05 January 2008

Ybor City

Ok, so Ybor City has an interesting story. Most people think of it as a subdivision of Tampa, but that's not entirely right. It in fact got its start when a man named Gavino Gutierrez, who was a produce canner, came to Tampa seeking guava trees. While this mission failed, he found Henry Plant (see previous two posts) was building a railroad and resort in the small fishing village known as Tampa. Seeing the prospects for future success in the soon to be city, he went to his friend Don Vicente Martinez Ybor in Key West. Ybor made a highly succesful cigar brand in Key West and Cuba, known as the Prince of Wales, or El Pricipe de Gales brand. He had left Cuba after helping refugees escape the Spanish, but was not satisfied with business in Key West. Already, he had looked at several southern US locations, and in fact, Tampa almost lost his business to Galveston, Texas. But in the end, Ybor moved his business to land near Tampa, on land given to him by the city. It was here that Ybor City was founded, based entirely around the cigar factories. But unlike other company towns of the time, workers, some of whom were very well paid for their artistic work, could own homes or businesses, instead of the company owning them. In 1887, Tampa annexed Ybor City, citing concern over a lack of police force, and extra tax money. This did not happen without many complaints from Ybor City residents, though. One of the unique things about the city and its factories was the El Lector. Because Cigar making could be very tedious, factories hired an El Lector, the reader. He would stand elevated in the factory and read books or newspapers to the workers to keep their minds active. Ybor City hit its peak just before the Great Depression, when millions of cigars were being manufactured a year, and it was sometimes called the Cigar Capitol of the World. Through the depression and following WW2, former workers moved away to find jobs and cheaper housing, and the former city went into disrepair. Much of it was torn down, until in the 1980s, artists seeking cheap studios came to the old city and soon it was reborn. The 1990s saw development of businesses in the area, and since 2000, the city of Tampa has worked to encourage growth around the area. The old city is now a National Historic District, with many of its buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Above is an arch built in 2000 as an entrance to the old city, and below is a look down one of the historic streets.

Below are examples of cigar manufacturing tools, now found in the visitor center.

This monument above and below is for Tampa's role in the Spanish American War, and now marks Rough Riders Park.

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