MARCH/APRIL 2010 LISA M. FIGUEREDO
OWNER & PUBLISHER
NATALIE CUESTA-WAKEFIELD EVENT DIRECTOR
DAVID CAPOTE EVENT PHOTOGRAPHER
ART & PHOTOGRAPHY CONTRIBUTORS HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY • THE TAMPA BAY HISTORY CENTER • THE FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES USF DEPARTMENT OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS • TAMPA TRIBUNE • LA GACETA ON THE COVER FAMED TAMPA WRESTLER JACK BRISCO
CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Paul Guzzo
Paul has been a journalist in Tampa for the past 10 years. He has also written and produced a number of award-winning independent films, including Charlie Wall: The Documentary. Paul can be reached at email@example.com.
Michael Murillo Tampa native Michael Murillo is a freelance writer, former local newspaper journalist and frequent contributor to Cigar City Magazine. Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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READ CIGAR CITY MAGAZINE ONLINE AT WWW.CIGARCITYMAGAZINE.COM Cigar City, Inc. | P.O. Box 18613 | Tampa, Florida 33679 | Tel 813-373-9988 | Fax 1-866-869-0617 e-mail: email@example.com ©2010, Cigar City, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction or use without written permission of the publisher, of editorial, pictorial, or design content, in any manner is prohibited. The opinions of writers commissioned for articles are not necessarily those of the publisher. All advertising is subject to approval before acceptance. Publisher reserves the right to refuse any advertisement for any reason whatsoever. Publisher assumes no responsibility for claims made by advertisers. A self-addressed, postage paid envelope for return must accompany manuscripts, photographs, and other materials submitted. The publisher is not responsible for loss, damage, or any other injury to unsolicited originals unless specifically requested to do so by the publisher, Inc. in writing. You can write to us at, P.O. Box 18613, Tampa, Florida 33679 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All letters, emails and their contents sent to Cigar City, Inc. become the sole property of the publisher and may be used and published in any manner whatsoever without limit and without obligation or liability to the author there of. Cigar City ™ is a trademark and the the sole property of Lisa M. Figueredo.
I always told my family that the business was first in my life- which sounds harsh until analyzed and understood. Our business has been the vehicle that has carried us, and many others, on a wonderful ride through life. It has allowed us to achieve and do more good than we could have ever imagined or hoped for. Its success has allowed us to look within ourselves, recognize the things that are truly important, and act on those things. Without the company's success, our intentions would have been just as honorable and philanthropic, but we would never have been able to act on these intentions.
Angel Oliva Leaf Tobacco Pioneer 1907-1995 To read more about the Oliva Tobacco Company please visit our website at www.OlivaTobacco.com
FROM THE PUBLISHER LISA FIGUEREDO| PUBLISHER@CIGARCITYMAGAZINE.COM I was truly excited when I learned that President Barack Obama was scheduled to visit Tampa just one day after his State of the Union address. No matter your political persuasion or on what side of the political spectrum you reside, the chance to see the President of the United States is a once-in-alifetime opportunity. Alas, though I contacted everyone I know, not even the owner of Tampa’s coolest magazine could score tickets to the big event. Still, having the President here in Tampa was a great opportunity for our city to stand, however briefly, on the national stage and his announcement, that Florida will receive funding for high speed rail is, without doubt, a plus for our state’s struggling economy. Unfortunately, the eyes of the world quickly shifted from Tampa to our Caribbean neighbor, Haiti. Long the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, the tragic scope of the devastation is staggering not only because of the severity of the earthquake but because centuries of man-made corruption and political turmoil allowed Haiti’s aging infrastructure to fall into such perilous disrepair that the effects of this natural disaster are magnified exponentially. There are ways for you to help. First, check out charitywatch.org. They rate charities based on the portion of their budget going to program services (rather than administrative salaries, for instance). One of my favorites is Doctors Without Borders, which “is committed to bringing quality medical care to people caught in crisis regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation”. (www.doctorswithoutborders.org). But, it doesn’t matter where you give or even how much. The important thing is that you give something. Finally, I, along with the staff of Cigar City Magazine would like to extend our condolences to the Brisco family. The feature story about Florida Championship Wrestling actually began a long time and several writers ago. Initially intended for publication last year, Michael Murillo took the reins and we set a publication date for January 2010. Then, literally at the last minute, we decided to bump the story to March- the issue you now hold in your hand (or are reading online at www.CigarCityMagazine.com). Like everyone else in Tampa and beyond, we were saddened by the news of Jack Brisco’s passing on February 1. A five-time Florida Champion, I remember watching Jack and his brother Jerry on TV in the 1970s and ‘80s. Although it is purely coincidental, perhaps there is a reason our story about Jack and Jerry and professional wrestling in Florida is six months behind schedule. We hope that the story can serve as a celebration of Jack’s life and career as one of his era’s greatest talents.
Lisa M. Figueredo Owner and Founder of Cigar City Magazine
FROM THE EDITOR EMANUEL LETO| EDITOR@CIGARCITYMAGAZINE.COM Who knew that putting Joe Redner on the cover of Cigar City Magazine would generate such excitement? Well, we did- sort of. We knew that it would raise some eyebrows but we had no idea it would become our best-selling issue ever. While the response to the last issue has been overwhelming, this one, featuring the story of professional wrestling in Florida by Michael Murillo, has already Emanuel Leto generated a lot of buzz. Full of names Editor you remember, from the Brisco Brothers to Gordon Solie, Murillo captures the spirit of local wrestling and all its bombastic, campy glory. We also revisit the story of the Ferlita Macaroni Factory. You might remember we featured a story about the historic building by local architect Ken Ferlita, grandson of the building’s original owner, Giuseppe Ferlita. It wasn’t just a story about his family’s journey from Sicily to America and the business Giuseppe established in Ybor City, it was the story of what has happened to the building after it was sold and left to deteriorate. In some ways it was the story of our community’s commitment to historic preservation and the value we place on our historic buildings. Architecture tells the story of a community. All over Tampa, from the minarets of the University of Tampa to the marquee of the Tampa Theater, our historic buildings inform our surroundings. They tell us where we’ve been and how we got here. Our city’s cigar factory buildings, mutual aid clubhouses and the brick commercial buildings lining 7th Avenue in Ybor City and Howard Avenue in West Tampa make our city unlike any other. They are what make Tampa Tampa. When we lose our historic buildings, we lose not only a link to our shared past, we lose a part of what makes this city unique. The year-long effort to save the Ferlita Factory has a new twist. After I filed the story on page 36, the Italian Club of Tampa, with $100,000 in Tax Increment Financing provided by the Ybor City Development Corporation, and a lot of arm-twisting by Ybor neighborhood association presidents Fran Constantino and Tony LaColla, has agreed to stabilize the building, securing the structure until more money can be secured for a complete restoration. To keep up with ongoing developments with the Ferlita Macaroni Factory, visit Ken Ferlita’s excellent website, www.ferlitamacaronifactory.com. See You Around the City!
Emanuel Leto 10
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FEATURES
Horror in Ybor City
Reefer Madness Hits Ybor City
The Heavyweight Decades
The Ferlita Factory Revisited
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14 16 18 36 38 40 42 42
Cigar Label History
Looking Back: This Month in Florida History
Look Who’s Smokin’
Interview with Steve Keirn
On The Town with Dave Capote
Visit our web site at www.CigarCityMagazine.com
the V.M. ybor Company produced the Principe de Gales brand in Cuba beginning in 1853. the company relocated to Key West in 1869 in the wake of the ten years War and finally settled in tampa around 1885, where Vicente Martinez ybor founded the company town that would eventually bear his name. this label, circa 1890s, bears his image.
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Today in Florida History is provided by the Tampa Bay History Center www.tampabayhistorycenter.org
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Look WhosSmokin by Emanuel Leto
r Company Kristin Fuente, Tampa Sweethearts Ciga
Tampa Sweetheart Cigar Company 1310 North 22nd Street Tampa, FL 33605 (813) 247-3880
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Kristin Fuente doesn’t like to wait around. She’s early for our noon lunch meeting, sending me text messages while I’m still frantically searching for a place to park. “If something’s on my plate,” says the soon-to-be 29-year-old Fuente, “it has to be finished.” So, it makes sense that she finished her undergraduate degree in three years and received both an MBA and a Masters in Information Systems in just two years. It also makes sense that, next year, she’ll assume the presidency of the Ybor City Rotary Club after joining the group just four years ago. It’s also likely- although she’s not 100% surethat she’ll be the youngest person ever to hold that position in the club’s 60 year history. “The average age of our current membership is 65,” she says. But, that may begin to change when she becomes president. Already she’s responsible for scheduling speakers for weekly luncheons and implementing new programs and events for the 100-plus member Rotary Club, which was founded, in 1948. “I was looking for a place to give my time and my roots are in Ybor,” says Fuente. Her roots in Ybor City run deep, indeed. Her father is Arturo Fuente, Jr., owner of Tampa Sweetheart Cigar Company and her great uncle is Carlos Fuente of Arturo Fuente Cigars. Her great grandfather, Arturo Fuente, founded the A. Fuente Cigar Company in West Tampa in 1912, eventually moving the company to Ybor City. Fuente began working in the family business in high school and, after college and graduate school, she joined the company full time, handling the accounting and information systems for Tampa Sweethearts where she works alongside her grandfather and father. Fuente is already hard at work planning what she hopes will be a signature event for the Ybor City Rotary, Café Con Leche, The Black and White Ball. It’s months away but she’s already hard at work. She hopes the event will attract both members and non-members and that a new format focusing squarely on Ybor history with living history actors, traditional music and photos of Ybor in its heyday, will help bring in younger prospective members. “Times are changing,” she says, “but you can’t forget your history.”
October 17, 1933. Blood soaked the beds and dripped off the sides, forming thick red puddles on the wooden floors of the ybor City casita. Mangled and mutilated bodies were strewn throughout the house. a dying boy lay in his bed, struggling for his next breath. and under the front porch, a dog caked in its own blood let out one final whimper before joining the afterlife. the home looked like something out of a modern day horror flick. Just hours before, sadistic acts turned this once peaceful home into hell on earth. yet, no one in ybor City knew anything was wrong.
Investigators stated that he then woke up and, in a delirious state, murdered his family and family dog with the ax, thus earning himself the nickname â€œThe Dream Slayer.â€?
The victims: Michael, Rosalie, Prudence, Philip and Jose Licata.
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bor City went about its business as usual that morning. the streetcars rumbled down their tracks laid upon the brick streets of the Latin District, dropping off the cigar workers at the factories. the cafés were filled with Latinos sipping their café con leche and arguing politics. Kids rushed off to school; the boys exclaiming that they would rule the schoolyard baseball games that day while the girls whispered about which boys they thought were cute. the clickity-clack of dominoes slamming onto tables echoed throughout the Cuban Club and Centro asturiano. and the Seventh avenue merchants unlocked their doors for another day of business. everything seemed normal in ybor City- well, almost everything. the casita located at 1707 Fifth avenue, the Licata family’s home, was quiet, which was far from normal. the patriarch of the family, Michael Licata, owned two successful downtown barbershops. in the late morning hours, neighbors began to think, surely Michael should have left for work already, yet they never saw him leave the home that morning. the Licata’s have two school-age children, yet the neighbors never saw them leave for school. and the family has a dog, but no one has walked it. if the Licatas had gone on vacation, they would have told The Licata home at 1707 E. Fifth Avenue. somebody, whispered the neighbors. as minutes turned to an hour and there was still no noise coming from the home, neighbors finally contacted the police. When the police arrived, they had to enter the home through a rear window; all outside doors were locked. Once inside, they found the horror that was hiding behind those locked doors. On the bed in the front room they found Michael Licata lying in a welter of blood, killed with one swing of an ax. in the adjoining bedroom they found the bodies of the family’s 22-year-old soon-tobe-married daughter, Prudence, and her 8-year-old brother, Jose, both hacked to death. in the rear bedroom they found the murdered mother, 44-year-old rosalie. On the bed beside her lay her 14-yearold son, Philip, alive but suffering from numerous ax wounds. and lying on the floor next to the bed was the murder weapon- a blood-stained ax. after removing the dying boy from the room and getting him to the hospital, the police continued their search, finding the Licata’s 21-year-old son, Victor, cowering in the bathroom, dressed in a clean white shirt and well-pressed trousers. Underneath his clean clothes, though, his naked skin was stained in blood. Police didn’t need to strip search him to finger him as the killer, though.
Victor Licata was a tiny man- just 5’8 and 127 pounds. He was soft spoken and often described as possessing “queer manners” by friends and family. But he was long known to be dangerous and mentally unstable, so much so that his father slept with a pistol between his mattresses. a drunk and a habitual marijuana smoker, the police tried to commit Victor a year ago but his family refused, claiming they could take better care of him themselves. But the family underestimated the demons that lived inside Victor. it wasn’t until the police interrogated Victor that anyone could truly understand how insane he’d become. according to Victor, he didn’t kill his family. actually, he told police, his family had attacked him. He told police that on the night of October 16, 1933, he drove around town on the back of a friend’s truck drinking moonshine and smoking marijuana. He returned home sometime between 8 and 10 p.m. His sister Providence was out. His mother was in the kitchen. and Philip and Jose were in bed. He said he then went to bed and fell asleep, but woke up a few hours later when his father came charging into the room, pulled him from bed and held him against the wall. according to Victor, his mother then entered the room wielding a kitchen knife and jeered and taunted him as his brothers and sister pointed and laughed at The blood soaked bed where Michael Licata was found. him. He said his mother then sawed off his arms with the knife and jabbed homemade wooden arms with iron claws as hands into his stumps. Victor said that when the attack ended and his family left the room, he sought revenge. He said he found an ax on the porch; but it wasn’t a normal ax. He said it was a “funny ax,” rubbery, like something out of a slapstick cartoon. He said he then took the funny ax and whacked his family members in their heads with it, knocking them unconscious, but never killed them. He did say, though, that when he finished the attack he found it odd when he was able to wring blood out of the ax, which caused great pain in his stomach. MarCH/aPriL 2010
What made this story even creepier was that Victor seemed to be 100 percent honest when he told it. He thought it was true. investigators believed that he had a nightmare that his family attacked him as explained. investigators stated that he then woke up and, in a delirious state, murdered his family and family dog with the ax, thus earning himself the nickname “the Dream Slayer.” Philip died in the hospital soon after he was admitted and Victor was arrested for the murder of his five family members. But, just days later, friends and family came to his rescue. they refused to allow him to be tried for murder, bringing insanity proceedings against him in Civil Court. Family and friends claimed that Victor’s insanity was due to his habitual marijuana use. But, according to a courtappointed commission’s report, the ax-murderer suffered from a form of dementia. in fact, his brother Philip was also pronounced to be a victim of dementia. Victor also had a grand-uncle who died in an asylum and two cousins who were in asylums at the time of the murder. Finally, the commission discovered that Victor’s parents- Michael and rosalie- were first cousins. Following the release of the report, the state attorney announced he would not even indict Victor for murder, saying that it would be a waste of money to try someone for murder who was “definitely established” as insane. Victor was instead given a life sentence at a mental institution in Chattahoochee, Florida with no parole. Victor, though, didn’t need parole. He found another way out of the institution. On October 15, 1945- just one day short of the 12-year-anniversary of the Licata murders- Victor’s cell at the institution was found empty. Victor, along with four other patients, had escaped. One of the escaped inmates was caught just hours after the empty cells were found and claimed that they sawed the iron bars from a cell window with a piece of tin and climbed to freedom. One of the institution’s attendants swore he checked the bars hours before the escape and they were fully intact. But, investigators said it was impossible for a piece of tin to cut through iron bars and that even with a hacksaw it would have taken days to do so, not mere hours. they concluded the escape was made possible through inside help. according to investigators, the escapees obtained cellblock keys from one of the attendants and used them to meet in the same cellblock. For 22
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how many nights they met is unknown, but they met enough times to saw the bars from a window in that cellblock; though never completely sawing them away, as doing so would have been noticeable. instead, they sawed them to the point that they could remain intact but be easily broken when they were ready to escape. On the night they escaped, they broke the sawed bars away from the window and climbed down a ladder made of sheets. Four of the five fugitives were quickly found; Licata successfully escaped the county. an ax-murderer was on the loose. and, to compound matters, cellmates stated that Victor had recently been talking about his desire to murder every member of his family. Five years later he may have tried to make good on that desire. in august 1950, Victor casually walked into his Cousin Philip’s restaurant in new Orleans, telling his cousin that he had been working as a laborer in Louisiana for the past nine months and as a laborer in texas and Delaware before that. Philip played it cool, fixing Victor dinner and then buying him a few beers at a bar across the street. He then told Victor that he needed to go home, but asked him to come back the next day. “i was afraid of him, all right, the way you’d be afraid of any crazy man,” Philip later told the media. “i decided i’d get him to come back the next day and i’d have police waiting for him.” Victor did return the next day and spent three hours talking to the short order cook, but he disappeared before the police arrived, taking with him a bank envelope containing around $180. But he returned to the restaurant for a third time the following day, and this time his cousin wasn’t going to let him get away. Philip waited for Victor to turn his back and then pounced on him, pinning his tiny cousin to the wall until the police arrived. Upon his arrest, Victor was ordered to the Florida State Prison in raiford until a court could decide where he should permanently reside. But, again, Victor had other plans. in December 1950, a prison guard found Victor’s still warm body dangling from a bed sheet tied to the top of his cell’s double-decked bed. according to investigators, shortly after his cellmate went to the yard for exercise, Victor committed suicide by hanging, the final chapter in the bloody ybor City story of the “Dream Slayer.”
Hits Ybor City By Paul Guzzo
That’s not always café con leche and tobacco smoke you smell wafting through the streets of Ybor City. GASP! It’s true! People in Ybor, just as they do all around the world, smoke (cue ominous thunder noise) MARIJUANA! No, it can’t be true! Say it’s not so! Sorry, but it’s so. Not only are your Ybor City neighbors secretly toking up but Ybor City helped make marijuana illegal! No, it can’t be true! Say it’s not so! Sorry, but again, it’s true.
Marijuana- Assassin of Youth by H. J. Anslinger U.S. Commissioner of Narcotics, (The American Magazine, July 1937)
Henry Anslinger 24
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in an effort to justify the criminalization of marijuana, Henry anslinger, who President Hoover named head of the newly-formed Federal Bureau of narcotics in 1930, set out to prove that marijuana caused normally rational people to turn into violent criminals. anslinger started a mass media campaign, writing articles documenting cases of marijuana-induced violence for newspapers and magazines across the country, a series of articles that has become famously known as the “gore File.” the file included a total of 200 stories, ranging from a young woman who claimed she murdered a bus driver in cold blood while high on marijuana; a child rapist who said marijuana made him do it; and a young man who said he murdered his entire family with an ax because he was high on marijuana. this particular axmurderer was ybor City resident Victor Licata and his tale of slaughtering his parents, sister and two brothers was the backbone of anslinger’s anti-marijuana crusade. “an entire family was murdered by a youthful addict in Florida,” wrote anslinger. “When officers arrived at the home, they found the youth staggering about in a human slaughterhouse. With an ax he had killed his father, mother, two brothers and a sister. He seemed to be in a daze … He had no recollection of having committed the multiple crimes. the officers knew him ordinarily as a sane, rather quiet young man; now he was pitifully crazed. they sought the reason. the boy said that he had been in the habit of smoking something which youthful friends called ‘muggles,’ a childish name for marijuana.” there is just one problem with anslinger’s story- marijuana had nOtHing to do with the murders. Licata did admit to the police that he smoked marijuana the night of the murders. But the report also stated that Licata was long thought to be mentally unstable. He suffered from dementia, his family had a history of mental instability, and his parents were first cousins. nowhere in the report was marijuana mentioned as a cause of Licata’s mental instability. recently, researchers were able to prove that 198 of the 200 marijuana-induced violent crimes documented in the “gore File” were erroneously blamed on marijuana use. researchers couldn’t prove the remaining two false because no records of the crimes even existed. anslinger testified before Congress in 1937 that marijuana
caused Victor Licata to murder his family and that if marijuana was not criminalized, more families could suffer the same fate. With a public swell of support behind him, anslinger convinced Congress to pass the first federal anti-marijuana act- the Marijuana tax act of 1937. the act levied a token tax of approximately one dollar on all buyers, sellers, importers, growers, physicians, veterinarians, and any other persons who dealt in marijuana commercially, prescribed it professionally, or possessed it. the purpose? to tax medical practices and companies that used hemp for clothing out of business. But, it had larger ramifications- it set a precedent that marijuana was a danger to society, leading to future laws that made all marijuana use illegal. So next time you dim your lights and close your blinds in preparation of lighting up a joint, remember, you can thank ybor City. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Above: Dusty Rhoads puts a painful hold on his opponent. Below Left to Right: Big Jos Le Duc, Rick Flair, Steve Keirn & Mike Graham. Jack Brisco
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wo men face each other with bloody faces and hair matted down with sweat. they trade punches, fighting to both catch their breath and unload another strike at the same time. the canvas is decorated with dark, red splotches and the ring ropes await the next body to press against them and launch like a slingshot into their opponent. the scene continues for about 30 minutes with each competitor obtaining- and subsequently losingan edge in the contest. One man buckles under the weight of a well-delivered forearm and his opponent covers him, waiting for a count that will declare him the winner. Unfortunately, the referee lies unconscious in a corner, the victim of an errant boot to the face. the crowd does his job for him as he squirms helplessly on the canvas, counting to three and screaming for validation and a new champion. But at that same moment the fallen man’s friend darts into the ring, delivers a few kicks and unloads a folding chair into an unprotected back before leaving as quickly as he arrived. the assaulted man rolls over and his opponent collapses on top of him, just as the referee recovers his senses and returns to his job with renewed enthusiasm. a quick three-count later and the tables have turned, with the once-defeated competitor declared the winner and the local favorite denied his rightful title. Clearly, the old axiom that “cheaters never win” doesn’t apply here. the victor grabs his belt and escapes into the nearby tunnel while boos (and debris) rain down from fans above. the popular athlete is helped to his feet by his friends (who never seem to arrive in time to help with the actual match) and the crowd cheers his resolve, pledging to return when he gets another chance at glory. the scene repeated weekly at local venues such as the Ft. Homer Hesterly armory as professional wrestling took its rightful place among local popular attractions over the decades. While the results of the matches were pre-determined and the competition itself was scripted, the interest and enthusiasm from fansand the punishment delivered to a wrestler’s body- was as authentic as any other entertainment option. From the founding of the Florida territory in the late 1940s to the later decades, when the familiar voice of longtime announcer gordon Solie would convey the ringside drama to television audiences every Saturday, professional wrestling enjoyed an enthusiastic- if inelegant- popularity in Florida. thousands would crowd venues such as the Miami Convention Center, the Lakeland Civic Center, the Jacksonville Coliseum and dozens of others. Championship Wrestling From Florida For decades, wrestling operated successfully under a territorial system where independent promoters and operators worked together under a general governing body. each territory had its own stars and matches, but promoters would also use performers from fellow territories to provide a fresh challenge or a new nemesis for local stars, keeping audiences interested with new storylines and dramatic turns. the organization’s overall champion would also visit the various territories, providing special events where local heroes would engage in title bouts and special matches. For many years the dominant organization was the national Wrestling alliance (nWa), and its local affiliate was Championship Wrestling from Florida.
While Clarence Lutrell was the area’s original promoter for the local nWa territory in the early 1960s, by 1971 it was run by eddie graham- a wrestling veteran, local favorite and eventual WWe Hall of Fame inductee. graham oversaw Championship Wrestling from Florida during the 1970s and early 80s, even serving as nWa President for a couple of years. By the late 1970s it was a renowned operation. according to Brian Blair, who achieved fame not only in the territorial era of wrestling but became a worldwide star as a member of the “Killer Bees.” When the World Wrestling Federation created a national stage for its athletes, the Florida territory was considered a plum assignment among wrestlers. “Florida was considered the best wrestling territory in the United States,” Blair said. “Because of the management, the people they had training you, the fact that everybody wanted to come here because of the beaches and the weather, and the fact that the pay was good.” the state’s layout and manageable distances to different venues made for easier trips within the territory, which added to the appeal. Other territories, such as Kansas City, were less friendly to a wrestler’s schedule and wallet; long drives to small towns might net just $50 or $100 for the effort. Championship Wrestling from Florida, meanwhile, was popular and lucrative, even for beginning wrestlers. Blair said he was making between $800 and $1000 a week in the late 1970s- enough to purchase his first house (where he still lives today) and actually sleep in his own bed between performances. that comfort was important when faced with a grueling schedule that didn’t allow for many days off: Mondays would include a show in West Palm Beach,
Jack Brisco and Ted DiBiase being interviewed by Gordon Solie; center. 30
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tuesdays were matches at the Fort Homer Hesterly armory in tampa and Wednesdays featured the taping of the popular Championship Wrestling from Florida television show on north albany Street. But that was only the early part of Wednesday’s schedule; that evening would include a bout in Miami, with some wrestlers chartering a plane and others driving. thursday would be Jacksonville and Friday would be Ft. Lauderdale, or perhaps a “spot show” in a less-frequently visited location such as arcadia. Saturday would mean matches in Lakeland or St. Petersburg, and Sundays would be Orlando or Ocala. that grueling schedule didn’t allow for much nursing of the inevitable injuries a wrestler would suffer in the ring: bruises, cuts, concussions, stitches and even the occasional broken kneecap were likely to keep a wrestler hurting. “there wasn’t a day that a really good wrestler wasn’t bruised or didn’t have cuts or small contusions,” Blair said. But the pain didn’t stop them from performing, and demand was high. Fans were clamoring to watch the battered and bloodied faces of local stars such as Blair, Dusty rhodes, Barry Windham, Mike graham (eddie’s son) and the Brisco BrothersJack and Jerry. Whether it was a babyface (good guy) like Windham or a heel (bad guy) like Kevin Sullivan, fans would scream and boo with enthusiasm throughout the contest. Often the matches were used to further a current storyline- an angle- with a new twist or a deepening of ill-will between the wrestlers. a heel rarely won without some form of illegal device or outside interference, and a babyface rarely failed to deliver a satisfying thrashing against a hated opponent- at least until someone bent the rules to steal victory away from them. regardless of the outcome, fans left the venue satisfied and eager for the next stage of the continuing story. Gordon Solie and Television if spot shows and weekly events were the only method of outreach for professional wrestling, it would have enjoyed a comfortable level of success in Florida. But in each territory, television was a powerful tool to highlight and promote its stars and matches. and Championship Wrestling from Florida enjoyed the talents of one of the most famous announcers in wrestling history. gordon Solie would become the undisputed voice of Championship Wrestling from Florida (as well as georgia Championship Wrestling and Continental Championship Wrestling in tennessee) for decades, helping grow the sport with weekly broadcasts. From 1960 until 1987, Solie would announce matches and conduct interviews in a coat and tie and with a serious and understated tone, maintaining his trademark professionalism regardless of the mayhem around him. His voice became synonymous with local wrestling and the program was a popular staple of local Saturday television. “gordon Solie was great,” Blair recalled. “He was just a wonderful man, a very brilliant man and obviously a very articulate speaker. He could make a blind man see the matches.”
those local airings offered a very different presentation than thevideo screens, cross-promotions and special effects found on cablechannels today. Broadcast from the Sportatorium in tampa, perhaps a couple hundred people would be in attendance in the studiodarkened to give the appearance of a larger crowd- to watch the matches and interviews. Simple curtains, a sign and a desk provided the backdrop for interviews and action out of the ring, and the matches featured local stars performing on a basic blue canvas, embellished mainly with Solie’s color commentary. But while produced on a budget, the program’s appeal was powerful and long-lasting. Championship Wrestling from Florida offered an anchor to showcase talent, provide a high profile for new angles and advertise upcoming matches throughout the state. Keeping Up the Kayfabe During this time, professional wrestling was not just considered popular entertainment by the public, but a true sport with genuine fighting, conflicts and competition. Unlike today, when professional wrestling is acknowledged to have pre-determined outcomes, many fans at that time (especially younger ones) considered what they were seeing to be authentic. to keep up the kayfabe- the image of wrestling events as being real- wrestlers who would feud in the ring were supposed to maintain their distance outside of it in public. they were careful not to be seen riding in cars or socializing together, and even worked out at different gyms for a time. But the hard work created bonds among the athletes, and genuine friendships developed, with practical jokes common among performers. the territory was popular, the wrestlers were popular and the fans kept returning to their televisions and local venues to see them in action. But like all good storylines, the local heroes would eventually face challenges that disrupted their successful run. Decline two events in 1985 signaled the close of a long chapter in Florida’s wrestling history. in January, eddie graham committed suicide, leaving the Florida territory without its main promoter and the area mourning the loss of a local favorite. also, the World Wrestling Federation held its first WrestleMania event at Madison Square garden in March. WrestleMania’s success vindicated the WWF’s philosophy of taking its brand to a national audience, and spelled trouble for the territory system used by the nWa and its affiliates. Later that year, nBC aired WWF’s Saturday Night’s Main Event and used it as an occasional replacement for Saturday Night Live. Wrestling was on national television for the first time in decades, and it would become harder for local stars to draw the same interest as they had in the past. Many of those stars, including tampa Bay area locals Hulk Hogan and randy "Macho Man" Savage, who were making names for themselves in other territories, eventually joined the WWF (later re-branded the WWe in 2002) or Jim Crockett Promotions, which would later compete with the WWe as World Championship Wrestling. 32
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Barry Windham. Operating with a smaller budget than its parent WWe’s presentations and a decidedly-local focus, FCW allows area fans to enjoy modern wrestling’s format with a dash of the local fare fans had enjoyed for decades across Florida- when it was a premier territory with crowds cheering local heroes of the canvas on television and live across the state.
Florida Championship Wrestling School in tampa
Additional photos supplied by Barry Rose, The Archives of Championship Wrestling from Florida- www.cwfarchives.com and Pete Lederberg- www.home.bellsouth.net/p/PWP-flwrestlingpix
in 1987, World Championship Wrestling merged with Jim Crockett Promotions, and the battle for wrestling fans continued on a national scale- leaving the color, character and flavor of the territorial system behind. But many wrestlers would continue their careers as the wrestling industry evolved, often changing characters and personalities along the way. Blair became famous around the globe as part of the Killer Bees and participated in WrestleMania events. Solie would go on to announce matches for the WCW and cemented his legendary status as a wrestling announcer. rhodes was a popular wrestler and national star for the WCW and WWe and was inducted into the WWe’s Hall of Fame in 2007. the following year he would bestow on the late eddie graham that same honor. While fans could now enjoy a local performance on Monday Night Raw on occasion, the vibrant wrestling atmosphere unique to Florida, with its own personalities and style, had changed. Local Wrestling Today today, local stars still hit the canvas and sacrifice their bodies for cheering fans in the stands. Florida Championship Wrestling is a developmental territory for the WWe with its own heavyweight and tag team championships. Matches are held weekly on South Dale Mabry Highway, with special events held in other locations, and Bright House networks airs its accompanying television program. But the new organization has many ties to its local predecessor, Championship Wrestling from Florida. Steve Keirn, a name well-known to locals for his wrestling school and his successful wrestling career with CWF, WWF and WCW, serves as President. Dusty rhodes is a creative writer. and the current tag team champions- Bo and Duke rotundo- are the sons of Mike rotundo, the grandsons of WWe Hall-of-Famer Blackjack Mulligan and the nephews of MarCH/aPriL 2010
Ferlita Factory Revisited by Emanuel Leto
it’s 9 a.m. in City Council chambers and Ken Ferlita sits listening to attorney Michael LaBarbera rattle off the list of maladies associated with the building Ferlita’s immigrant grandfather once owned. the roof is gone, the grout between the bricks is crumbling, the walls are bowing. He already knows the story. For the past year or more, Ken Ferlita has tried to find a way to save the former Ferlita Macaroni Factory, which his Sicilian grandfather founded in 1912 in West tampa.
giuseppe Ferlita moved the factory to 1607 22nd Street in ybor City in 1924. the building served both as his family’s primary residence and business. giuseppe embellished the building with neo-classical columns and a grand front entrance to mirror the nearby italian Club, which was constructed just a few years earlier, in 1917. the business eventually outgrew its ybor City headquarters and, in 1946, Ferlita sold the building to Pedro and Digna Diaz Perez, who used it as a cigar actory and residence. the family eventually sold the cigar business but continued to live in the building until 1974. in 1985, Less thompson purchased the property and, after 25 years of ownership, has brought LaBarbera before the Barrio Latino Commission to argue his case for demolishing the historic blonde brick structure. Faced with the threat of demolition in February of 2009, Ferlita approached Joe Capitano, a past president of the italian Club, local business owner, and ybor City native, for help. Capitano proposed that the italian Club’s Building trust acquire the old macaroni factory through a partnership with an un-named tenant, who, sources report, may have been the Columbia restaurant. Ferlita’s architectural firm and a host of
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others agreed to work pro bono. the deal fell through when sufficient parking could not be secured. With no parking, the deal was dead. “i don’t know why this burden should fall on the shoulders of a non-profit,” said Ferlita, who feels the city and the ybor City Development Corporation could take a more active role in saving the building. there’s no doubt the old factory needs work. to stabilize the property, an internal steel cage would have to be erected since the existing walls are too weak to support any meaningful restoration- a financial hardship that thompson argues he cannot bear, hence the demolition request. the real issue, however, is why thompson, who purchased the building a quarter century ago, was allowed to let his building rot. according to the City, thompson has never filed a single application for repairs or modifications of any kind on the building. a progression of aerial photos presented by the City during the hearing show a small hole in the roof growing like a cancer. the roof caved in last year, which prompted the first demolition request. thompson, by the way, owns a roofing supply company.
according to City of tampa statutes, it’s actually illegal to allow a building you own to deteriorate. it’s a public safety hazard and, in the case of the Ferlita Macaroni Factory and other historic properties, it robs the community of a piece of its unique identity and history. it’s also an end-run around preservation laws. “What it does to a community,” said Barrio Latino Commissioner Leigh Wilson-Versaggi, “is unconscionable.” in tampa, this is nothing new. in april of 2006, the Maas Brothers Building and the Strand theatre- a contemporary to the tampa theatre- were both torn down to make way for a condo development that never materialized. the owner claimed the building was too far gone to restore and the City issued a condemnation order. in March of 2007, a fire ripped through the albany Hotel on north Franklin Street, which had been vacant since at least the early 1980s. the building slowly deteriorated; the roof caved in. then came the fire. in late 2008, the roof of the gary School, built in 1913, crumbled during severe thunderstorms. the owner sat on the building for years, letting it fall into serious disrepair. Since he also owned a demolition company, he bulldozed the old school himself. When you start talking about historic preservation, there’s usually a conversation about aesthetics, a somewhat intangible “quality of life” argument, a commentary on the loss of community memory, of our identity. you could also argue that if a property owner knowingly purchases a historic property located within the boundaries of a pre-existing historic district, he also accepts the concordant responsibility to maintain the property to standards set forth by the city. instead of all of that, let’s just talk about money. as one of only four national Historic Landmark Districts in the state of Florida, ybor City is frequently cited as one of the most-visited tourist destinations in tampa. State wide, heritage tourism pumps close to 4 billion dollars into the economy in both direct and indirect spending. Some 80% of Floridians report that they bring visiting guests and relatives to historic sites while close to 10% of all visitors come to Florida specifically to visit historic sites and landmarks.
Despite the area’s reputation for booze and brawls, the real reason- more than any other, in fact- that people come to ybor City is for its history, which is manifest in its historic buildings. and that history is a big economic driver. it’s also fading with every demolition request, fire and roof collapse. Some people are trying. City Council passed a demolition by neglect ordinance in 2008 that seems to be realizing positive results. you may have noticed that the owners of the Kress Building in downtown tampa, after years of doing precious little with the historic property they have owned since 1977, have recently stabilized the awnings, boarded and secured some windows and actually opened some of the storefront windows on the first floor. they have done this because every day they do not, they receive a fine. the american institute of architects is pushing for a transfer of development rights ordinance, which allows property owners in height-restricted districts like ybor to sell their potential, additional height to another developer. Sort of like a cap and trade system for buildings. (The author sits on a committee of the Tampa Bay Chapter of the AIA) these incentives are in addition to a host of others, from an ad valorem tax exemption and the interstate revolving trust Fund funded by the sale of relocated historic properties, to a low-interest loan program offered by the City’s office of historic preservationa loan Less thompson declined. the ybor City Development Corporation offers a newly-implemented facade improvement program, which reimburses property owners for restoring architectural deals like balconies, windows and awnings. Maybe it’s too late for the Ferlita Macaroni Factory. in spite of today’s denial, the building may still be torn down pending an appeal to City Council, which thompson’s attorneys implied they would seek. Perhaps thompson is right; maybe it is too expensive to restore his building. But, at some point, this community has to ask itself if it really cares about its history and its historic buildings. today’s victory, after all, may be fleeting.
S. H. Kress MarCH/aPriL 2010
the rock and roll express, the For 30 years, tampa native Steve Keirn Midnight rockers and the Hardy Boys. travelled the world, wrestling for sold out His wrestling personas included a pretty arenas seven days a week. He was a fixture boy who dressed like a Chippendale on television, starring in a multitude of Dancer, an alligator-wrestling redneck wrestling shows- the WWe, nWa and and even a clown. But, today, retired for aWa, winning countless belts along the close to a decade, Steve Keirn has taken way. He held the nWa Florida tag team on a new persona- the Principal. Championship, the nWa World Junior in the early 1990s, Keirn founded his Heavyweight title, nWa national own wrestling school in Brandon, television Championship, the Southwest Florida- “the School of Hard Knocks,” Championship Wrestling World tag team an academy that trained such future proChampionship, the nWa Florida United fessional wrestling stars as “Diamond” States tag team Championship, and many Dallas Page and Dustin rhodes. and, for more. that past two and a half years, Keirn has He was flamboyant before wrestling run Florida Championship Wrestling was flamboyant, back when many profesSteve Keirn puts Dutch Mantel in a sleeper hold. (FCW), a tampa-based wrestling promotion sional wrestlers still wore only black trunks and boots and used their real names rather than show names. He that doubles as a professional wrestling school/breeding ground was a member of one of the greatest tag teams in the history of for its parent company, the mighty WWe. recently, Steve Keirn took time out of his busy schedule to professional wrestling- the Fabulous Ones, a team that blazed a trail for future boy-toy, teen girl scream-inducing tag team stars like spend a few minutes with Cigar City Magazine. CCM: What do you love most about running a professional wrestling school? Keirn: When i took over FCW, Vince McMahon looked me right in the eye and said. ‘Steve, the whole wrestling future is in your hands now.’ it’s pretty demanding, but i take a lot of pride in what we have produced. in two and one-half years my staff and i have put 43 talents on the main rosters of the WWe. it’s an awesome feeling to see the young guys have their hard work pay off. Making it even better is that i’m also actually training a lot of my close friends’ sons. i have second and third generation wrestlers in here with last names like Hennig, Brisco, and DiBiase. i have rikishi’s sons here and have already worked with the Hart Foundation. it’s a real rewarding situation. Plus, i get to watch them take the punishment rather than me. CCM: Punishment … is that the biggest misconception a potential wrestler has when he or she comes to the FCW to learn to be a professional wrestler- do they not understand how much punishment they’ll have to take? Keirn: the biggest misconception is they watch it and they think it looks like something anybody can do. What i like to use as a comparison 36
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is figure skating. i grew up here in tampa, so we never had ice skating, but when i watched the Winter Olympics and saw guys gliding across the ice i thought it looked easy. i went to Minnesota in 1980 to work with the aWa. While there i was introduced to ice skating and again thought, because i’m an athlete, i’m sure i can do this, but when i put on the skates and walked onto the ice i could hardly stand up. Most people come to FCW because somebody has given them some false hope, telling them that they look like a wrestler and that they ought to be a wrestler. So they come in here, sometimes with no athletic background, sometimes not even a wrestling fan, and they say they’ve always wanted to give this a try. Well, the problem is, when it’s on a professional level, it’s made to look easy. Like in the Olympics- the figure skating looked easy, until i tried to do it. it’s the same with wrestling. the professionals make it look so easy. But it isn’t. and the moment someone hits those ropes for the first time and feel all of their body weight under their armpit, they realize how tough this really is. i have one quote i use a million times to every student i meet, i say, ‘Be honest with yourself before you make a decision. Strip down to your underwear, stand in front of a full length mirror, look yourself from front to back, and ask yourself if you’d pay money to see that.’
CCM: So what do you look for in someone when trying to determine if they have what it takes to become a WWe wrestler? Keirn: around here, we throw words around like passion, heart, desire and determination. to a lot of people those are just words. But they mean something to us because this is so hard to do. So we look for people with passion for wrestling and the heart to do what it takes to succeed. you can’t stop somebody who is passionate about something and if they love something so much that they are willing to give up and sacrifice things, they can make it. if they have heart and passion, we can put the other stuff together. But i can’t create heart and passion. One of my students, Sheamus, is the WWe Champion right now. He was so passionate that he came here from ireland. He gave up his home and his family and his livelihood because he wanted to become a wrestler and i couldn’t get him out of the gym. He had the heart and passion to make it, so he did. CCM: So you love running FCW, but what do you miss about being as professional wrestler? Keirn: nothing. you see, i left when i wanted to leave. When i was a young wrestler, i remember a lot of the older guys seemed like they never could get away from wrestling, that they kept going back until they were really old. as a young guy i used to wonder why those old guys don’t quit, so i vowed that when i got to a certain age i would stop because even though i knew i could go on, i didn’t want to embarrass my family or myself or the fans who had watched me and supported me by getting older and losing my hair and getting out of shape and then having people going from seeing an energetic, fired up, focused, adrenaline pumping young guy, to an older guy just holding on to a career. So when i stepped out i never looked back and went right into teaching. as a teacher, i am still hands on and part of wrestling, but no longer is my body taking the physical punishment. CCM: But you obviously loved being a professional wrestler. What kept you going for 39 years? Keirn: there is no way to describe the adrenaline, the feeling that you get when you step out in front of people in your underwear [laughs], sometimes in front of up to 93,000 people. i’ve broken a leg in the ring before and never felt it until the match was over for a while and i cooled down. the adrenaline covered the pain. and, then being recognized is great. i hear people saying how it isn’t a big deal to be recognized, but i think it is a big deal. after over 30 years in the wrestling business, at this age and a loss of hair, people still recognize me all over the city and it’s thrilling to be a celebrity and nothing can take that place. CCM: Do you ever get the itch back to throw on your wrestling tights and boots and go out there with students? Keirn: no, and i don’t think the coach for the Bucs gets out there and tackles and blocks- the less people who touch the coach, the better. i’ve been asked a million times to come back for one more match, but i always say no. i walked away and have no regrets. MarCH/aPriL 2010
Mejillones y Chorizo “Andrés” Mussels and Chorizo Cesar always wanted to put a special mussel dish on the menu, but never found the right recipe. after Cesar’s death, the Columbia kitchen dedicated this dish to andés Sanchez, who made the restaurant’s chorizo for years. His son, Bonifaso, remains a close friend to the Columbia family. Bonni, as he is known, recommended a mussel and chorizo combination, and this variation with spinach works quite well. a modern classic
Ingredients 1/8 cup chorizo
1/8 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fresh tomato
1/2 cup Spanish onion, chopped into 3/4” pieces
1 ounce lemon juice
1/8 cup fresh spinach
6 fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole chili pepper
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon Columbia Seasoning
Preparation Cut chorizo in 1/4” slices on bias, chop tomatoes in 1” pieces, and chop spinach coarsely, removing stems. Heat oil in sauté pan and add garlic, celery, and onion; cook until onions are transparent. Add chorizo, tomato, spinach, basil, chili pepper, and Columbia Seasoning; cook for approximately 4 minutes. Add wine, lemon juice, and mussels; cover and simmer until all mussels are open. Place mussels in serving bowl, removing any that have not opened, and serve immediately. Serves 2. For more information about the historic Columbia Restaurant, visit www.ColumbiaRestaurant.com 40
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GOT A QUESTION FOR MAMA? EMAIL HER AT: INFO@CIGARCITYMAGAZINE.COM
Dear Mama, i seem to have misplaced my issue where you talk about the strange things that go on if you live or have lived in West tampa. Can you give me a refresher? -Can’t Remember
Dear Can’t Remember, it’s not my problem you are a tolete and have a bit of “CrS disease” (can’t remember s%#t). i’d spell it out for you but these stupids at Cigar City won’t let me use some of the curse words that i feel are important in describing people like yourself. But, since i am an expert at knowing these things about West tampa and they pay me un poco dinero, here you go. -Mama you've used the words oye or ven aca (that’s West tampanian for “get you’re a%$ over here) when you were right next to a person. you smelled like violetas as a baby and just smelling it takes you back. your family went to Valencia gardens after a "special" eventlike someone's communion. you had at least 2 trays of scacciata and Cuban sandwiches at your birthday party. if you were lucky they were from alessi or Florida Bakery. you know to stay away from Columbus Drive during any Latin Festival or you'll be stuck in traffic. you have ever dropped food on the floor, picked it up, and ate it after saying “lo que no mata engorda.”
Can you identify this Lost Landmark? The building on page 15 of the Januar/February 2010 issue was the Capello Grocery Store. Congratulations to Sam Leone of Tampa, Florida, who guessed last issue's Lost Landmark! Simply mail the answer and your contact information to:
you have someone in your family who you introduce as your "cousin" or "tia" but he or she is not a blood relative.
Lost Landmarks C/O Cigar City Magazine P.O. Box 18613 Tampa, Florida 33679 or email us at email@example.com by April 1, 2010.
you were ever spanked with a mata mosca by your abuela for being bad.
All correct entries will be entered into a drawing and one name will be selected as the winner. Good luck!
you know that "coño" is a powerful word that can describe pretty much anyway you feel…sad, angry, happy, excited, etc. you can't imagine anyone not liking Cuban food and understand the importance of sofrito and mojo.
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Tampa Bay's Only History Magazine