Florida Stories: A Walking Tour of Ybor City

    Tom Scherberger                                                                  

    Want to explore the cultural, historical, and architectural treasures of Tampa’s Ybor City? There’s an app for that.

    Just go to Florida Stories Walking Tours, and download the app created by the Florida Humanities Council.

    With this app you can learn, at your own pace and on your own schedule, what some of Florida’s most unique towns and cities have to offer.

    Here’s an overview of what you can experience via the Ybor City app:

    Where: Ybor City Historic District, Tampa
    Start: Centennial Park
    Number of stops: 9
    Total time: 35 minutes
    Author: Gary Mormino, Ph.D., author of “The Immigrant World of Ybor City”

    Overview

    Ybor City has been many things over its 130 years.

    A world-renowned center for handmade cigars. A Deep South immigrant melting pot. A bubbling cauldron of radicals, union activists, gangsters and revolutionaries. An artist’s enclave, entertainment district and magnet for entrepreneurs and creatives.

    This tour is told through the lens of Jose Marti, the hero-poet-apostle of Cuban independence, whose life is intertwined with Vicente Martinez Ybor, who founded Ybor City in 1885 and created an industry that earned Tampa the nickname Cigar City.

    Despite the combined threat of suburbanization and “urban renewal,” Ybor City thrives into its third century. Many of its original structures still stand, while newer residences designed to fit seamlessly with the urban landscape have brought new life to the old neighborhood.

    Ybor City is an eminently walkable neighborhood that is quiet by day, pulsing by night.

    Highlights

    Jose Marti Park is the only plot of land in the United States owned by Cuba, and is the site of a former boarding house where Marti recovered from an assassination attempt by Cuban agents.

    V.M. Ybor Cigar Factory, one of Tampa’s most significant structures, where in 1893 Marti gave a speech to cigar workers while standing on cast-iron steps that are still here.

    The ornate El Circulo Cubano Tampa, built in 1917 for the Cubans who comprised half of Ybor City’s population, was one of five mutual aid societies in the immigrant community, precursors of today’s HMO’s.

    La Union Marti-Maceo, still home to a club for Afro-Cubans whose members hosted Fidel Castro in 1955, four years before he took power in Cuba.

    El Liceo Cubano is where in 1891 Marti gave his first speech in Ybor City, calling on the crowd to liberate Cuba.

    Notable Characters

    Jose Marti, Vicente Martinez-Ybor, H.B. Plant, Fidel Castro.

    Fun Fact

    Jose Marti and other Cuban revolutionaries plotted independence while dining at El Chino Pajarito, a Chinese restaurant that also supplied food, machetes and knives for the revolution.

    Things to Do


    Visit the Ybor City State Museum across the street from Centennial Park, housed in a former Cuban bakery, to dig deeper into the neighborhood’s rich history.

    Stroll along 7th Avenue and stop at King Corona to enjoy a hand-rolled cigar and a cafe con leche at a sidewalk table, or watch cigars made by hand at Tabanero Cigars.

    Eat at Columbia, Florida’s oldest restaurant and the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States, or tuck into Argentinian steaks at El Puerto.

    Buy guava pastry at La Segunda Central Bakery, in business more than a century and home to the city’s gold-standard for Cuban bread.

    Visit Centro Ybor, a shopping, dining and entertainment center, with Tampa’s oldest craft brewery (Tampa Bay Brewing Company) and a modern movieplex.

    Hop on the streetcar to Channelside, downtown Tampa and back.

    Places to Remember

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