in this section, all living in this
area. Ybor city is not there any more.
M: What main differences, if you had to pick the differences when you were young
kid growing up, how would you classify the differences between the Italians,
Spaniards, and the Cubans? How is each group the same and how are they
N: Well they are still close, I mean together, no question about that, the only
difference today is that the young element have an education, they have a better
education than they did then. Now they are getting away from this section here,
and they are moving away scattered all over the city. Hipok area, Seminole
Heights, Town and Country, they spread all over now. Because the young
people, naturally got an education, they got good jobs and were able to live
better, buy homes better. And eventually some of them brought their families
over there, to Ybor City, when Ybor city started getting mostly blacks and
Indians, naturally all that area was all decaying, you know what I mean, all that
slum area. And at first because there was 50 percent blacks and 50
percent Latin, you know what I mean, in Ybor city, becoming one of the so
I started because it was predominantly black. So I started that project
there, by the time they got thru with that one, Ybor City was ready to picked up
as an urban renewal section. Then I started with the front which was completely
black, you know vacant houses in the slum area, which is from to seventh
M: And __ factory was there?
N: In that section, yeah, on fourteenth street.
M: Right, let's talk about how you got started and everything. First of all what year
were you born?
N: I was born October 24, 1901.
M: In Ybor City?
N: In Ybor City.
M: Do you remember the address?
N: I lived all my life in Ybor City, practically by __ I lived there till fifteen years
ago. I'm seventy-seven, and until fifteen years ago I lived there. I lived there on
Eighth avenue and Seventieth street, and was born there
M: That's right across from the Ybor factory isn't it?
N: No, no, do you know where the telephone company is? In Ybor City on
Seventeenth Street and Eighth avenue?
M: Oh, all right, okay.
N: The telephone company is
M: Yeah, yeah, right, okay.
N: We lived on eighth avenue which is back to back with the telephone company.
My father bought about, oh, about three rows of houses there at that time. And
we lived in one of them on one side.
P: Was that fairly common among the Italians, to buy up units and rent them out?
N: Oh yes, oh yes. The Italian people own practically all of Ybor City.
P: The housing...
M: Why do you think that was?
N: Because their were more interested in building something for themselves. The
Spanish people, they were at that time that they came here just to make a
little money and then go back to Spain. The Italian people actually wanted to use
the room and live there the rest of their lives, whenever you have family,
especially when you get married, you know. I lived in the same house on
eleventh street, Ybor City for thirty-eight years. About fifty years ago I moved on
the river, all the way out there in Pembroke Crest, and had a beautiful home their
on the river, and probably was little to far for me. So ten years I bought this
Here and those apartments. And I took for everything __ downtown
M: What was it like to grow up in Ybor City in 1901? What are your first memories?
N: __ College.
P: What was life on the streets like, with people...
N: Very good, very good, our home, all homes had porches, you know in Ybor City,
we use to at night, at 12 o'clock midnight sit on the porch, nobody bothered us.
We ain't got any more porches, even if did have it nobody would sit there at time
in the night. you don't see a soul on the street, you know, vandalism and
mugging, you know, its pitiful, you know, not only here but all over the country.
M: Right, where did you go to school as a young man?
N: I went to school at the, a catholic school, a convent, and when I was in the twelfth
grade at the convent I went to public school in Ybor City school at that time.
Then I went to the George Washington School, then I went Hillsboro High
M: What was school like in those days, your classmates, and everything?
N: Better friends, very, very nice, I enjoyed it very much. Although I did not have
much schooling, remember cause I had I was a drop out, you know.
P: Were your class mates other Italians and Cubans, and Spaniard children?
N: Mixed, Anglo-Saxon as well.
P: Anglo-Saxons as well, any blacks?
N: No, at that time no.
M: Tell us a typical scene if you could go back to Ybor City, say your twenty years
old, what would it be like on seventh avenue in Ybor City on Saturday night?
N: On Saturday night, all the stores would be open till nine, ten o'clock at night. You
could walk on the side walk, people just walking up and down, doing shopping,
meeting friends, they were very, very glad wonderful. Today it is very
different than that, today you don't see nobody on seventh avenue. Or even
Franklin Street, you don't see nobody on Franklin Street after 5:30, 6:00 in the
P: Do you remember anything in those early days happening with the workers, the
N: Well cigar makers have always had a little trouble. Always have had trouble, if
the wasn't cleaned right, why all they had to do, just somebody say "let it go
out", and they all go out. Any little excuse, you know, Latin man system that they
had, you know. But it did not last long, the only time that a strike lasted long was
about ten months, and that was in 1910, I believe, or around that time.
P: Do you remember anything about the 1910 strike?
N: No, no.
P: To small of a boy?
M: What about the 21 strike, the 1921 strike?
N: Oh, that wasn't bad.
M: What about life of a cigar maker in Ybor City?
N: Very good, everybody was happy, everybody had No problems, they were
P: You mentioned for a time you went to a church school, what kind of a role did the
church play in the community? Was it a very important institution?
N: No, not at all, not to my knowledge anyhow.
P: Why not?
N: I don't know.
M: Can you think of any specifics, any incidents, or anything...
N: No, no incident at all, the church would take no interest.
M: Is that uniformly, what about your mother, did she go to church? Did the Italian
women go to church, Spanish women go to church?
N: Some of them did, my mother did at that time, but in later years she changed
from a catholic to a presbyterian, and she went to presbyterian church. In my
case, I was in the catholic church, then I changed to presbyterian.
P: Was that fairly common among the Italian people? You know?
N: No, not particular common, most of the Italians that I could speak of are catholic,
they are Catholics. They just for some reason, my particular reason was
that a minister came from out of town, Reverend I don't know if you might
of heard of him, he died about a year ago. He came to Tampa as a Presbyterian
minister, and he settled in Ybor City, on eleventh avenue and twelfth street.
P: And his name was Bacilia.
N: Walter Bacilia.
P: Walter Bacilia, Italiano?
N: Italiano, oh yes. And naturally he wasn't doing to good 'cause __ no Latin to
go to a church, a presbyterian church. So somebody mentioned to him to come
and see me, you know. And he came over to see me and I was a member of the
City Council then, he came to see me and said, can you help me out, my
church. I was in politics you know what I mean, not that I go to church, but I'm a
Catholic. That makes a difference, the church is not the Catholic church, it is not
the Presbyterian church, it is God. So, I liked his position, you know what I
mean, so I said okay, I'll come over. So, I went there on Sunday with my wife.
P: You went to church?
N: Well, I met a few people there, they were there to keep Then I took some
friends to go over to the church with me, then I talked to some more, so we
started to fill the church up. Until about 20 years ago, since the church was
small, and because a lot of Latin people were moving away from that section and
alot of black people were coming in, you didn't have much __ So we built the
St. John Presbyterian Church over here on __ avenue. Beautiful church, big
church, we made it big, they got a kindergarten school, they got a building there
where they take care of invalid children, they got a building there for_ that
are not being well cared for. You know, anyone, and anything, and that's not
even by the church. And because of him you the church.
M: Were you conscious as a young man of being Italian?
N: Oh yeah, always, still am.
M: Any incidents...?
N: I can never forget that!
M: Did people ever let you forget it? Do you remember any incidents where that
might be amplified or anything like that?
N: No, no, no, because I'm in politics, I can see more than anybody else.
M: Summarize what you think the contribution of Italian-Americans in Tampa, if you
had to summarize it?
N: The Italian people, lets put it this way, the Latin people, Spanish and Italians,
were the ones that started building Tampa. If it wasn't for them there would not
be a Tampa today. All these other people that came from Georgia, and South
Carolina, North Carolina, were many years afterward, you know what I mean.
That they started building the downtown, started building a bank there, and
naturally people traveled to __ cause they had the better stores, and what not.
The Italian people, mostly the Italian people were the ones that built Tampa.
They were the biggest property owners. And the reason, let may say this to you,
Ybor city was the best part of the city of Tampa. Franklin street was nothing but
a swamp. But the only way that these people that came from out of town, which
brought the money to build something and make money out of it, had to go down
where they could buy a large stretch of land, which they did. The the
the nights, those are the ones which came in and started building. The
cigar making industry was the biggest __ of any side of town. And one-
hundred percent of those were Latin people working in the tobacco industry.
P: What were relations like between the Latins and the Anglos in the early days?
N: No connection, no intimacy between them.
P: No intimacy...
N: Not that I could see anyhow, outside of the big people, you know the cigar
manufactures, you know the people that...
P: Were there any hostilities, any...
N: No, no, no hostilities at all. As a matter of fact he married a cigar
manufactures daughter, Latin girl, that's that he was married to an Italian, I
mean a Spanish girl. There was more friendliness between the mayor and the
M: How about politics in those early days, how did the Latins begin to break into
politics? You mentioned that Mr. McKay was mayor, in those early days...
N: Well, we had a representative from every section of the city had a
representative, everyone in Ybor city had one. The city was divided into
twelve sections. There always was two Latins, one was Spanish [Tape becomes
garbled]. My brother ran for county commission in 1926, we won the election,
but in the general election, which had to be voted county wide, the primary was
supposed to be voted in the districts. There was an Anglo-Saxon that ran
against me, an independent and by write in he defeated my brother. But we took
it to court, cause we checked the votes, and all the names that were written had
the same hand writing, same pencil. So by the time we took it to court, the
Supreme Court in Tallahassee, so by that time it took almost two years, by that
time there was already another election. So my brother naturally ran again for
county commission __ He went to Spain and he never came back, so there
was a vacancy there. So my brother took on to it cause he was a very well
known man in Ybor City, in that section. I knew he could get without any problem
but he did not want to run, so I dared him to or I would run for the seat, I was a
youngster--twenty six years old. He said, oh, you can but I had to make
my promise good. So when he didn't run, the three days that I gave to make a
decision whether he was going to run or not. I announced for it, well I didn't have
any opposition, I knew I could run without any trouble, you know what I mean, not
that I wouldn't have any opposition, but that I knew I could win. So I didn't have
any opposition, and four years afterwards __ Then some friends of mine
came to me that were not satisfied with the county commission, that they had at
that time. It was a large district taking in four or five or six or seven big
communities outside city limits. So they wanted me to run for that office,
but I didn't know anybody outside of thirteenth street, because of my city job. But
I said, okay, I'll run, I ran and I won the county commission. Well I stayed in the
county commission job for about twenty-two years. Then they came to me about
running for mayor.
M: What year was this?
N: 1956 or 1957, I said well, I don't know, I'm happy where I'm at, but they insisted
so much that I said O.K. I'll take chance. I said O.K. I'll get into it, so I got into it
and I lost.
P: This was in '56 when you lost?
N: Yes, 1956.
M: You did you run against?
M: Curtis Hixson?
N: Yeah, he had the people that had the money, they were illegal businesses.
M: Rough campaign?
N: Not on my part, no, they spent a lot of money, they employed people that would
go house to house. So I lost, so about a year he passed away. So I tried again
and I won, then I ran again for the same office, the newspaper didn't like
my name, they didn't like where I lived in Ybor City. So they defeated me, and he
was a good man, but he was surrounded by people that didn't advise him right.
So when I was defeated as mayor I ran again for county commission. And I got
elected again for county commission. So I stayed another two more years in the
county commission. Then I ran for mayor again, in 1965, and I won. So I stayed
there four years, then again like I said because of my name and where I lived in
Ybor City, they didn't like it, they said it was a disgrace for a mayor to live in Ybor
M: They actually came out and said that? Did they ever put that on print...
N: No, no ,no. The last editorial they wrote about me, because I had a pancreas
operation. And they said that because of his age and his health, he would be a
for the taxpayers, if something were to happen to him, the people
would have to go back and vote for another mayor. So they defeated me again,
but everything you see here in Tampa under my administration was built. All the
libraries, the convention center, the stadium, the University of South Florida.
So I offered it to the university, and as a matter of fact when the
Presbyterian college, wanted to establish here on some land, and because I had
my connections with the ministry, they came to me so I could help them out. So I
helped them establish their school. I went to the Chamber of Commerce, __
M: Lets go back, and you've given us a lot, lets go back and...
N: You know what I'm going to do, I'm going to, and I'm going to tell why I did it, I'm
not proud of it but I did it. A man I met last night, I got a brochure of all my
activity while I was mayor, and county commissioner. I'm going to give one to
each one of you.
N: And if your reading this now, and what I suggest to you is this, you read and then
come back, and ask me questions about it. For example I donated the land for
the McDonald training school, I donated the land under my administration, I
donated the land for the children's home. Why did I do that, I donated the land
for a lot of __ why did I do that? I was interested in beautifying the city,
because these people that belonged to the garden club did make time or money
to make the city beautiful. So it encouraged me to do it and donate land so they
could put up a building, and could meet at a nice place. When I took office fifty-
seven, the bay shore boulevard was nothing but a patch of sand spots, nothing!, I
built it! I built __ I built __ I built_ Those are things which I
accomplished and I am proud of, but the reason I did that, was because my
granddaughter went tot he convention center, no the library. At that time she
was only eight years old, and she says to me, "grandpa, I see your name over
there, why is your name up there?", and I said that when I was mayor I built that
building. "What else did you do?" I said, oh wait a minute, so I put her down and
wrote down everything I did, and I gave it to her. And when I did that I said let
P: I would like to see that.
N: I'm going to give it to you, and if you find anything in there that you find
interesting you can come back and ask me questions about it, I'll be glad to
P: Thank you...just briefly, the obvious question is how to have done so much, what
kind of preparation did you have for your job? Like how did you, you
P: Yeah, but you mentioned in twenty-seven when you were first elected...
P: How did you get the experience?
N: In public life...
P: But how did you get into public life?
N: I told you, I dared my brother...
P: Yeah, but did the people vote for you because of your name or had you done
anything in Ybor City?
N: I ran first in Ybor City, and everyone knew me in Ybor City...
P: How did they know, what had you done before that? You were twenty-six years
N: I was in the insurance business, in real estate, I worked for the post office for five
years, and everybody knew each other, there was no question about that.
Naturally I got experience from the City Council, then I went back to the county
commission, City Council is legislative, the county commission was
administrative. So when I was on the county commission for thirty-two years,
naturally I had knowledge of the legislation and of the administrative.
P: Were you the first Latin in this county commission?
N: I was the first Latin as mayor, in the county commission there was a latin before
M: Who was that, do you recall?
N: Jimmy Fernandez.
P: Is this ever brought up in the election, that you were latin?
N: No, never.
P: But was that ever an issue? Was it something you brought out into the open?
N: I had a fellow that was running for some office there, he had a black man running
against him, the black man was talented and knowledgeable. He published a
leaflet so that people could see his opponent was black. Which is wrong you
know what I mean. In my case, Nuccio, the people didn't know me, who is he?
People don't know me, back then when the mayor's office, in the county
commission they knew, I was there for twenty-two years, and I served everybody,
I didn't only serve the people in my district, I served the people of Linberg county,
when I was mayor I didn't serve the people of Tampa only, I served everybody in
the county. And I was proud of that, and that's why they came to me. They
didn't go to anybody else, the commissioners for example, they came to me. I
had a schedule, in the mornings, I would get up at four o'clock in the morning, I
don't know why, but I do get up at four o'clock in the morning. At that time when I
was county commissioner, at four thirty I would leave the house, at five o'clock I
would be in my barn. I told the men what to do, you know instruct the men on
what to do till the end of the day. The next day I would go check everything they
did, give some new orders. So I had personal contact with the people, I would
say do the work right. in my district we had __ The federal government
then gave me the cement, all I had to do was the rock and the and the
sand which I got right out of the sand pit, which was approved by the government
to build sidewalks. So I built sidewalks all the way throughout my district, I built
bridges, I built everything in my district was concrete, was built. So the men
learned how to build sidewalks, how to build benches, every school in Ybor
County needed benches and tables, so the children could sit on the grass or on
the benches. Cause when I put them in one school all the schools wanted them,
and example I tell you this; at one of the schools I went someday, and I see in
the hall way children eight or nine, I said what are these children doing over
there? "Oh, the doctor is examining them," so I said doctor Schell what are you
over here? "Oh, I'm wasting my time, telling them that they need their tonsils
removed, and next year I'll tell them the same thing, the people are poor, they
cannot afford it you know. The principal of the school certified to me that all
children that cannot afford hospitalization for take their tonsils out so that
the doctor from the county would come and operate these children at no cost.
The county budget was very high due to all these operations in such a
short time, so the budget board called me and told me, and I said I was
responsible. so that was the end of it! He didn't say nothing about it! One
of the things that I did, that's how the people know me, cause of the things that I
did. As for my experience, my legislative work on the City Counsel, and also the
many years of county commission.
M: Now, Mr. Nuccio, any one over whelming achievement that you think the people
know you by, or you would like to be known by?
N: I want to be known by the services that I rendered, that's all, nothing of my
accomplishments, the services that I rendered to the people in my forty years of
P: You start serving as county commissioner during the depression, how did the
depression affect Tampa?
N: Very badly, in a sense, you know, that there was no work, people were out of
work, and people were hungry.
M: Were their any ethnic divisions on that public relief, or was it just for anybody that
N: Again, in this county here, we didn't have any blacks, just whites, I don't know
why. When they built the Bayshore Boulevard, it is because of the PWA not the
CWA, the Public Works Administration. so we built that, and I was a
member of the City Council then and what I was trying to do is build a park. And
we wanted to make a big, big play ground but all the homes over there started to
object, they came to the City Council, and they objected it. So we had to
abandon the whole idea of doing that, just for example on the time the water
polluted and I got the idea, and I was almost able to do it, I wanted to go ahead
and drive about 250 to 300 people to take all the sludge out, under a state
program. But if I did under the state, then we would allow all trucks and any kind
of vehicle to go by. I could not bar anybody from going by. So the same people
that objected to the park objected to that, we don't want [you] fixing all these
trucks, going up and down making all this noise. So that, I don't know what I
could have accomplished, but I would have tried it, and I think it would have been
M: Do you tap into the New Deal projects very often? You know, the New Deal
projects, did you have a close relationship with Washington then?
N: You mean at that time?
N: Oh yeah, yes.
M: How did the Depression affect Ybor in specific? Like to cigar workers?
N: Ybor City wasn't bad, we had very, very few blacks working in the cigar
corporation. They had jobs, menial jobs, but they had jobs. I doubt it if there
was, small percentage that worked in the cigars at that time. Today it is different,
today a lot of blacks are working in the cigar corporations.
M: You were talking about blacks awhile ago, how would you summarize the history
of Negroes in Tampa?
N: Well let me put it this way, we had a good element of black, but like with all
groups, whether they are Latins, or Anglo-Saxon, or whether its blacks. You will
always find extreme radicals, you know the young, kids, that all of the sudden
say lets do him cause we heard something. And they raised hell, but the
relationship between the blacks and the whites was always very good.
P: What happened in 1967, how would you explain what happened in Tampa?
N: Because a young kid got shot by a policeman, he was told to stop and he
wouldn't stop, so the policeman shot him. I don't know if that was right or wrong,
so like I say a group of youngsters, that are older started drinking a little, started
breaking in and during Central Avenue, they didn't go beyond that. They just
went right there in the section...
M: Would you have handled it any differently?
N: I didn't know of any way to handle it, we didn't know they were going to do a thing
like that. But it all happened one night, late at night, everybody was home and
asleep, so they came and woke me up and I went over there. It didn't last long,
but it did do alot of damage, which today might have been a
P: Was that the area known as the scrub? Was that Merylin Avenue?
N: No it was not known as the scrub, it was a business sector, a black business
sector, mostly black people. But most of the buildings were slum area.
M: Did you find the bi-racial committee helped with ? What effect did it have?
N: I think they have done well, they have done well, but after the thing happened.
Now, if it would have happened when I had the committee, and then we would
have had knowledge of it. They probably would have accomplished something
which is more then what I could have done. The committee had the leadership of
the blacks and the whites, that had good relation with the blacks.
M: Today, Ybor City is in pretty rough shape, if you could do things over, could Ybor
City have been saved?
N: Let me answer you in this way, when I initiated urban renewal in Ybor City, my
thoughts at that time was to divide the lots into 75 feet by 100. At the time before
urban renewal, every thirty feet was a house. That's how close they were, two
family houses in one lot, two story houses in one lot. I was going to divide those
lots 75 by 100, and sell it to people so they could build there houses there. Now
if they would have been successful or not, I do not know today. When I left the
office, they defeated me, and the urban renewal group started negotiating with
some downtown people, and they sold all the land. They were successful,
making a good deal out of it, sold it to Barnett Bank and other hotels and what
not. But as far as Ybor City is concerned, in my opinion, it would all be like it is
today, environmental building, sheriff office, now they are trying to put a few more
buildings there, but that is not going to build Ybor City. As far as eating places,
might do a good business, the restaurant concern. But as far as the and
the art center...
M: Is Hillsboro Community College to blame for all these things?
N: No, I think they were some good things....
[End of the interview.]