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This home collection of jukeboxes is a museum-worthy experience

When a jukebox in a store window caught Vickie Compton’s eye, she had to have it. That led to four decades of collecting and restoring them with her husband, Rodger.

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  • | 10:00 a.m. August 17, 2023
Seeburg’s 1951 Model B (right) was among the first jukeboxes that could play 45 RPM records.
Seeburg’s 1951 Model B (right) was among the first jukeboxes that could play 45 RPM records.
Photo by Heidi Kurpiela
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T he first house on the left inside the leafy Braden Pines neighborhood is a multilevel ranch, earthy brown in color, sitting on a meticulously landscaped acre of land. A long driveway arcs around the front. The placid exterior gives no hint to the delights within.

Vickie Compton opens the front door with a shy smile. She’s tall and thin, wears her dark hair long, with bangs. Her faded bell-bottom jeans, embroidered on the bottom, are topped by a white, off-the-shoulder peasant blouse. 

The melancholy strains of Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” fill the foyer. We walk a few steps into a sunken living room — a living room like you’ve never seen. Antique jukeboxes occupy virtually every inch of wall space. Some shimmer with multicolored lights, with bubbles oozing through tubes. Some are made with rich wood and lots of chrome. Some are just … really, really old.

The only reasonable response to this cornucopia is: Wow! If you could somehow airlift the home to a location on a main drag — presto! — a museum. All you’d need is a sign and a parking lot. 

And it’s not just jukeboxes. The high walls are festooned with framed posters evoking vintage Americana, two Stratocaster guitars, a big Sears, Roebuck and Co. sign, and lots more. 

Vickie’s husband, Rodger, greets us. He’s 72, with a full head of white hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. A matching Fu Manchu mustache frames his mouth. If Vickie, 70, and Rodger are proud to show off their remarkable menagerie, they don’t let on. The couple is soft-spoken and matter of fact. 

A short time later, as they sit in barber chairs while I interview them, I ask: “So, what is it, exactly, about jukeboxes?”

Vickie, after a pause: “The music.”

“And the design,” Rodger chimes in. “They don’t make ’em like that anymore. The wooden cabinets — it’s a lotta work, craftsmanship.”

Photo by Heidi Kurpiela

Sometimes words don’t do justice.

The living room is just the introduction to an emporium that encompasses two buildings — roughly 5,000 square feet fit to burst with 97 jukeboxes and all manner of artifacts, knick-knacks, bric-a-brac and memorabilia, including barber’s poles, cigarette machines, sheet music, a dummy dressed in a Superman costume standing in a phone booth, a mannequin wearing Rodger’s Army uniform from Vietnam, and a pinball machine that plays black-and-white footage of The Beatles. Some 5,000 records — 45s, plus a wall of LPs. 

If you’re beginning to think hoarder, stop. The massive collection has been thoughtfully curated and organized. Y’know, like a museum — with the jukeboxes as the main attraction. Vickie reckons that 80% of them are in working order. Most don’t require coins. The oldest is from 1928, a Holcomb & Hoke Electramuse, which plays 78 RPM records but doesn’t allow you to make selections. A Mills Panoram from the early 1940s shows a flickering 16-mm film of a woman dressed in an old-timey waitress outfit singing a vintage tune while dancing. Four decades before MTV.

For my money, the wackiest is the AMI Automatic Hostess. Back in the ’40s, these behemoths were placed in taverns. The user inserted a coin, then spoke into a microphone, which connected them to an operator, who would locate the patron’s music selection and play it. It hardly needs saying that this Automatic Hostess is purely decorative.

Most of the rest are not as exotic. We stop by the Comptons’ most prized item, a Wurlitzer 850 from 1941. It’s rare. And magnificent. I peruse the 24 song options, arrayed on strips of paper behind glass, press a button and watch the jukebox machinations cue up “He’s So Fine,” a 1963 “girl-group” classic by The Chiffons. It’s not just music that envelopes the room, but a warm wave of nostalgia.

Vickie drives the couple’s jukebox infatuation. She peruses internet sites over her morning cereal, looking for finds and deals, nevermind that their space is just about used up. “I’m always thinking there’s got to be room for one more, that somehow we can move things around to make room,” Vickie says, then adds with a touch of rue, “until we get past that point. We’re close.” 

The Wurlitzer 750 was the first jukebox to feature the company’s signature domed cathedral top, setting a standard for the industry that continued throughout the 1940s.
Photo by Heidi Kurpiela

Before jukeboxes, there was the music. Vickie vividly recalls when her world changed from black and white to Technicolor. It was Feb. 9, 1964, and she was playing with Barbie dolls in her bedroom in Lawrenceville, Illinois. Vickie’s mother beckoned her to the living room, where the TV was showing four fresh-faced British lads performing “All My Loving” over the shrieks of teenage girls. It was, of course, The Beatles, who were making their landmark debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Like so many boys and girls of the era, Vickie was gobsmacked. “I never played with Barbies again,” she says. “After that, I spent all my allowance on records.”

When Vickie landed her first job, an after-school gig cashiering at a local drug store, she bought an Admiral console record player. Her grandfather built a cabinet to house it. Vickie’s first concert was The Byrds at Mesker Amphitheatre in Evansville, Indiana, in the late ’60s. Her grandparents took her. On Saturdays, Vickie and her sister would head over to their grandparents’ house, watch “American Bandstand” and cue up some rock albums they’d bought. “I don’t know if they liked them,” Vickie recalls, “but they listened.”

By age 19, Vickie had grown weary of the bleak Lawrenceville winters. She visited a cousin in Sarasota a few times and, in 1974, packed up her records and headed for warmer climes. A year later, she landed a job at Davidson Drugs in Midtown Plaza, and rose to store manager, a job she held for about 30 years. (She stepped down in 2013, but still works at the Siesta Key locations a couple days a week.) 

Vickie met Rodger at The Playground nightclub on Feb. 6, 1981. They became an instant item and married on Dec. 29, 1984. A few months later, she and a girlfriend were strolling around a now-defunct shopping center on Fruitville Road when they passed a locally owned video store. Something in the window caught Vickie’s eye: a sleek jukebox with a brightly colored arch top and bubbles running through tubes. A 1946 Wurlitzer 1015. The owner was asking $4,000. 

Vickie returned home and ran the purchase by Rodger. He gave a thumbs down; they couldn’t afford it. A few weeks later, unable to shake the jukebox out of her head, “I actually went to a local bank and took out a loan for it,” Vickie says. “I paid it off quickly. Rodger decided he liked it.”

A flame was lit. The Comptons steadily bought jukeboxes, most of them in working order but in rough shape, and refurbished their shells on weekends, leaving the tech work, when necessary, to specialists. They spent vacations hunting jukeboxes. They went to auctions seeking jukeboxes. They bought a trailer so they could haul the jukeboxes home. Over the years, the Comptons have never been in a rush. That could’ve sapped the fun out of it. They worked on one box at a time, enjoying the process as well as the result. The couple does not sell or trade. They collect. Vickie has no real idea what the monetary value of their menagerie might be. And she doesn’t care.

By the early 2000s, the house had run out of space, so they built a 4,000-square-foot structure in the back. It helped that Rodger co-owned Manatee Lumber. (He sold his stake in the mid-2010s, and now designs roof trusses for contractors, part-time.) The finished room is tricked out with a bar and pool table, not to mention row after row of jukeboxes and walls coated with memorabilia. It’s where Vickie and Rodger adjourn on Friday nights after eating out. They pour a libation, fire up various jukeboxes and play tune after tune. Sometimes another couple will join them, and sometimes a daughter or two. (They found time to have twins, Cheyenne and Chanel, now 28.)

Lately, an end game of sorts has emerged. In the spring, Vickie won an online auction and paid $19,000 for a dazzling 1942 Rock-Ola Commando, which was due to arrive in August. No refurbishing necessary. She has two more jukeboxes on her gotta-have list, both from the 1940s: a Seeburg Concertmaster and a Filben Maestro. They’re rare, and as of our interview in June she had no tangible leads. 

Vickie doesn’t expect either one to pop up for sale online. She’ll have to find them through her contacts of jukebox lovers. When she does land them, that’ll make 100 jukeboxes, although Vickie says the number is coincidental. Still, an epic figure to round out an epic collection. Or not. 

“I get so bored when I’m not working on a box,” Vickie muses. She balks when asked if No. 100 will be the final acquisition. One suspects she’ll uncover some nooks and crannies to fit a few more.