Cities often grow because they have a fine harbor, an excellent climate, and a railroad junction. For these reasons the City of Tampa grew, and became the largest Gulf port in the state of Florida. But West Tampa, just across the Hillsborough River from Tampa, grew, not of the geographical or climatic possibilities, but because one “Tampan” (Hugh C. Macfarlane) saw an opportunity, and grasped it.
West Tampa was planned and thought out beforehand. There were great developments, because such developments had been anticipated. It was, in brief, a city that was conceived, flourished and grew, and passed out of existence in twenty-nine years. Paradoxically, while the city can still be found, it is no longer, theoretically, a city.
A bookkeeper in the O’Halloran factory, he was a close friend of Jose Marti. Men of differing national origins took part in the governing of West Tampa. Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and Anglos were elected to office and had a voice in the development of the city.
From 1895 to 1925, West Tampa grew and prospered. Buildings were constructed to house necessary educational, recreational, and benevolent organizations and institutions. In many ways it became a self-sufficient community economically and socially.
The commercial district centered around the intersection of Main Street and Howard Avenue. It extended from Howard to Albany Avenue on Main Street, and between Walnut and Nassau Street on Howard.
The people who made up West Tampa could be clearly seen in the dedication of the Free Public Library on Howard Avenue, donated by Andrew Carnegie, on January 1, 1914. American flags were intertwined with the Spanish, Cuban, and Italian colors. Speeches alternated from one language to another in the program formally opening the library. Songs were sung in English, Spanish, and Italian.
As West Tampa’s business progressed, its city limits expanded to include new homes and streets and stores took on a better look.
During World War II, many persons left West Tampa, but the mass movement of families from Ybor City to West Tampa more than made up the difference. At war’s end, West Tampa’s population had doubled, from 5,000 to 11,000. But while the population grew, as years went by, many homes and business establishments began to deteriorate and fall into disrepair.
In recent years, organizations such as the West Tampa Revitalization Corporation, Inc., West Tampa Business Center, Community Redevelopment Agency, and the City of Tampa’s Office of Redevelopment have recognized the need to reverse the trend.
By Arsenio M. Sanchez
Published in Cigar City Magazine-November/December 2005 print issue.