If Ybor City's backbone was its cigar factories, Cuscaden Park was its heart. The park still exists today, though it is a faint shadow of its former self. Its 500-seat capacity grandstand was demolished, and its baseball fields gave way to soccer fields. To drive past the park today, some would never know that this field was once Ybor City's Field of Dreams.
The red neon "Open" sign in the Franklin Street News Stand window would flicker on at 7 A.M., followed by the neon signs for the news stand's neighbors–the Shoe Hospital and Carmen's Sandwich Shop–shortly after that. A block away, the homeless people sleeping in front of Sacred Heart Church would wake up, roll up their blankets and seek shade from the hot sun.
Downtown Tampa was a shining model of the American landscape in the 1950s. On every street corner, you could find the best jewelry stores, hat shops, and restaurants Tampa had to offer.
In 1897, writer, social commentator, and beisbolero (baseball player) Wenceslao Gálvez y del Monte ("Wen Gálvez") published a small, first-person narrative entitled Tampa: Impresiones de Emigrado. The work critically observes Tampa and its residents. It is one of several turn-of-the-century, Spanish-language publications giving an account of Old Tampa–from its dusty roads to its marble facades.
It's Saturday night, and everyone's waiting for the numbers to come in. Several little white balls will be selected, each ball bearing a number. A substantial monetary return is available if your ticket matches the selected ball. Sound familiar?
Collectively, we're Latins. Ybor City Latins. West Tampa Latins. The Latin Community. We were here first. That's the deal. Newer immigrants–Dominicans, Mexicans, South and Central Americans–are arriving here daily, making Tampa one of the most diverse cities in the United States.
An African American slave, a Scottish businessman, and a Cuban factory worker: An unlikely trio with an even more unlikely memoria–the Fortune Street Bridge.
In 1886, the same year Ybor City was founded, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor. These two events are more closely linked than might appear at first glance. Between 1880 and 1890, 5.2 million immigrants entered the U.S., seeking the freedom and opportunity that the Lady in the Harbor offered. Some of these early immigrants were destined for Ybor City, and over the decades between the neighborhood's founding and 1921 (when the great tide of immigration finally began to ebb), many more came to live and work in the town that Vicente Martinez Ybor–himself an immigrant–built. This is their story, and it is up to them to say How We Got Here.
Gavino Gutiérrez used his imagination and business acumen to open the door for the vibrant cigar industry that turned Tampa into the Cigar Capital of the World.
Google “Cuesta Rey,” and you get 58 pages of websites in many languages–mostly cigar stores that sell the brand. Sometimes they are listed as “Cuban Cigars” and sometimes listed under “Pre-Embargo Cigars.” The cigars are made in the República Dominicana by Arturo Fuente and distributed by the J.C. Newman Company. The Cuesta Rey cigar survived global tastes and global politics. The cigar’s original home, the Cuesta Rey Cigar Factory, did not. One of the largest and most successful cigar companies of the Cigar City Boom, Cuesta y Rey Co. employed 500 workers in its West Tampa factory beginning in 1896.
What does a ten-year-old do on a Saturday morning in early November? Well, that depends on the kid. My family had just moved into a small apartment over a barbershop on 7th Avenue while we waited for our new house to become available. I had never lived on a street that was too busy to play ball on, and there were no vacant lots nearby, but I felt far from trapped.
"Janie, come on, get up!" she said, shaking me roughly out of a lazy Saturday morning reverie. Blinking sleepy eyes, I groaned in short-lived protest and then rolled out of bed. The gruff intruder on this humid summer morning was not my mother or one of my siblings. It was the local park director, Mochine Fernandez (pronounced "Mo-cheen"), rousing my two sisters and me to play a softball game. Quickly getting ready, we hurried out to her waiting station wagon. There were three more stops, and after rounding up her softball team, we headed across town to play ball.
I am embarrassed to admit that I learned very little about West Tampa's rich history until the beginning of 2004. Then, on March 1, Judge E. J. Salcines (Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal) drove me into the historic community for a personal tour. I was privileged to begin a remarkable journey, simultaneously backward in time and forward in vision.
Imagine visiting the neighborhood you grew up in, and it's not there! Not one single house, grocery store, bakery, or church–everything gone! In a panic, you rush to your home, and then your grandparents' house and all you find are empty lots full of sand and rocks. Your mind races back to a time of big family dinners, especially around the holidays. You think of the playground where you and your friends played stickball and Bernardo's Grocery Store and Garage, where you would hang out, drink Coke, and chew on penny bubble gum. The city you remember no longer exists. If you grew up in Roberts City, then this is your story.
Sometimes, just sometimes, one encounters a fascinating account of a forgotten piece of time. While exploring the St. Petersburg Museum of History’s archives, the prolific writings of Major E.A Hitchcock, a little-known but distinguished soldier, were brought to life.
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.