Cigar City Magazine Nov-Dec 2005

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Brighter • Smarter • Faster

Fueling Tampa’s Growth Since 1931.

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16 18 27 32 35 36 42 44 46 50

West Tampa

A City Made to Fit an Opportunity

Ybor City’s Lady of Spain Carmen Ramirez Esperante

El Lector

The Lector

Ybor City Intellectual

What is Tampeno?

A City Made to Fit an Opportunity

The Neighborhood of Chiaroscuro Ybor City - Paradise Lost (Part 1)

Picnic With the Past The Winemaking Tradition Tabaquera

From Frank Urso’s “Stranger in the Barrio

The Best of the Best

The Story of A. Santaella Cigar Company


31 53 54

Not So Trivial The Kitchen & Lost Landmarks Mama Knows

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©2005, Cigar City Magazine, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction of, or use without written permission of the publisher, of editorial, pictorial, or design content in any manner is prohibited. Printed in the U.S.A.



I would like to thank and mention the following people and things that have made me the person I am today. To Mommy (Yolanda Delgado Kahn) & Daddy (Joseph Figueredo) who never laughed at all the stupid ideas I had, but always gave praise for them and for ALWAYS making me feel loved and wanted. To my Abuela Nena & Abuelo Lee, my great grandparents who where my inspiration for Cigar City Magazine, I love you both and miss you. To my grandparents Abuela Honey (Hilda Delgado) and Abuelo Willy (Bill Delgado) who have always been there for me through all the good, the bad and the ugly. You will always own my heart! To my brothers Full Bird Colonel Joseph P. Figueredo U.S.M.C. (thanks for keeping us all safe) who has been the best big brother any sister could ever have. You always keep it real. My brother Bill Figueredo (my hero the firefighter) who has always been my protector and never got mad at me even after breaking his head open and making him stick his finger in a light socket when we were little. To my brother Robert “Robby” Collington Figueredo I miss you everyday and I know you are watching over me, my sweet angel. To my Tia Marilyn (Marilyn Figueredo) who has been my mother, sister and best friend and who has been by my side through all of this. Thanks for always believing in me. There is no one else I could ever imagine doing this with. To my ex-husband Robert Aguinaga for letting me slide on my mortgage payments month after month, year after year, allowing me to work for myself and trying to someday make a real paycheck and for being the best Dad to our son. To Matthew Morgan, my “true love” always! Maybe one day we can get to that golf game. I’m so proud of you and you will always possess my heart. Last, but never least, to my Son, Rob Aguinaga. My breath, my heart, my soul and the greatest love of my life. You have given me the richest title of all “Mommy”. You have seen me at my worst and at my best and your love has never wavered. You have shown me the true meaning of life. I dedicate my life and this magazine to you my beautiful baby who has become a beautiful man. LISA M. FIGUEREDO To my father Joe, a patient and compassionate man who died when I was 14 years old, but in those first few years of my life taught me the importance of caring and respecting others. To my mother Rose, full of fire and passion who made me believe I could accomplish anything in life I wanted to-she also taught me the fine art of how to fight with a high-heeled shoe. I have also been fortunate to have my big brothers Joe and Ernie in my life believing in me and always being there for me; and finding my brother Ron a few years ago was a dream come true. I was raised not only by my parents but my Tata who lived next door–a very special woman. And to my uncles and aunts–Larry & Carmen, Albert & Luisa, Pilar and Bobby, Angel & Elisa and Lou and Alicia – your love and support helped me so much as I was growing. And of course my abuelos Ernesto, Carmen, Jose B., Lola and my little Tia Pilar for passing on the pride for our Cuban and Spanish heritage. And thank you to all my nephews, nieces and cousins and special friends-too many to name, but you know who you are. And last but not least, to Lisa my very special niece who I love so dearly. Any successes I have had in life could not have been accomplished if it were not for all of the people listed above. MARILYN ESPERANTE FIGUEREDO

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Carmen Ramirez Esperante (above and on the

cover), the grandmother of Cigar City

Magazine’s editor, is featured in “Ybor City’s

Lady of Spain” on page 18.

Our research into Tampa’s past has been made easier with the assistance and

enthusiasm of Dr. Mark Greenberg, David

Pullen, Walter Rowe, and Paul Camp at USF,





Department; Manny Leto at the Ybor City

State Museum; and Patrick Grace at the

Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System.

igar City Magazine was born in the creative mind of Lisa Figueredo, my niece. A short time ago, she spoke to me about starting a magazine that would be filled with interesting articles about the immigrants who came to Tampa searching for a better life. We became excited as we talked about the possibilities that existed. Ideas and concepts were flowing, and by August, we were on our way to creating Cigar City Magazine. When we told others about our magazine, we kept hearing over and over again about the need for such a magazine and we gained great support. As we began writing stories of the past, stories of the present and future began to surface–like the cigar factories and old buildings that are sitting vacant and in need of historical recognition and restoration; or, Freedom Playground at MacFarlane park, where contributions are needed in order to build a playground for disabled children. These are just two examples, but there are many more and we will tell these stories in the future. In just a few months our dream has become reality and we can now share it with you. In this first issue, you will learn about el lector and the important role these “readers” played in cigar factories. The story of my great grand-mother Ignacia and the sacrifice she made for her children will sadden you, but give you insight into the hard lives that people lived in their homeland. Our stories will also profile life here in Tampa as immigrants began arriving from countries around the world. Ybor City and West Tampa were growing and Tampa became known as the “Cigar Capital of the World”. We hope this magazine will inspire others to share the past with their children so they will know the sacrifices of their ancestors and be proud of their heritage. As a result, they will become the voices of these ancestors and continue the stories with their children. We hope you enjoy reading Cigar City Magazine and we also hope we will hear from you. Share your stories and pictures with us and in return, we guarantee you will “Rediscover, Remember, Relive”.

Marilyn Esperante Figueredo




Fourth Annual



Photo courtesy of Tampa Public Library System


West Tampa Streetscape taken December 26, 1935.

A City Made to Fit an Opportunity


ities often grow because they have a fine harbor, an excellent climate, and a railroad junction. For these reasons the City of Tampa grew, and became the largest Gulf port in the state of Florida. But West Tampa, just across the Hillsborough River from Tampa, grew, not of the geographical or climatic possibilities, but because one “Tampan” (Hugh C. Macfarlane) saw an opportunity, and grasped it. West Tampa was planned and thought out beforehand. There were great developments, because such developments had been anticipated. It was, in brief, a city that was conceived, flourished and grew, and passed out of existence in twenty-nine years. Paradoxically, while the city can still be found, it is no longer, theoretically, a city. With such preamble, we proceed to briefly outline the history of West Tampa, 16



which passed from legal existence January 1, 1925, by annexation to Tampa. When annexation was first proposed, West “Tampans” spoke excitedly about “the octopus”, which would soon swallow the little city on the bank of the Hillsborough. They later changed their minds and became loyal “Tampans”, and pointed proudly to the population figures for the combined municipality. Col. Hugh C. Macfarlane, a prominent attorney of Tampa, began assembling land west of the Hillsborough River with the idea of forming a company to help develop a new manufacturing area. (At that time all the area west of the river was designated as West Tampa. It was not until later that the name and exact location of West Tampa were definitely established.) By 1892 Macfarlane was offering to construct buildings and to donate land

for cigar factories to those proprietors who might want to establish their businesses in West Tampa. A. (for Antonio) Del Pino and Company arrived about that time, the first to accept his offer. The Del Pino Factory at Howard Avenue and Union Street, where the Public Library stands today, was finished and making the first cigars in West Tampa by June 15, 1892. A. Del Pino and Company failed financially, and the factory building was returned to Macfarlane. The O’Halloran Cigar Company, also a Key West firm, occupied the factory building April 30, 1894. It burned October 3, 1901, with Francisco Milian, the mayor of West Tampa, among those witnessing the blaze. (West Tampa had no fire department at the time.)


he town of West Tampa was incorporated May 18, 1895, and stood as a municipality for twenty-nine years. Her first mayor was Fernando Figueredo, who had been a state senator from Monroe County. He had arrived in West Tampa in 1894, a hero of the Ten-Year War in Cuba.

Carnegie, on January 1, 1914. American flags were intertwined with the Spanish, Cuban, and Italian colors. Speeches alternated from one language to another in the program formally opening the library. Songs were sung in English, Spanish, and Italian. As West Tampa’s business progressed, its city limits expanded to include new homes and streets and stores took on a better look. During World War II, many persons left West Tampa, but the mass movement of families from Ybor City to West Tampa more than made up the difference. At war’s end, West Tampa’s population had doubled, from 5,000 to 11,000. But while the population grew, as years went by, many homes and business establishments began to deteriorate and fall into disrepair. In recent years, organizations such as the West Tampa Revitalization Corporation, Inc., West Tampa Business

Center, Community Redevelopment Agency, and the City of Tampa’s Office of Redevelopment have recognized the need to reverse the trend. You can find this article and more about the history of West Tampa at

Photo courtesy of Derek Maul, the West Tampa Shopper

A bookkeeper in the O’Halloran factory, he was a close friend of Jose Marti. Men of differing national origins took part in the governing of West Tampa. Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and Anglos were elected to office and had a voice in the development of the city. From 1895 to 1925, West Tampa grew and prospered. Buildings were constructed to house necessary educational, recreational, and benevolent organizations and institutions. In many ways it became a self-sufficient community economically and socially. The commercial district centered around the intersection of Main Street and Howard Avenue. It extended from Howard to Albany Avenue on Main Street, and between Walnut and Nassau Street on Howard. The people who made up West Tampa could be clearly seen in the dedication of the Free Public Library on Howard Avenue, donated by Andrew

Mr. Arsenio M. “Sam” Sanchez died on August 16, 2005 in West Tampa. Mr. Sanchez was a great historian and recipient of many awards including the Tampa Historical Society’s 2001 D. B. McKay Award. He will be greatly missed.



Carmen Ramirez Esperante

Ybor City’s

Lady oƒ Spain BY





n the late 1800s, Ignacia Gutierrez Ramirez was living a difficult life in

Zaragoza, Spain. Raising her children alone was not easy considering the

small income she made cutting the hair of the affluent women of the town.

She also had the well-known prostitutes of this same town as regular customers–a

secret she had to keep. But Ignacia knew if she had to choose one group over the other she would easily choose the prostitutes–they paid better.

When an unknown woman showed up on her doorstep, Ignacia’s life changed dramatically. As the two women spoke, she discovered the man she loved and the father of her children had a secret of his own–he had a wife in another town. The two women spent the afternoon talking, comparing their lives and trying to make sense of the painful discovery. It became clear how easy it was for this man to lead two separate lives. His job as a railroad engineer took him from town to town for long periods of time. Soon after their meeting Ignacia knew she needed to change her life, so she packed up her young children and took them to the train station. The man she had loved followed and pleaded with Ignacia to stay, but she boarded the train for Barcelona and never looked back. Barcelona was a larger city and Ignacia hoped there might be more opportunities. As time passed, it became increasingly difficult to provide for her children and Ignacia had to take action. She had begun to hear about an esteemed children’s theatrical company that performed around the world. The man who started this famous troupe was very well respected. Ignacia knew the children of the company were well cared for. They were tutored and given food and lodging on board the trains and ships as they traveled. Ignacia also knew her little ones were quite talented. They would put on puppet shows known in America at that time as “Punch and Judy Shows”. The children enjoyed singing and performing for the little bit of change strangers offered. It was fun playing different roles and being whatever character they wanted to be.

After many sleepless nights, Ignacia finally made her difficult decision. Her children, Carmen age 6, Santiago age 7, and Pilar age 9, would join the children’s theatrical company. Ignacia assured her children they would reunite in a few months, but the tragic reality was she did not see her children again until they were adults. Tears flowed as Ignacia stood on the dock next to the ship hugging her children. She tried to make them understand the great adventure ahead of them as they toured the world. She assured them the would meet other children, make friends and have fun playing on this big ship. But, Santiago and his sisters did not understand why they had to leave and why they could not just return home to play with the children on their own street. With one final hug they accepted her decision and their voyage began. While onboard ship, Carmen, Santiago, Pilar and the rest of the children spent their weeks at sea being tutored on their school studies. Even more time was spent with the tutors who instructed them on dance, singing, acting and stage presence. There were costume fittings, instructions on how to apply stage makeup and everything else that went into training as a performer. And, certainly not to be forgotten was learning the proper etiquette to use when being introduced to the president of a country or even to a queen or king. The children learned their lessons well as they developed their performance skills. Carmen liked to sing opera and act; Pilar liked comedy and could play either the male or female role; and Santiago did a little of everything. The company performed operettas known NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2005


“The beauty and grace of Señora Ramirez’s ‘Ana’ impressed every member of the audience.” as Zarzuelas. They visited many countries–Chile, Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, France, Mexico and Cuba to name a few–as they traveled the world. Transportation in some of these countries was so primitive that they traveled by donkey through the mountains to reach their destination. Hearing this story you might say they lived an exciting life, but it was a very demanding and lonely one for these young children. However, they were taught a profession that would serve them well. During the years that followed, they were never unemployed. No matter where they toured, people would always dig down deep in their pockets to buy a ticket for an evening’s performance. A highlight of their career was when they were chosen by the Spanish government in 1900 to perform at the World’s Fair in Paris. This talented troupe was showcased on an improvised stage on the River Seine. Setting a new world attendance record, over 50 million people visited the 1900 World’s Fair.


From left to right: Luis Mayoqui (Pilar’s Husband) Pilar & Santiago

n 1910, Carmen married Ernesto Esperante, a bass fiddle musician and composer from El Ferrol, La Coruna, Spain. The musical conductor of the orchestra, Professor Luis Mayoqui, was performing with Carmen and Pilar in Cuba and introduced them. Since Mayoqui and Ernesto were good friends, Ernesto confided his romantic interest in Carmen. Ernesto wrote many anonymous love letters before finally revealing himself to her. At the same time, Mayoqui was falling in love with Pilar. Of the two couples, they were the first to marry–in 1904 in Cuba. Ernesto and Carmen married in 1910–also in Cuba in the town of Guines. 20


In 1912, while still living in Cuba, Carmen was invited by El Centro Español to Ybor City to perform. Their beautiful, brand new building was an extraordinary architectural mixture of Spanish, Moorish and French Renaissance influence. El Centro wanted the first performance held there to be very special, so they invited Carmen and her talented group of actors to Ybor City. On November 6, 1912, Carmen sailed on the steamship Olivette from Havana to the Port of Tampa with the 40 person theatrical group “Companía Español de Operata Vienesa” to perform the operetta, “La Viuda Alegre” (“The Merry Widow”). Carmen was cast in one of the lead roles as “Ana,” written by Franz Lehar in 1905. November 11, 1912 was a night filled with excitement. Tampa’s elite paid ticket prices ranging from $10 to $100 for this event and the proceeds benefited El Centro Español clubhouse. Present in the audience were very wealthy cigar manufacturers, railroad owners, attorneys, politicians, and physicians as well as the local residents of Tampa. Each was anxious to enter the theatre to see a performance that had never been witnessed in this city before. It was magical as the curtains came up and the lights dimmed. The following morning the Tampa Tribune wrote a lengthy story on the operetta. Below are some of the most noteworthy quotes: “The beauty and grace of Señora Ramirez’s ‘Ana’ impressed every member of the audience.” “The handsomely appointed auditorium of the new Centro Español clubhouse proved admirably adapted to the unusual occasion and was filled with the leading Spanish citizens of Tampa and a number of prominent Americans as well.” “Handsome men and beautifully gowned women graced the occasion and the leading figures in Tampa’s cigar industry beamed from the boxes upon the animated scene.” It was truly a night to remember for this historic opening of the exquisite El Centro Español! The City of Ybor had fallen in love with Carmen, but she had also fallen in love with Ybor. In a few short years she would return–this time to stay!

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armen loved being involved in her new community. She volunteered her time and talents to a variety of Mutual Benefit Societies including the Centro Asturiano, the Cuban Club, Italian Club, Martí-Maceo Society and, of course, El Centro Español. These organizations served the residents of this multi-cultural community and she wanted to help. She

organized many benefit performances in which she acted, directed, promoted the sale of tickets, and obtained advertising. She also performed for the betterment of the clubs’ hospitals and clinics. Carmen also devoted her time to civic clubs and fraternities. She directed plays at Rollins College and, in 1959, worked with the University of Tampa’s Spanish Club to begin their Spanish Little Theatre. She shared her knowledge and performance skills with this young group of students. An expert on Spanish Zarzuelas, Carmen was excited about these young college students becoming interested in the art form she had always loved. Because of their dedication and her hopes that they would keep Zarzuela alive, she donated many personal items related to this style of Spanish performance. The Spanish Little Theatre eventually changed its name to Spanish Lyric Theatre and now operates independently of the University of Tampa. This troupe continues to perform today, marking 47 years of existence.

Photo courtesy of Tampa Tribune


t was now 1920, and Carmen and h e r h u s b a n d Ernesto wanted to purchase a house in Ybor City within walking distance of 7th Avenue. They were drawn to this community by its mixture of Spanish, Cuban, Italian, Sicilian, Jewish and German nationalities. It was a city within a city and its people were proud and hardworking. Carmen felt it would be the perfect Carmen Ramirez Esperante place to settle down and raise children. She and Ernesto had three when they settled in Ybor City, Carmen, Rosa, and Luisa. Pilar, Elisa, and Alicia were born later. They eventually fell in love with a house on 13th Avenue, but did not have $2,000 for the down payment. When Luis and Pilar heard this, they made the down payment for them. Carmen and Ernesto soon moved in and went about raising their growing daughters. Pilar and Luis arrived later and moved in with them to help. Unable to have children of their own, Pilar and Luis loved being around their nieces. Also, Carmen and Pilar knew the importance of keeping family together and Ybor City is where they remained. Unfortunately, their brother Santiago died at a very young age after a successful stage career and was never able to come to the United States to join them. The lives of the Esperante family were rich with activity, and their days were filled with music. People strolling past the house at 1623 13th Avenue were treated to melodic sounds permeating the air. In one bedroom you would find Carmen rehearsing for an upcoming performance or giving opera lessons; Pilar in another bedroom practicing a comedic skit; Ernesto creating a new arrangement for his orchestra; and Luis at the piano composing a new piece of music. But somewhere in the house you would find the girls laughing as they played with their mother’s wigs, costumes and makeup.

Veteran stage actors Carmen Ramirez Esperante and Arturo Moran perform on the stage for the Spanish Lyric Theatre’s premier performance in 1959 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2005


As the years passed, Carmen Ramirez was recognized time and again by the clubs who honored her and expressed their appreciation for her tireless efforts to arrange many benefits for their organizations. In November of 2001 she was one of the women featured in the Ybor City Museum’s exhibit titled, “Matriarchs and Mantillas”, which profiled many of the outstanding women of Ybor City. The exhibit description under her name quoted a Tampa Times’ theatre review from the 1920’s, which described her as “the most alluring, captivating Cleopatra that any modern Anthony might desire.” Her sister Pilar Ramirez Mayoqui was also profiled in the museum exhibit.


armen Ramirez Esperante died on March 3, 1973 at the age of 81. It was requested that her funeral procession pass by the theatres and buildings she helped throughout the years. The request was honored and a final tribute was paid to this “Lady of Spain” by the city of Ybor. This veteran actress of the stage was remembered one last time for all her contributions. Note: Marilyn Esperante Figueredo, the granddaughter and Lisa Figueredo, Founder & Publisher is the great granddaughter of Carmen Ramirez Esperante. 24


Photo courtesy of Tampa Tribune

Carmen Ramirez Esperante (2nd from right) came out of retirement in 1959 to act as technical advisor for the Spanish Lyric Theatre’s premier performance.

University of South Florida, Tampa Library, Special Collections Department



El Centro Español (Spanish Club) was issued a

charter by the State of Florida in 1891. El Centro was the first social and mutual aid society established in

Ybor City. Cigar manufacturer, Ignacio Haya was selected as the club’s first president.

In the years that followed, membership grew and

a new brick clubhouse was finished in 1912 replacing

the original wooden structure. Spanish, Moorish and

French Renaissance architecture influenced the design

of the larger clubhouse. Today, El Centro Español is

recognized as a National Historic Landmark.


In the 1600’s King Philip IV, who was known as

the “Poet King”, and his wife, Queen Mariana of Spain held theatrical recitals in their garden outside one of their palaces. Originally a hunting lodge, they renovat-

ed the structure and turned it into a small palace for

their enjoyment. Thorn-covered bushes called, “Zarza” were plentiful on the property and over time the palace came to be known as “Palace of the Zarzuelas”. As per-

formances continued they took on the same name. For

the next 200 years, this style of musical theater evolved in the Spanish culture and Zarzuelas are still performed in theatres around the world today.



University of South Florida, Tampa Library, Special Collections Department




Cuesta Rey and Company Cigar Factory at 2416 Howard Avenue, 1930.


“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”-Mason Cooley

y name is Halas Dumas and I am a reader. But I am not just any reader. I am honored to be called El Lector, which in Spanish means “the reader”. I sit on a high platform above a factory floor. Seated at the rows of worktables below are the cigar makers. They make the finest cigars in the world and I am proud to have been selected to read to them every day as they work. Reading quietly to myself, I hear the loud shouts of morning greetings and small arguments of no consequence. The big open room where the cigar makers’ work is noisy as the men and women move supplies and chairs into place to begin their day’s work. Some will

sort and size the cigars as they are made. Others inspect the cigars to be sure they are properly packed and rolled; bands are attached and then placed into beautifully decorated boxes made by another group. They acknowledge me with a greeting or a gesture of appreciation for my presence. I wait for the noise to subside into the tedium and concentration of the work in progress at their fingertips. The proud artisans roll from memory, from feel, from a craft learned at their father’s knee. When the noise has diminished to occasional conversation, a cough, or the cutting and sharpening of knives, I raise my voice so all will hear and begin. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2005


University of South Florida, Tampa Library, Special Collections Department

ufacturers followed. In the early years of the industry here, cigar factory workers rebelled against the factory owners. They wanted to have el lector read to them as they had done in Cuba. They wanted to be informed and entertained. Strikes were held and soon platforms were built in the factories for the readers. The workers were too valuable to lose, and so the tradition begun in Cuba came to Ybor City. The workers created not only a committee to interview and select potential lectors but A lector reads to cigar makers at Cuesta Rey and Company Cigar Factory, 1929. also a presidente to collect fees “Buenas Días!” I shout. Hearing the warm greetings in from the workers to pay for the reader’s services. The workers return, I open the book. “I will begin today on Chapter V of part gladly paid. Many of the cigar workers could not read, but thanks II of our reading of Anna Karenina where I left off yesterday. My to the lector, they were able to hear the news of the world and voice becomes the characters and expresses the passion of the travel to adventurous times and places they would never see. book. My work begins. The owners grudgingly capitulated to the worker’s demands, but el lector always created a dilemma for the owners. The readers “It’s a little indiscreet, but so charming that I simply must not only entertained with poetry and novels, but they read from tell you,” said Vronsky, looking at her with laughing eyes. their own political agendas and those of the workers because they “I mean I shan’t mention names.” would be reading materials the workers selected. Through the “So much the better–I shall guess.” years the animosity between the workers and the owners grew “Now listen: two gay young fellows were driving__” volatile over wages, conditions, hours, etc. The situation was “Officers of your regiment, I suppose.” exacerbated when “progress” came to the factories with the intro“I did not say officers, but simply two young men who had been duction of machines. Strikes were common and el lector became lunching__” a vocal and outspoken supporter of the workers. The conflict “Translate - ‘had been drinking.’” spread to the streets and social clubs. Everyone had an opinion. “Maybe. So, they are on their way to dine with a friend........” The readers had a willing, captive audience. Factories large and small had el lector. Sometimes only one The morning passes with occasional murmurs or laughter came in when he wanted and left after reading for a few hours. from the workers, heads bent over their work. Sometimes in the Others had several readers working shifts during the mornings heat of a story I will feel a stillness and look up to see the and afternoons. In times of “slow news days” as we call them workers paused, watching me intently. I am proud to be able to now, they might only read books and plays and items of local hold their rapt attention. interest. But most of those early years were political roller That is how el lector spends his day, and there are many more coasters and the workers wanted to hear the news of the day first. at work around the numerous cigar factories in Mr. Ybor’s city. I There was no television or even radio, so the morning readings would like for you to know more. I shall tell you a little about el would come from local and international newspapers, labor leadlector so you may understand. ers and political writings. When the Spanish-American war began near the turn of the 20th century, the news brought topics his prestigious position began, many say, in the cigar of social unrest and news of Cuba’s freedom from Spain. Labor factories of Cuba and came to Florida’s west coast when strikes and unrest here at home also brought many diverse opinMartinez Ybor and Ignacio Haya moved their cigar mak- ions from the platform. In the afternoons, readings would turn ing enterprise from Key West and New York to Tampa in 1886. to lighter topics and the books of Cervantes, Victor Hugo, They built the town to house the workers. Soon other cigar man- Tolstoy, Karl Marx, and Jules Verne.

T 30



igar workers could come and go during the day. It was a common practice. Whether it was café con leche at the nearby restaurants with a slice of Cuban buttered bread–or errands and events they wanted to attend, they always returned to cut and roll, cut and roll. They were paid by the piece and by the type of cigars they made. The perfectos were prime, fat with prime Cuban tobacco, commanding in appearance. They had to be, well, perfect. Others such as the cherutos were smaller and quicker to make, and therefore those workers were paid less per piece. In the evening the workers returned to the streets and to their homes, spreading the news from the lectors to others on the events of the world, recapping the stories and chapters heard. These stories provided entertainment and education for family and friends. Many of the lectors were famous. You might call them “Renaissance” men, diverse in their many talents and skills, such as Don Victoriano Manteiga. You will read about him in a separate column in this issue by Dr. Ferdie Pacheco who is a treasure in himself. Other lectors were talented on the stage and some specialized in political arenas. All were honored and respected. Their names echo now in the streets of Ybor and in the minds and hearts of many people today. The majority were men, but one notable woman lector was Luisa Capetillo, a Puerto Rican labor leader who came to Ybor from Cuba, and an author herself. Some other notable men were Honorato Henry Dominguez, Francisco Milian, Manuel Aparicio and Abelardo Gutierrez Diaz. Listen, you can almost hear them speak.


y cigar factory in this column is fictitious, but in future columns I will attempt to convey a story that will give you a sense of the day for different periods of the history of the cigar factory lectors, until the end came in 1933. That was the year when the owners banned the remaining lectors. Radios came to replace el lector with news, sports, music and drama. Many of the workers, too, soon gave way to more and more machines and the new skills they required. The passionate readings of el lector faded into history. It was the end of an era, but what a time it was! Note: If you would like to share stories of your own about lectors you know, please contact us at the magazine. Source of historical information: The Immigrant World of Ybor City, by Gary R. Mormino and George E. Pozzetta. Originally published by Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1987.


NOT SO TRIVIAL The land where Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory sits today was used as a small airfield around 1911. Planes took passengers on sightseeing tours of the city. In 1886, 120 acres of swampland was purchased by Hugh Macfarlane west of the Hillsborough River for $2,000. It later became known as West Tampa. Ybor City was once known as the Cigar Capital of the World with nearly 12,000 tabaqueros (cigar-makers) employed in 200 factories. Ybor City produced an estimated 700 million cigars a year at the industry’s peak. The word “Tampa” comes from an Indian word meaning “sticks of fire” a reference to the lightning that is so common in the area. Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon first arrived in the Tampa Bay area in 1513. In 1824, only two months after the arrival of the first American settler, four companies of the U.S. Army established Fort Brooke to protect the strategic harbor at Tampa Bay. Billy Bowlegs in 1858 was the principal chief over the 300–400 remaining Indians in Florida at the close of the Second Seminole War.


Charles Atlas, born Angelo Siciliano Alan Alda, born Alan D’Abruzzo Anthony Quinn, born Antonio Quinones Charlie Sheen, born Carlos Esteves Raquel Welch, born Raquel Tejada





Ybor City Intellectual


n my years of growing up in Ybor City, which was the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, there was one man who stood out head and shoulders above the population. All who aspire to intellectualism, to appreciators of art and music, and to be leaders in the politics of that day, basically a long sputtering fight against communism, had to look up to Don Victoriano Manteiga. He was our leader. One step below Don Victoriano was my grandfather, the Spanish Consul, Don Gustavo Jimenez. My first 10 years were spent on my grandfather’s knee. He had taken charge of teaching me to be a European child. I was to be instructed in art by a series of trips to Lake Wales, the Ringling Art Museum, which hosted Rembrandt, Goya, Velasquez and numbers of Impressionists. He made me sit in front of a giant painting as he 32


Painting courtesy of Ferdie Pacheco

“El Lector” by Ferdie Pacheco

dissected the painting, looking at design, coloring, figure drawing and overall composition. Then he would drive to Bok Towers, spread a blanket, and discuss the painting we had just studied. As we devoured our chocolate and churros, we would give our opinions. I loved to do that. In music, he made us listen to the Saturday Metropolitan Opera programs. I hated those and still do. But Sunday made up for it. I had to get up on a chair and conduct Toscanini’s NBC Symphony with the number two Eagle pencil. Now, that was fun. From this, I got to know symphonies. I love the music. It’s tops. The only time I saw our consulate in an uproar was when Don Manteiga, the Lector, was coming to supper. All the family was in awe of the tall, dignified Lector. Supper over, the dishes cleared off, the Lector took off on a long speech telling us about a civil war about to start in Spain, about the general poor state of civilization, East or West, trying to recover after the disastrous World War. Things looked bleak according to him. At my age, I would hang on every word. Most of it I couldn’t digest, but all I knew was we were headed for big trouble. After he left, my grandfather would try to explain what he had said. He still

“He was a very cultured figure and the reigning intellectual. He seemed intent on opening up the world to me.” did not ameliorate the sense of danger. Meanwhile, in my schoolI was very happy there because of the balance of my yard at Robert E. Lee Elementary, the children’s main concern playmates. In Ybor City, I only had Spanish immigrant kids. was Babe Ruth’s batting average, who took Lindberg’s baby, and On Lamar, I had Americans, Italians, Cubans, Spaniards and whether Hillsborough could beat Plant High in the annual Jews. We all played together in peace. Thanksgiving game. No one I knew, including my teachers, seemed to have heard of Hitler, Stalin, or Franco. We seemed to he war started. All our neighborhood kids ran to join up, live in another world apart, all safe and sound. leaving us too-young kids to wait for our time to come. Bad times come early for El Lector when the owners decided Upstairs, my very successful, good-looking uncle Ferdie Lectors were a dangerous influence on the labor force. They lived in solitude. He was 37 years old, so was exempt from going. wanted them thrown out of the factory. The workers rebelled. No He had a crucial job in the food business so he was exempt from Lectors. No work. They went out on an industry wide strike. No the Draft. Still, he had hid upstairs not going out as he had, not one worked for 10 months! It was a major disaster for all sides. going to bars, restaurants, movies and anywhere where his good The workers barely got along on starvation looks and virile figure would get him into diets. The owners lost huge sums of money. fights with servicemen wondering why he The Lectors were out of work, most driven was not in the army. My mother, feeling his from the city to seek work in Key West, loneliness, sent me (I was in his namesake, Havana or Mexico–never to return to Ybor Ferdie) upstairs to live with him. I was in City. heaven. He was such fun and every night at Don Victoriano, of course, was a 11:00 H.V. Kaltenbrun would come over heroic leader of the strike. He spoke almost NBC with the news. Then we made coffee every night at meetings in the cafes of and toast and discussed what we had just Seventh Avenue, to the clubs, Centro heard. You know, man-to-man. Asturiano, Centro Espanol, Cuban Club One glorious day the war threw off a great and veterans' organizations. We had many piece of flotsam. I was told that Don meetings at the consulate where the chief Victoriano was coming to take the front bedroom, upstairs to share the room with Playboy attraction was a supper for Manteiga. For Uncle Ferdie and I. Imagine the great hero of many, that represented the only taste of the Ybor City and the publisher of La Gaceta at great Spanish meal for the week. It was a my house! tough time. The Lector was everywhere. How this broke down was like this: I Negotiating, fighting, writing articles, and would be home by 4 p.m. at my study desk. encouraging workers to stick it out. After 10 At the same time, the Lector would arrive, months, they had to cave in. hot and sweaty from the day of putting out The Lectors had to go. Victoriano had the paper. He would jump into a cold tub of begun to publish a newspaper, La Gaceta, a trilingual newspaper. The entire town of water. He’d come out in a bathrobe, sit down with me to ask me what I had Ybor depended on it for news and informalearned, and then, in his way, he turned tion. It was a big success. In 1938, Franco Victoriano Manteiga that into a lecture. What was happening in won his fight. The Loyalist Spanish government folded and was no more. My grandfather took it hard and the world? It seemed never to be good news. One of his continuing themes was the absence of intellectualism did the only thing he could do, he died. By this time my father JB, a pharmacist, had accumulated enough money to move from in Tampa. No one seemed to aspire to being a thinking man, an intela big house on Columbus Drive to a nice, comfortable, two-story lectual. Culture seemed unattainable. But he was. He was a very cultured figure and the reigning intellectual. He seemed intent on openhouse on Lamar Avenue in Tampa Heights. Photo courtesy of Angie Manteiga




Seeing me come in and taking a long, appreciative look at Luisita, my bride, he bid us to sit down, and started to regale us with stories of the past, of the bitter strike, of the war of the Lectors and the Mafia wars, and endless tales of Ybor City. The afternoon sun was dropping over the rooftops of Ybor when he finally sat down. We took pictures, one of which turned into a portrait of him at 90. It hangs now at La Gaceta. When we got home in Miami, Luisita said, “That is the most impressive man I ever met. You should write those stories up.” I agreed, and started writing a novel which I called The Lector. It came to 900 pages and took two years to write. I did research all over Ybor and in Teruel, Spain and Madrid. It was a wonderful book, complete in detail. Repeated attempts to get it published failed. The time was not right. Publishing houses all responded the same: 1. What was a Lector and who cares? 2. What was the Cigar Industry and who cares? 3. What were union wars about and who cares? 4. Tobacco causes cancer and they were not that interested in it. 5. What was the Spanish Civil War and who cares?


inally, I had to go off to college. I went to the University of Tennessee and lost contact with this vital man. I didn’t think to write. The war went by. We won. Dr. Victoriano still wrote and edited La Gaceta, but he was now very old, and bent. I had come to Indian Rocks to spend my usual month writing my novels and articles. I had married a vivacious young beauty, a famous flamenco dancer, and she was fascinated by my stories of Ybor City. One day, finding out that my old mentor, the Lector, was still alive and working, I decided to drive in with my beauty, photograph him, and see if we could get a story or two out of him. It was after lunch at one o’clock when we came to his office on 15th Avenue. I was shocked by his appearance. His most impressive feature was his straight-as-a-rod posture. He was about 6 ft. tall, taller than anyone in Ybor. He appeared taller. 34


Photo courtesy of Luisita Pacheco

ing up the world to me. Seeing how I ate up history, he gave me books on the Conquest of the Spanish Conquistadores. I got a chance to read “The Conquest of Mexico” by Bernal Diaz in English translation, and discussed it in detail. I was on my way. I was hooked on the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

What did that mean? Basically, no. I withdrew it, and proceeded to publish 16 other books. I did close to 40 oil paintings of the Cigar factories and its Lectors, most at the $8,000 to $10,000 level and still no interest in the book. I am now at the end of my life. I want the Lector to live! After I suffered a stroke three years ago, as I lay in bed contemplating my limited future, I decided to give the manuscript of the Lector to La Gaceta, still being published by his grandson Patrick Manteiga. He had already serialized the entire book chapter by chapter. Now, I want him to own it and sell the book through the newspaper for all time. This will forever memorialize the splendid cultural intellectual giant, Don Victoriano Manteiga. Yes, we did have Intellectuals in Ybor City. Don Victor Manteiga was one. Ferdie Pacheco is a doctor,boxing/television analyst, writer, screenwriter, novelist and painter. To learn more about Dr. Pacheco, visit



ow do I define Tampeño? We are the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants from Cuba, Asturias, Galicia and Sicily who lived and worked together in the cigar barrios of Ybor City, West Tampa and Palmetto Beach. The visionary Anglo leaders invited cigar factory owners to build the economy. That invitation transformed the small frontier town into Florida’s major industrial center from 1890s to 1950s. The immigrant workers transplanted mango and guava trees as well as cultural and social values. The multi-cultural enclaves defined the Cigar City’s unique character. Writer Jose Yglesias called it “The Radical Latin Island in the Deep South.” The cigar neighborhoods are remembered as very special places because the economic, social and cultural values served the whole community. The 100-year-old social club buildings like Centro Asturiano, Centro Español, Circulo Cubano and La Union Martí Maceo are a testament to those community values. As citizens of the U.S. with strong ties to the homeland, Tampeños live in multiple realities. They accommodated to mainstream Deep South Americano culture in a conflicted process that negotiated family relations, values, culture, and language. However, a true Tampeño remains rooted in a Latin identity while comfortably seeking the Americano Dream. We are experienced negotiators of cultural conflicts and builders of cultural bridges. We can speak English with a Southern accent when necessary. We also attempt to retain our ancestors’ languages. We invent words–a mezcla of inglés y español in our attempt to connect with our nuevo Latino friends. Tampeños are happy to see new immigrants from around the world making Tampa home; making Tampa an international cosmopolitan city in the Deep South. That’s what the forefathers and foremothers wished us to always be.

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Dominic Guinta (above), Mario Perla (right) on 14th Avenue

The Neighborhood of


(Ybor City – Paradise Lost)

In April of 1996, I was at the end of working towards my Bachelor of Arts in History at the University of Tampa. In Dr. Robert Kerstein’s Political Science Honors class, it was required for my final research paper on any subject matter as long as it concerned the City of Tampa. I chose the subject of the Ybor City neighborhood. We all know the neighborhood no longer exists as it was in the past. I have kept my research paper as something personal to myself and my family. Perhaps now is the time to share with all of you, in segments, my memories. I knew that to bring the neighborhood alive in this paper, besides giving my personal feelings, I would have to interview survivors of the area. The paper opens with researched quotes from different ethnic groups. They tell how and why their families left their homeland to enter the U. S. A., thus making their final destination Ybor City, Florida.

Left: Deanna Vacanti Fulghum, Gilda Ferlita Capitano, Frank Vacanti, Mary Jane Vacanti Cirella, Norma Jean Ferlita Turner on 14th Ave. and 24th St., 1945.



Mancu l’occhi pi chiancire (lacking the eyes with which to cry), a description of the Sicilian tax collector. — Barbagallo, S. Stefano – Quisquina, Sicily My grandfather and his brothers wanted to get away from the Russian Czar. — Jacob Buchman The ship which brought us from Havana was the old Mascotte. — Eligio Corbanell Matta Between 1880 and 1920 cruel reality forced 820,000 Spaniards to immigrate to the Americas and 130,000 came to the United States. — Julio Cuevas In those days we grew up together, your color did not matter–your family and their moral character did. — Hipólito Arenas – AfroCuban


eonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance artist and inventor, is credited by art historians as the father and master of chiaroscuro (pronounced “kee-AHR-oh-SKOO-roh”). The mingling of bright lights, interspersed with shadows and darkness, is chiaroscuro. Leonardo, known to be a man ahead of his time, could have used on his canvas the colorful mixture of the ethnic groups that made up the neighborhood community of Ybor City that existed between the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. This bubbling neighborhood was spiced with immigrants and their children who had settled in Ybor City, coming mainly from Sicily, Spain and Cuba. The Sicilians, Spaniards and even the Romanian and Russian Jews brought their unique European customs and culture along with them. The group included Cubans, Afro-Cubans and Afro-Americans. They did not perhaps realize that together they were creating a masterpiece of chiaroscuro. This masterpiece was evident in their political and religious beliefs, in their foods and their music, and in their recreation. This mixture of ethnics lived together as neighbors. Their children mingled and played together. Very small percentages were left after the interstate corridor passed through 14th Avenue and the Federal Urban Renewal Program, in the early 1960’s, bulldozed itself into Ybor City devouring many homes. This caused a second exodus for these people. They had survived many hardships, but their love for their neighbors–even though the ethnic groups were many–is a testimony both to their individuality, their customs, and their culture. But, the passing of time erased their neighborhood along with their schools, their churches, and their merchants. Very few survived. To better understand the heyday of Ybor City’s neighborhood, it is best to review its origin.

It can be observed in the Florida Historical Quarterly. Vol. XLV, in the Federal Writer’s Project, when Jules A. Frost wrote the following: The factor which distinguished Tampa among southern, urban communities was the presence of large numbers of immigrants during the development of the city. The immigrants’ response to their new environment and the natives’ reaction to the Latin immigrants constituted one of the most important themes of the city’s social and political development. The Latins included Cuban, Spanish, and Italian workers who had immigrated to Tampa from Key West, New Orleans, New York, Cuba, and from their countries such as Sicily and Spain. In 1887, Tampa possessed about 22,000 inhabitants, including more than 8,000 Cubans (40% of the total). It was the foremost manufacturing center of Cuban tobacco in the United States.


uba had long served as a magnet for Spanish émigrés. Don Vicente Martinez Ybor was born to wealthy parents in 1818 in Valencia, Spain. Martinez Ybor, in a fashion customary to his class, immigrated to Cuba as a young man to avoid compulsory military service. There he followed and then directed the spectacular rise of the cigar industry. He climbed the ladder from apprentice clerk to broker to manufacturer. He had a good entrepreneurial instinct, and helped to modernize the primitive Cuban tobacco industry. By 1859, Havana boasted a thriving cigar industry which included hundreds of factories claiming 15,000 workers. This became a $3 million a year business. The fight for Cuban independence from Spain was in the making at this time. Martinez Ybor’s secretive support of the separatists seemed to be imbedded from his economic motivation–a free Cuba would lift burdensome Spanish restrictions–even though he also felt a genuine sympathy for the Cuban cause. Ybor was alerted that the government had issued an order for his arrest. The manufacturer went into hiding, later fleeing to Key West in 1869 and establishing cigar factories there. Later, because of labor strife and ultimately a huge fire that destroyed many Key West factories, Ybor decided to seek tracts of land elsewhere for his business of hand rolled cigars. His eye was on forty acres of land in the Tampa area. Captain John T. Lesley, son of a prominent Tampa pioneer, owned the tract and his selling price was $9,000. The Board of Trade, which later was to become The Chamber of Commerce, was organized in 1885 to promote business interests in the city and subsidized $4,000 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2005


The Angelina Greco Vacanti Family having dinner in front of the alter on St. Joseph’s Day – March 1945.

while Martinez Ybor paid $5,000. “On the 8th of October 1885,” reported the Tampa Guardian, “the first tree was felled which covered the site on which Ybor City is now building.” In the spring of 1886, the first Cubans arrived aboard the side-wheeler S.S. Hutchinson. By May 1886, the founder had recruited nearly 220 cigar workers. Ybor named his tract of land after himself and thus gave birth to Ybor City. Nature endowed Tampa with a climate suitable for cigar rolling, and Henry B. Plant supplied railcars moving northward. It can be further observed in the Florida Historical Quarterly, Durward Long saying: Whatever else the term “New South” includes, it suggests the rise of the commercial entrepreneur as the dominant economic force. It is this development which is writ large in the progress of Tampa from an isolated gulf coastal town of sand beds, small merchants, and cattlemen, to a thriving commercial port city in 1911 through which

the majority of the world’s phosphate and the lion’s share of luxury cigars passed. As a result of the efforts of the Board of Trade, the gulf port was declared an official port of entry in 1887, and a customhouse was established to receive the large imports of Cuban tobacco which the cigar maker made into Tampa-brand Havana cigars.


n December 25, 1990, there appeared an article in the Tampa Tribune about the exodus of the Sicilians which stated that people were hungry and in need of work. A large exodus of Stefanesi (people from Santo Stefano) took place beginning in 1880, making Tampa, Florida, their final destination. According to Mormino and Pozzetta in their book, The Immigrant World of Ybor City, Stefanesi accounted for 60% of Tampa’s Sicilian population.

“Mancu l’occhi pi chiancire (lacking the eyes with which to cry)” a description of the Sicilian tax collector – Barbagallo, S. Stefano, Quisquina, Sicily • “My grandfather and his brothers wanted to get awy from the Russian Czar.” – Jacob Buchman • “The ship which brought us from Havana was the old Mascotte” – Eligio Corbanell Matta • “Between 1880 and 1920 cruel reality forced 38


A local proverb found in Immigrant described the tax collector in Santo Stefano as mancu l’occhi pi chiancire (lacking the eyes with which to cry); they truly were the popolo-minuto (little people; peasants). Eventually, the Stefanesi prospered in Tampa and became part of the elite popolo-grosso (great society; power).


a big project for the members to keep their clubhouse from being razed. In 1907, in a bonding effort to keep their heritage, the AfroCubans constructed La Union Martí-Maceo. “White and Negro Cubans lived in harmony,” wrote Jose Rivero Muniz, “but when the Circulo Cubano was formed, however, the Negroes were left out.” This club was the only social outlet the black Cubans had.


fter a time, immigrants felt a need to bind within their own ethnic groups for social and health benefits. mmigrant children were educated in Ybor City in schools They felt a distance between them and the new Anglo such as V.M. Ybor, Philip Shore, Most Holy Name–run by world that existed around them. This need spurred the births of Salesian Sisters, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help the mutual aid societies. These mutual aid societies served not Academy–run by School Sisters of Notre Dame. They were so only as the cradle for their social needs, but eventually contained proud to have their children attend school. In most instances stupharmacies and a resident doctor within the clubhouse. dents walked to school whether it was grammar, middle or high The first to emerge was El Centro Español chartered in 1891. school. Located at 16th Street and 7th Avenue, directors organized the Many of the Italians learned the craft of cigar making. Spanish Casino Stock Company in 1892 to further promote For many Sicilians, cigar-rolling was just a stepping-stone to the theatrical activity. In 1906, El Centro Español dedicated a threeestablishment of grocery stores, macaroni factories, icehouses, story sanatorium. Members paid dairies, large farms, banks and other businesses. They had built substan$1.50 per month for social benefits tial houses which were to become and total medical protection. their permanent homes in Ybor Next, El Centro Asturiano City. Spending money on their unveiled their clubhouse in 1914, homes showed evidence that the which The Morning Tribune said was Sicilian’s were starting to assimilate. “the most beautiful building in the In April 1996, a telephone South.” The building included a drainterview was conducted with Tony matic 1,200 seat theater. Centro Pizzo. He stated, “Of all the ethnic Asturiano also erected a hospital groups, Sicilians assimilated very with health benefits. quickly. They are a curious people. L’Unione Italiana was founded in April 1894 by 116 Italian and eight Of course, they were also frugal and Spanish immigrants as a mutual aid self-sufficient. Many inter-married. society. Their payment of dues was The second and third generation as important to them as eating. went on to higher levels of educaThere was a pharmacy and a resident tion. Some became outstanding prodoctor. A death benefit program for fessionals and businessmen, while families initiated their own cemeothers served as politicians.” Two tery. The present club was built in sons of Sicilian immigrants success1918 and is listed in the National fully held power within the strucWindmill on the Guinta homestead. Register of Historic Places. ture of the county and city In 1907, El Circulo Cubano politics. In “Treasure City Tampa” it erected its first clubhouse on 14th Street and 10th Avenue. It was stated that Mayor Nick Nuccio served Tampa as its first was to bind all Cubans together in a fraternal group. When this Latin mayor. Mayor Nuccio served from 1956-1959. He served structure burned in 1916, a new building was constructed to again from 1963-1967. The other favorite son was Mayor Dick include a spacious theater, a cantina, pharmacy, library, and a Greco who served from 1967-1974 and served again as Tampa’s 100' by 70' dance floor decorated by Cuban painters. Today, it is mayor elected in 1995.

820,000 Spaniards to immigrate to the Americas and 130,000 came to the United States.”– Julio Cuevas • “In those days we grew up together, your color did not matter–your family and their moral character did.” – Hipólito Arenas, Afro-Cuban NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2005



everal interviews were conducted among the ethnic groups to attain a true flavor of the past. “When people are in a hurry”, he said, “they’ll call me Don, or else they will say Dominic.” An interview with Dominico Valenti Guinta on April 18, 1996, made the neighborhood of 11th Avenue and 25th Street almost come alive. Mr. Guinta with his three brothers, two sisters, and his parents Victoria and Salvatore, Sicilian immigrants from the village of Santo Stefano, settled in 1925 in their new home on 11th Avenue which was on one acre of land. He has lived at this address for seventy-one years. He presently is eighty-two years of age. His eldest brother Angelo is the other surviving sibling at ninety-two years of age. The Guinta homestead has been cultivated since 1920. Today, the old and new generations of Sicilian-Americans flock to Dominico to purchase precious gidi and carduna to be prepared and eaten on the Feast of San Giuseppe who is the patron saint of those who labor. This feast day falls on March 19. The sweetness of these special vegetables represents the roots and love Sicilian-Americans have for their food customs. The sacrifice is the laborious task in preparing them in hopes that St. Joseph would grant a special favor. This is an important ritual at this time of the calendar year, and Dominic provides the community with his vegetables because of his love for his heritage and his love for cultivating his homestead. Mr. Guinta went on to say the neighborhood consisted of 90% Sicilian and 10% Blacks and Cubans or Afro-Cubans. Peddlers came daily to deliver Cuban bread to one’s door. Milk and coffee were delivered weekly. There were fish mongers too. “All our needs were met mostly at home”, he said. The games he remembers playing as a youngster were baseball, tops, kite sailing and shooting marbles. He said marbles was big and serious and he wasn’t a very good shooter. The boys from 14th Avenue between 26th and 22nd Street would come around. He just could not compete with them. The Di Salvos, the Penzatos and the Militellos were just too good at marbles. Dominic said he would cry like the devil when his favorite marble was won over a marble shoot-out. “But, we all looked after each other,” he said. When asked about an early childhood remembrance of a certain sugar candy called Piruli which was sold by a sole peddler for one cent, he smiled and said, “Of course, I vividly remember the Piruli man; he would say, ‘Un centavo, Piruli’ and the mothers would come out with their pennies to buy the pointed cone shaped hard sugar-sucker on a stick for their children.” The Piruli was about 4" high and it was made with colored sugar. The Piruli man had a whistle imported from Spain.



Mr. Guinta says he is almost certain he was a Spaniard or from Spanish parents. On this whistle he would play three high notes, as he would approach the houses. His song was, “Llora chiquito y tu mama te compra un piruli-i-i.” The last word was held on a high note. Translated it means, “Cry little one and your mother will buy you a Piruli.” Mr. Guinta has an interesting story about the “Piruli man” who was a resident of Ybor City. “His territory ranged from 26th Street, which was his furthest boundary east,” he said, “because east of 26th Street were colored families and they didn’t care for the Piruli. West his boundary was Nebraska Avenue, south was 8th Avenue with Columbus Drive as north.” When Mr. Guinta graduated in 1936 from the University of Tampa, the university’s first graduating class, he went to teach math and science at West Tampa Junior High. “In 1938,” he said, “I decided to mention how hard people worked for a living. And I mentioned the Piruli man to my students.” He continued by saying, “The next day, I received a note from one of the student’s mother, and she wrote, ‘Thank you for mentioning the Piruli man; he was my father.’” He was just floored that he had the grandchild of the Piruli man in his class. Mr. Guinta tells how later he met this lady and she invited him over to her home to meet her family, and when his visit was over she presented him with a flan to take home to his family. His daughter had told Mr. Guinta that he walked all day and earned $2.25 per day. His wife and daughter would count the pennies and sometimes there was “white” money, which were nickels. He did this mainly for his love of children. His entire family helped him with the enterprise of making and packaging the candy, although his main income came from building and selling birdcages along with a beautiful variety of homemade kites. Mr. Guinta said, “I know this encounter was quite unique. This Piruli man was a one man institution.” He also mentioned that Miranda, the “crab-man”, was also a one-man institution on the Ybor City scene as a devil-crab salesman. Years later, a half dozen others sprung up as devil-crab peddlers but Miranda, the “crab-man,” was special to his memory. n the Guinta homestead, until about fifteen years ago when Dominic sold the windmill, there was a touch of intrigue and a flavor of Holland to see a windmill turning in the wind. In the 1950’s, school children would walk southwards on 25th Street to attend Most Holy Name School and gazed at the windmill with awe. He said when he first started teaching in 1938 he had his first goal set to save money to purchase a windmill. It was a happy day when he had saved


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he $1,500 for his windmill, which provided water for the house and helped in irrigating the large acreage.

On the day of his interview, he said, “Just today a house was razed down on 13th Avenue, between 24th and 25th Streets. It’s just another one in many to go down. It had been abandoned too long. You know, when people rent out here, and no improvements are made on these houses, sure it’s going to downgrade the properties. Urban Renewal did not affect our street but the death of the neighborhood was most certainly felt. Even before Urban Renewal came, the educated younger generation would sell out the homes of their elders when they passed away in order to move into a new and different area of Tampa.” One could say there is a similarity here between our first parents, Adam and Eve, who lost paradise – their Garden of Eden – when they partook from the tree of knowledge. He and two daughters still reside in the Guinta homestead. “My children are all educators,” he said. “One daughter is a librarian at Hillsborough Community College, Ybor City branch. My other daughter is a guidance counselor at King High

School and my son is also a guidance counselor at Ben Hill. My other daughter left the teaching profession to raise her family. We frequently get together; we are close to each other. Our two big holidays are July 4th and Christmas. We are the only resident family surviving from the heyday of Ybor City from the boundary line between Nebraska and 30th Street. You could say I am the ‘Last of the Mohicans.’” He ended by saying, “Ybor City was good to my parents and good to me and my family. All my siblings married from this homestead and that is why I remain here. When I leave this earth, I want to leave from this house of ours in Ybor City.” Read Part 2 in the January 2006 issue of Cigar City Magazine. Source of historical information: - The Immigrant World of Ybor City, by Gary R. Mormino and George E. Pozzetta - Families Separated by Strife, Tampa Tribune 25 Dec. 1990, by Paul Wilborn




ant to have lunch in the cemetery today? If someone asks you that question, before you say “no”, or even “NO!” ask a few more questions. Because if it is the “Picnic with the Past” put on by the Italian Club of Ybor City, then you might want to say “yes”, or even “YES!” Let me tell you about my first experience with this annual picnic. I had never been before, had not heard about it, and, when I did, I was still not sure I wanted to go.

searched for a place to sit. Surprisingly, I recognized quite a few people and smiled back as they waived to say hello. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “That guy isn’t Sicilian or Italian–he’s Cuban, I’m pretty sure!” As I ran into friends I had known through the years, I realized that although there were lots of Sicilians and Italians here, there were other nationalities as well. My thoughts went back to my abuela who had told me years before what she loved

PICNIC PAST with the

“Okay, so let me get this straight,” I said to my Sicilian friend. “There’s going to be a big picnic at the Italian Club Cemetery this Sunday?” “Yes, that’s right,” he said. “And food and drink are served and everyone sits at tables with one another to eat?” “Exactly”, my friend said. I stopped talking for a minute to absorb what I had just heard while my friend stared back at me with a big smile on his face. I know I’m Cuban, Spanish, and French. And, although my Aunt Alice said we have a little bit of Italian on my mother’s side, I don’t ever remember my parents taking me to the cemetery for a picnic. We picnicked at the park, at the beach, and once we even had a picnic out of the trunk of our old car–but never at a cemetery. About this time my friend was saying, “Well, do you want to go?” As I let go of my thoughts I replied, “Sure, why not? I’m not doing anything this Sunday since the Bucs aren’t playing.” My Sicilian friend had never steered me wrong with recommendations for a good Italian restaurant or a particularly good wine, so maybe there was something to this “Picnic with the Past.” When we arrived, the cemetery was packed with people parking their cars and heading over to a grassy area in front of a very large mausoleum. Tents had already been set up and volunteers were serving food. I had never seen so many people at a cemetery in my entire life, not even on Mother’s Day or Christmas. Plus, everyone was laughing and talking, shaking hands, and hugging and kissing! “Grab a plate and get in line,” I heard someone say. So I did and soon found large portions of spaghetti, meatballs, salad (Italian, of course), and bread on my plate and a drink in my hand. I looked out over the sea of people already eating as I 42



best about living in Ybor City. It was all the different people and the cultures they represented who lived and worked there–Spaniards, Italians, Cubans, Jews, Germans, and so many others. The food was delicious. As we ate, a young family who had finished got up, walked over to an area containing shovels, brooms and various cleaning supplies, and made their selections. This father, mother and two small children began to walk through the cemetery carrying their chosen tools. Of course I had to investigate. Trailing as far behind as I could but close enough to listen, I heard the little boy ask, “Daddy, why are we cleaning Nanno’s grave?” The father smiled at the little boy and replied, “We are cleaning Nanno’s grave because we loved and respected him.” With that they began to clean a marble slab embossed with a picture of a man with a large, dark mustache. The inscription on the tombstone read: Vincenzo LoCicero December 24, 1879 – January 22, 1958


s I walked down the small path, I noticed other people on their hands and knees, scrubbing and cleaning. All ages were present–from young to old. I cannot tell you how touched I was by the dedication I witnessed that day. I remembered the announcement advertising the event that my friend showed me when he invited me to come. It was written by Stephanie Canella-vanBelzen who first thought of and promoted this very special picnic: “To remind ourselves and the younger generations: Where we came from. Why names that end in vowels are the bestA!!! To show children the faces of their ancestors whom they resemble, and to show old friends our children. We attend Picnic with the Past because we are Italian, and proud Italians celebrate life…both past & present. So gather your friends and your family to visit the graves and to visit with each other”


1700 E. Hillsborough Ave. • Half Mile East Of I-275 North • 877-223-2887

USF, Tampa Library, Special Collections Dept.


L’Unione Italiana–Italian Club Ybor City


“Picnic with the Past” began in 2003. The next picnic will be held Sunday, November 20, 2005 from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm at L’Unione Cemetery at the corner of 26th St. and 24th Avenue. The cost is $10.00 per person – children age 10 and under are free. Genealogy research, tours, site clean-up, plot location, history and more will be available to those attending.

Tickets can be purchased at the Italian Club by calling (813) 248-3316. If you would like to volunteer, please contact the chairperson, Stephanie CannellavanBelzen at (813) 833-3907. Proceeds will be used to maintain and preserve the Italian Club Cemetery. You do not have to be a member of the Italian Club to attend. Bring your family. Volunteers will be available to help you locate your family grave. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2005



n the early 70’s, my wife Jan and I attended a family wedding which included my great Uncle Tony (Zio Nino) Diecidue. Zio Nino, who was known as a master wine-maker in Tampa, spoke about the family’s winemaking tradition that spanned back to Cianciana, Sicily. I had vague memories as a child of the men getting together at the Diecidue home in Ybor City each year to crush numerous cases of California grapes. The house had a special garagetype building used only for winemaking. Although we had enjoyed Zio Nino’s homemade vino for years, I had never actually made wine with him. In fact, he revealed to us at the wedding that hardly any members of my family were participating in this traditional event. When we left the wedding that evening, I thought about how tragic it Checking a large vat of crushed grapes. Nino Diecidue (center), Vincenzo “Jimmy” Pardo (right) would be for this family tradition to end with Zio Nino. That October, my father and I went to help Zio Nino make wine. I spent several days experiencing an extraordinary blend of folk science, tradition, superstition and being yelled at numerous times (maybe BY VINCE J. PARDO constantly) for asking too many when they were crushed; to loading and tightening the wooden questions. I observed this usually gentle man become a meticupresses and filling the barrels and jugs with the juice that flowed lous tyrant making wine, and rightly so, unless you wanted to from them. end up with the ultimate “infamnia aceto” (vinegar). During the days of my first winemaking experience, The floor and the walls of the large structure had been I observed other winemakers bringing him samples of their wine sanitized, the equipment had been sanitized, and by the time we from the previous year. Most would ask his counsel on how to finished, I’m sure we improve their wines. They asked about making it sweeter or dryer, were sanitized. why it turned cloudy during the year, why it turned to vinegar and Zio Nino was very other questions in order to improve this year’s wine. specific about every Uncle Tony had a shelf full of wine samples brought to him step of the winemaking by these men, each labeled accordingly. I was impressed with process, from how the their respect for his knowledge and experience. I later cases of grapes were developed even greater respect when I began reading about wineunloaded from the making and realized there were valid scientific reasons for almost truck, opened and every meticulous thing he did. stacked; to ensuring When you empty a wine barrel or large jug, you do so by that the grapes were the When the juice has been pressed from siphoning out the clear wine just above, and leaving behind, the temperature the grapes you are left with a solid mass correct



called “Mark.”




Vince Pardo and Zio Nino (Uncle Tony)

sediment that was produced during fermentation. Zio Nino once told me that this siphoning (called racking) should beperformed on a clear cold day, to ensure a clearer wine. It was one of the few processes that he wasn’t sure why it worked, but it did, and the family had followed the practice for years. Later, I read that when you rack your wine on a clear cold day, the barometric pressure is such that it holds down the sediment making it less likely to be sucked up into your hose, and therefore, making the wine clearer. However, the claim that eating marinated sarde salate (salted sardines) preferably from Sciacca, Sicily, with a glass of last year’s wine would ensure a good new wine has never been substantiated, but we still do it every year. My father, Jimmy (Vincenzo) and I made wine together every year since that first experience, usually with Zio Nino. My father and Zio Nino both passed away a few years ago, but today the annual tradition continues with my son Vince. Hopefully, his children will continue this treasured family tradition.

Some say wine is a gift from the gods. Winemaking dates back to ancient times–to approximately 6000 B.C. Historians will argue which of the ancient cultures were the first to make wine and there are as many theories as there are types of wine produced around the world today. We do know that some of the first people to cultivate grapes for winemaking were the Mesopotamians. They lived in a region in southwest Asia between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (modern day Iraq). Mesopotamia is a Greek word meaning, “between rivers”. Studies have indicated that the legendary Garden of Eden was located in Mesopotamia. During the excavation of the pharaoh’s tombs in Egypt, inscriptions and drawings of grape harvesting and winemaking were found dating back to 3000 B.C. Beautifully crafted clay jars used to store wine were found inside the burial sites. As is true today, the majority of vineyards in Egypt were located in the Nile delta area. The Greeks began growing grapes around 1600 B.C. They felt the drinking of wine was associated with their god, Dionysus. Because of the strong Greek presence in the Mediterranean and Black Sea areas, the growing of grapes extended into Spain, France, Italy and Georgia (a country in southeastern Europe). Later during the Roman Empire, winemaking extended into Britain and into the Rhineland area of Germany. The Romans were the first to use wood barrels and glass bottles. However, clay pots continued to be used as well for storage. When the Dark Ages began, the monasteries maintained the vineyards. The monks became wine producers and the wine industry infiltrated all of Europe.



Courtesy of University of South Florida, Tampa Library, Special Collections Department


Cigar makers roll tobacco and bundle the finished product as tourists watch the process.

Excerpt from A Stranger in the Barrio



’m thirteen or fourteen and see a jar stuffed with tobacco leaves. “Ma, what’s capa doing in the refrigerator?” “It’s good leaf, Franche. Leave it alone.” “Going to make cigars at home?” “No, no, need it to allow me to meet quota.” “I never see Aunt Felicia put capa in her refrigerator.” “That’s ’cause she’s fast. She doesn’t care what she puts out.” “Won’t it smell up the refrigerator?” “It stays pliable in there,” she says. “Like lettuce?” 46


“Something like that, so don’t try to smoke it. They’ve been giving out terrible capa at the factory. It cracks easy because the weather has been so dry,” she says in Sicilian. “How about if they catch you, Ma?” “They won’t.” Capa is the Spanish word for tobacco leaf. I never question the name or its derivation. It is just how things are, but the word means cape or cloak in Spanish. I never think of cigars wearing a cape or a cloak, but I guess they do. Preoccupation with cigar making is all I hear at the dinner table night after night. There are no discussions of world affairs, civic affairs

or anything much above the ghetto level. It is part of the isolationism illiteracy puts on the table for ghetto children to eat, and the less Papa knows about something, the more passionate and opinionated he is. My parents don’t realize the impact. How can they? They know no different, but I am constantly being told how much better I have it than they did, and I do. I’m not working in a cigar factory and never will. At age twelve, my mother decided six years of schooling was more than enough for her. She could read and write at grammar school level and that put her above most of her peers. She was one of the lucky ones and didn’t know it. Her father wanted her to continue school, never insisted she quit, but she did. “Too shy to start a new school,” she’d said to me, and when she told her father she didn’t want to continue he said,

“If that’s what you want, Maria? I’ll get you a job. Your mother can teach you how to roll cigars at home while I search.” It was what Mama expected, and her mother did not object. It was what all the girls of her generation did–work, get married and have children. She tells me stories about the factories, about how it was when she was a girl. “Franchito, they hid us in store rooms and in men’s restrooms, depending on the sex of the inspector. Truant officers came unannounced. It made me feel I was doing something wrong. Woodrow Wilson did it when he passed child labor laws—made it illegal for poor people to work. Now the government has passed another law to keep cigarmakers out of work.” Mama’s concern is minimum wage, a new requirement imposed on factories. America does its best to quash piecework, but factory owners find loopholes. They impose quotas. “Filippo, I don’t think I can make 175 cigars every day,” Mama says. “Not with bad leaf.” “Well, make what you can, Mary. We’ll get by,” Papa says. “Ma, that’s over 3,000 cigars a month,” I say. “I had a good year last year, Franche–rolled close to 40,000,” she says. I shake my head at the numbers. “If I could get a better paying vitola it would work out to minimum wage, and I won’t get fired.” Papa says, “Talk to the capotasso, Mary. He’s not going to want to lose you. You roll such beautiful cigars.” It’s about cigars again. I eat broccoli mixed with fragmented spaghetti and a tad of olive oil and Romano cheese on top—another form of minestra. Minestra is eaten with every conceivable bean and vegetable. The most common are: lentils, fava beans, red beans, collard greens,

string beans and broccoli. “How’s a better paying vitola going to help?” “Well, Franche, figure it this way. Minimum wage is based on an eight-hour day, so divide how much money I make by piecework by eight. If it comes out to minimum wage or more, I’m okay.” “Hell, Ma, you’re still getting paid by piecework.” “It’s worse, because I have the

pressure of meeting a quota to make it appear they are paying me minimum wage. If piecework comes out to less than minimum wage–I’m fired.”


lowness is not Mama’s only problem. Another problem happens to her when she’s laid off for more than a couple of weeks and then returns to work. It’s midday, a summer day, and I’m sitting on the front porch. I see Mama coming home for lunch. She runs up the front steps. “Franchito, quick, open the door,” she says. “I’m going to vomit.” Ashen, her face hangs on a barf. She darts a straight shot to the bathroom. “I’ll make telo,” Anna says to her from the kitchen. I hear Mama vomiting, and my grand-

mother makes a Spanish herb Latinos call telo, a cure-all. I run into the bathroom and lift Ma’s head and aim it into the toilet bowl. Her eyes bulge with explosive force. Her face is crimson, and drenched in sweat. I hang on to her head, stabilizing it, keeping it on target. I rip toilet paper off the roll and hand it to her. She grabs it and heaves again and again. Repulsed, I watch yellow liquid gush out of her nose. Angry gastric juices reek acrid, and the strong smell of tobacco emanates from her hair, and a fine spray of barf hits my bare feet. “Is there anything I can get you, Ma?” “No, need to lie down.” She leans on me, and I help her to her bed. She burps, passes gas all at once, and says, “Perdona.” I pardon her. What else can I do? Her eyes glaze, and I yell for my grandmother. Nonna holds ammonia salts under her nose, Mama’s head yanks away from the ammonia, her eyes open. She sees I’m perturbed. She smiles, doesn’t eat lunch, lies in the bed a while, and returns to the factory. After two to three days the symptoms abate, and all is back to normal. Mama is reacclimated to nicotine. Cigarmakers seldom talk about acute nicotine poisoning. None of the women smoke, and it’s accepted as a mere inconvenience. At the kitchen table Mama says, “Filippo, I can’t eat.” Papa looks up from his bowl of minestra. “I just can’t. My mouth hurts,” she says. “I think they got to come out, Mary,” he says. Nubbins have replaced her front teeth, protruding just above her gum line. “Mama, do other cigarmakers chew capa, too?” I say. “I never did,” Papa interjects. “It’s a bad habit I picked up trying to make heads perfect.” “Mary, you got to stop doing it.” NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2005


Courtesy of University of South Florida, Tampa Library, Special Collections Department

“Easy to say, but it’s tough to make All are creatures of habit, people with her thirties, and that’s old to pubertal heads without working them with your monogrammed walks. They appear and dis- boys, real old, but she arouses my cousin mouth.” appear predictably each day, sequenced, as if and me in ways only she can. “Mary, you got to use the chavetta. released from a starting gate. When She carries a brightly colored It’s sharper than your teeth.” parasol and shifts it from shoulder to I enter puberty some women change. “When tourists come to watch shoulder, contrasting jet-black hair. us work, the capotasso warns us not She shifts it casually, unintentionalto put cigars in our mouths. I can’t ly provocative, inadvertently roll a good one until they leave.” spinning it, cradling it on a bare Mama chews on one side of succulent shoulder. An embroiher mouth. “Factory owners don’t dered, white blouse hangs low, want tourists to see we get saliva on filled to the brim, and sometimes, cigars. Rich people are strange that it sits cockeyed, exposing one volupway, Franche.” tuous shoulder more than the “But I thought you use spit to other. She’s typical of our conceptustick wrappers?” I say. al image of a Spanish señorita. All “No, no, we use a special gum. she needs is a rose in her hair, so I The Health Department is threatimagine one there. She walks on the Cuesta Rey and Company (2416 North Howard Avenue) ening to inspect cigar factories. Say opposite side of the street. I throw My cousin and I sit on the porch. I’m the ball at her feet. It bounces off the sidethere’s too much TB among cigarmakers.” “That’s crazy, Mary. It’s not a restau- flipping a baseball. walk into the street gutter, and I run up, “Frank, here she comes,” he says. rant. Maybe you’ll have to get a chest bend over and reach for it, looking up “La Señorita?” x-ray like restaurant workers?” Papa laughs, gawking, gaze into her eyes, and she into “Yeah, man, ain’t she something?” but Mama doesn’t see his humor. mine. “Yeah,” I say. “They’re thinking about it,” she says. “Ola, señora.” She’s surprised at my “Look at that low cut. Hot stuff, man, presumptuous Spanish hello. It’s pain that drags cigarmakers and their families to dentists, severe pain, and it’s hot stuff.” “Excuse me, perdona señora, pero, “Quick, let’s go play catch on the side- I pick up la pelota, perdona. My cousin usually for extractions. Mama’s front uppers and lowers are replaced with walk,” I say. threw the ball wild.” “Yeah, look at those hips, man.” He “Es o right, Nino. Es nada.” She interprosthetics. She continues to tear at leaves with her new teeth. She never looks like watches them swing back and forth like a rupts motorized hips and smiles, says it’s okay, and I smile. Mama again, but I say to her, “Sonno pendulum. We notice adult women, real women, She’s more beautiful up close than naturale, so natural, Mama, so natural.” I’m sure I commit a venial sin, but see them in a different light of day, differ- I imagined. She’s blessed with full lips, in this case, it would be a mortal sin not ent shades, different from immature dark Spanish eyes and a subdued smile. school girls. We never find out La She never walks on my side of the street to lie. Señorita’s name, but she’s a Spanish letting me know she’s not interested in rom my porch, I watch cigarmakers woman, all right, perhaps Cuban, and she thirteen year olds, yet she continues swingtrek to factories and back. Lunch walks to and from the factory like clock- ing hips as our eyes follow her out of sight. and evenings they saunter by. Fast work. We christen her La Señorita because “How does she look up close?” my bunch-makers and rollers lead the parade. of her Spanish style. She sets a new stan- cousin says. Slow ones roll out of factories last. Women dard. An ardent reference point of sensual “Great.” shade themselves with parasols, and men attraction brings out feelings we didn’t “What did you say?” wear straw hats with stiff, serrated brims, know existed. Perhaps, it is then we learn “I said she was a most attractive señopagliettas. Women and men seldom mix. the difference between pretty and attrac- ra.” Women walk side by side and men with tive. Attraction turns out to be a woman’s “Wow. You said that?” men, and solitary workers fix their eyes on worth, what counts. Her hips wave at my “Yep.” sidewalks. hormones from across the street. She’s in “What did she say?”

F 48


“Nothing.” “Nothing? Naw, she said something. I saw her lips move.” “Oh, that.” “Yeah. Come on, don’t hog it all to yourself. Tell me.” “She just said I was a handsome young man.” “No shit.” “Honest.”


omen grow old in front of my eyes. Most keep walking long after husbands die, and there is no infusion of new blood into the industry. No one takes up cigar making anymore, no one, so back and forth cigarmakers roll in front of my eyes, walking past my front porch. Some wave and watch me grow up. Widows dress in doleful black down to their shoes, contrasting pale, cosmetics-free faces, but those with husbands brandish lipstick-smeared smiles. I just know they’re still making it

with husbands in dingy bedrooms. In the nearness of tabaquero huts, occasionally, I hear one moan, and I smile. Women of the barrio reflect their heritage. Latin women let loose early; soon after a pregnancy or two, they balloon. They wrap their big hips and breasts in print dresses, but in ensuing years, I see matronly forms abandon the garishness of youth, abandon bright floral prints that once draped young buttocks. In time, breasts sag, too, and the back and forth rhythm creates the repetitive beat of a death march. Sturdy and stout, they float by day after day like vintage battleships of the Spanish Armada. And I, well, I wave at them and smell gardenia perfume. Men age, too, but they smell the scent and follow it, and like fireflies, they switch on. Perfume acts like the aphrodisiac Spanish fly. Tired hormones rejuvenate Italian men, too, as they walk in the wake of sashaying hips. Covertly they interject a skip in their shuffle, a Sicilian shuffle, I’m told. It is one Cubans can’t initiate or

imitate. In time, husbands die, and black dresses dominate the scene, and colors fade, fade more under sweaty armpits.

Frank Urso, the son of Sicilian cigarmakers in Ybor City, left the barrio at age 23 for medical school. He is a pathologist and former professor of Pathology. His writings have been published in the Tampa Tribune and literary magazines.

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Photo courtesy of Ellis-Van Pelt, Inc.

Left to right: Guy Ketterer, a well-known auto dealer of Tampa, Armando Rodriquez “Bombillo” assistant manager of the A. Santaella Cigar Factories, Babe Ruth and “Colonel” Mariano Alvarez, manager of the A. Santaella Cigar Factories in March 1929.

THE B EST of the BEST”

The Story of A. Santaella Cigar Company




nston Churchill liked the mild Optimo cigar manufactured by A. Santaella Cigars and so did Babe Ruth. Tampa was one of “The Babe’s” favorite places to visit–he had made his mark here on April 4, 1919, in a pre-season game the Boston Red Sox played against the New York Giants. He knocked a 587-foot home run out of 50


the Tampa Fair Grounds, over a fence, and into a furrow in a farmer’s field! Each year when he arrived in Tampa for spring training, “The Great Bambino” would take the opportunity to stock up on his favorite cigars. He would visit the A. Santaella Cigar Factory in West Tampa to collect a few boxes of his beloved smoke, known as, “The Best of the Best”, and he always made time to pose for pictures. The four-story, red brick building still stands at 1906 N. Armenia. It was built in 1904 after a fire destroyed the previous structure. Since this was the second time a fire had occurred, its owners decided to use a different plan when rebuilding. When Antonio Santaella from Seville, Spain and Sol Hamburger from Bavaria built a third time, they purchased the entire block and built the factory in the middle. The last fire had jumped from one building to another, and Mr. Santaella did not want this to happen again. He later was able to convince the city to build a fire station behind his factory–and another safeguard

Courtesy of University of South Florida, Tampa Library, Special Collections Department

A. Santaella factory workers.

was in place. Their new factory was one of the largest and most efficiently equipped in the city. Santaella and Hamburger had a long history in the business. They began manufacturing cigars in 1886 and had factories in Key West before coming to Tampa. Between 1918 and 1919, Santaella produced over forty-five million cigars and in 1946, they opened a factory in Clearwater, Florida. That operation was eventually closed, and in 1955 the factory on Armenia was sold to Universal Cigar Corporation.

pointed out another picture of Antonio seated on the back of a big white horse, his large frame looming over the animal! Laughing, we agreed Señor Santaella was obviously a very colorful character. I then spotted three wooden chairs whose seats and backs were covered by a worn skin. Mr. Ellis and his son Bubba explained the goatskin was used as a cushion for the workers who sat long hours rolling cigars. I pictured busy hands working to complete as many cigars as possible in one day, only stopping for a quick bite to eat or a short restroom break. We can only imagine life in a cigar factory in the 1900s–even with the assistance of the old postcards, cigar-making tools, documents and pictures the Ellis family has on display. I was intrigued with the stories the family heard about payoffs that existed in the factories. Mr. Ellis said he was told that cigar workers were paid at the end of the week and if they


he current owners of 1906 N. Armenia demonstrate a true appreciation for their building’s history. The Ellis and Van Pelt families purchased it in 1997 from Tropical Garment to operate Ellis-Van Pelt Office Furniture, Inc. But then they did something very unique–they converted the top floors of the factory into studios and rented them to local artists. Those old wood floors now harbor a beehive of artistic activity. Art shows are held frequently, and visitors can walk down the long halls of the factory and stop to view or purchase the art. When you walk into the business office of Ellis-Van Pelt, you notice shelves filled with cigar making artifacts–all found by the family after they purchased the factory. The first objects to catch your eye are the vibrant cigar boxes Top: An old Optimo Cigars envelope. Left: A. Santaella Factory. Right: A cigar with the picture of a proud Antonio Santaella on the factory worker’s chair on display at Ellis-Van Pelt Office Furniture. label, wearing his trademark white hat. Mr. Gray Ellis NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2005


wanted to remain in good standAs I turned to leave, I asked ing, they would each place a silver Mr. Ellis one last question. Had dollar under the mat at their work he heard any other interesting table before they left. Once everyone stories he wanted to share? had gone, the manager would walk He thought for a minute then around the empty factory collecting said, “Well, one of our artists his payoffs. The money kept the once said the factory is haunted!” manager happy, the cigar worker His best recollection was the employed, and in most cases, his artist was working late one night family as well. when a decorative sword hanging Mr. Ellis’ wife Joann remained on the wall began to turn slowbusy at her desk while we talked. ly–and then stopped as suddenly Keeping one ear on our discussion, as it had started! I made a note to she jumped in every so often to qualcontact that artist soon. Perhaps ify a story. As I studied the picture of I’d have another interesting arti“The Babe” on the wall, Mr. Ellis cle to write. I then thanked the described one way their factory Ellis family for the generosity of Current owners of 1906 N. Armenia Avenue. From left to right: Gray Ellis, Jon Van Pelt and Bubba Ellis. influenced their lives. He told me their time and left. about their cats. As I walked toward the cigar factory’s exit, I looked back and He said, “Well, one cat we had awhile back we named thought of the story I had just heard. Could the ghost be that of ‘Optimo’ and then the other cat we named ‘Winifred’ after Mr. a cigar worker returning each night to finish his job? Maybe Santaella’s wife.” wanting to use his chaveta to make one last cigar–or could it be Mrs. Ellis was smiling as she said, “Yep, and that’s my he forgot to leave his silver dollar under the mat? middle name too!”











Ever since I was a child, I watched Uncle Sam tend his backyard garden. He spent days preparing the soil, planting, watering, and making sure the vines and stems had just the right amount of support. I remember asking him what he was planting and he said, “Cucuzza” (pronounced ko-KOO-za). I began to notice these long, light green colored things growing throughout his garden. They just kept growing longer and longer and seemed to be as tall as I was. When the cucuzza was ready, Uncle Sam would gently cut it from its stem, Uncle Sam in the proudly carry it into the house, and garden with a cucuzza. hand it to Aunt Pina. I watched her wash the green skin and carefully peel it away to reveal a pure white flesh. She methodically cut the cucuzza in cubes and set them aside while the onions and garlic simmered in olive oil. Next she would add the cucuzza, just enough water to cover it, and a can of tomatoes. After seasoning the soup with salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan cheese, she would leave it to simmer until the cucuzza was tender and almost transparent. Then all there was left to do was mangia! 1 large onion, finely chopped 1 tablespoon garlic, minced 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 cucuzza (3 – 4 cups) 1 cup water 1 – 15 oz can of diced tomatoes salt & pepper to taste 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, add more if desired Cucuzza has its origins in the Mediterranean, especially Italy. Its season is from June until first frost, and can grow from 15 to 36 inches long and approximately 3 inches in diameter. If you don’t have the time to grow your own cucuzza, check with your local market. It’s also known as bottle gourd, super long squash, and snake squash. Aunt Pina watches over her cucuzza soup.

Ybor City’s first cigar factory was built on this

piece of land in 1886. The interior of this building was designed to resemble a Spanish plaza. It was a

place of entertainment and a great spot to take a date on Friday or Saturday night. Although a fire

occurred, the building stands today and continues to function as a place where people gather.

USF, Tampa Library, Special Collections Dept.



Cucuzza Soup

Recognize this lost landmark? We have had many beautiful buildings built in

Tampa throughout the years. Some are still standing while others have been torn down. We will feature one of these buildings in each issue of our magazine.

Perhaps you might recognize the structure and

have some information to share. If you do, please

write in and tell us the original name of the building. In the next issue of Cigar City Magazine we will

identify the building and give a brief history.

You can win a Cigar City Magazine t-shirt by

correctly identifying the building. Simply mail your

guess as to the name of the building and your contact

information to Cigar City Magazine at P.O. Box 18613, Tampa, Florida 33679 by December 1, 2005. All correct entries will be entered into a drawing and one name will be selected as the winner. Good luck!





Dear Mama: Please answer my email as soon as you can! I recently moved to Tampa from the Midwest and bought an old house next door to the sweetest, little Sicilian widow. I have been feeling ill and she’s been kind enough to check on me and bring food. She said that she was coming back tomorrow with a “lavana”, and promised that it would cure me. Is this some type of soup? – Under The Weather Dear UTW: Sicilians call it “lavana” and Latino’s call it “lavado”. It was, and obviously still is to some people, the cure-all for anything from an earache to athlete’s foot, and everything in between. A lavana is quite simply, an enema. As both a giver and receiver of many lavanas, I would hope for a miraculous recovery before she returns. – Mama



Dear Mama: I’m a Latina from New York and I just moved in with my abuelo who lives in Palmetto Beach. He has roaches and termites in his house, but refuses to call an exterminator because it costs too much money. Instead, he puts all these contraptions around the house like the metal pan he fills with water and puts on the kitchen table; and match stick boxes that he leaves open on the floor at night. How can I make him understand that this is a job for a professional? – Bugged Out! Dear Bugged Out: First of all, these “contraptions” work. They have been used successfully for many years in Tampa as economical ways of combating the local pests that invade our homes. The shiny pan with water, placed on a table with a light overhead, attracts termites who fly into the water and drown. The matchboxes are another ingenious idea where you fill the little box with roach poison and a little bit of food. In the middle of the night the roach climbs into the box, eats the food and dies. The next morning you pick up the tiny casket and throw it away. What your abuelo is doing beats any professional’s nasty spray. But you’re from New York and complaining about roaches? I gotta question for you – what’s it like walking down a street knee deep in rats? – Mama

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