Cruising to Cuba

Sailing out of Tampa

 

Before boarding the Empress of the Seas for our adventure to Havana, we spent a couple of days in Tampa, Fl.  Our goal was to visit the neighborhood of Ybor City.  Founded in the 1880s by Vicente Martinez-Ybor, Ybor City is a unique example of successful immigrant assimilation.

01
Memorial to Vincente Martinez Ybor who founded Ybor City in 1886. He built the first cigar factory and established what would become the “Cigar Capital of the World.” Furthermore, he built most of the infrastructure to support it.
7th Avenue district Ybor City, Florida
7th Avenue district Ybor City, Florida
Centro Ybor in the 7th Ave. district
Centro Ybor in the 7th Ave. district
Historic 7th Ave. in Ybor City
Historic 7th Ave. in Ybor City

Ybor, was a prominent cigar manufacturer in Cuba.  He moved his factory from Cuba to Key West in 1869 during political turmoil in the then-Spanish colony.  But soon, desiring to establish his own “company town” with room for growth and expansion, he bought 40 acres of land northeast of Tampa; built hundreds of small pre-fab houses (precursor to the Sears house kits?) to attract skilled Cuban cigar makers; and welcomed other cigar manufacturers, eventually making Tampa a major cigar manufacturing hub.  The humid climate, nearby port and Henry Plant’s new railroad line contributed to the success of Ybor city.

Last Standing Wooden Cigar Factory
Last Standing Wooden Cigar Factory
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Pre-fab Ybor workers’ cottages built by Vincente Martinez-Ybor to entice skilled tobacco workers to come work for him in Tampa.
The original Ybor Cigar Factory now belongs to the Church of Scientology.
The original Ybor Cigar Factory now belongs to the Church of Scientology.

Further contributing to its success were the European immigrants from Sicily, Germany, and Romania.  The Chinese came, also!  Together, they built a real town.  The Germans were managers, bookkeepers, and supervisors.  It was the German immigrants who not only designed and created the cigar labels but also built the factories to produce the wooden cigar boxes.  The Italians came and started small businesses such as bakeries, cafes, restaurants, food stores and boarding houses.  The Romanians and Chinese were adept at the service trade and retail sales.

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Ferlita (La Joven Francesa) Bakery was built in 1896 and rebuilt in brick after a fire in 1923. Today, it is the Ybor City State Park Museum.
Ferlita Bakery, 1896.
Ferlita Bakery, 1896.
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Columbia Restaurant, founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., is the loldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.
One of several Columbia Restaurant dining areas.
One of several Columbia Restaurant dining areas.
Columbia Restaurant, 1905.
Columbia Restaurant, 1905.

The city peaked in 1929.  And then the Depression came.  It wasn’t until 50 years later that artists and entrepreneurs came back to Ybor City.  Today tourism flourishes.  Hotels, restaurants, and shopping are in abundance.

A point of interest is the Parque de Jose Marti.  It is owned by the Cuban government and enjoys status similar to embassies and consulates!

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Parque Amigos de Jose Marti in Ybor City was donated to the Republic of Cuba in 1956. It was accepted by the Batista administration and certified by the American consul in Havana.
Statue of Jose Marti in the tiny Tampa park that belongs to Cuba.
Statue of Jose Marti in the tiny Tampa park that belongs to Cuba.
Teddy's Rough Riders passed through Ybor City during the Spanish-American War.
Teddy’s Rough Riders passed through Ybor City during the Spanish-American War.

 

Next port-of-call is Key West, Florida.

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