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.
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. -Theodore Roosevelt (1858 -1919)
José Ramón Sanfeliz was born in Havana, Cuba, on September 21, 1870, and by age ten, was working in a cigar factory. He found employment at the Hijos de Cabaña y Cajal Factory, stripping the stems from the tobacco leaves. Two years later, he worked with his father at La Concordia Sugar Mill and then, at age fourteen, began an apprenticeship at El Nuevo Mundo Cigar Factory. Sanfeliz wrote, "I distinctly remember this place as I received many beatings, blows, and very poor food." At age twenty, he left the revolution-torn island and came to America.
In the early 1940s, Justo Fulgueira worked as a cigar maker in a Ybor City factory when a shortage of cigar molds inspired him to design a fantastic machine. He would eventually become a "master mold maker," and his reputation would be known worldwide.
Eighty years ago, Victor Licata opened the Seabreeze Restaurant on the site, blending his beloved Italian cooking with Cuban and Cracker influences. The Seabreeze culled a blue-collar clientele from the workers of nearby industrial facilities. The Licata family arguably invented the deviled crab, a croquette spiked with spicy tomato sauce. Beginning in the 1960s, Robert and Helen Richards supplied the Seabreeze with seafood and later took over the business. Today, the restaurant is defunct, and a fishing family lost its livelihood. The price of doing business in Florida has climbed too high for most fishermen.